Rarely do votes in parliament get covered in such detail – and with such an informed public – as the debate on whether the UK should bomb IS targets in Syria.
The education for us largely began when terrorists struck Paris, with horrific consequences, in early November. From that moment, many of us began a steep learning curve on the politics and geography of the situation, especially of Syria.
This kind of politics is not my speciality, so the comments which follow are not those of a veteran political writer or analyst. Rather my expertise is on arguments – the logic and evidence of the situation which has been presented – and who is right and wrong. I spend my time delving into topics that often have right answers but are genuinely debateable: animal ethics, economics or religion, for instance. But the issue on whether it is a good idea to bomb Syria, when all is considered, is one of the easiest I have ever analysed, due to the weight of evidence which flows primarily only in one direction.
I am certainly no pacifist, I have had reservations about military intervention in the past, but have never attended marches or held strong views either way. I have seesawed from a balanced view, to a pro-peace view, to one of understanding the need for war (occasionally). But the bombing of Syria makes absolutely no sense to me.
First, some facts. These are regularly debated, but almost concrete.
ISIS – just like Al Qaeda before them – are a global terror threat, whose main danger is in its ideas. It can and does motivate sympathetic Muslims in the West to support it, and these are the real danger. Indeed, it is a modern propaganda machine. It uses networking effectively online, and it utilises the idea that it has a stronger, aggressive enemy in order to solicit sympathy from those who share its views. And, whether we like it or not, it definitely is a Muslim group, and the beliefs it holds do not appeal to non- Muslims on the whole. Most moderate Muslim’s disagree with it, in the same way that most moderate Christians disagree with the bombing of abortion clinics, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is a faith-based organisation with religious ideals.
So if you want to defeat IS – whose strengths are not in military resources, or man power, but in persuasive, fundamentally Islamic ideas – then you have to oppose it with ideas of your own. Ideas of progress, peace, humility, reason and above all tolerance. Bombs and bullets don’t kill ideas, and they never have. Defeating IS will not happen through bombing or any military action.
But will it weaken IS, as many MPs – including David Cameron – believe? Possibly, but what happened when we weakened Al Qaeda with our militaries? IS appeared, arguably more determined that what came before. That’s because there is a gap for these fundamental Islamic ideas of Jihad within wider Islam, and our refusal to close it down in favour of physical revenge means any other Jihadist group can fill it within months. Perhaps springing from IS, perhaps with a different name, possibly under the same one.
There is no evidence that military action will defeat IS, and none that it will necessarily weaken them – at least not to the degree where we are safer from terrorist attacks, as the real danger is in their persuading our own nationals against us. That threat grows, surely, when you use violence against them, as the sympathisers will feel even more aggrieved with every bomb reported on the news. Remember that most domestic terror here occurs from natives who have been radicalised. So you don’t make it safer by using violence, you arguably make it much worse. That’s not a difficult conclusion to come to when you weigh up the reason and evidence, and take off the rose-coloured glasses.
So what other arguments do members of parliament give. Well, they say we would let France down by not engaging in bombing strikes in Syria. I can’t see that we have an obligation to suspend all reason when allies knock on our door, but I also don’t think it will help France in the long run either. They have suffered tremendously over the course of the last two months, and their decision is heavily based in this idea of vengeance and desperation to do something. This doesn’t make it a good decision for them either – it isn’t – but it does explain why they were pulled into this action, and why we shouldn’t.
Which brings us to the other reason we have given for bombing Syria: what else can we do? Well, first of all let’s remember that ‘bomb them’ is not a good idea just because we don’t have another option. If I find myself hungry late at night, wanting to order a pizza, but then find out I have no option to, my default backup is not ‘bomb them’. It doesn’t make any sense. To repeat our historical decisions, because we can’t find any other responses is poor reasoning. Doing nothing is better than spending time doing something which will be counter-productive. Indeed, if it does turn out to be counter-productive, the right decision in that situation would have been to do absolutely nothing. Doing nothing is an option – a choice we must take – and only our poor human psychology/bias media would tell us otherwise. “We must do something” is not a meaningful sentence if “something” is defined as “anything, regardless of it’s effect”. So let’s stop pretending that’s an argument.
But, more to the point, there is something we can do, we just refuse to acknowledge it. Those more liberally minded individuals combine with Conservatives in ignoring that IS is a religious organisation. They read from holy books, quote passages, and chant in the name of their deity when committing their attacks. It is pure ignorance on our part to ignore this – all be it, perhaps, well-intentioned ignorance, by wanting to protect moderate, more sensible Muslims. But once you admit it, you admit that they have truly engaged us in a battle of ideas. No one seems to have realised…
We are losing that battle – the real battle – because we are creating imaginary solutions to distract ourselves with. Today, that imaginary solution is bombing. Yet we are a country, like France and our other neighbours, which benefited from the Enlightenment, and are better armed than almost any countries in the world to counter the kind of ridiculous religious dogma that can’t be reasoned with. In a war of ideas, we are stocked with ideas that should see us win hands down. We just refuse to fight it out of a misplaced ‘respect’ for moderate Muslims. Yet as they suffer on the streets at the hands of xenophobes and fascists – in what should be a reason-loving, peaceful country – it is them we are failing most severely of all.
We are the nations of Voltaire, of Adam Smith and David Hume. Of Mary Wollstonecraft, Kant and Rousseau. We are the countries that allowed Charles Darwin to light the blue touch paper of reason that arguably disproved the fundamentals of major religions everywhere. And it was here that the suffragettes helped cast further that chain of dogma which allowed us to see women as second class citizens.
Yet, for some reason, we seem desperate to ignore this history of standing up for reason, and keen instead to focus our minds on replying with violence. Conservatives do it because it’s all they know, leftists do it out of a desire not to be considered racist, so pursuing an unwavering support of exotic sounding religion. Both are failing to even recognise what kind of battle we are in. We will lose over and over again until they do.