The Menace of War

A hundred years after the outbreak of the First World War and we are forced to ask ourselves whether we are on the brink of the Third — or has it already broken out in a thousand different places, in a thousand different guises? We look at North Africa, the Near and Middle East; at parts of subSaharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent; at Malaysia and even further afield; and then are brought up short by reflecting that even here, on our own streets, there is violence and the threat of violence, talk of radicalisation and extremism. Parliament’s recall to discuss British participation in air strikes against IS is widely regarded as a rubber-stamp exercise. Pope Francis has spoken eloquently about the cataclysm enveloping us; President Obama has ratcheted up his rhetoric a notch to condemn the ungodly nature of the brutal killings that are the IS trademark; but ordinary people, you and me, what do we make of it all?

We live very near the headquarters of the SAS and are very aware of the brave men and women who are sent to perform extraordinarily dangerous tasks in order to protect us against various threats, both here and overseas. But we are also aware that the nature of war is changing. It is now much more diffuse, much more hidden. It takes place in shopping malls and subway stations; it targets the civilian as much as, in some ways even more than, the military. The legality of air strikes against IS in Iraq is, to the layman, much clearer than the supposed grounds on which Mr Bush and Mr Blair led us into the last Iraq conflict. The measure being put before Parliament today is hedged with all kinds of qualifications, some of them no doubt intended to ensure that Mr Milliband cannot rock the boat, but still there is fear of mission creep and the inevitable backlash.

The truth is we are faced with an impossible choice. Whether we act or do not act, people are going to die. In earlier posts I have written about the conditions that need to be met for what is called a just war. We cannot pretend that we are not involved in what Parliament decides today. We cannot say, ‘Not in my name’ and thereby distance ourselves from the consequences of that decision. The men and women stationed in Cyprus know very well that within a few hours half a dozen British Tornadoes may be taking to the skies with the aim of inflicting as much damage as they can on IS forces. However ambivalent we may feel about the use of violence, however torn, we have to face up to the fact that we are not dealing with people who are open to reason. Many innocent people have already died terrible deaths at their hands. Let us pray that IS may be stopped from inflicting even more death and destruction. At the same time, let us also pray for the courage and determination to bear the consequences of what promises to be a long and bloody conflict, not only ‘over there’ but also over here.

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Pause for Thought

So accustomed have I become to Bro Duncan PBGV’s occasional kidnapping of the keyboard, I nearly wrote ‘Paws for Thought’ and maybe there is greater wisdom in that than I thought. I will explain anon, but first, a very simple summary of some important events here in Britain during the past few days.

Earlier this week Parliament voted against military intervention in Syria in principle and David Cameron, very properly and honourably, said that meant that Britain would not now be party to any military intervention there in the future. Those picking over the decision have been drawing all kinds of conclusions from it. The party political ramifications, although important to us here in Britain, are a distraction from what is ostensibly our principal concern: the suffering of the people of Syria. The effect on the ‘special relationship’ between the U.K. and the U.S.A. also strikes me as being secondary. (I had the impression that President Obama was rather lukewarm about it anyway.) But Parliament’s decision does mean that other countries have paused in their rush to decide about military intervention, and that pause may be exactly what is needed to allow the voices of the Syrian people themselves to be heard. The ugliness and brutality of the Assad regime is not in doubt; but his opponents are not exactly angels of light, either; nor is the volatility of the Middle East as a whole in question. Why the fifteenth use (allegedly) of chemical weapons in Syria should be the point at which outside military intervention is considered appropriate is still not clear to me. We know that at least 100,000 people have been killed and that 1,000,000 Syrian children are now refugees. Each one is an individual, with a history, a personality, a face. Each one is a child of God.

It is at that point that Bro Duncan’s ‘paws for thought’ resonates with me. Dogs are noble in their ability to get on with even the nastiest human beings. They forgive readily or, if they do not forgive, they do not allow their negative feelings to destroy the opportunities of the moment. By and large, they are not too bothered about status or position, in the domestic context at least. They are patient, ‘dogged’ in the popular sense. Dogs would make very good diplomats, and I think we need some doggy diplomatic qualities as never before.. Christians in Syria have appealed for renewed dialogue rather than missile strikes, and that is something we in the West ought to pay more heed to. We have a tendency to look at problems from the outside in, and confuse activity with transformation. Moral indignation is all very well, but our duty is to change what is wrong. The fact that the U.K. will not be intervening militarily does not mean that we have any less of a responsibility to work for peace. The humanitarian catastrophe that is Syria is on the conscience of us all. The danger is  that, now that military strikes have been ruled out, we will fold our arms and do nothing. Shame on us if so!

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