There are few words more that could meaningfully be written or said on the “war on terror”. We have lived with this aspect of our world for so many years. Indeed, although, we might like to say that terrorism began on September 11th 2001 with the destruction of the twin towers in New York the reality is different; terrorism of some kind has a long and terrible history over the centuries. I could not begin to know how one might resolve the current violence most recently seen in Paris. Having said that I am equally sure that no-one else on the planet knows how to resolve the issue. Whatever politicians might say there is no quick fix. In an article in the Guardian (Nov. 27th 2015) French Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, pleaded with the UK government to allow British military to join with France to “work side by side...to take this fight to the very heart of Isis, defeating it and making our countries and peoples safer”. In House of Commons debate (Nov. 26th) on whether the UK should become militarily involved with the bombing of Isis strongholds in Syria Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs and we the electorate that “We have to hit these terrorists in their heartland right now.....we must not shirk our responsibility....to degrade and ultimately defeat [the] Islamic state” Cameron went on to say, amongst other things that if we (the UK) agreed to begin military action against Isis in Syria then we would bring to the war on terrorism the “Raptor pod” – a surveillance camera system that attaches to the Tornado aircraft, and the “Brimstone Missile” which, “even the Americans do not possess”. I have to say, when I heard Cameron say this my immediate thought was “Is this what it all boils down to....the mentality of the school playground?” It was almost a repeat of the argument I have heard so many times in 40 years of teaching: “I’ll tell my brother of you.......I don’t care ‘cause my brother’s bigger than your brother.....I’ll tell my dad then.....well, my dad’s bigger than your dad”! Try as I might I could not escape the feeling that Cameron’s display was no more than machismo vanity – he was, I felt, strutting his military stuff – and while this goes on I believe the spiral of violence will go on. It was the logic and response of the codpiece - bullish and testosterone filled - rather than the logic of considered reflection.
|I don't envy him his job but "methinks the man doth protest too much" |
- he looked a lot like a man wanting to show who was king of the playground!
Don’t get me wrong I feel heartily sorry for politicians of all persuasions – they have an impossible task on this one – damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I do not envy Cameron, Hollande, Obama or anyone else. Although they might sound bullish, knowing that they have to do something to satisfy the growing clamour for some kind of action, equally I am absolutely sure that in the quiet of their beds they must have other thoughts, opinions and anxieties. As Tony Blair and George W Bush found the past came back to haunt them and significantly damage their political legacy.
Cameron’s opposite number, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has put the proverbial “cat amongst the pigeons” and not only made himself a few enemies but also alienated a number of his fellow Labour MPs by stating his position on the matter following Cameron’s House of Commons speech: “I do not believe the prime minister’s current proposal for airstrikes in Syria will protect our security and therefore cannot support it.” Corbyn has been savaged in the right wing press and indeed many of the more left wing sections have, too, reported him negatively. But I wonder? I don’t have any solutions to these terrible times in which we live but I am becoming more and more certain that a continuing and reciprocating spiral of violence is probably not the answer.
|Corbyn - he may not be an inspirational leader who would inspire troops into|
battle - but is this a battle we want to fight? Would his considered
wisdom not be the better option for everyone?
As I watched Cameron and read of the position that Corbyn had taken up a couple of thoughts came into my mind. Firstly, I well remember that day in September 2001 when the twin towers were destroyed. I attended a local non-league football match and as the news from New York continued to come in two things were soon apparent. Firstly, that there had been a terrible destruction in New York and there was that evening at our game not only one topic of conversation but a tangible feeling of horror and distress. The football was lost on everyone – players and spectators. A few minutes prior to the kick off it was decided to hold a two minute silence in recognition of the people killed. We all stood, players and about 100 supporters in total silence, the atmosphere overwhelmingly intense. But there was a second feeling abroad that night and that feeling was quite simply revenge. Even on our little football ground in middle England far from the terrible scene in mighty New York one could feel it tangible and terrible. I can remember saying to a friend as we stood watching the game “Bush will send in the B52s against this bin Laden bloke”. Looking back almost fifteen years on, I recognise now that what I meant was simple revenge. I wasn’t interested in resolution but in retribution. How naive we all were.
