Thursday, 10 December 2015

Defined by our actions

Like millions in the UK, and 223 of our MPs, I was against our country's involvement in air strikes in Syria.

My MP was not one of those voting against the motion last week and we had an email exchange where I put forward my views and he gave a measured response. It was a standard letter explaining his stance to reply to the emails he was no doubt receiving lobbying against the bombing campaign, but a thought through, reasoned response none the less.

This was a few days before the vote, and given Cameron's outrageous 'terrorist sympathiser' remarks, I felt the need to write a follow up email. I was joining the voices calling for peace, voices expressing anguish about the prospect of escalating the situation rather than resolving it. I knew he wouldn't change his mind, but I knew that saying nothing would mean I had done nothing to prevent it.

It took a while for the second response to come through (after the vote of course, my second email was too close to the debate to expect a reply). Again it was a measured, thoughtful response. Except for one sentence about Deash which has really got my back up:

"They hate us and want to attack us for who we are, not what we do."
Really?!

There is more than one reason why I take issue with this 'who we are, not what we do' sentence.

Firstly, what the hell is that meant to mean: 'who we are?' And in what way is that unrelated to what we do?

Who are we? - Human. I don't believe that we are hated simply for being human because then the organisation would surely implode through in-fighting.  Who are we? British. But being British means being part of a diverse nation. Are we hated for our diversity? Are we hated for lack of faith, or too many faiths in close proximity?  Are we hated for our role in the Western world? Well, I expect it is the latter possibility that comes closer to it. But then isn't our role inextricably linked with what we do. How can you possibly define who we are without examining our actions?

Secondly, I resent the way this sentence creates an 'us' and 'them'. Everyone starts off being a son or daughter. Many, although presumably not all, will have been cherished and loved. But then their upbringing, experience, belief system, conflicts and influences have led them to act in ways that we struggle to comprehend. However, assuming that they hate us no matter what we do, means that there is no possibility of change, of reconciliation. I also resent being put in an 'us' category that I have no say over.

Why might someone hate me as individual when they don't know me? Surely it is because of what is being done in my name (however much I may hashtag #notinmyname). It must be the action, not the very fact of being that is the problem. Would they really hate 'us' as much if it were not for our actions - either present or historic - in creating inequalities in the world, taking greater than our share of the world's resources, treating people with mistrust while at the same time being perfectly happy to sell them weapons?

Therefore, I still feel very strongly that dropping bombs wrong thing to do. On an individual level, I do not want to sanction the killing of another individual. Whether air strikes can be limited to infrastructure or not (and I very much doubt that they can be), I believe bombing in the area will directly or indirectly kill people. The Syrians home land is already such a terrifying place they are forced to flee and try their luck in desperate circumstances, in over crowded refugee camps or attempting to cross borders which we also seem to be determined to secure against them. We only make it worse with our actions. We will create more fear, which in turn could lead to more hate. For those already involved in terrorism, they will feel more justified in their actions against us.

What do our actions say about who we are? If we bomb, it says we are aggressive. If we aim for dialogue, it says we want to create a human connection. If we sell arms to people or nations without taking into consideration their human rights record, it says we care more about money than peace. If we invest in the health and education of our people, it says we value each other.



So what can we do? Not bombing does not mean not taking any action at all. Indeed we need to keep living, keep loving, and keep on striving to live in harmony with our fellow human beings. We need to make sure we make informed choices in our daily lives, and exert what influence we can to seek peace. We need to make sure that what we do is in keeping with who we are, recognising that what we will be known for what we do.

There is a small sentence within the Quaker Advices and Queries that is currently stuck in my mind:
"Let your life speak."
We should let our lives speak and allow what we choose to do to be a true expression of who we are.  

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the situation, but I take heart that I am far from alone in my belief that bombing is not the way to resolve conflict. I thank everyone who has expressed concern about the road we are being taken down, for there is strength to be gained from each other. I have been grateful for people highlighting protests not always covered by the mainstream media. I will remember the words of one of the Veterans for Peace who returned his medal saying "you cannot sow bloodshed and reap peace".

We need to keep making our voices heard and listening to each other. You can be clear that the current bombing campaign in Syria is certainly not in my name. If it makes no difference today, then maybe it will tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, then perhaps greater understanding over time will help build the foundations to build a peaceful world.  I choose hope over despair.