The Blog

'Have We Learned Nothing?' - Why I Am Against UK Military Action In Syria

On 26 November 2015, in his address to the Commons, Cameron said he would not seek a vote on military action in Syria unless he thought he could win. He might as well have proclaimed that he would not let others stand in his way when he had already made up his mind, even seek to bypass what passes for our highest democratic chamber.

Have we learned nothing? Is the delayed Chilcot report preventing us from articulating what we already know? The ultimate demagoguery of politics that would have what passes for our security services held to ransom by spin doctors and plagiarisers of PhD theses. What confidence should we have in their unpublished assessments, sexed up by Cameron under the pretext of "if-only-you-knew-what-we-knew"?

But we do know. We know enough to tell that we've been here before, that raining bombs solves nothing, inflames tenfold, punishes most the innocent. We know that the industry of war, the business of war, pursues its own logic; and that the naked expression of mercenary terror, whether in state hands, leaves forced migration and unliveable lands in its wake.

The killing machine does not care to distinguish shots fired in jubilation from a wedding, or the peoples born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Suppose, even so, your legal limbo land of a drone kill strike does reach intended target? As Caroline Lucas has put it, killing people rarely kills their ideas.

We do know that Cameron's dulcet tones in Parliament, like Blair's hyperbole before him, betray bad faith and faulty reasoning.

Cameron asks, "If not now, then when?" He assumes not later; therefore now: the very thing he is meant to prove. To the contrary, the vote was lost before. "If not then, why now?" should be our refrain. Acts of terror are unconscionable, whether in Paris, Beirut, Minneapolis or Ferguson; whether perpetrated by individuals with sick ideologies, Brevik included, or by states. Police action through judicial process is required, not playing into the hands of sick ideologues.

Cameron is at pains to distinguish between religion and the perverse co-option of tropes by extremists claiming to act in its name. Yet he would make those already most marginalised in society face further oppression and persecution through the racist ideology of the Prevent programme. We must fight wicked ideology with ideas. We must increase the space in our schools and universities for free speech and contestation. Instead Cameron would have May drive speech underground, through thought police and fear of criminalisation.

No, we are not prepared to go to war on the basis of a non sequitur. Nor are we prepared to unlearn the lessons of history, where already we have substituted for one set of problems in Iraq and Afghanistan a bigger set of problems in the wider Middle East: Killing people in order to save them in Iraq; leaving behind a power vacuum in its wake, for sectarian violence to fester.

We are repeatedly told, we cannot do nothing. To the contrary, to not go to war is not to do nothing. It may not be testosterone-fuelled, it may not be glamorous as Hollywood-actioner-knows-no-limits being played out on our TV screens, but it is the ultimate resolve. As was truth and reconciliation in South Africa, as were the Northern Ireland peace talks, punctuated as they were by a better way of pursuing politics; to meet our enemy not through escalation but through de-escalation.

As post 9/11 neocons were quick to admit, as if through wicked design, that the chances of future terrorist incidents became more likely not less through their retaliatory actions. Whether through malice or incompetence, the effect of Cameron's design is the same, increased threat of terrorism on our streets. That is not the noble cause he claims. It is the stuff of notorious spin doctors that the late Dr David Kelly sought to expose.

In anticipation of another vote in the Commons, we proclaim, "Free vote!" Well, I appeal directly to the Labour Party. My conscience is as the conscience of my party, as so should be yours.

Take your vote as you listen to the conscience of Corbyn not the ghost of Tony Blair.

Take your vote as you reflect on the fate of Jean Charles de Menezes shot dead in London by those tasked to protect us.

Take your vote as you hear the torment of the disempowered and voiceless peoples of the world, begging of us, if so they could, not to pursue war.