Killing people rarely kills their ideas

Our best hope of reducing the numbers radicalised would be to champion a foreign policy based on clear principles.

Our best hope of reducing the numbers radicalised would be to champion a foreign policy based on clear principles

Every vote I cast in Parliament weighs heavily on my mind, especially as, unlike most other MPs, I have no whip telling me what to do – I consider the evidence, reflect on the principles I was elected to stand up for, listen to my constituents in Brighton Pavilion.

Never more so than on a day like today, when MPs are deciding whether to carry out air strikes in Iraq against the so called Islamic State (ISIL).

Whatever we decide people will die. Be it directly at the hands of ISIL, whose barbarity seems to know no limits. Or when they are hit by bombs dropped by the US, France or the UK.

And, of course, people are dying as a result of the humanitarian crisis engulfing the region – the Refugee Council tell me it’s the first time since the Second World War that the number of people worldwide who are fleeing their homes is more than 50 million, and the conflicts in the Middle East are a key driver of this exodus.

The death toll from the crisis in Syria is heading towards 200,000. Getting aid to all Syrians and Iraqis in need must remain one of the UK’s top priorities.

Amongst the questions I have asked myself ahead of today’s vote is how best to help close down the cycles of violence, which are taking so many lives.

There are no easy answers. But there is this certainty: killing people rarely kills their ideas.

The hateful ideology of ISIL must be stopped but the risk is that air strikes will be counterproductive: every Western bomb dropped will fuel it anew, providing fertile recruitment, fundraising and propaganda opportunities.

I don’t think this is like the last Iraq war. I don’t think that the prime minster is manipulating intelligence or lying to the House.

There is much in the government’s motion with which I agree. It is written in a measured and very reasonable-sounding tone.  But the considered, thoughtful tone cannot get away from the bottom line, which is to give permission for the UK to bomb Iraq. Nor can it mask that what is often called ‘precision bombing’ is rarely precise. We should be under no illusion that we are debating whether to go to war.

With virtually everyone on the government and opposition benches looking set to vote for air strikes, there is a real danger too that diplomatic and political solutions are side lined yet further – and possibly even made more difficult.

The real question should not be whether to bomb but how we can intensify work politically and diplomatically to address the fundamental hostility between Sunnis and Shias – with regional powers such as Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia centre stage and support for a fledgling new Iraqi government to deal with seemingly intractable problems like the failures of the Iraqi armed forces, sharing of oil revenues, decentralisation demands and territorial disputes a top priority.

Also uppermost in my mind, in a week where it’s been revealed that a young man from Brighton has been killed whilst fighting for ISIL in Syria, is that there is nothing Islamic about what this extremist group are doing. That as well as embarking upon a concerted effort to find a political solution to the current crisis, we must also redouble our efforts to tackle the radicalisation of some members of our communities, and redouble our efforts to address deeply worrying levels of anti-Muslim sentiment and incidents.

Our best hope of reducing the numbers radicalised would be to champion a new foreign policy doctrine based on clear principles, consistently applied. This should not include selling arms to brutal regimes like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It should not include tolerating war crimes in Gaza.  We must stand up for international law.

Being the only Green MP can be lonely at times, especially on days like today. But my inbox this morning is full of messages from constituents urging me to vote against air strikes and I know that when I stand up and oppose the government’s motion, I am representing the views of many.

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58 Responses to “Killing people rarely kills their ideas”

  1. Iain

    Although this now plays as a Sunni/Shia conflict you need to dig a bit deeper into the relatively new and unpleasant Wahhabist doctrine that emanates from Saudi Arabia. It was the Saudis who funded (with US/Nato approval) the radical Islamic madrassas in Northern Pakistan that fuelled the Taliban, al-Queda and the jihadist movement that now underpins ISIL, which brings us back to that ethical foreign policy that Robin Cook resigned over. Whenever you drill into these conflicts, you always find Uncle Sam, with little Britain clinging to his ankle, embarrassingly close to the centre of the action.

  2. AI

    It’s incredible how people comment without knowing the first thing about Iraq, it’s society or its politics. People confuse the Syrian and Iraqi situation in terms of the involvement of foreign fighters, the nature of the conflict and the means available to stop it. Reading uninformed discourse around the subject matter one seems to get the impression that ISIS was produced in a vacuum, unleashed upon Northern Iraq and then engaged in putting to the sword, often literally, ordinary people in towns and villages from Fallujah to Kirkuk. Furthermore one would read this as a new disturbing phenomenon in the War on Terror.