And the second thought that I had as I watched Cameron was of Southwell Minster here in Nottinghamshire – about 15 miles away from where I live. In the Minster is a memorial plaque to a young soldier from Nottinghamshire who did in Afghanistan in the wars of the late 19th century. Many other churches and Minsters up and down the country have the same sort of things. The soldier's bravery is commended on the plaque but each time I look at it I wonder what his parents would think if they were still alive today? Almost 150 years later our Prime Minister is still demanding that we send troops and warplanes to that area and other middle east war zones like Syria just as we did to preserve the British Empire in the age of Lord Palmerston’s gunboat diplomacy. It is a sad verdict on our modern society, politics and way of operating in this world that we all inhabit - be we Christian, Moslem or of no faith - that in so many ways we have not in all those years learned a great deal. At the end of the road violence is still, it seems, is the answer. And so I wonder if that Victorian soldier's parents – if they were still alive - might legitimately ask the question "What did our son die for when a hundred and fifty years ago we are still fighting and bombing to no obvious reason or gain?”
Within that context I am beginning to wonder if Jeremy Corbyn is not correct in his position and views. Why do we keep repeating the same tired and brutal orthodoxy that has failed in that region for generations. Political pundits tell us that Corbyn is a loser, unfit to be leading a great party like the Labour Party. Well, from where I am sitting he might indeed be politically naive, he may even be misguided and he will probably fail at the ballot box. But for my money, rightly or wrongly, he seems to hold the moral high ground. And, I would add, the logical high ground too. He might eventually be booted from office – but I have a distinct feeling that he will be able to hold his head high as we continue to career down this path towards what looks increasingly to me like a terrible disaster.
There is, too, another dimension to all this. One aspect of which is I believe undeniable but another which is a personal viewpoint but important to my reasoning and ultimate position. In Friday’s Guardian (Nov. 27th) a correspondent wrote: “.....[bombing]gives status to murderous cults, directs effort away from a political way forward and money away from a humanitarian response to relieve Syrian suffering. A political solution will have to be reached......” She was not wrong. And she further commented: “... can everyone please stop and think what this means for people there who are like you and me....... Thousands of children, women and men will die as a result of bombing. I cannot imagine the horror of those living in Raqqa – they have been targeted by the Assad regime, they live in fear of Isis who control their lives and execute at will, and now they are being bombed by an international coalition.” In those few simple but telling words the lady got to the very essence of the political, military and moral problem. As we flex our machismo military muscles we should bear them in mind.
The second issue of this dimension is a personal belief. I not only believe that military action is likely to be of only limited success, morally questionable and maybe ultimately counterproductive in ramping up the spiral of violence but I am firmly of the view that it is not in the long-term desirable. Whilst we might have grave concerns about what is happening under regimes like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, or Isis and Taliban held areas of the middle east and Afghanistan, or politically volatile states in North Africa, and all the rest, in the final analysis the only meaningful settlement can and will come from the indigenous people themselves. It is a national trait of Americans and gives them an almost crusading Christian zeal to bring democracy to the furthest corners of the world. This zeal might be laudable (although I am equally convinced that at the bottom of it lurk more devious and less worthy motives concerning US power, influence, prestige and big business) – but however laudable it is not, I believe, ultimately sustainable. Democracy or any other form of government desired by a people has to come from the people – indeed if kit does not it is not democracy. For it to be in some way “imposed” by outside, support, influence or military intervention is not a sound basis for its establishment. The French had their revolution, the Americans their War of Independence and later a great Civil War, the English their Civil War and numerous other cataclysmic political and semi violent uprisings to create the United Kingdom, the Russians their revolution its aftermath seventy years later, the Spanish their Civil War and the Franco years, the Italians their Risorgimento, the Germans had to suffer two great defeats in war........and so the list goes on. The common theme was that in the end these countries had to fumble and often fight to create the political, social and religious climate that they wanted. Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and every other middle eastern or North African state have to do the same. For the west to seek to intervene – other than to send succour to those in need – is, I firmly believe, counterproductive in the long term and both politically and morally unsound.
|I bet David Cameron got a real macho buzz when |
he read this and saw his popularity rise
in proportion to the size of his macho codpiece!
