It has been a couple of weeks now since British MPs engaged in a ten hour long debate in Parliament on whether to send air strikes into Syria, which ended in a massive 174 majority vote for the motion and an historic speech made by the late Tony Benn’s son, Hilary. Since then, the RAF have been targeting ISIL’s oil fields and Michael Fallon told the BBC this was a “fairly impressive start” whilst in Washington DC.
But we’re only a couple of weeks into what is likely to be a long battle against an undeniably barbaric organisation and the outcome is far from predictable. We can only confidently presume that a lot of blood will be spilled.
Hilary Benn stood in front of Parliament and voiced a marvellous piece of rhetoric which seems so absent in today’s politics, and it has centre-staged him as a great orator in Parliament and man of leadership material. But rhetoric can be as deadly as it can be convincing. One line that stood out for me was: “Now I share the concerns that have been expressed this evening about potential civilian casualties. However, unlike Daesh, none of us here act with the intent to harm civilians; rather we act to protect civilians from Daesh, who target innocent people.”
Now, since the UK sent air strikes into Syria, there has been no reports of civilian casualties as a result of UK air strikes, so who am I to presume that UK air strikes will claim the lives of any civilians? However, only yesterday, the town of Douma was hit by an alleged Russian/pro-Assad Syrian air strike which has taken the lives of 45 civilians and injured a further 250. From August 2014 to December 2015, between 1,600 and 2,128 incidents of non-combatant civilian fatalities have been alleged to happen from over 250 incidents in Iraq and Syria during US-led coalition air strikes – of which the UK is a part of. So, it’s fair to say, that air strikes are not the most ethical approach to a battle and definitely run the “potential” risk of civilian casualties – or fatalities – that Hilary Benn is apparently concerned about.
Hilary Benn also spoke of “our democracy, the means by which we will make this decision tonight”. This is a democracy Syrians do not enjoy; the decision to bomb their country is made by men and women in the UK, Russia, the USA, France. They just have to accept this decision. You could argue that if you saw somebody being mugged in the street, should you help them without them giving you permission? But a more apt metaphor would be to ask somebody if they saw someone being mugged, would they throw a stick of dynamite at the attacker and hope he/she was the only person to be wounded?
Yes, ISIL are a force of evil and their oppressive and brutal regime should not be allowed to continue. But it’s completely patronising to try to pass these air strikes off as a noble intervention into an humanitarian crisis when the West is shying away from bloodshed in other areas of the world. Who is fighting Boko Haram in Western Africa? Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad (Western African countries). Who is fighting ISIL? Well, four of the most powerful countries in the world to begin with. Let’s not forget the West’s absence in previous post-WW2 genocides. Where was the West when Tutsi’s were being slaughtered at a much faster rate than people are in the Middle East? Where was the West when Pol Pot was working his own people to death in the Killing Fields? It was Vietnam (yes, those damn Commies) that intervened and saved the day there.
Conflict in the Middle East regularly turns into an international game of Friends and Enemies. Hussain made an enemy of the USA when he decided he wanted to invade Kuwait (well, Bush couldn’t have him sabotaging his oil deal) which led onto numerous conflicts between Iraq, the USA, the UK, and then eventually resulted in the execution of Hussain. The man was a vicious dictator though, so why should he be a friend of the West? Saudi Arabia and Israel, however, remain on good terms with the UK and USA, despite both regularly violating human rights.
ISIL, although they call themselves an “Islamic State”, are an ideology, and you can’t just destroy an ideology by bombing it. Neoliberlism isn’t dying due to the death of Friedman, Thatcher or Reagan, it is dying because the global financial crisis made us realise that the free market is dangerous to the economy. To defeat ISIL, you need to destroy the root and cause of the phenomenon, the rhetoric by which it was created – something air strikes cannot achieve.
By Jonathan Pickles