Response to the Syria airstrikes

The Syria crisis encapsulates every frustration of the world-weary, peace-mongering UK citizen. The short-termism of the solutions provided by Western leaders from the safety of the witness box. The static inefficiency of the Security Council. The collective desensitisation to relentless violence inflicted upon a population who have been reduced to statistics. However, as we form our views on the violence and take to the streets to protest May’s airstrikes, we must take our cue from the Syrian people themselves. The New York Times has compiled audio recordings sent in by Syrians in which they voice their opinions on the recent airstrikes by Washington, London and Paris. The testimony of Roua, 20, from Damascus, sounds familiar: ‘I think this is just new political theater.’ The chorus impart their collective frustration at the futility of the strikes in the face of the overwhelming crisis, and there is a consensus among most that a redoubled effort at political mediation from the West would be welcomed, as opposed to sporadic military muscle-flexing.

Surprisingly for those of us who while away our days discussing the merits of pacifism from the sanctuary of our homes, a portion of Syrians have expressed approval of the strikes, even calling for an increase in their scope. Anas, 30, from Douma, insists: ‘We’re sitting on the roofs, watching and are happy.’ Concerns have been raised by local human rights activists that the Western focus on chemical attacks belies the destruction and deaths attributed to other forms of weaponry used by Assad’s Regime and his principal ally, Russia. Crucially, these strikes by Western powers demonstrate the possibility of bypassing Russia’s inevitable veto on any action to protect Syrian civilians in the Security Council.

The lofty call by a spokesperson from the Stop the War Coalition, which organised the protest in Bristol on Monday, urged an end to foreign intervention in war-torn Syria, along with a ceasefire on all sides. This is a result we all hope for, but it glosses over the incredible complexities of this proxy war. Of course, those who oppose the airstrikes are often not ruling out action altogether. It is essential to demand that these airstrikes form part of a wider strategy, with May currently evading questions on follow up measures. US economic sanctions on Russia have caused ripples in the country’s currency and stock market, a route that could be pursued.

The airstrikes are just a fraction of a much wider issue. Our representatives are complicit in war crimes; official government figures highlight that Britain is the second biggest arms dealer in the world, and the majority of these weapons fan conflict in the Middle East (Independent, 2016). British-made cluster bombs have been found in Yemen, de facto revoking our signature on the international convention which prohibits the manufacture and sale of cluster bombs. Since the start of the war in Yemen in 2014, Britain has sold over £3bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-led coalition’s tactics of destroying public infrastructure, including hospitals, and targeting densely populated civilian areas are against international law. In light of this, British citizens must acknowledge the accountability of our government for alleged war crimes in the Middle East.

Before consolidating our stance on the airstrikes by consulting with our peers, we must invite Syrians into the conversation. It is in these moments that we question whether to follow a route of pragmatism or to abide by our principles. But in this case, the choice is not ours.  

 

This blog post was written by Daisy Goodall, STAND UK's Student Director.