Last night, the House of Commons voted 397 to 223 to expand RAF airstrikes on Daesh/Islamic State to Syria, and therefore take a greater role in the 60 country coalition against the terrorist organization, following an eleven hour debate in the chamber.
The decision does not come lightly, and many MP’s on both sides acknowledged the mostly respectful disagreements with their colleagues on this issue of war and peace in the complex battleground of the Middle East, with IS posing a threat to the people in that region and to just about everyone else in the world. There is much at stake and so many moving parts to all of this, with the outcome far from certain and depending - to a great extent - on the conduct and actions of others in this troubled area that has already seen much violence, chaos, and displacement.
Like many people, I have been conflicted on this, and I have spent time reading the wide range of opinion on what to do.
In 2003, I supported the Iraq War, and at the time, I was a twelve year old kid who was caught up in the emotions of 9/11 and supremely believed our country was doing the right thing by going after Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. Nearly 13 years later, I am older and much more skeptical of overseas military inventions – especially in countries which do not pose a direct threat to the United States, and this skepticism is due in part to the fall-out resulting from Iraq War, which is at least partially responsible for the current situation.
However, I have not become a peacenik who automatically rejects conflict of any kind, any time, or any place, and there are times when real evil and barbarism must be confronted for the sake of humanity and civilization.
Daesh/Islamic State is certainly an evil force which practices barbarism to the nth degree and is driven by an extreme and sickening ideology which wants to export throughout the Arab world in the form a caliphate and eventually bring about the Apocalypse. Worse is that their methods have made their way into Europe, where 130 people lost their lives to IS terrorists on an otherwise normal night in Paris, France. Other incidents have occurred which have cost the lives of several more civilians at the hands of these thugs.
Clearly, they have to be dealt with. But how?
Memories of the Iraq War are still fresh in people’s minds, and no one wants to fight yet another conflict in the Middle East which can easily become a drawn-out quagmire. No one wants to take action which potentially threatens lives of innocent civilians, which in turn drives more refugees to other parts of the world. No one wants Western efforts to be potentially used as a recruiting tactic for IS, which results in some Western-born Muslims to join IS to train and fight with them, and possibly return home to terrorize their fellow citizens – Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
Then again, it is naïve to believe that if we just leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone, or that peaceful methods must be tried to come to a solution and avert more conflict and bloodshed. The problem with Daesh is that they unreasonable. They do not value human life in the way that most of us do, and their ideology does not allow for anything less than the hope for martyrdom and enjoying virgins in heaven. We in the US and the Soviets cared enough about the lives our own citizens to step back from the brink of nuclear war in 1962, and the Germans and Japanese saw the futility of putting their people through more war in 1945.
In contrast, there is no expectation that IS can be reasoned with because they are a death cult and have no regard for the lives of others, let alone their own, which is also why there can be no expectation that they won’t attempt to attack Western cities again if we decide to leave them alone. Even if they did leave us alone however, they would still be beheading and raping people, and pillaging cities and towns throughout the Middle East in the pursuit of their caliphate and other parts of their crackpot agenda.
Still, we cannot pretend that there will not be risks in conducting the airstrikes and a possible ground war in the future. Therefore, the real question was whether the case for action outweighed the case for inaction, and both courses are hardly optimal.
This is where our elected representatives come into the mix. We send them to their respective legislative bodies to make tough decisions on our behalf, and we expect that they will make informed decisions in the national interest which requires much introspection, meditation, and considering the facts on the ground (some of which only they are privy to) as well as the potential consequences either way – all while also listening to their constituent's.
Indeed, there were many MP’s who laid out articulate and well-grounded reasons for their respective votes for and against the motion to conduct airstrikes against Daesh in Syria. Ian Murray, MP for Edinburgh South laid out his basis for voting against the motion in one of the longest Facebook postings I have ever read, and it was as considered and thoughtful as the reasoning given by the Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis in favor of the motion. Both men in my opinion, took a considerable amount of time in thinking about the decision and how they came to it, and this was seen with many other parliamentarians in speeches, Facebook posts, and newspaper editorials.
The person who stood out most was Hilary Been, MP for Leeds and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, who gave an eloquent address in favor airstrikes (and going against his boss, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn) – reminding everyone of Britain’s obligation to fight injustice, evil, and fascism under the United Nations Charter and in response to the request for help from its ally, France (by a socialist president, Francois Hollande). He talked about the internationalist ideals of the Labour Party that saw trade unionists fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and saw Britain standing up to Hitler and Mussolini. He called out Daesh as the fascists of our time who hold the British people, British values, and British democracy in contempt, and that they must be defeated. Benn also based his case as part of a wider strategy to push IS out of territories under its command, so that it can be degraded and so that the overall Syrian Civil War can be brought to an end, and warned that the terror upon France could happen to Britain as well if no action was taken to stop them at the source.
In doing this, Benn made the case not only for invention (better than Prime Minister David Cameron) but for Britain to step up in other ways, such as taking in refugees and helping to rebuild Syria, which owes to its tradition of doing such things as an influential world power.
Agree with him or not, he made his decision based on what he believed was right, and so did many of the other MP’s, and that's why I really cannot blame people for the way they voted, and I don't envy the positions they occupy as parliamentarians. This was a tremendously difficult decision, so regardless of their views, I respect the MP's who at least showed some careful consideration before casting their vote. It was no time for political point-scoring (because for example, it's not about Scotland and the SNP's separatist obsession) or emotive language, but for taking a principled stand and speaking moderately on such a serious issue with people’s lives in the balance.
Only time will tell if they made the right decision, and I doubt that the people who supported the strikes did so without some misgivings or complex feelings.
The decision taken by the Commons last night on Daesh was by no means easy and comes with no guarantee of success, but there was also a price to pay for inaction against people who cannot be reasoned with.
For my part, I’m still not sure about the direction to take, and we in America will have to decide as well how we will conduct ourselves in all this. However, I respect the decision made by Britain, and I will be rooting for it in the hope that its actions will be for the better.