On Wednesday night the UK Parliament decided to follow the logic of its position of bombing Daesh in Iraq by extending the campaign to Syria. The debate, which I was able to watch on line, had some good speeches and one outstanding one (by Hilary Benn). But it was largely conducted in secular terms, as befitted the arena. But one MP, a Church Commissioner, Caroline Spelman, did mention the Christian tradition, and it might be worth dwelling on the arguments there for a few moments.
The atrocities perpetrated by Daesh pose many challenges to Christians. In the first place they have actively persecuted Christians in Syria and Iraq, and would do so elsewhere if allowed. If you turn the other cheek, they’ll slap that, whilst raping your wife and daughters. To remain inactive in the face of evil is to be complicit in it. To act in the face of it is to become complicit in the deaths of others than the evil-doers. This is the challenge the West faced in the late 1930s, and yet few chose to act. Britain and France did in 1939 when faced with evidence of Hitler’s intentions which could not be denied; the USA did so, like the USSR, when kicked into it by attacks on them. But here, as it the Cold War, we were facing States, and the international system long ago worked out ways of dealing with such things. Since 9/11 we have faced non-State actors whom we call terrorists. But if we think these folk are terrorists in the way the IRA were, then we err. The IRA had political demands about which negotiations were possible, and, once the bombers came to the conclusion they could not get their maximum demands, some in their ranks decided to settle for something less – at which point the British Government offered it to them. A few malcontents exist who don’t want it, but the majority accept it. This pattern is a well-known one, but seems inapplicable to Daesh. As far as anyone can tell, they want as Islamic Caliphate to which everyone else becomes subject; it us hard to see what compromise position exists there. Those who have recently suggested we negotiate with these folk fail to say what we should be negotiating about, or to show that Daesh wish to negotiate anything except our submission.
This suggests that violence is the only way to protect us all from ISIS. These problems of the ‘Just War’ were long ago dealt with by the Church, and it is plain that it suffices to answer the objections to the use of force. It does not answer the contingent questions which are, rightly, bothering most of us, in fact it poses some of them in a moral framework we often seem to lack. The geopolitical complexities are tremendous, but just as in the Second World War we allied with Stalin to defeat Hitler, so, too, now, we shall have to hold our noses and work with Putin and Assad. That the leaders of the West appear to think there is some alternative is the real reason for the dithering. When we have finished dithering, many more will be dead, and the problem will still be there.
I don’t know whether folk here pray for their leaders, I know I often pray for the strength to bear them – but in all seriousness we need to offer prayers that they may be rightly guided. This prayer, from the old Anglican Prayer Book seems one for us all, so I commend it to us:
O ALMIGHTY God, King of all kings, and Governor of all things, whose power no creature is able to resist, to whom it belongeth justly to punish sinners, and to be merciful to them that truly repent: Save and deliver us, we humbly beseech thee, from the hands of our enemies; abate their pride, assuage their malice, and confound their devices; that we, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore from all perils, to glorify thee, who art the only giver of all victory; through the merits of thy only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.