Jayne Dowle: No easy choice, but Syria airstrikes are least worst option

THERE are times when I think that the life of an MP might be an enviable one.

Not this week though, as each and every one has had to look inside themselves, examine their conscience and decide whether to authorise airstrikes against targets of Daesh, the so-called Islamic State, in Syria.

This is not just about one House of Commons vote though, it is about establishing a position and taking a stance. It is ultimately about leadership. And we have to let our leaders lead.

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It is also a massive gamble. For every action there is a reaction. Here are our MPs being asked to judge the possible and potential outcomes of a situation which – in Daesh – involves a terrifyingly mysterious and unpredictable enemy. Is any politician, however well-informed, really qualified to do that? Are any of us?

I am glad then that I can stand there doing the washing-up thinking about this without having to put my political career on the line. It doesn’t abnegate me from responsibility though.

Just because I don’t have to make a public decision doesn’t mean that I don’t have to wrestle with my own conscience. In this state of attrition, in which each one of us is a potential target, none of us are allowed to disengage. We are in a total war, but not of the kind we might have imagined a generation ago.

It is a matter with unprecedented global political impact. It is also riven with factions and ever-changing allegiances – and this applies to the West, Russia and China as much as to the Middle East.

However, this doesn’t mean that it is some far-away conflict which we can’t understand. It isn’t fighting over oil and land in Iraq. It is about a real and present threat to the security of our country, our laws and our liberty and freedom. And it is a conflict which was brought home to the West on the streets of Paris only a few short weeks ago.

Only a saint – or Jeremy Corbyn – could look at the footage of Europeans being gunned down in cold blood and not have the immediate visceral reaction – retribution.

Two weeks later, our approach is more measured. We’ve had time to think. Airstrikes might happen thousands of miles away in the Middle East, but each bomb which drops is like a pebble in a pond.

The ripples will reverberate all the way across the world and into the hearts and lives of us all. Public opinion, forged of personal belief and individual conscience, is a more powerful tool than you might imagine. There will be countless MPs who decide on which way to vote swayed by the latest opinion poll.

Even though we have to trust them to make the decision which is best for the overall good of the country, we must remember that everyone’s view is important in a modern democracy. Indeed, that is one of the cherished liberties we hold dear against the oppressive regime religious fundamentalists would foist upon us.

If a pollster came up to you in the street this morning then, what would you say? In favour of the RAF bombing Daesh in Syria or not? For the record, I’d probably vote in favour, but with the heaviest of hearts and some serious reservations, not 
least about the innocent people, especially the children, who might be 
hit by our bombs.

Sorry if that sounds blunt, but we have to be honest and to the point about it. I cannot imagine much worse than trying to bring up a family when you are living in a country that is constantly under fire.

If you need reminding, there are plenty of pictures of the apartment blocks which have been shelled in the conflict – the streets running with water, the permanently-shuttered shops and the rats running through piles of rubbish. I saw a picture just like this the other day; a well-meaning, left-leaning friend posted it on Facebook with the caption – “if your street looked like this, you’d run away too”.

I could see her point. And it made me think about all the people who have had to flee those streets, leaving behind their homes and businesses and those too weak to make the journey out of there.

Why would we wish to make the lives of these people even worse? To force even more of them to leave their own country and join the ever-growing column of misery and rootlessness heading West?

We berate our politicians for not taking a firm stand on the refugees who turn up at our border begging for sanctuary, yet we appear to be urging them to support a tough military stance which is guaranteed in one thing – to increase
the numbers of individuals fleeing bombed-out homes and asking for sanctuary here and in other European countries.

Yet can we in our privileged position stand back and let extremists fester in those bombed-out buildings and plot to take over the world through murder, carnage and outrage? We simply cannot. That is why I have concluded that airstrikes are the least worst option.