Syria and aggressive pacifism



The situation in Syria took a decided turn for the worse this last week. Or maybe it has been as bad as this for a long time  but we just got to hear about it last week. Alongside the appalling pictures and the reality of a chemical attack there was much debate about what can be done. In the UK there was a Parliamentary vote which concluded with a government defeat and a rejection of UK military intervention. Like lots of people I found myself very conflicted about what to do. The situation is horrific and vulnerable people need protection but is the push towards military intervention likely to achieve that protection?

One of the sad things about the debate was was the false dualism of aggression or passivity. As if rejecting military action meant doing nothing. I find myself rejecting violence but wanting to be an aggressive pacifist! This is why I found Sarah Bessey’s article so helpful and challenging. I found it particularly disturbing that a number of Christians were rushing for a military response and felt that anything less was an abandonment of the people of Syria. Yet we are called to be peacemakers and as Martin Luther King reminds us peace is not just the goal but the means to the goal.

At a personal level I describe myself as ‘almost pacifist’ and I believe that military action is always a failure of politics. But even putting aside my personal convictions here are five areas where I think we need some deeper thinking.

1. Our intelligence reports are art masquerading as science
History tells us that we don’t know as much as we think we know about complex situations. This is true of what is actually going on and even more true of information on target locations and civilian casualties. Behind each intelligence report is human judgement sifting the pieces of information and coming to conclusions. Sometimes those judgments are right and sometimes (like Iraq) they are wrong. We should be very cautious.

2. The current odious regime is likely to be replaced by something more odious
That the Assad regime is vicious and terrible is obvious. It is also obvious that it is opposed by a spectrum of organisations and interests which span democrats to religious fundamentalists. The opposition has also shown itself capable of terrible viciousness. As Bertrand Russell said ‘War does not determine who is right- only who is left’. Should the fate of Syria, and the knock on effect on the Middle East, be decided on the principle of ‘the last man standing’? We have seen the effect of an absence of thinking about the end game  in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lets not do the same thing again.

3. Missiles are a blunt instrument
I don’t believe all the talk of surgical strikes. I think that is PR speak for a very big bomb going off and destroying everything around it. The missiles coordinated might be very precise but the explosion it makes is pretty indiscriminate. Norman Schwarzkopf(hardly a bleeding heart liberal) wrote that even if a war could be just or necessary- ‘A professional soldier understands that war means killing people, war means maiming people, war means families left without fathers and mothers.’

4. The influence of others
Whatever else is going on in Syria it is also where others are manoeuvring for influence. The two superpowers of Russia and USA both have vested interests. The situation plays into the fault lines of religious and political divisions within the Middle East. Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other. This is a complex situation with a number of agenda’s being played out. Is the military option to protect people or support a strategic advantage of one of the ‘players’?

5. Who benefits?
This is now me getting a bit cynical. There are people who benefit from war and I am not talking about the people we are trying to help. Military action may or may not be good for them but it will definitely be good for other groups of people. There are lots of organisations who have a clear commercial interest in war. It is good business. Good enough that as far back as the 1950’s President Eisenhower was warning against the military-industrial complex dragging countries into war.War is often good for politicians. It distracts from home problems, gives them prestige at international conferences and helps them look decisive and powerful at home. None of which is worth a single life lost.

So what then?
But this doesn’t mean that nothing can be done. The humanitarian response can increase. Political pressure and will can be strengthened. If a fraction of the energy and finances that go into military action could be put into peacemaking, conflict resolution and humanitarian relief then the people of Syria might actually get a future. If you want to join in then here are some ways to do so.

My final point is Jesus
Jesus looked out over Jerusalem one day and wept over the condition of its people. He didn’t overthrow the Romans or start a rebellion he came down the mountain and loved and served and healed and showed a better way. As His followers we need to do the same.

I think that we all need to wrestle with these issues a lot more so do please comment or get in touch on twitter or Facebook

The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations.

David Friedman