ppu logo
PM Head
|eNews | shop | memorials | pacifism | war facts | conflict resolution |                          

Peace Matters Index
ONLINE contents
Selection from paper publication

- War withouth end
- Conflict and photography
- Soldiers on the batlefield
- What an I doing to stop the war?
- Question time?



Peace Matters


On Thursday night 12th March the BBC hosted a Question Time debate in Leeds, with a panel that included Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat MP, and Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye. In the course of the debate there was discussion on the forthcoming General Election, and some mention of the young women from London who recently made headlines in their flight to Syria to join ISIS/ISIL. During the course of the latter discussion, an interesting debate began about the causes and reasons for this situation, with some suggestion that it has arisen partly because of the wars in the Middle East over the past three decades, and further back. This discussion though, just as it was gathering speed, was closed to facilitate a question on Jeremy Clarkson – in much the same way as news broadcasts often end with a light-hearted tale at the very end of the show.

There’s nothing wrong with that I suppose. If we only concentrated on the serious stuff we would probably go mad with the world in the state that it is. But maybe, now more than ever, we need to ask the big bread and butter questions and not be distracted by circuses >p14 involving celebrities and TV presenters.
Some would argue that we are crashing headlong into a disaster shaped by American foreign policy since the end of the Second World War, and have gone down a certain road so far that it is impossible to turn back.

Particularly since the September 11th attacks in the United States and then the war in Afghanistan we have entered a state or a stasis where war has been accepted as inevitable, and the questioning of this has become unpatriotic.
On Friday 13th March the UK’s war effort was honoured in a service commemorating the end of Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan. Many young people lost their lives in this conflict against a foe that in comparison to ISIS/ISIL seems quite tame in its objectives. I could be wrong but the Taliban’s aim was to take control of Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, whilst Al Qaeda wanted to bring an end to western involvement in Muslim countries.

ISIS/ISIL on the other hand want to suck the western world into a battle in the Middle East wherein the western armies will be defeated, and our countries conquered for all time in the aftermath. This for some adherents could take the form of a Biblical apocalypse, whilst for others it is a global Muslim caliphate.
Whichever form they want it to take, we are now possibly on the edge of what will actually be a wholescale World War, rather than the two western-European and Asian-Pacific dominated wars of the twentieth century.

Going back to Question Time, one of the questions raised but unanswered is what we can do about this situation. As a couple of speakers pointed out, the current narrative of radicalisation is far too simple. These kids are surely not just leaving England’s shores all dreamy eyed about the notion of living in a society that wants to revert back to the centuries where Islam originated.

There has to be something more than that, something more than primal instinct driving them to take such drastic actions. We were told in the early 2000s that the west was going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq to stop them coming here to attack us. Everything that has happened since then has made this sound like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and shows lack of awareness of Muslim beliefs about what will happen in the event of a clash between Islam and non-believers.

I was on the marches, in London, to stop the Iraq war in 2003. I thought at the time it was just a pretext for going into Iran. That may well have been the intention, but the course of history has gotten out of control. Even the development of ISIS/ISIL seems like it was part of a gameplan that went wrong. These were the rebels we started to arm in order to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Everything the west seems to have touched in the Middle East in the past twenty years appears to have gone horribly wrong – catastrophically wrong even. It is barely two decades since Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat appeared to have sealed agreement on steps to a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine dispute. Today that seems not from another century, but another world.

So what’s the point of raising these issues, of asking more questions than answers? Though I am writing this I am not even sure what we can do next, those of us who want to see an end to war. We seem to have been led blindly into a situation of endless war for the next twenty to thirty years. Even some of the most extreme Islamists have a vision for how this state of affairs should end. Their idea is to put an end to all wars by having one united Muslim world. That may be frightening and idealistic but at least we can see there is an end game.

What is ‘our’ end game? Who is deciding the rules of the game? Is it the arms industry and corporations who benefit from chaos and endless war? Is there even something more sinister at hand? There are so many questions and so few answers. Maybe we’re not interested in answers, or maybe our narrative isn’t all that more complex than the simple good and evil fables peddled by ISIS/ISIL.
But I just wonder are we going to keep stumbling through this fog of media nonsense about the lives of celebrities and the other circuses they intoxicate us with, such as worrying whether or not Charles Kennedy was drunk on TV?

And are we going to see more and more services over the coming years for more young people whose lives have been sacrificed in far-flung corners of the world? On Thursday night, before Question Time, I also watched an interview with the father of one of the young soldiers commemorated in the Afghan war service. Through all his sadness he said the sacrifice was worth it, though he barely seemed to know what his son had actually been fighting for, and then he suggested that war was a natural condition – there would always be war.

Maybe in his grief that’s the only way to stay sane, but isn’t it time that somebody started asking the question of why war is inevitable? Even the men who died in the First World War believed that they were fighting a war to end all wars. Isn’t it a contradiction then to remember the sacrifice of these people and not aspire to the same values as they aspired to? Where have those values gone? Have they got lost somewhere on the road to Damascus that could bring us all to ruin?

But to end on a positive note, I hope that a year from now there’s no more ISIS or ISIL, and places such as Syria and Iraq have found the peace they deserve in these cradles of civilisation. Maybe that makes me as drunk and open to ridicule as a certain politician on TV, but isn’t that better than being sober and walking blindly from one international disaster to another, without ever asking why?
Paul Breen
Peace Pledge Union, 1 Peace Passage, London N7 0BT. Tel +44 (0)20 7424 9444 contact   |  where to find us