Dear David Cameron,
I write to you, again, on the eve of your decision on whether or not to bomb Syria. I understand that this is not a decision anyone is taking lightly and that you will be receiving pressure from all sides.
There are many reasons why I could ask, beg, you not to bomb Syria. I could say there is no clear long term strategy, and violence incites violence, or argue that our past success rate in similar campaigns is poor (Libya to name but one). I could ask whether bombing in response to bombing is just a form of ‘justified terrorism’, especially given the scores of civilians killed as ‘collateral damage’ (something unavoidable as militants purposely mingle with civilians), and note that killing a guilty person, however abhorrent, is just the death penalty without a trial – something we in the UK would vehemently oppose elsewhere. Would we bomb a UK city if we thought a suspected terrorist lived there? I think not. And what about the billions of pounds worth it would cost us, aside from the human lives?
Others have already made these arguments here and here*. Instead, I want to highlight our alternatives. Here I ask you and your government to consider pouring our limited resources (remember the deficit you frequently mention?) into these methods instead to prevent violent extremism.
First, we need extensive research. Over 800 British people have left the UK to travel to Syria but we know very little about who we are fighting or what their motivations are. Recent attacks have been attributed to an extreme interpretation of Islam, but evidence suggests that most of those recruited are only weakly religious. So what does ISIS have that seems so attractive to some? We really know very little. If you want to stop ISIS, we must know how they function as an organisation but more than that, we need to understand the individuals who make up the organisation. What persuades them to join? What are factors pushing them from the UK and pulling them towards ISIS? As with all problems, if you understand it then you know how best to tackle it.
Next, preventative measures. If we know why 800 Brits have flown overseas, we can use this knowledge to stop ISIS growing. It is common practise amongst cult recruiters to target individuals who are going through a period of change as this is when someone is most likely to change their beliefs. Indeed, there is some evidence already that Islamic State recruiters are no different. How do we stop this? If recruiter success lies in exploiting vulnerability and exclusion, we ensure our citizens are not neglected. Instead of targeting these people with bombs, we promote inclusion, unity and equality. We educate against radicalisation and fund projects such as this one in Palestine which, unlike bombing campaigns, have proved to reduce violence. If our citizens are happy, why would anyone ever want to leave?
With research, we can understand violent groups, and with preventative measures we can reduce their recruitment efforts. However, that does not stop violent individuals already in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Can we stop these people without bombs? Yes. It is too late to remove the $1 billion worth of military equipment left in post-Hussein Iraq now being used by ISIS, but we can still tackle ISIS at their core. We can support our neighbouring countries in researching and shutting down any illegal trade routes ISIS use as their main source of funding. There are some things societies need to function and, love it or loathe it, a basic cash flow is one of them. Don’t you agree?
This is my final and most important point. If a broke and under-manned ISIS somehow continues to pose a threat, we can still protect UK citizens without using bombs. How? By funding our public services to the brim. A fully trained and funded police force can act quickly and efficiently to prevent violence. A medical team can save our lives if we are sick or wounded. A good teacher can provide us with a better education than any online extremist recruiter. Our public services look after us, teach us, and keep us safe – more so than any bomb can. And, at the end of the day that is what you want – to keep your people safe. (While we are speaking, you could do this very effectively in a number of other ways – please see these articles on funding junior doctors, improving our roads and funding essential charities – but I digress).
So, Mr Cameron, I hope you see that there is an alternative to fighting violence with violence. In fact, it is more than an alternative – it is our moral obligation. And, if responses to the Paris attacks are anything to judge by, I think that is is an alternative to violence that people want.
P.S It is not too late to e-mail your MP.
*Note: I think the term ´violent extremism should have been used instead of ´Islamism´