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Syrian airstrikes: why Hilary Benn’s speech left me cold

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robert-downey-jr“Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”

— Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

So earlier this week, our illustrious leaders decided to go ahead with airstrikes in Syria. I woke up the morning after hearing the news, feeling broken, deflated and hopeless. As I glanced at my three-year-old son, all I could think about was the innocent children and civilian casualties that will suffer as a result of this hasty, ill-thought-out military campaign.

The sheer hypocrisy and lack of human empathy in this whole situation is infuriating and staggering. I listened to Hilary Benn’s so-called “electrifying” speech in the House of Commons, but failed to understand why the media was raving about words that seemed so empty, so disingenuous, and so well-rehearsed. It is the rhetoric of Tony Blair all over again.

Almost two weeks ago, in an interview with the Independent, Benn argued against bombing Syria. So it is difficult for me to really believe in the weight of his words, since he seemed to change his mind pretty quickly about the whole situation.

This is politics without principle; without humanity and without empathy. In his speech, Benn spoke of the recent attacks in Paris, noting that: “If it had happened here, they could have been our children.” This is the rhetoric of pro-war propaganda. There should be no such thing as “our children” and “their children”. It should just be about our shared humanity. Does it matter who these children belong to, or which nation they happen to be born in?

The language used seems to imply that certain lives are just deemed less important than others. When talking about civilian casualties, Benn sought to distance himself from ISIS, saying: “Unlike Daesh, none of us today act with the intent to harm civilians. Rather, we act to protect civilians from Daesh, who target innocent people.”

The fact that this needs to spelled out is telling and worrying. Not having the intention to kill innocent civilians is empty and meaningless when you know  that military action will inevitably harm them. It is truly shocking that civilian casualties are talked about in such a flippant and casual way, as if their lives are somehow expendable.don't bomb syria

If the government was truly concerned about the civilian population of Raqqa, they would formulate a coherent military strategy to not only minimise the loss of life, but also have a long-term plan to deal with the consequences of airstrikes. It is blindingly obvious that nations that carry out military activity have a responsibility for the fallout and must know how to deal coherently with the aftermath of war. But what we’re hearing from our politicians is only about the immediate airstrikes with no consideration of what happens next.

Our politicians feel that they have to be seen to be doing something, anything, without really thinking about the effectiveness of airstrikes against Isis. As Labour MP, Gerald Kaufman, said in his speech to the Commons: “If what the government were proposing today, would in any way, not simply or not totally get rid of Daesh, but weaken them in a significant way so they would not go on behaving in the abominable fashion we see, I wouldn’t have any difficult in voting for this motion today. But there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that any kind that bombing Daesh, that bombing Raqqa, will result in an upsurge of other people in the region to get rid of them.”

In fact, there is mounting evidence that going to war is playing into the hands of Daesh and giving them exactly what they want. The French journalist, Nicolas Hénin, who was held hostage by Mohammad Emwazi, said that military action was a trap that would only strengthen and benefit Isis.

During the Iraq war, politicians talked about winning the hearts and mind of the Iraqi people, though it never really developed much further than talking. It’s clear that a military solution hasn’t been effective in the past, so maybe it’s time to try something else. Hénin argues that the surest way to defeat Isis is to engage with the Syrian people, stating that “as soon as the people have hope in the political solution, then Islamic State will just collapse. It will have no ground any more. It will collapse.”

Today, The Independent reported that at least five Syrian children have been killed in an airstrike on a school in Raqqa. If you needed any more evidence of the emptiness of politicians’ intentions not to harm civilians, here it is. Despite assurances from Cameron, it is obvious that in such a densely populated area such as Raqqa, children and innocent people will inevitably be killed.

Some ten years ago, I joined a million people to protest against military action in Iraq. It was one of Britain’s largest anti-war demonstrations to date. The casual dismissal by the government of the voice of the people helps to explain some of the apathy and cynicism we see in politics today.

Today, as back then, it seems that politicians are not interested in listening to the British people. It’s a tragedy that Britain has learnt nothing from its mistakes of the past; today the British government will do what it has always done; bullishly enter a conflict without a coherent military strategy and without due consideration of the loss of life and resulting humanitarian crisis. It really does seem as if nothing changes.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

— George Orwell

Image credits: Neil Schofield via Flickr; https://www.flickr.com/photos/neil_schofield/23283725182/http://memegenerator.net/instance/57725519
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.
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Author: Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi is a self-confessed geek, a blogger, a foodie, and a mum. Prior to motherhood, Aliya worked for over five years in online marketing. She writes about all things digital on her blog at http://evolutionlondon.me. Aliya is also a writer for Halal Gems magazine, the first online magazine for halal foodies. Check out her About.me page: https://about.me/aliyazaidi or read her tweets at https://twitter.com/aliyazaidi.

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