Listen to the military hawks this week and you would think that by voting against military intervention the UK was sitting on its hands and doing nothing about an horrific civil war killing thousands and creating millions of refugees. Worse still it’s suggested that our international standing is ruined because we’re ‘doing nothing’ – as if our reputation mattered more than a Syrian peace.
This is Manichean logic of the worst kind.
Now we have resisted our initial instinct to bomb people because ‘we can’ it’s time to find ways to satisfy our urge to do something in a more constructive way.
Peace makers not peace lovers
The founding question of Christian Peace Maker teams, best known for their work in Iraq was: “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?”
Christian or not, now is the time to answer that question for Syria.
Peacemaking is not for the faint hearted – it is risky, tough and at times life threatening. It means speaking to dictators and tyrants whose actions we abhor. It means subsuming our own immediate interests in the pursuit of peace. It means recognising the painful truth that we don’t have all the answers and have to look to let others lead with our support.
For instance, we could be working to implement and enforce an arms embargoes for Syria as part of efforts for a ceasefire. But this means working with Russia and Hizbollah. This in turn means acknowledging uncomfortable truths about the West’s own arms deals (many of which we will be making at the worlds’ biggest arms fair in London next week) and pet dictators. Why should Russia work with us now to oust one of ‘their’ strong men when we have protected so many of our own?
Thinking long term
Painful though it is there is no short term fix in Syria. Even in the midst of this carnage we should be looking for groups at all levels within Syria who we can work and negotiate with which may bear fruit in 2, 5 or 10 years’ time. In Libya the UK had been funding democratic institutions and helping the central government to deal with Muslim militants in the East of the country. The coalition government has now pulled that funding , but was prepared to spend tens of millions of pounds on a military intervention in Syria.
Finally, Jordan have come out publicly against air strikes, fearing an escalation across the region and an increase in the 500 000 – 1 million Syrian refugees already crossing the border. In terms of percentage of population this is equivalent to 6-10 million people entering the UK. How can we support them?
Choosing a violent military response in Syria smacks of desperation and impotence. Parliament resisted this temptation and we have now have the opportunity to relentlessly, determinedly, sacrificially pursue peace in Syria.