Editorial: Are we at war now?
Are we at war now? Western governments and military leaders have launched assaults on the Islamic State (Isis) regime in Iraq and Syria, killing soldiers and civilians. Isis has killed civilians in Paris and western soldiers in Iraq. François Hollande has said: “France is at war.” You and I may not be fighting – just as German and British citizens were not fighting when bombs fell on them in the Second World War – but soldiers are fighting in our name and at some point we, or the ones we love, could become casualties.
The first question in any war has to be: How do we achieve peace? One answer is by fighting. There are times in our history when going to war has proved the lesser of evils and the shortest road to the best peace. The repulsion of the Spanish Armada in 1588 is one. Unfortunately, because Isis forces are not sailing towards Europe in gunboats, western powers have found it extremely hard to attack them, or al-Qaida before them, in a controlled, targeted way. Every western bomb that kills innocent Iraqis or Syrians strengthens Isis’ message to Muslims: That it is fighting for them against the powers of evil, and deserves their support. Calling for a massive military “retaliation” clearly makes MPs and journalists feel better, but the single most obvious lesson of the last 14 years of the “war on terror” is that it will make our situation much worse.
Are there any other paths to peace? The Arab Spring activist from United Arab Emirates, Iyad El-Baghdadi, who monitors between 200 and 300 jihadist Twitter accounts said that nothing has annoyed Islamists more about Europe recently than “watching their very humane, moral response to the refugee crisis”. It has to weaken Isis’ claim to be championing Islam when the Muslims whose homes they destroy in their millions are welcomed by the west. This is one reason why it was tragic to hear US, Canadian and European politicians planning to turn away refugees in response. Selecting Christian refugees for asylum over their Muslim neighbours, as Lord Carey and Rupert Murdoch suggest, is wrong-headed as well as wrong-hearted, for the same reasons.
Another peace opportunity is Palestine. The oppression of its people by the Israeli state is one cause and justification often cited by Islamists for their atrocities. As the writer John Pilger has said: “Give justice to Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.”
These are two ways we can all join the hard work for peace. War, even when unavoidable, is always fighting evil with evil; these are ways we can oppose evil with good.
Peace on earth and good will among people. As a proclamation, it has a rather hollow ring, but as a prayer, Amen.
This article was published in the December 2015/January 2016 edition of Reform.