Tomorrow, the House of Commons will vote on UK air strikes in Syria. It started on that fateful November night in Paris where 130 innocents lost their lives. The story has dominated the news since. The terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) said it was responsible for the attacks but it was not an attack on France, it was an attack on the West and many countries stood with its ally. Everyone has an opinion on it but there appears to be a 50:50 divide on whether the United Kingdom should intervene in the Syrian conflict or not. Here is my two cents.
The Paris attack struck fear in many. Some of my friends said they did not want to go to London for the Christmas season, wary of an attack on British soil. David Cameron has stated that we have already prevented several attacks in the last twelve months. British hostages had been taken and tourists were killed when on holiday in Tunisia. To feel safe again, we need to wipe out this murderous regime and its ability to spread.
The situation is more complicated than that and air strikes will not bring instant results. To get a real understanding of what is unfolding in Syria you have to go back to 2011, the Arab Spring, where peaceful protesters came out in force across the Middle East demanding change. Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, retaliated with shooting protesters that ignited a civil war. It started off as Assad’s army versus rebel troops but the Kurds in the north of the country saw this as an opportunity to break away for their longed sovereignty. Now there were three groups fighting, leaving thousands of people dead in the crossfire.
In 2013 Assad used chemical weapons killing thousands of his own people, most of them innocent civilians and children. The world was shocked and outraged. In this moment David Cameron put a motion forward to use military action against President Assad. The vote failed 285-272. Embarrassed from the illegal war in Iraq, Ed Miliband and Labour demanded that the Government did not pursue this matter any further. The United Kingdom sat back and did nothing while the Assad regime continued to slaughter thousands of innocents.
Enter ISIS, a small break-off faction from al-Qaeda in Iraq who enters Syria to join the fighting against Assad. Their membership increases with defectors from the rebels and they are able to secure weapons, valuable backers and resources, such as oil and electricity, in the regime. Due to the oppressive rule of Assad in Syria and what could be seen as illegal intervention in Iraq from the West, the movement gathered momentum and ISIS had not only become a threat to the Middle East but a threat to the world. It had carried out many attacks in what could be called the developing world but it took one night in Paris for them to be seen a threat for intervention.
To get an idea of the terrorism that has taken place in 2015, here is a comprehensive list.
The list is long. Depressingly long. Not in any of these attacks did the UK feel threatened nor that it deemed it necessary to bomb ISIS in Syria. A day before Paris, 43 innocent people died in a suicide bombing in Beirut, carried out. No one blinked an eye. The attack on French soil changed everything. Was it because France are one of key allies? That the attack only happened a few miles from the English Channel? That it happened in Paris, the city that represents liberté, égalité and fraternité and an attack on these values is an attack on our values? Probably all of the above. This would make a case for another war, fought half way across the world.
What I fail to grasp is the vile hypocrisy of where we fight to preserve our values, the spirit of liberté, égalité and fraternité dies when we turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. Assad has killed around 200,000 of his own people. A fifth of a million people, dead. This is compared to ISIS who have killed under 10,000 in the Syrian war. We intervened in Iraq when we THOUGHT Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We did not intervene in Syria when we KNEW Bashar al-Assad had chemical weapons and when we KNEW he used them on his own people.
I remember that night on November 13th when I stayed up all night watching the events unfold. I did not mourn those who died because of my French heritage or because they were killed a few miles from where I lived. It was because they were human beings, like the ones that die every day in Syria. Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorists of Sub-Saharan Africa have killed over 20,000 while displacing over 2.3 million. A motion to bomb Boko Haram would never pass in the House of Commons.
We are not true international interventionists. We only intervene when it suits our interests. You may think I do not back military intervention in Syria because I do. However, I do not back this motion. For two reasons.
The first and the most overlooked factor is what happens to the Syrians caught in the bombing. The motion mentions the “continuing commitment to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees”. This does not fill me with much confidence with the lack of humanitarian support shown so far. I appreciate that aid is going to the camps but these are overcrowded and awful conditions for families to live their lives in when the Syrian conflict has no end in sight. The war has displaced so many already and further bombing will only destroy more houses and infrastructure in the country. The motion is to bomb people’s homes but not to increase the intake of said people into safety. How can we stand by while the Government does the bare minimum for those most affected by ISIS?
The second is that it is highly irresponsible. It shows a feign interest in helping Syria but rather showing France we are standing with them and that we are doing something to get rid of the ISIS threat. In Syria where Assad has now become forgotten, we will target bombing civilian inhabited areas. Bombing alone would be ineffective and bombing them in Iraq has made little difference so far. There is no clear plan to support the rebels or Kurds with ground troops to defeat ISIS and overthrow one of the most ruthless leaders of the 21st century. The motion has been rushed. It is purely reactionary with no clear goal on what we hope to achieve. Dropping some bombs for peace.
I can only hope that the MPs will vote down this motion and with a composed mind draft a new strategy that considers ISIS, Assad and the future of Syrians.