The #syriavote is not so simple really

Like many people in the UK, I spent much of yesterday dipping into what was happening in parliament as a long debate took place as to whether this country should engage in military action against ISIL in Syria.

I once had aspirations to be an MP and that always makes me wonder which division lobby I would have walked into when these moments of national drama take place.

In this instance I am almost sure that I would have walked into the nay lobby – I’d have voted against extending military action in Syria.

However, I don’t find this a simple question. It is far more complex than my twitter feed seems to be suggesting. And this morning I’m not rushing to add #notinmyname hashtags to everything. This is a case where I can see merit on both side of the question and I find that my gut reaction which is to be against military action is more pragmatic than ideological.

I happen not to be a pacifist. I am not a pacifist because I think that sometimes there are evils that may need to be defeated by force. The obvious and classic example is that I think that the allied forces were right to be deployed to defeat Nazism. It was an ideology that threatened all of Europe with its evil. Some things are worth fighting against.

It is my suspicion that ISIL is something worth fighting against that would have made me pause before casting a vote had I been in parliament last night. I find myself having sympathy with Hilary Benn who identified the threat from ISIL as being the fascism of the day. So many of the same themes emerge – death to the Jews, death to the gays, murderous sectarianism and a direct opposition to democracy. The fact that it now uses terrorism on Western streets and wickedly distorts Islam for its own ends shouldn’t blind us to the fact that we’ve seen fascism before and have believed it should be fought.

And that’s why I can see that there’s a case for action.

My problem is largely because I can’t see the action being particularly likely to succeed which is one of the conditions of using force in just war theory.

I can’t really see that there’s a plan for post conflict rebuilding of Syria yet. I can’t really see how another two bombers will make that much difference – the Americans have been bombing ISIL targets for months and don’t seem to me to have solved the problem. It is inevitable that civilians will die in this action. It is difficult to believe that the action will meet the test of proportionality. I also don’t really believe that you can bomb ideas out of existence.

And so I find myself believing action to be wrong for pragmatic reasons whilst believing that ISIL should be confronted for ideological reasons. And that would have given me a terrible dilemma has I been in parliament.

Two things emerged yesterday which I found contemptible. Firstly the Prime Minister’s assertion that those who were against action were terrorist sympathisers. It was beneath the dignity of his office to make such a claim and he should have apologised. Secondly, those who are trying to co-opt this question for the sake of Scottish Nationalism. It should be beneath our dignity as the people of Scotland to co-opt this terrible decision for our local politics. Whether one likes it or not, Scotland chose to remain part of the UK and the UK parliament has made a decision. Being democrats means that sometimes we have to respect the democratic decisions that are made that we don’t like. That’s what being a democrat actually is. That means those who don’t like the result of the Scottish Referendum need to accept that the people of Scotland made an informed choice. It is our parliament that made the decision last night – a decision I happen to find it difficult to support. It is a parliament that the people of Scotland chose to remain a part of. Using ISIL to make cheap nationalist points in this country appals me. If we don’t accept democratic decision making (the referendum, the workings of parliament in which we are all represented etc) then we begin to lose the moral right to stand against the forces which rage against democracy wherever we encounter them.

We encounter them in ISIL. The question at hand is how to oppose them.

Last night I think that I would have voted against the government and against the use of force in Syria. However I would have done so with a heavy heart. It is just possible that after listening to the debates I might have voted with the government and for the use of force against the evils of ISIL. I would have done so with an even heavier heart though I would have done so hoping that if my own land was being conquered by fascists, then other countries would intervene.

That’s why this issue is more complex than my twitter feed seems to find it.


