THE BLOG

As British Parliament Votes for Airstrikes, Public Mood Shifts Further Away From Intervention

07/12/2015 12:34 GMT | Updated 04/12/2016 10:12 GMT

This week, 397 MPs voted in favour of air strikes against so-called ISIS targets in Syria. This has been translated to an overwhelming victory for the government which proposed the motion to bomb Syria.

Even if we accept that the UK Parliament is representative of the British population, the 223 members who voted against the airstrikes are meant to represent about 22,000,000 British citizens. This is a significant proportion of the population which has been completely ignored. Compared to the 412 votes for and 149 votes against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, we could say there has been a shift towards non-intervention in the House of Commons.

We have heard many MPs, particularly Labour, came under pressure to support the position of Leader of the Opposition and vote down the motion. Pressure from below has been underway for some time and it is fair to say the mainstream media and tabloids have done as much as possible to suppress these voices.

Britain's involvement in recent conflicts of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya still weighs heavily on the conscience of much of the British population. The invasion of Afghanistan, in particular, was a rush to war in retaliation to the September 11 attacks, not too dissimilar, in nature, with the reactionary call for military intervention in Syria Wednesday December 2, less than three weeks after the attacks in Paris.

The 'War on Terror' has been waging for over a decade and it has directly and indirectly killed at least 1,300,000 people, most of whom are civilians. It is difficult to ignore the fact that a combination of these military campaigns has contributed to the death cult known as ISIS, and its affiliated groups around the world. To those civilians, who will be at the receiving end of the British bombs, RAF fighter jets are just another addition to a range of instruments which can kill them at any moment. I believe in the coming days, months and years, this will only increase the number of those in the region who will be turning to ISIS as they see foreign forces, as well as Assad, attacking them left, right and centre.

The way in which the UK participated in Libya is perhaps the most recent and most similar example to what is going to happen in Syria. Almost five years on, it is difficult to see how it has made life better for Libyans. Tens of thousands have died since the intervention and the country is practically experiencing its second civil war since 2011. Militant groups with characteristics not too dissimilar to ISIS have now gained more power, and some of their fighters have even left to join ISIS itself.

Going further back in time, the public have not forgotten how their voices were ignored when Parliament voted to invade Iraq in 2003 after UK's biggest ever demonstration against Britain's involvement in the war a month earlier. A war based on incorrect information, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The political narrative has changed significantly since 2003 though. With a prominent anti-war veteran as Leader of the Opposition and the heavy shadow of Iraq's invasion still noticeable, being against foreign intervention has become more of an acceptable stance. A sign of this is the unanimous vote against the bombing of Syria by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the National Union of Students. Very wide-ranging political standpoints and opinions are often found on NUS NEC, yet this motion passed unanimously. It is a clear signal that, across the UK's political spectrum, being against war has become more mainstream.

The Prime Minister was so worried about how this anti war attitude would affect MPs in parliament that he had to resort to calling anyone against the airstrikes a 'terrorist sympathiser'. Although Mr. Cameron might see this as a bit tongue-in-cheek, Muslims, especially those who are politically engaged and are against military intervention, will experience the backlash. Of course, this is a tactic that Conservatives used recently when Mr. Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. I believe the demonisation of opinions which are not in line with the establishment is yet another indicator of how out of touch and worried the Prime Minister is about losing the argument for war. At a time where cuts to public services have made it impossible for many in the UK to make ends meet, it is questionable how the government can justify £1m per mission for an unlimited length of time without any proof or evidence that it will benefit Syrian or British people in any meaningful way.

The trend of Western military intervention has been fairly consistent over the past couple of decades, destructive and self defeating. Despite this, there doesn't seem to be any willingness to think of a different solution to the problem. As the old saying goes 'If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail'. The public, especially the younger generation, who have more access to independent media sources compared to previous generations and have seen Muslim countries being bombed to the stone ages from early childhood, has had enough.

Although many feel emotionally drained and furious after the vote to engage in Syria, the anti war movement will only grow in light of this latest military engagement. Students from all over the country are planning actions to oppose airstrikes and will not rest until they are finally listened to.