This is the text of our letter on UK airstrikes which was published in full in the Bury Free Press dated 11 December 2015.
We are disturbed at the decision taken by our government to carry out airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria. As a faith community, our religious understanding and experience is that true peace cannot be imposed by military might and that ideas can never be removed by bombs.
We understand that many people, in good faith, will differ from this stance but we are also disturbed by lack of planning and apparent understanding of the complex situation obtaining in the Syrian civil war.
The Prime Minister has not made clear what the realistic aims of adding a small number of RAF warplanes to an already confused field of battle might be. He has put forward no exit strategy and no plan for the post-conflict reconstruction of a devastated country.
The multiple conflicts and warring groups which exist under the overall umbrella of the Syrian Civil War – to say nothing of their superpower proxies – are bewildering. The downing of a Russian fighter plane by Turkey is a worrying example of the potential dangers of this situation. We believe that adding to this maelstrom of interconnected and volatile armed conflict is irresponsible.
Ultimately, if ISIS are to be defeated militarily, it will be by ground forces. The Prime Minister’s airy invocation of 75,000 “moderate rebels” who “could” fulfill this role is not a realistic basis for policy. The fragmented nature of these rebels and their divided loyalties have already been exposed by strategic and military experts and there is growing criticism of the government for its use of this unsubstantiated argument. Working to build alliances in the region – and these would have to be Sunni alliances to prevent ISIS exploiting a perceived Sunni/Shia divide – is surely the way forward. Then there is the matter of seeking to cut the financial and military equipment lifelines to ISIS. This would make considerable demands on the government to consider the need to put pressure on its allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey. There is no evidence that this is being considered.
Hasty and ill-considered action exacts a terrible price. We should have learned that from interventions in Iraq and Libya. Refusing to prioritise violence is not to ‘do nothing’ and everything possible must be done to avoid undermining the ongoing Vienna talks. There is already untold suffering among the populations of cities such as Raqqa; the hatred engendered will serve ISIS well and an already all but unmanageable refugee crisis will become immeasurably worse if the bombing is intensified.
It is our hope that wiser counsels will prevail and that citizens of our country will join with faith bodies to ask these questions of the government:
- What do you expect the end results of UK bombing action to be?
- What ground forces do you see as holding and administering any Syrian territory captured from ISIS?
- How will UK military involvement contribute to any transitional arrangements put in place in Syria?
- What provision will be made for the increased flow of refugees which will be the inevitable result of increased airstrikes?