by Jemma Wayne, Journalist and author
In the lead-up to military intervention in Syria, the past few weeks have felt historic. Terror, again, with a randomness and devastation that makes us fearful. Rallying, again, a zealous call to arms. And protests, again, peaceniks against war. The debate has monopolised Parliament, dominated the media and also our dinner tables. But what has felt most historic about the arguments this time, most troubling, is not the discussion about whether or not bombing Syria is the right course of action, but the revelation that a large swathe of people seem to be advocating no action at all.
No action, against a vile, murderous group that makes one question the very notion of humanity.
Of course, bombing was not necessarily the answer. Doing something does not automatically require bombs. And the considered military and political arguments that suggest alternative strategies are rational and reasonable, and possibly right.
Likewise, it’s not that it’s intrinsically bad to do nothing. There are times when the less meddling from the government, the better, both domestically and on the international stage.
But this is not one of those times. And whether it is because of fear, or foreign policy apology, those who argue for bunkering down and letting Daesh get on with it across the sea are treading a dangerous path of misguided cultural relativism. There is simply no pluralist perspective to what Daesh do. They are not right. They deserve no sympathy. There is no justification.
To be clear, it is undoubtable that Britain’s foreign policy strategy over the years has contributed to the current situation. There have been failures, mistakes, and a lot of them. But whatever culpability we may carry in reaching this moment, does not negate the need to address it now. And in addressing it, we cannot look only to our own shores.
First, for pragmatic reasons – the evil is already targeting us, already here. But perhaps more crucially – ethically. Because even if we weren’t in the firing line, even if Daesh wanted only Syrian heads to literally roll, we would still be compelled to act. Or should be.
That is humanity.
Yet, too often across the press and social media, two insidious lines of thought seem to be creeping towards acceptability.
First, that there is ‘reason’. That injustices visited by the West have caused the terror – the vacuum of power we created gave rise to Daesh for example – and so, hence, it is validated. This is the same reasoning that excuses suicide bombs in Israel, or the attack on Charlie Hebdo, or Jeremy Corbyn’s support for Hamas. Little more than a facile way to pardon psychopathic murder.
The second notion is that Daesh and others in the region are simply different. They subscribe to a different culture, a different scripture, to them we are the enemy in the same way as they are to us, so who are we to interfere? Who are we to say their ‘way’ is wrong? Build up the walls, lock down the borders, and as long as they don’t come for us, let them get on with it.
As Jews, we have often been the ‘different’ people so in some ways it feels natural to protect the equal merit of others to hold their own beliefs. But respecting alternative ways of life has limits, and that limit is the principle of harm, the point at which somebody’s ‘belief’ infringes on somebody else’s freedom or well-being.
Daesh crossed that point a long time ago. Both in the Middle East and at home, the consequences of their ‘beliefs’ are blood and terror and devastation. In understanding this, we should also understand the imperative to act. Particularly within a Jewish community that may not have existed had the world not acted, we should know that it is never enough to look only inwards. (This is a lesson Israel could learn too. Building walls and locking down does little to confront a problem.)
So what can we do? Of course there is no easy answer and few of us have the political or military experience to make a sufficiently informed judgement about the specific case of Syria.
In the heart, most of us feel that words and sanctions would be far more preferable than bombs and boots, that in the name of humanity we must be as ‘humanitarian’ as possible. This is true, and a good framework for our objectives.
But equally true is the desperate need to do something. We must not be scared or ashamed or ‘PC-d’ into inaction. We need not apologise for taking a stand against evil.