Britain's brave Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been fighting the political battle of his life to stop the government bombing Syria. Sadly, despite opposition from the UK's biggest trade unions and a large majority of its party membership, some leading Labour MPs, including senior Shadow Cabinet office-holders have told the media they plan to back prime minister David Cameron's demand for war. Here in an open letter Labour member Awula Serwah, a leading Black community activist, urges them to change their mind.
Dear Members of Parliament,
I strongly disagree with your position on air strikes in Syria. And, as can be seen by a current online poll by the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror, so do 77 per cent of their voters - a reflection of British public opinion.
Air strikes will not destroy Islamic State (IS), ISIS or Da'esh and make us safer. We must learn lessons from recent interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The invasion of Iraq far from making us safer, led to as many as 166,000 violent civilian deaths (according to the Iraq Body Count), destabilised the region and helped create ISIS. The intervention in Libya and subsequent murder of Col. Gaddafi has led to an IS branch in Libya.
As you are aware, IS is not located on its own in a specific geographical area where it can be bombed without killing and terrorising innocent civilians. IS or Da'esh is operating amongst innocent civilians who do not support it, and air strikes will kill the innocent and help IS recruit volunteers.
According to the Guardian, refugees from Raqqua "fear that more bombs will cost more innocent lives in a city where the civilian population is now held prisoner by Isis to serve as a human shield. Many are baffled and frustrated that the city’s fate is being decided in distant capitals and conference rooms where the people of Raqqa have no presence, in debates where they have no voice".
IS operates in areas it has occupied and beyond. The challenge is that there are a significant number of IS recruits and sympathisers in Europe and the UK, and that is a real threat. The recent attacks in Paris are reported to have been organised in Molenbeek, Belgium.
We need to deal with the threat from IS supporters living in the UK and Europe, many of whom were born in the West, but I don't think you will consider voting for air strikes on Molenbeek for example, to make us safer.
Jeremy Corbyn is right. Sir Richard Shirreff, a top NATO general, is reported to have warned that airstrikes are useless and could involve Britain in a "bloody" and protracted war.
Leading right-wing commentators Peter Hitchens and Max Hastings have opposed bombing Syria. Hitchens denounced Cameron as a Winston Churchill wannabe hell bent on "recreational bombing" and urged the public to write to their MPs to voice their opposition his planned air strikes.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Hitchens said: "I have yet to see conclusive evidence that the Paris murders were organised by or in Islamic State. France has plenty of home-grown hatred and (despite strict gun laws) is awash with illegal Kalashnikovs and ammunition."
He added: "Nor can I see why bombing Raqqa will defend us or anyone against such murders."
Air strikes will not make us safer or destroy IS or Da'esh. It is easy to continue the cycle of violence and terrorism by dropping bombs from the sky. It is more difficult to look at solutions which include examining our foreign policy, working with allies to cut finance and flow of arms to Da'esh, and looking closely at the role of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others in fanning terrorism in the region.
Prime Minister David Cameron must investigate reports regarding Saudi Arabia and Gulf States backing IS. Lord Ashdown said:
"The failure to put pressure on the Gulf states, and especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, first of all to stop funding the Salafists and Wahhabists, secondly to play a larger part in this campaign and other actions where the Government has refused to have a proper inquiry into the funding of jihadism in Britain, leads me to worry about the closeness between the Conservative party and rich Arab Gulf individuals.”
The current bombing has not been effective for the reasons given, and adding British bombing and killing of innocent Syrian civilians will only make matters worse. We might make some headway if we stop arming rebels to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. US arms meant for the rebels have fallen into the hands of IS.
The intelligence services have done extremely well in foiling attacks in the UK and they need to be supported.
* Momentum, the grassroots movement of Jeremy Corbyn supporters, says here how you can lobby your MP to vote against the bombing of Syria.