I've hesitated to say anything about the situation in Syria when so much has been said by many who know a great deal more about the situation than I do. But I have been galvanised into writing today by the unusual situation of finding myself in complete agreement with Vladimir Putin. His warning that a U.S. military strike 'could increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism' is no less spot on for being obvious. Military action by the U.S. will further sabotage progress over the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israel/Palestine conflict. It will have a deeply unsettling effect on Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and the countries of Northern Africa who are receiving large numbers of Syrian refugees. Focusing a response on a strike against the use of chemical weapons is stupefyingly simplistic and short sighted and repeats the now often-made mistake of riding rough shod over the subtleties and complexities of internal Islamic and Middle Eastern political relationships. Putin warns the Obama regime in these terms,
"Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan: 'You're either with us or against us.' Russia is not aiming to protect the Syrian government but international law."
By all means, hunt down those who are responsible for the use of chemical weapons and try them as war criminals. But a military strike will cause massive further suffering to the hundreds of thousands who are already suffering the effects of more conventional weapons. Scarcity of food and health care, loss of homes, incomes and employment and internal displacement or exile are the daily lot of most citizens. On-the-ground humanitarian organisations like CAFOD, Caritas Lebanon, Aid to the Church in Need are united in calling for aid, not military action. Damacus-based Greek Orthodox Patriarch Gregorios III (who himself narrowly missed being blown up by a bomb) has said that military action will be disastrous and that, despite the level of conflict, 'reconciliation initiatives are still viable' - indeed preferable.
In the House of Lords, Baroness Caroline Cox of HART here has drawn attention to the need for Syrians to find their own resolution without Western military interference so that the country does not lose its own inherent progress toward a balance of the interests of the many different political and religious groups.
'For many years, despite a despotic regime, Syria ensured freedoms for diverse faith traditions and for women which were enviable in comparison with its neighbours in the Middle East. There are real fears that any replacement regime, almost inevitably ruled or influenced by Islamists, will reduce Syria to the potentially irreversible destruction of religious freedoms and women’s rights. I therefore share the profound concerns about a military intervention that could unleash even more suffering. Bringing the perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice must be the priority, not supporting, either directly or indirectly, militias that are also committing heinous and egregious violations.' (Hansard, Lords Debate 28th August.)
To help put this in a wider context, the Quaker peace talks in York, this autumn, will be providing a chance to go on thinking about the options for effective Western interaction and aid in the Middle east. The first in the series is at the Bootham School 7pm on
Tuesday 1st October: “Threats to Peace: events since 9/11 and what they mean for the future” with Paul Rogers, Professor in Peace Studies at Bradford University, editor of Open Democracy and consultant for the Oxford Research Group.