Sunday, 19 July 2015

Tom Tugendhat's thoughtful letter to a constituent on Syria / ISIS

Just over a year ago I published on this blog (with his permission) a letter from Tom Tugendhat to a local resident who had written to express concern that he supported Same Sex Marriage. See HERE.  
I tend not to publish MPs letters and speeches as this blog is about my life and work as an Agent, but I was immensely impressed with Tom's deep understanding of theology, but also that he should take such care and trouble to explain not just his vote, but the reasoning behind it. The resident replied to say he had made her 'think again' about this issue and that she would vote for him regardless, due to the effort he had taken to explain his position. 
Just over a year later I am going to do the same thing again, this time with Tom's response to a constituent over Syria and ISIS. I tend to be a 'dove' on interventionist foreign policy and fear Bush and Blair's neo-conservatism must take a share of responsibility for the growth of anti-western sentiment. Regardless, this is the strongest case I have read in support of action.
Today a constituent has written to me about the violence in Syria and the possibility of Britain taking military action. She has said that as a pacifist she opposes any action and would ask me to vote against. Though I do not know what may be proposed, and so cannot say if I would support or oppose it, I think it is important to set out why I would consider endorsing military action in Syria. What follows is my answer. Please share your thoughts.

Dear XXX

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I'm interested in your points and will bear them in mind should anything be put to a vote. I would simply state that as a former soldier I am very cautious about the use of force. I know its consequences and costs better than many. I have seen the terrible price it can exact on all those connected from participants to families, but inaction in the face of evil allows evil to continue.

Should we have stayed silent during the Holocaust? Should we have stood aside as ethnic cleansing threatened Albanians in Kosovo, or as the Rebel United Front approached Freetown, Sierra Leone, with the sole purpose of murdering everyone in their path? Should perhaps the police stand aside and watch as people in our own society are murdered, raped or robbed? Should we watch the strong brutalise the weak or should we act to stop evil?

Personally, I joined the army to defend the weak. That is why today I stand with the victims: the thousands of Yazidi women sold into slavery and subjected to the most brutal sexual violence; the Syrian men compelled into violent attacks on their neighbours for fear of becoming victims themselves; and the children, some as young as nine or ten, turned into executioners by this hateful regime.

It is wishful thinking to say that talks would protect them or change by one iota the appalling religiously-inspired violence being conducted in Raqqa. The leadership of ISIS are clear that they are carrying out god's work. Talks will change nothing and pacifism would merely confirm to the leadership that we are more afraid to lose our own comforts - both moral and physical - and lack the courage to defend those suffering. Though it is true that we cannot be everywhere and help everyone, we, who are truly blessed by a standard of living and freedoms that are the envy of the world, have a responsibility to help those who are helpless. Sometimes directly, at other times by enabling friends and allies. That is why I support the aid budget but that alone is not enough. Sometimes we must use the armed forces to act.

I have not seen the details of what the prime minister is suggesting so I cannot comment on his proposals but there is nothing moral about tolerating the rape of children and the murder of women. There is nothing moral about pacifism at the gates of Auschwitz or Raqqa. Inaction is a choice and though it may not be easy to act, not to may be the same as tolerating evil.

It is of course true that all action has unintended consequences. People are hurt when bombs go astray or soldiers miss their targets, just as innocents are sometimes arrested by the police and mistakes are made in all human institutions. We must do all we can to prevent so-called collateral damage. But when people do not act, that may not protect the innocent. Allowing war to continue, as it is in Syria today will see many thousands killed and generations maimed. Stopping it, including with accidents, may save thousands, indeed millions of lives. Inaction too has a price.

Please to think hard about the price we are asking others to pay if we choose not to act. Please think about what we are saying about the value we place on the lives of others if we are willing to defend ourselves from such brutality but not others. I appreciate that this is a very difficult moral question but as St Augustine first argued almost 2,000 years ago, there is such a thing as a just war when it is the only option left to protect the innocent and prevent a greater harm.

I wish you the very best and will continue to to think hard about the questions you have raised. They are not easy to answer and the answers are not free from consequences, whichever choice you make.



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