  1. thomas cr says

    I appreciate your comments which reflect my own views to a large extent. I think however that I would have been happier to vote against the extension of the air campaign than you. If I may add reasons why?
    I think that the case for this extension just has not been convincingly made, even if Cameron is to be judged on his poor speech yesterday, supremely in terms of long term political strategy. There are echoes of the rhetoric of the last Gulf War; moreover no evidence of the leaders of nations such as ours having learned from what results when a military action makes up for political strategy and aims only partly thought out.
    ISIS/Da’esh is a hostile force and it needs to be opposed (there has been scant action against its support systems – perhaps because many Saudis do well out of it?), but I am not convinced that making comparisons with Fascists does much good or despite Benn’s speech yesterday applies that well (on his analogy shouldn’t we be reviewing our approach to Saudi Arabia? I think we should but I do not think the govt is).
    ISIS/Da’esh has arisen from a context which western countries have shaped and continue to do so. Unless that is also addressed (and that would require some major changes in attitudes towards some present allies), Da’esh will only the latest in a series of terrorist organisations killing and maiming.

  2. Aileen Walker says

    As happens so very often, you manage to write or speak what’s birling around in my mind.
    Thank you for the clarity and expressing the dilemma of how we should be acting.

  3. Paul Hutchinson says

    There’s another unfortunate myth developing today, that the General Synod of the Church of England voted last week to support military action. It did nothing of the sort.
    What did happen was that, in the multi-part motion in its debate about the refugee crisis, Synod supported (nem con) “(d) call upon the Government to work with international partners in Europe and elsewhere to help establish safe and legal routes to places of safety, including this country, for refugees who are vulnerable and at severe risk.”
    Justin Welby told Synod members before the vote that they had to be clear that the implementation of such a motion would almost certainly need armed force. Of course it could: naval policing of the Mediterranean; armed protection of groups vulnerable to attack. But to accept the risk that such means may need to be used is not to vote for armed attack. Too many people seem to be treating the Archbishop’s warning as the substance of what was being voted upon…

  4. I am not religious, but (because I imagine you have a better understanding of the symbolic because of your faith) I would have voted for the motion (which was not simply about bombing, not least indiscriminate bombing) on the basis that it signified two things (a) Daesh is abhorrent in its actions (b) we stand with our friends against Daesh.

    Innocents are killed in war. What causes my nausea is when we, as the strong, stand by and, through passivity, condone the massacres of Yazidis, Bosnians at Srebenica, Tutus in Rwanda and so forth. I suspect in the last seven months more Arabs have been killed in Syria and Iraq by UK Daesh than UK bombers, but this is a guess.

    • Graham Evans says

      And more people have been beheaded by the Saudis than by ISIL, but we “stand by and, through passivity, condone” this and all the other abuses committed by the Saudi regime at home, while it has fermented and supported Islamic extremists abroad.

  5. Graham Evans says

    I’m not sure you are right to claim that because the Scottish Referendum supported Scotland remaining in the Union, that equates to accepting the Westminster parliamentary system. It may well be that a Westminster Parliament which reflected the votes in the country might have supported bombing Syria, but a proportional system would probably change the whole dynamic of how these issues are decided.

    • I personally favour PR but I think that the large numbers of UKIP MPs that we would have seen in the commons would have made military action more likely rather than less likely.–gJenQmaW2gW

      • Graham Evans says

        That’s why I suggested that a Westminster Parliament based on votes cast in 2015 might well have supported bombing – though Nigel Farage was against doing so. However, a PR system, particular one which didn’t use party lists, might actually result in a totally different configuration in terms of votes, not simply MPs. It has taken many years, and the CDU/CSU have managed to hang on to most of their voters, but in Germany on the left there are now three parties competing for votes, and on the right and centre right also three. Similarly the complexion of the Spanish Parliament after the coming election is likely to be very different from previous parliaments.

  6. Geoffrey Hartwell says

    On the question of whether or not Jeremy Corbyn specifically can be called a terrorist sympathiser, it is a matter of record the he has supported the IRA and others in the past.

    • Graham Evans says

      But Cameron labelled everyone who opposed bombing as being a terrorist sympathiser. This is the central issue, not Corbyn’s past.

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