When I saw the pictures of David Cameron together with Francois Hollande after the Paris massacres, I had an ominous feeling that history was about to repeat itself. I recalled some very similar scenes of Tony Blair with George Bush after 9/11. The connection between the two events was all too obvious at an emotional level. A nation had been terribly wronged and its leader was searching to respond in a way that would satisfy its people. It was an opportunity to make a political statement, to become a hero on the world stage and, of course , to enact revenge for the atrocity. And standing by was this associate country, that wanted to express solidarity, whose leader also wanted to make some political capital out of the situation and which was ready to join in with the act of revenge.
The thing about revenge is that it does not really care about what it does, only that it does something. Such ‘somethings’ are usually violent and tend to aggravate rather than mitigate the flow of violence around human societies. A person, or nation, seeking revenge has like a ‘red mist’ before their eyes so they do not discern clearly the outcome of their actions. They only know that they must act in response to the wrong done to them. So Blair and Bush determined to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. There was absolutely no connection between Iraq and 9/11 and very little connection with Afghanistan. And no one planned the outcome of these conflicts with any degree of accuracy.
Similarly the UK parliament spent a day debating whether or not to bomb Syria. They took themselves very seriously and there was some proud grandstanding about how evil our enemies were. More sober voices cautioned that bombing would not achieve the desired end, that there were, in fact, no ground forces in support and that the US-led bombing campaign had already proved ineffective. These cautionary voices were not heard. The politicians voted and the bombers bombed and everyone went home feeling ‘something’ had been done. The utter stupidity of this action will become apparent in the months that follow.
Bombing is a cowardly act that causes terror among civilian populations and destroys valuable infrastructure essential to any rebuilding of society. It also builds the strength of our enemies, who are legitimated by getting a response from the most powerful nations and who recruit more and more members from disaffected elements of Western societies.
There are two vital things we need to recognise if we are to learn the things that make for peace. First of all that all human societies are systems of trust, built around a common sense of community/communities. One of the reasons for the high levels of disaffection in the West is the economic individualism that implicitly undermines our community life. People are searching for a meaningful community. They cannot find it here.
Secondly, the most important positive thing that we can do to is to prove by our actions that the narratives IS tell about the West are wrong. They say, for example, that we are morally degenerate. We could counter this by proving our moral courage through our response to those fleeing the conflict. I am sure that IS hate to see how the German people have so positively welcomed refugees among them. Such a reaction simply does not fit with what they are saying about the West. It is IS, who are saying they are the safe haven for principled people, even if their actions so frequently deny this. Their cause would be seriously undermined by clear evidence of the compassion and courage of Western societies.
Here again, I am afraid that the UK has fallen terribly short. Our miserable and meagre response to the refugee crisis shames us as a nation. In his Christmas address the Archbishop of Canterbury dubbed IS the ‘Herod’ of today. Few will disagree with that, but perhaps we should also be self-critical and make a connection between David Cameron and ‘Scrooge’ for his failure to respond adequately to the refugees?