On Wednesday evening, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of airstrikes against so called Islamic State in Syria. This decision has been criticised heavily on social media, and has been vehemently opposed by the more left-wing factions of the Labour Party.
There is undoubtedly merit to the arguments of those who oppose war. However, I believe as a liberal democracy we have both a legal and a moral obligation to intervene in Syria and do our part to confront what is perhaps the most evil organisation the world has ever seen.
Daesh has committed a series of horrifying atrocities that are blatant violations of international law. If they go unpunished, if their actions are not met with extreme force, then these international laws mean very little.
We know that Daesh has already sold thousands of young women into sexual slavery. Thousands of Yazidi women have been raped, which is a violation of an only recently passed UN mandate which outlaws violence against women as a tool of war. The Iraqi ministry of human rights has also reported that at least 150 women last year were executed for refusing to marry militants.
We further know, thanks to Kurdish officials, who have unearthed mass graves and crude burial sites outside the retaken city of Sinjar, that Daesh is guilty of genocide; a genocide that included the murder of children - boys too young to work, and girls too young to rape. Indeed all those, Muslims and Christians, who do not subscribe to Daesh’s twisted ideology are murdered. Following the capture of Mosul, the city’s many Christians were forced to flee in the greatest exodus of Christians since the Armenian massacre of the First World War. Finally, those found to be homosexual are thrown from rooftops or stoned to death.
Much criticism followed the international community's failure to act in Armenia, Cambodia or Rwanda to end genocide. Britain has rightly decided that we should not endeavour to repeat these mistakes.
The political Left has long championed human rights. Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn has one of the most impressive human rights campaign records of any Member of Parliament. So why now is he failing to defend his principles? The crimes of Daesh cannot go unpunished. As Hilary Benn so brilliant put in his speech to the House: “we must confront this evil”. The organisation’s disregard for international law, and for the principles that define the UN, make intervention in Syria a necessity.
Furthermore, the argument that airstrikes specifically will have no effect on Daesh is simply not true. Last summer, the terrorist movement was only miles away from Baghdad. Thanks to British and American airstrikes it has been pushed back hundreds of miles, and is in full retreat in Iraq.
The history of warfare in the 21st century has taught us that control of the skies is crucial to any conflict. Daesh possesses no anti-aircraft weaponry capable of targeting British jets. From a military standpoint, Daesh is surrounded on all sides by forces that oppose it. Moreover, its infrastructure, ability to communicate, and capability to wage war will be seriously hampered by airstrikes it has no ability to stop.
The further argument that military intervention in Syria will make Britain a target for terrorism is in my opinion not a justification for non-action. Britain is already a target, the intelligence services have already foiled seven attempts by Daesh inspired criminals to kill innocent civilians in the past six months alone. Should we allow ourselves to be bullied by an organisation that threatens our human rights? It is not too far-fetched, I believe, to draw a comparison with the decision taken in 1939 to intervene against Hitler. We knew that the consequences would be dire for Britain, but we also knew that we had a responsibility to defeat fascism.
The opponents of airstrikes have also argued that it would be better to cut off Daesh’s oil supply, funding and support. I agree, but can’t we do both? There is already a cohesive effort underway to end the supply of arms and munitions to the terrorist organisation. Airstrikes will surely further restrict Daesh’s resources by preventing their territorial expansion.
Finally, the attacks in Paris on 13th November make intervention by Britain legally mandated. Britain is a leading member of NATO, an alliance that has held together Western Europe for nearly a century. According to article five of the NATO constitution, an attack on one member represents an attack on all members. Daesh’s murder of 130 citizens in Paris, and the subsequent declaration of war by the French president means that Britain must stand by its NATO ally. Allowing Daesh to undermine what is perhaps the most important geopolitical alliance in the world would mean disaster for international peace and security.
The French president himself requested British aid, saying “I can only call on all British Members of Parliament in solidarity with France but above all conscious of the fight against terrorism, to approve this intervention”. How could we justifiably abandon a close ally fighting against fascists? What kind of message would that send to the world?
Therefore, whether for moral reasons or simply legal ones, Britain has an obligation to intervene in Syria, and the House of Commons has rightly answered the calls of the international community.