You can’t bomb people into being nice Westerners

In a way, watching the debate yesterday in the House of Commons on whether the UK should join in with Air Strikes against the so called Islamic State felt different to me from the last times we’ve had similar debates.

This time I felt I was open to persuasion. As the debate began, I hadn’t made up my mind what I thought was right. I accept the arguments that such action this time is legal. (In the past I’ve marched against UK involvement convinced that it was illegal and wrong from the outset). I’m not a pacifist and don’t automatically assume that using force is wrong. That means that each time I need to be persuaded.

As I’ve said before, I once had aspirations to be a Member of Parliament and when crucial votes come around I find myself inevitably absorbed by them wondering how I would have voted. In this case, I’m sure that I would have entered the chamber undecided and left having firmly made up my mind.

The more speeches that I heard in favour of military action, the more troubled I was about it. In particular, I was troubled to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury throwing his lot in with the government and advocate new bombing missions.

It seems to me that the following points remain unanswered.

  • Likelihood of success.  This is a key point for anyone trying to assess using Christian criteria whether military action is just. How many bombs do we need to drop before we realise that air strikes alone are not sorting out the conflict in Iraq? The lessons of the past do not point to an easy or quick solution. I was particularly alarmed by the suggestion by the Prime Minister that this could take three years. I don’t believe any0ne can see what lies ahead in three years time in Iraq. These are not air strikes – this is a war. What’s more I don’t even know how we will judge success.
  • We are not fighting a conventional enemy but a set of ideas. Bombs do not destroy ideas they disperse them. The “Islamic State” people may claim to have territorial claims to a part of the world but that doesn’t mean we are fighting another state in the way that the West understands that. Controlling territory on the ground doesn’t mean that you control people’s minds. ISIS and al-Queda are as much a set of ideas as an army controlling a people. We need concrete strategies for making lives better and the underlying philosophical principles that are behind the terror attacks need to be taken to pieces and few of us know how to do that.
  • What about the innocents? In this week when we’ve remembered St Adamnan again in the church, again we are reminded that attacks which kill or harm the innocent are never justified. Collateral damage is terrorism by another name.
  • Finally, that you can’t bomb people into being nice Westerners. It seemed to me that many in the House of Commons were responding to the barbarity of recent hostage beheadings with the notion that we can somehow fly 6 RAF aircraft over Iraq, drop some bombs and stop people being beastly. It won’t do. You can’t bomb people into being nice Westerners. If there are any solutions they will be far more complex than what is currently proposed.

For all these reasons, though I would have gone into the chamber undecided, by the end of the day I would have made my mind up.

I would have voted against military action.