This year marks almost fifteen years since the twin towers were destroyed and the so called “war on terror” began. Without being overly pessimistic I don’t think it would be wrong to say that little real progress has been made. Indeed, the areas of the middle east where alleged terrorist groups and ideas have spread seems to have widened. The vast amounts of money spent, security measures taken, concerns about air travel and the increased use of high-tech military hardware all seem to have had, at best, only limited success. From Afghanistan to Iraq bombs have been dropped, missiles shot and troops mobilised but I see no end in sight. Even David Cameron in his speech to Parliament openly admitted that success in this area might take many years. As I read and think about this I can’t help coming to the conclusion that my comment to a fellow supporter at the football match on September 11th 2001 that “Bush will send in the B52s against this bin Laden bloke” was naive in the extreme. In saying it, it was implicit in my thoughts that a few massive US B52 bombers dropping their payloads would put an end to the bin Laden nonsense once and for all. How wrong I was. I’m sure that George W Bush and Tony Blair thought so too. How wrong they were too.
But of course, in those fifteen years things have changed. Despite the best efforts of military intervention and force terrorism is still very much alive and well. To argue otherwise is not an option. Indeed, one might argue that terrorism is more rampant – and certainly more violent. Its spread immeasurably aided with the use of modern technology such as the internet, mobile communications and social networking has ensured that the recruitment and planning of terrorist operations has moved to a level that probably couldn’t be imagined even in 2001. Then it was simple – find bin Laden and bomb him. Today’s game, I believe, is infinitely more complex and requiring of a more complex solution. John Maynard Keynes allegedly once said "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?". In these fifteen years the facts have indeed changed and we need to respond accordingly. To simply carry on or increase the same tired and failed formulas from 2001 is clearly not an option. It defies all logic and common sense.
|Sunday's (November 30th) Observer - the report from the Syrian town of Raqqa|
reflects precisely what the correspondent in the Guardian said in her letter
two days earlier.
And that is my final point. Ramping up the violence through more bombing and pursuing a policy that whilst it might have made small dents has not stopped (and maybe increased) the spread of terrorism is simply illogical. It is denying the facts of the situation. Jeremy Corbyn was not wrong. An unconvincing case for bombing has not been made by David Cameron. It might have machismo appeal, it might satisfy the popular press and those whose solution to most things is ultimately to resort to violence. But I do not see it resolving the problem and if past experience is anything to go by the chances are that things will deteriorate further. As the lady from Leicester who write to the Guardian on Friday so clearly said: “I don’t really understand what has happened in Syria and its wider region – it is obviously very complex. But I feel that Syrians will know what they want for their country and the UN must continue to put every last drop of effort into making this happen: ceasefires, UN-organised elections, UN peacekeeping forces, reconstruction. Speaking as a mother I think I do understand what Syrian mothers want for their children: to be able to keep them safe and, beyond this, education, a carefree childhood, a good future. Bombing does not achieve this, even for those it doesn’t kill”. Quite. Just as the school bully does when he comes up against someone who he dislikes or cannot fathom we are adopting a quick and easy solution to a complex problem – violence. It is the lazy option – and, I fear, a very stupid one. As the Guardian correspondent suggested Syrians (and any other of these war/terrorist ravaged states) must know what they want for their country and all that we can do is provide a positive framework to making his happen – even if their preferred choice is not what we with a western interpretation of democratic government would favour.
For me, the path that we are almost inevitably embarking on once again proves the points made by Einstein many years ago:
- “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe”
- “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
- “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding”
- “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”
We should be very, very careful – which in the end is I believe the essence of Jeremy Corbyn's response. He is not wrong to be so.