Bombing ISIL – a striking debate

Yesterday’s day-long debate in the House of Commons on extending RAF airstrikes against ISIL from Iraq into Syria was won by the government with 397 votes ‘for’ and 223 ‘against’. Which is excellent news of course, because at long last we can do our duty to our our own security, to our allies and to civilisation. But there is a far darker side to this debate: the very fact that we actually had to have it, further aggravated by how ‘difficult’ the final decision proved to be for many of our elected MPs. This says a great deal about our thinking and our society today.

The case for taking this action could not have been clearer and more compelling; decisions on the use of force do not come any easier and more straightforward than this. There are so many overwhelming arguments in favour that on their own are enough. Such as the fact that France, our ally has been attacked; it may have just as well invoked NATO Article 5 like the US did after 9/11, as the Paris attacks are a perfect equivalent of the New York tragedy, apart from a difference of scale. France, like the US, is our ally by treaty, let alone by moral duty; Article 5 says that an attack on one is an attack on all — and that remains true in the wake of Paris regardless of France’s decision to activate that common defence mechanism. Instead, France appealed directly to us. How callous, cowardly and irresponsible would have been (and was, for those who voted against) to turn our backs to them? Acting on our treaty commitments (particularly when it comes to our closest and oldest allies) should happen automatically, without any debate. Even putting the vote to parliament is, from this point of view, a farce.

Then there’s the plain fact that we’re already at war with ISIL. The vote was on an operational matter (extending the area of operations against an enemy we’re already fighting), not on whether to ‘go to war’. And a limited operational matter, at that: stand-off missile strikes from a few warplanes that don’t put any British personnel at risk. Moreover, the legal case — the only possible obstacle to following-through on basic military logic — was watertight, after the UN resolution.

Most compellingly, there’s the fact that this is an enemy easily more evil than the Nazis — indeed the world has genuinely not seen and cannot conceive of anything more evil — just remember their atrocities, which are limited only by the number of victims they can get their hands on. So what should our response be in the face of such an evil? What would the world say, looking at our inaction?

And what would our enemies say? Imagine the jubilation in Raqqa, the capital of Evil, the haven of blood-soaked, grisly monsters, the ultimate fount of the macabre, as ISIL contemplate the realistic possibility that they could get away with the most barbarous and cowardly attacks on us — a force gigantic in comparison, the leading nation states and civilisation in the world — because we cannot possibly justify to ourselves to strike back, in any, however minimal, way!

We should not even have had this debate.

Opposition to these airstrikes is not pacifism, as so many twisted MP minds purported to re-brand their moral surrender. Calling this ‘pacifism’ makes a mockery of those noble, virtuous Enlightenment ideas — and the great men who promoted them — that articulated the case against senseless, unwarranted war, and the bloodlust of militarists who only lived for the glory of conquest. The true vocation of pacifism is not surrender — what can be more peaceful than refusing to fight on principle? — but simply the moral superiority of peace over war, and the relegation of war to a measure of last resort. Pacifism is rational, proportional — and indeed patriotic. Yesterday’s ‘pacifists’ in parliament, were nothing of the sort.

The ‘pacifism’ bandied about the Commons, and the very size of the ‘against’ vote, are nothing but the embodiment of an abject collapse of all sense of reality and the evidence of a real death wish haunting our civilisation.

How can we allow the enemy to act with such impunity? How can we waver for one second on this blindingly obvious issue — let alone have such an agonising debate?

Indeed, what would it really take for us to strike back?

Something is seriously and dangerously wrong with our thinking today. Our most basic survival instincts are now suppressed, our sense of priority, proportion and reality is completely confused and adrift. It’s as if we have been dazed by some blinding event, and we have not recovered. What better proof of this, than the debate in parliament yesterday? Sure, it is a beautiful display of democratic debate at its best: sincerity, passion and eloquence of the highest order. But we are worshipping a ‘form’, not the real ‘content’ — the hard reality and facts of the case — as we should. We are content with having a ‘good’ debate, rather than a ‘right’ debate — or, better still, sending a powerful message to our adversaries.

This is not, perhaps, our darkest hour — but it is perhaps our most evil hour, when we face the most naked form of evil. Our resolve has been tested — and as the Commons debate showed, we have been found very much wanting. The appropriate response of the House should have been an emphatic vote to strike at the ISIL barbarians. Enemies around the world will take note of our doubts and weakness.


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