I pray that all Christians and people of faith will pray and act to call our nation(s) to do justly.

Once again it seems that Britain and America are gearing up for intervention in the Middle East, this time against Syria. We have seen the tragic pictures of people suffering from some kind of chemical exposure, but we must urge caution on our leaders not to act in ways that may be unjustified and illegal.

There are two things that need to be established with regard to the ‘chemical attack’; first, what  actually happened, and second, who is responsible. The pictures are puzzling. How is it that those who helped the survivors and carried away the dead, without protective clothing, were not themselves affected. That surely requires investigation and explanation, the work of the UN inspection team. But it is also simplistic to assume that if chemical weapons have been used it must of necessity have been Assad. There are at least 5 possibilities. It is of course possible that an attack has been carried out with Assad’s authorisation, although quite why he would do so is unclear. A second possibility is that an attack has been carried out by Assad forces but without Assad’s authority, (we assume that Assad is in control, but there are other actors i.e. his brother. Third, we know that there have been defections from the military -we don’t know how secure the chemical weapons stocks have been or whether defecting soldiers may have had access. Fourth, it is naive to assume that among the forces ranged against Assad none has access to chemicals or the capacity to use them. Fifth, it is possible that other agents have been at work with the aim of destablising the regime; both Israel (Mossad) & US (CIA) have ‘form’ in this regard. Sixth, it may have been an accidental result of the conflict on the ground. Until we know what happened it is impossible to judge.

And what would intervention achieve.  It has been shown that ‘smart’ bombs are still unable to distinguish between civilians and fighters. The best that could be hoped for would be the destruction of ‘facilities’ with little loss of life. Experience suggests that there will be loss of life and that non-combatants are likely to suffer. Politically, we do not want the rebels to succeed because many of them hate the West. Nor do we want Assad to survive, since  that seems to be untenable. So what should we do?

Assad has no reason to trust the West, especially since America’s foreign policy in the region is driven by its commitment to Israel. His enemies do not trust us because they see what we have done in e.g. Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya etc. Rather than adding fuel to the fire we must resist the ‘easy option’ of force and work to bring the various party’s to negotiate. It will be harder, but it is the only way.

Our task is to pray, if we are people of faith, and to work with all friends of peace to call our leaders and governments to account.

In hope and faith


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