By Charlie Bird of Veterans For Peace UK
There are a number of false assumptions that have sprung up in the debate over whether the UK should join in the bombing campaign against ISIS/ISIL/Da’esh in Syria. I suspect that that they have been encouraged by politicians who hope that the issue will cause some domestic party political collateral damage, particularly to the Labour Party leadership. But bombing Syria is not a party political issue; it is a moral one quite separate from politics. And a refusal to support the bombing campaign is not a lack of support for the French and all others who have suffered at the hands of ISIS, nor is it a sign of being weak or half-hearted when faced with the appalling atrocities and perversion of Islam perpetrated by ISIS. We are being led to believe that the decisions are binary ones: bomb Syria or we fail to support our allies, bomb Syria or we are not serious in the fight against ISIS. This is convenient shorthand to shame us into supporting a decision to join the bombing campaign.
In the aftermath of the atrocities in Paris (which Iraqis and Syrians living in areas under ISIS control will recognise from their own experience) there is tremendous pressure on Governments to “do something” and to be seen to be doing it. The action becomes almost more important than the objective we are trying to achieve. Most of us can agree that ISIS needs to be eradicated both in terms of its presence on the ground and in terms of its ideology. If that is the case, then we should be able to work backwards to find the actions or combination of actions that will achieve those objectives, rather than hoping that our added presence in the already overcrowded skies above Syria will miraculously lead to the collapse of ISIS.
There is general agreement that the UK’s participation in the bombing campaign will be of greater symbolic rather than military significance. But we are told that it will help make the UK a safer place. That is what we were told about the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former Director General of MI5 told the Iraq Inquiry that the invasion of Iraq actually increased the terrorist threat to the UK. Dropping bombs on Syria is likely to encourage nascent “home grown” terrorists in the UK who may not be members, in the conventional sense, of ISIS but who are sympathetic to and inspired by them. There are many ways other than bombing Syria in which we can demonstrate real and practical support both for France and for the military and ideological struggle against ISIS. Provision of intelligence, resources and logistical support, tactical and strategic advice as well as a leading role in the search for a political settlement in Syria may be less visible and dramatic than news footage of RAF aircraft dropping bombs, but arguably may be more effective.
But for me, the final argument against the UK’s participation in the bombing campaign is that however smart our bombs may be, we will kill innocent civilians. There hasn’t been a recent bombing campaign without civilian casualties. And even if, by some miracle, RAF bombs don’t kill the innocents whom ISIS use as human shields, some of our “allies” in the campaign certainly will. They have already done so, and we will be associated with those killings. No doubt we will express our profound regret……ISIS have are responsible for the most disgusting offences against the people under their occupation, including crucifixion. The shrapnel from our bombs will tear through the flesh of the innocent like nails. Make no mistake; it will be done in our name.