Did you see Hilary Benn’s speech to parliament at the end of the Syria debate? It was quite a barnstorming performance, fantastic rehetoric, brilliantly argued. Unfortunately he drew the wrong conclusions and voted the wrong way.
I was going to use this column to reflect on South Leeds Life’s fifth birthday and look back over what we’ve achieved on this website. That just seems a bit self indulgent in the light of events, so instead I want to look at why Britain is mistaken to bomb Syria.
It’s not that I don’t want to see an end to ISIL/Daesh. I think that’s the right thing to call them, not the so-called Islamic State. Apparently they hate being called Daesh, so that’s good enough for me. As for Cameron’s disgusting slur that anyone opposed to bombing Syria was a “terrorist sympathiser”, these were the words of a scared bully, not a statesman.
I’m opposed to bombing Syria for a number of reasons. Like crime in a multi-storey car park, it’s wrong on so many levels. The first is that it won’t work militarily. I mentioned a few weeks ago that a clear lesson of military history is that you need ground forces to take and hold territory. Air cover is very important to assist them, but bombing on its own will do nothing. As one commentator has said ‘assets’ that are ‘degraded’ can be re-graded if they are not taken into control, just look at Britain after the blitz.
So who is going to provide the ‘boots on the ground’. The Free Syrian Army, even if it can muster 70,000 fighters, is not in a position to march across the country to mount an assault on Raqqa, the ISIL/Daesh ‘capital’. They are tied down in fights with other groups and Assad’s army, mostly defending their own neighbourhoods.
There are three candidates to fulfil the role but is Britain really likely to ally with Iran, Russia or Assad? So either Cameron is not serious about defeating ISIL/Daesh and is playing politics, or these attacks will end up with another western invasion.
If there’s one lesson that must be obvious to all after the Iraq war, it is that you need a strategy to win the peace. Re-establishing civil society is much more difficult than the military victory it must follow. I have seen no plan for what should happen in the region once ISIL/Daesh is destroyed. You can’t just go back to how things were, you must deal with the Assad regime, you must deal with the question of Kurdistan – an area that covers parts of northern Iraq, eastern Syria and south eastern Turkey.
The bombing as started, but remember that however precise your bombs are you will kill innocent victims. If the bombs don’t destroy ISIL/Daesh (which they won’t on their own) the families of those innocent victims will have continue living under their rule and may even grow to support ISIL/Daesh.
Surely showing solidarity with France is important? Maybe, but who is your audience? ISIL/Daesh remind me of Millwall fans wallowing in the ‘nobody loves us, everybody hates us’ notoriety. Am I being too cynical to suggest that Cameron needs French support for his proposed EU reforms?
Bombing Syria will not make Britain safer. The terrorists who murdered so many in Paris didn’t come from Syria, they came from Brussels. That leads me onto my biggest concern – what will it do to community relations in Britain and especially here in Hilary Benn’s constituency of Leeds Central?
The decision to bomb Syria, following on from disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, makes it easier for those intent on radicalising young British Muslims. Once again Britain is attacking a predominantly Muslim country, link that to the poorer job prospects, educational attainment, health outcomes, etc that British people of south Asian heritage face and it becomes only a few steps to take from disaffected to radicalised.
We don’t need to add fuel to that particular fire, we need to ensure that every British citizen feels they belong in Britain and have a part to play in our society and a fair share of our prosperity.
If we can’t change British foreign policy, at least in the short term, we can do our bit locally to challenge racism and Islamophobia. We must redouble our efforts.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.