Category Archives: Conflict

The Return

It’s been a while, I know. I’m afraid I had to let this blog lapse whilst I did the whole returning to work after kids thing, which involved a great deal of puzzling out as to what I could do that would fit in with all the other things that I already did.

I think I may have come up with a working solution, which is in its early stages but nevertheless is looking hopeful. However just as I begin to establish a new career, of course, we happen to experience political upheaval in Britain such as I have never known before. Whilst on the one hand vaguely hoping that the outcome of the referendum won’t affect my business plan (such as it is), on the other I am acutely aware of the shock experienced by a political establishment whose complacent expectations were proved so misguided given the referendum result.

So that is why I am here again. There are so many, many questions raised in the wake of what you might call a cataclysmic event,¬†and I want this to be a place where I and anyone else can ask those questions. It is in many ways a selfish project, since for me it is therapeutic to launch my thoughts into a public space, but I hope whoever ends up reading this will find it helpful in opening up and exploring their own questions as well. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has experienced restless nights and stress-infused days since the result came out. Nor am I the only one who wants to see a stronger, more compassionate and courageous Britain emerge from the chaos of what has just happened. Perhaps this blog can, in some small way, help to bring that about. I look forward to giving it a try, at any rate.

Advertisements

Should the West intervene in Syria?

The Syrian conflict has gone on for far too long. I could fling out the dreadful figures of how many have died, how many are refugees, how many are internally displaced, but the trouble is they have become only that – figures, not unique representations of the human beings that have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of Assad and militant groups jostling for power over the opposition. These real people, who bleed, and break, and burn, and choke on the lethally poisonous gases fired at them by – as the media reports it – almost certainly the Syrian regime.

Something must be done. Or should it? Here is where I come up against a startling brick wall built by people whose opinions I usually understand and agree with; that actually, intervention by the West ought to be a complete no-no. Is this an ideological principle, or is it rooted in the fear that we will have another Iraq all over again? Does it stem from the belief that our governments are incapable of acting out of a sense of responsibility towards those who are suffering, that there always has to be self-interest involved?

The indignant comments I read mostly compare potential intervention in Syria with our invasion of Iraq, the obvious motives of greed and the spurious reasons of Saddam’s WMDs which were squirrelled away so expertly we never could find them. It’s a good thing to consider the motives of our governments for such interventions, but there is danger in this particular comparison. Danger because, first of all, we assume exactly the same motives spur our governments on to intervention in Syria (if there were economic benefits to entering into this mess, would the West not have dived in to the fray many months ago?). Secondly, and more significantly, there is the danger inherent in our automatic judgement that, just as with Iraq, our governments are creating evidence for atrocity where there is none. If we unquestioningly judge that the whole chemical weapons event in Ghouta was staged because WMDs in Iraq were a red herring, we are at risk of denying real, horrific suffering.

What particularly chills me to the bone is the opinion I have read more than once, that we ought to leave Syria to sort out its own problems. Not because I think the West ought to have influence over the political outcome of the conflict, but because I imagine what might happen if the roles were reversed, and I was one of those on the receiving end of a Sarin attack. Would another country then come to my aid? Yes, there might be political and economic gains for them to do so, and that begs the much bigger question of how the international community is regulated. But how would I feel about a world that never came to help? We ought to be concerned about what the consequences will be for international relations if we sit back and do nothing. Already, there are a million Syrian child refugees. When they grow up, how will they view the world that left them to ‘sort it out for themselves’? What precedent are we setting if we ignore the terrible human cost of the chemical weapons attack at Ghouta? Isn’t that the kind of soil that nourishes bitterness and hatred?

I don’t have answers to the question of what intervention could look like. I would simply like to open the debate a little on whether there ought to be intervention or not. At tho moment, those who are traditionally the voice for the voiceless in the large part seem to have closed that debate completely, along with any creative engagement in possibilities other than military force.

Can conflict ever resolve?

For someone who hasn’t been in a fight since those sibling battles of childhood, I somehow have picked up an interest in the conflicts of others. Perhaps it was living in Belfast for a while and working for a charity that engaged in peace and reconciliation that did it, though I can’t say for certain.

And of course the whole area of conflict creates all sorts of questions, huge questions. Well I’m not going to look at them all here and now, or I’d end up filling a library full of books. But I had a very interesting experience this morning which caused me to reflect on conflict and how it is present in all of us, every day. Here’s what happened.

I came across a report on Twitter about a group of people protesting against the destruction of their village in the West Bank. There were reporters at the village live-tweeting what was happening, and since the Israeli army was present, clearly prepared for an escalation of tension, it seemed appropriate to employ Twitter in what it does best and spread the word. Perhaps some international attention might have a dousing effect on the situation, you never know.

There was some response to my communication, some of which was heartening and some of which was mildly upsetting. Of course you expect that when delving into such a sensitive subject there will be a wide variety of responses, but the difference between expectation and reality is like the difference between seeing a picture of the Niagara Falls and actually standing in the midst of the spray and hearing the massive roar of the water in your ears. In this case, comments of a personal nature were made about me (!), judgements that surprised me, and yes, offended me. Of course I wanted to challenge the assumptions that were made about me, certainly I did…and it took a fair bit of self-consultation to decide not to respond at all. And a fair bit of discipline to stick to the decision.

So that was my own experience of conflict today. And given how much work I had to put into not engaging with one person I had never met before, making completely unfounded judgements about me based on one single tweet, I can’t imagine the scope of work that would be necessary for one society to disengage with another, with all the historical complexity of politics, religion and culture to unpick, never mind the economic implications present in any modern conflict. But I can’t help thinking that without some attempt to help individuals living with conflict to work through their own responses to it, any international negotiations are only pasting over the cracks. Political treaties are important in bringing about peace, yes, but only when drawn up alongside the grassroots work that allows individuals to understand their own place within conflict and how they can contribute to coming out the other side. Where the incentive comes from to engage in such work, well that’s a whole other question…