After winning the Syria airstrikes vote by a majority of 174, PM David Cameron declared that bombing IS in Syria will make the UK 'safer'? Much praise has also been heaped on Labour MP, Hilary Benn's speech, which defied Corbyn's anti-bombing stance. Benn also correctly reprimanded Cameron for denouncing Jeremy Corbyn as a 'terrorist sympathiser'. I, too, am opposed to the bombing, but I certainly have no empathy for Islamic State (IS).
Hilary Benn declared that: 'it is now time to do our bit in Syria'- and it is. For months we have seen beheadings of innocents, including children, the enslavement of Yazidi girls, the mass displacement of millions and persecution on a mass scale. The massacre in Paris has precipitated a seismic shift in foreign policy in France, Germany and the UK. They are now 60 countries involved in the coalition fighting IS with the approval of the UN. Is this the closest to World War III that we have ever seen? At the same time there are those arguing that bombing is playing into IS's hands, incurring mass civilian casualties serving as an excellent recruitment tool both in Europe and in Syria. Then there are those that say bombing is the right course of action and that the next logical step is to send ground troops. Could anyone stomach seeing UK soldiers being beheaded? IS have already posted the beheading of one captured Russian soldier.
Detail from War on a Scroll Part 2 (mixed media on 30-foot piece of paper, 2015)
And what of the aftermath of war? There are talks taking place in Vienna discussing the creation of an interim government with the hope of free and fair elections in the long term. It seems premature to talk of democracy in a country, which has been reduced to rubble while Bashir al-Assad lurks in the shadows. And while politicians try to scramble something together, Russia and Turkey are at loggerheads and on a completely different trajectory to the other countries involved. It seems that the bombing is not very coordinated, how could it be? The decision to bomb was made speedily, so just how much planning has gone into strategy?
We all want to see decisive action and for IS to be dealt with emphatically, but all I see right now is a mess.
Although security forces have foiled various terrorist plots, there is the fear that something heinous will happen, again. And now Europe has never been so polarised with the rise of the Far-right and Neo-Nazi groups, and with attacks against veiled Muslim women and Jewish communities on the rise does Cameron think that bombing Syria is going to eradicate these problems at home? - If anything the polarisation will deepen across Europe?
Benn spoke of Hitler's and Mussolini's fascism and how countries united to defeat the scourge, but IS's brand of fascism is a very different beast. Hitler possessed a conventional army that in the end was annihilated via conventional means; it took years and brought the European allies to their knees. IS is not a conventional enemy. They are also fighting their war on another battleground, brainwashing the susceptible minds of recruits via the vast planes of a sprawling and unregulated internet. This is a war that has to be fought on multiple fronts.
Detail from my War on a Scroll Part 2 (mixed media on a 30-foot scroll of paper, 2015)
If the world wants to defeat IS then their strategy needs to be multi-faceted. Google, Facebook, Twitter and You Tube have to work systematically to shut down websites and accounts that fuel the IS propaganda machine. Just as accounts are reopened they must keep on removing or blocking them. Governments must start a programme of going into schools - now - to stop the radicalisation of the young; ban imams from preaching hate and Islamic extremism; Muslims residing in the US, UK and other European cities must speak out and condemn what is happening; and for those refugees that have been welcomed into Europe they need a chance to build a proper life to avoid the ghettoization that has occurred in so many European cities that fuelled resentment and the rise of radicalisation at home.
Detail from my War on a Scroll 2 (mixed media on 30-foot scroll of paper, 2015)
The UK should stop supplying weapons to countries like Saudia Arabia who in turn supply terrorist organisations. IS's access to the vast oil supplies of Syria has to be cut off (which would be a start at least to tackle their vast accumulation of resources). For argument's sake what if IS ground troops are wiped out, surely the same countries that are currently bombing Syria have to stick around to reconstruct roads, schools, hospitals, homes, and ensure the creation of a viable, credible government that excludes Assad to ensure long term stability in Syria. Even if Assad is out of the picture his supporters could sabotage all efforts of a new government, which is what happened in post war Iraq with former Ba'athist party members turning to terrorism.
Aside from these questions where will the money come from to rebuild? Bombing is easy, reconstruction and sustaining peace in a region as volatile as the Middle East is not. Now that the bombing has started and sees no signs of abating, the allies must work together to create a viable plan for the future of Syria and minimise civilian casualties. However we are already seeing the first images of angelic faces that will smile no more killed during the raids.
Looking at the UK's track record in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, do we really have much cause for optimism? Rather we could see an escalation of the war in Syria into other regions of the Middle East. This could be another protracted and bloody affair eclipsing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Do I believe that IS can be defeated by bombs? Maximum damage can be inflicted, but IS could regroup, go underground and create slick propaganda films out of the carnage of dead Syrian children. As IS soldiers die more will be recruited and as the allies get exhausted IS will keep on going because they want this to be as drawn out and gruesome as possible.
For IS this is a game, this is what they want - for the world to be embroiled in war and destruction and we have played right into their hands? Are they deriding us? Death does not scare IS, what does?
It's the Syrian people that I feel for. They are the ones that continue to suffer, more now than ever before.
As the bombs rain down mercilessly in torrents I ask the question: Is the UK and the world safer now? I would say, unequivocally, no it is not.