    But this view lacks perspective and context. ISIS did not form in a vacuum, but as the most brutal and perhaps the most effective armed force against both the American occupation of Iraq and the Iraqi miltary presence (often viewed as Shia and sectarian) in Sunni-majority areas. These towns and villages bore the brunt of the Iraq war and subsequent ‘surges’ designed to purge settlements of ex-Ba’athist Sunnis. They made hundreds of thousands of people homeless and killed tens of thousands – and whilst it was happening, few journalists were venturing outside the Green Zone to verify casualty figures. Quite simply, there are a lot of Sunnis in Iraq who hate the idea of American, or as they see it American-backed Iraqi forces militarily controlling their areas. Especially since the former Prime Minister al Maliki was personally alleged to have been directed Shia death squads.

    Furthermore, underlying the sectarian hostility is a resource conflict between Kurds/Sunnis/Shias. The oil wealth of Iraq is disproportionately in Kurdish and then Shia areas, and Sunnis are wary of resources in Iraq being carved up to their detriment. Shia groups would also oppose Kurdish nationalism on similar grounds.

    So where do ISIS come in – well ISIS have used their military success in Syria as a base from which to stregthen their position in Iraq. In Sunni heartlands they have allied with, or agreed truces with former Saddam loyalists, to form a buttress against Iraqi-Army and de-facto Shia military forces. There has already been tension between these strange bedfellows, and they exist uneasily. The challenge for any political or military redress is effectively one which would seek to make the sunnis partners in a governing or political process, rejecting ISIS militarism or indeed militarism of any kind.

    Bombing these sunni-majority areas would scarcely achieve that goal. Sure, just like the Iraq civil war, the various surges and the original invasion in Iraq in 2003, bombs and boots on the ground can lead to occupations – but rather than winning over people to a political process, they usually, understandably harden hearts towards it. If the sheer futility of bombing campaigns and occupations needs any more supporting evidence look no further than Afghanistan, which after an invasion, military surges, a decade-long occupation and sustained drone war, is slowly falling back into the hands of Muslim fundamentalists.This is why wars aren’t generally won, because violence is the anti-thesis of dialogue, and because what most of us might think is victory (killing ‘enemies’) actually equates to defeat.. To us in the West, hundreds of deaths simply don’t resonate – we are divorced emotionally from those killed and their families, so we fail to grasp the impact of bombing campaigns and their ability to galvinise opposition.

    Nonetheless, in areas where sunnis are not in the majority and which ISIS have occupied or are threatening it makes sense to help save lives by supporting action on the ground. For Sunni Iraq however the political solution is the one which needs to be followed, because its the only one that stands any chance of success. You can’t win people over by killing them – on that point Caroline is certainly right.

  3. Iain

    I agree…..after the political engagement of almost all Scots eligible to vote, (in Falkirk it was 100%), we need a national mobilisation of people who oppose our government’s plans. This should not be another sweeping aside of the electorate’s opinions, allowing the industrial military complex to again profit from the suffering of people on the other side of the world.

  4. Ed

    It’s manifestly true that the existence of IS is largely down to the West, and it’s also true that Western interventions in the past have been disastrous. Intervening in Syria last year would’ve likely been disastrous. However, intervening at the request of the Iraqi Government, in a broad coalition comprised of regional states, with the support of the Iraqi and Kurdish people, is a must, in my opinion. It’s true, even that the US only responded to IS when they were threatening the Kurdish-controlled oilfields, but if we can help the Iraqi people in any way, we should be. The Tories who voted against these airstrikes are almost certainly isolationists, not non-interventionists.

  5. blarg1987

    The trouble we have is that we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If we do air strikes we run the risk of alienating people and creating a recruitment campaign that short term would gain more fighters.
    If however we do not take any military action, long term a new regime could rise on the back on anti western hatred saying that the West stood idly by as thousands if not millions of people were massacred and did nothing which could lead to a country that would hate us long term.

    It is always difficult to get the balance right humanitarian aid is a good idea however I think air strikes that create safe zones for many civilians might be better as we are taking a more active role and protecting civilians at the same time.

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