An Alternative to Bombing Syria

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.

Yours sincerely,

Martha Stokes

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´



A bajaji ride to remember

For the last three weeks I have been volunteering in Tanzania with an organisation called CDI. I am working on the community engagement side of a sanitation project and, of course, working to make the project as socially and environmentally sustainable as possible. Here is my first blog post for CDI!

Cambridge Development Initiative

Today was the second day I was not woken up at 6am by bleating goats – the coincidence of silent mornings and the end of Eid celebrations is one I’d prefer not to consider too closely. Instead, I meandered downstairs at a leisurely 7.10am for a breakfast of baked bread laden with lime marmalade, followed by fresh fruit and litchi juice. The day started well.


This was a significant day for the Engineering team. Today, Rosie (project director) and I were to meet with the community members who lived by our proposed Simplified Sewerage System route in Vingunguti and present our project. Following a successful pilot project last summer, this year’s CDI Engineering team is planning to expand the simplified sewerage system introduced to Vingunguti’s informal settlements by the waste pond 12 months ago. In short, the simplified sewerage system provides a safe and affordable sanitation solution to those who…

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An Open Letter to David Cameron

This morning I guest authored for Geo/Socio/Politico and wrote an open letter to David Cameron. Here is the link for all those who have nearly-but-not-quite had enough of politics in one lifetime:


Dear David Cameron,

It has certainly been a turbulent year for politics. In fact, it is quite likely that I will never see a year like this again: last summer I voted in the Scottish Referendum and yesterday I voted in my first General Election.

Today, morning of 8th May, the results are flooding in after sleepless nights of counting and waiting. It has just been announced that the Conservative Party have gained a slender majority.

I wish I could congratulate you but I can’t. I did not vote for the Conservative Party on the 7th May and, if truth be told, the thought of a Conservative Government wholly unsettles me.

Why? Perhaps it is because I grew up in post-Thatcher Scotland, or maybe because born a daughter to two social work parents? It could be that I attended a local comprehensive school where we had to organise a sponsored…

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15 ways to be more sustainable in 2015

Run more, eat less, work harder. Every year we make New Year Resolutions and every year studies tell us why we fail them. Yet why, as the midnight bells strike a final goodbye to yester-year, do we promise ourselves that this is the year to make a resolution that lasts? We do it because we want to change.

And change we must do. With increasingly apocalyptic reports on climate one can be forgiven for wanting to draw the curtains and never read the news again. We feel helpless.

Yet we can make a difference. Even simple lifestyle alterations can reduce carbon footprint. So, New Year’s Resolution or not, here are 15 easy ways to become more sustainable in 2015.

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We are in the midst of a poaching crisis


Photograph by Joonas Lyytinen, Käyttäjä:Joonasl

News feeds around the world are saturated with crisis reports. Popular twitter hash-tags have recently included #Ebola, #Ukraine, #Gaza, #Ferguson, #ISIS and #Syria to name a few.

And while we have been hurtling towards humanitarian disaster overload, an environmental catastrophe has been unfolding on the plains of Africa.

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