A few thoughts about Syria

Why we should feel torn about military action in Syria when there are so many unknowns.

In-between the ceaseless coverage of Miley Cyrus, you may inadvertently have picked up on the latest news about Syria. It would seem pretty apparent that the Syrian government have used chemical weapons on its own people. As a result, we may be about to start dropping bombs to ‘send a message’. Barack Obama and David Cameron would appear to have agreed on a course of action, and Cameron—in a specially recalled Parliament session on Thursday—is seeking approval for that action.

Support for an attack is minimal though, particularly amongst the British public, weary as we are from both Iraq and Libya. Our politicians now have a very fine line to tread, with such a large segment of the general public having severe reservations about getting involved.

I myself feel torn. The images coming from Syria of people suffering as a result of the chemical attack are horrific. The thought of the Syrian government carrying on—and perhaps increasing—that kind of illegal activity against its own people is unacceptable. We are one human race, regardless of national divides, and we have to stand up for each other. To do nothing is to give the impression that everything is O.K. It’s not.

But what will be the outcome be of our getting involved? Will it definitely stop the Syrian government using chemical weapons again? Have we considered every possible eventuality that could stem from choosing to engage? Are we going to end up sucked into another long-term war with no easy exit? How will the West’s involvement impact on the rest of the Middle East? The questions are endless.

There are all kinds of reasons to not get involved. There are far more unknowns than we’d like there to be. And yet I still keep coming back to the thought that we simply cannot watch from the sidelines as a national government uses chemical weapons on its own people. Something has to happen.

I don’t know if military action is the best manifestation of that something. I do know that we can’t wait for the UN to agree—we’re never going to get Russia and China (who each have a veto) to give their support. How long are we prepared to keep watching people die? Over one hundred thousand people have died during the civil war so far; countless more are living in refugee camps. This cannot go on.

The problem is that, as Archbishop Welby points out in the Telegraph, there are no simple solutions, no quick fixes, and no good answers. It’s messy and complex—hence why I’m struggling to know what to think. But I feel like that’s the right place to be. We should be torn about a situation like this where there are so many unknowns. The people I am most sceptical of though are those who are one hundred percent certain—whether for or against action. It’s not possible to be totally certain. Our leaders are going to have to make a judgement call, and we’re going to have to hope it’s the right one.

It may be too much to ask, but we must demand that our leaders are loyal not to their political party, but—on the basis of careful judgement of all the evidence—to their consciences and what they believe is the right course of action. And, if they don’t feel there’s enough information to make a judgment yet, it is better to wait and get it right than to rush and soon be consumed by regret. We can choose when we engage, but we won’t get choose when we disengage. So it’s vital we choose wisely.

The teachers’ strike: my take

Will we soon have atheist denominations?