Pacifism: in light of the proposed attack on Syria


I’m angry. And I don’t usually do ‘anger’. I like to do conciliation, preferably facilitated by green tea and biscuits.

In my previous article, for example, I even went so far as to praise Michael Gove. This is because anger always lends itself to self-righteousness and this is never a good look, especially in a leftie like myself.

So that’s why at times I have to liberalise my arguments; nobody likes to be told, for instance, that surveillance brings us closer to a totalitarian state so, despite the ostensible benefits, it needs to be severely reduced. Conciliation and moderation are key to any debate.

Yet, this time I am finding it difficult to suppress my frustration. I am not, however, mainly frustrated that any terrorist attack on the West is met with a self-perpetuating orgy of retaliatory violence, but rather that we are not even debating the issue. Knee-jerk responses in the wake of the Paris attacks will achieve nothing; rather they will only exacerbate the problems at hand.

To many, it seems like we only have one option. If we do not move troops against ISIS or advocate further airstrikes, we, like Jeremy Corbyn, are ‘compromising national security’ and wading into the land of ‘wholly unserious politics’ from which there is no return. In short, we become a joke.

We become flawed, arrogant idealists, who contribute nothing to a serious political debate.

Run along now with your idealism and let the grown-ups talk. We even contravene the will of the UN Security Council who have recently given countries an essential carte blanche to do what they will to take down ISIS. So detached from the mainstream of British politics are we that we fail to even acknowledge the years of ‘stability’ previous Western interventions have brought to countries such as Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

I suggest that we look at the criticisms levied at those who do not support a further escalation of violence in turn. Firstly, we should look at whether pacifism is ‘being soft on terrorists’ in this instance. To challenge this, we need to consider the purpose of ISIS terrorist attacks.

Surely, we can all agree that they are intended to win our attention? Yet, if this is the case, then by responding disproportionately to the attacks, we only give them what they want.

By creating a new War on Terror in the popular consciousness, we give ISIS the airtime they so crave. In doing so, we give them control over our thoughts, feelings and desires. By locking ourselves into war against them, as opposed to ignoring them, we let their every action colour our being. Even if we still go out ‘in bold defiance’, we privately cower in fear before their infinite, arbitrary potential. Yet, they only gain this potential because of the attention we give them.

Bees kill as many people as terror attacks, yet we do not go around declaring war on the bees. We should recognise the Paris events as terrible tragedies, but should not react to them; if we do so, we surrender our very identities to the ISIS threat and let them win.

Secondly, it should be noted that it is not anti-airstrike and anti-war sentiment that threatens national security, but rather the paranoia that we allow access into our homes, thoughts and bedrooms, if we allow policies such as ‘Shoot-to-kill’ in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Many respond to stop and search policies and the law that you can be held for 14 days without trial, if a suspected terrorist, by remarking that they would be willing to take one for the team. By which I mean that they would be willing to be held without trial and searched on the street if only it kept Britain safe. Isn’t that kind of them? Especially since the people espousing these ideas are white, so will not be searched or imprisoned without charge.

In the case of ‘Shoot-to-kill’, however, that argument goes out of the window. How many people would be willing to die if it means keeping their country safe? Luckily, however, people are only shot under this policy, if they’re definitely, 100%, absolutely certain, guilty? Right? Wrong. Gary Younge, in his article in The Guardian from 18th November, evokes the example of Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old innocent civilian who was mown down by police for looking a bit like a terrorist in 2005.

At a time when we need to come together, this policy only tears us apart by creating racial divides in society, leading to burgeoning disenchantment.

ISIS are not significant on their own. By playing the game on their terms, we are as good as giving them further bullets.

Image: Boardman Robinson via Wikimedia Commons

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