There are many beautiful things to be taken from the fierce debate held in the British houses of Parliament over whether to attack the Islamic State in Syria. The level of rhetoric, the fierceness of the debate all put on proud display the very best of British democracy. Politicians put their fears on show for all to see and debated with the power of their principles whether the RAF should be sent to bomb Syria. The result of the vote, a resounding YES.
It is all too easy for pundits, laymen and the rest of us to tell anyone who will listen what we think those with their fingers on the trigger should do, it is quite another to be the one to pull that trigger. For it is only those who pull the trigger who will shoulder the responsibility for the consequences.
Watching the debate in Parliament made me proud to be British. It made me proud to have grown up in the country of Churchill, Gladstone, Disraeli and yes even of Cameron and Hilary Benn along with so many others who played their part in ensuring the evolution of the greatest democratic system in the world.
In the wake of the British Parliament voting yes on bombing Syria two Tornado aircraft left their base in Akrotiri, Cyprus and bombed an Islamic State controlled oil field, later two more took off and made bombing runs of their own. That oil field provides IS with an estimated 10% of their oil wealth.
There aren’t any precise figures for how many British aircraft are actually engaged in the fight against IS (around 16 is the figure being banded around) but there is no debate about the fact their number is small compared to the assets put in play by the United States Air Force and the Russians. Furthermore there was a great deal of talk that airstrikes would likely as not hit innocent civilians and therefore exacerbate the problem rather than improving it by sending new recruits into the ranks of IS.
On the one hand arguing that the RAF is too puny to make an effective contribution to the fight against IS and on the other that the effect of their bombing would be so great that it would strengthen IS is a contradiction I will leave you to resolve. But for many of us the fact that IS needs to be attacked seems to be so utterly clear, so obvious that it is a blemish on this government and other Western governments not only that they haven’t been attacking IS in Syria so far but that IS has been allowed to become this cancer, this tumor murdering all it comes into contact with for so long.
There have been some technical arguments about the ability of various British munitions and capabilities employed particularly by British Tornado aircraft to have an impact that others can’t have. Perhaps this is the case though I feel these arguments are dwarfed by the resolve it shows from the UK to be attacking, finally, the Islamic State across all of the territory it holds alongside her international partners.
The reasons for bombing a group that beheads, rapes, murders and destroys all in its path in the name of Allah should be clear. The reasons are so obvious that they shouldn’t need to be said at all, the fact that the best of British politics needed to be brought to bear on this particular subject shows the great depths to which Parliament has sunk as well as the great heights to which it can rise.
This group, this so called state, is a stain on the world. Its continued existence is a commentary about the apathy the Western world has when it comes to taking on evil even when they know they are looking it right in the eye.
The Kurds have been fighting Islamic State since day one. Their Peshmerga have been on the sharp end of bitter fighting for years. Their fight for an independent state pales into insignificance when one understands the fact that they are also fighting against their own annihilation should the Jihadi forces of the Islamic State succeed in defeating them. Air strikes in their areas of operations have been shown to be just as effective for them as they are for the ground forces of Great Britain and any other army who fights with an air force in their support. Leaving the Kurds open to a massacre at the hands of IS simply because certain British politicians are too scared that British bombs might accidentally kill some civilians strikes me as absurd.
If your concern is genuinely for innocent civilians then ordering strikes against the perpetrators of genocide is utterly in line with your principles. Britons can and should be proud about the fact that in their name British airman are being sent into harm’s way in order to kill murderers and the perpetrators of genocide.
There are people in Great Britain who argue that there shouldn’t be airstrikes in Syria because that will create more terrorists. They seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick. The airstrikes in Syria are killing the terrorists not creating them.
The Syrian people (those not dead or on their way to Germany) have been shellled, barrel bombed, strafed, tortured, starved and humiliated for years while the West watched on. Any radicalisation, anything that might happen to sway someone to fight for IS has already been done. At the time the Milliband’s of the world were busy arguing it wasn’t their problem. Fair enough at the time one might argue. But now there are millions of refugees traipsing through Europe and IS controlled, trained and/or inspired terrorists running rampage on the streets of Europe and the United States. Now it most demonstrably is their problem.
Those killed in the attacks in Paris and possibly now in San Bernadino California weren’t killed because their governments were attacking Islamic State, they were killed because the killers subscribe to the ideology of the Islamic State. An ideology which calls for the killing of apostates, Jews, gays and just about anyone who isn’t a Salafi Jihadi Muslim. The particular policy options chosen by a government are irrelevant.
But maybe I’m wrong and the policies of Western government’s are the reason that IS supporters are blowing people up and gunning their compatriots down on their own streets. Maybe it is because they were radicalized by the policies of their own governments or at least the radicalization process is eased by those policies. If that is the case should democratically elected government really change their foreign policy based on the fear of such attack? Are the bastions of democracy, the societies that spawned the great advances of our age both technological and moral to be cowed by the fear of such attacks? Could the citizens of Great Britain enjoy their own relative safety as set against France if it came at the cost of doing what was right and what was moral for the Kurds, for what’s left of the Yazidis, for what’s left of the Syrian people as a whole? Would it suffice to simply say “Sorry Prime Minister Hollande but we are too afraid of terrorists doing on our streets what they did on yours to help you in your hour of need?”
In the wake of the bombing of Buckingham Palace during the Blitz then Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother said “I am glad we have been bombed. Now we can look the East End in the eye.” How in the 21st century would Great Britain be able to hold her head high among the nations of the world if it had been reduced to a coward, too afraid of homegrown Islamic State terrorists to attack the murderers where they are strongest and doing the most harm? Too afraid of homegrown radical Muslims to attack terror cells in Raqqa planning attacks on its home turf?
The decision to attack Islamic State from the air will not, on its own, see the end of the Islamic State. It will make a resounding statement to those who are fighting the Islamic State and going on to the battlefield day after day in defence of their own liberty that Great Britain is with you, that Great Britain supports you and that help is coming. It states once again the British people are not afraid and that they stand willing to come to the aid of their allies and in support of the democratic freedoms that Islamic State hates so much and that, in itself is more than enough to justify 16 British aircraft attacking IS. It’s more than enough to justify a great deal more besides. Great Britain may have been slow to enter this fight, but enter it has and it is a credit to all who took part in that vote that it entered honorably and forcefully into the fight against murderers without blinking.