Whether you're for airstrikes in Syria or against them, right now, the most important thing is being informed about their impact. (After all, how else will you win that debate down the pub?)
Before we get started, this isn’t a guide to why bombing Syria is wrong. (Although, if you do think it’s wrong, you can check out our guide to organising a protest here.) Instead, this is a simple, straightforward guide to what bombing Syria means for you and the UK.
WHY ARE WE BOMBING SYRIA?
The UK voted to bomb Syria on the 2nd December 2015, after David Cameron argued that Syria had become the ‘heartland’ of the Islamic State (or ISIS / Daesh), and were posing such a serious threat, that they needed to be destroyed violently, with air strikes. (Incidentally, the term ‘air strikes’ just means ‘dropping bombs’. We may have had to google that at 1am – don’t judge.) Anyway, David believes that the UK has a moral obligation to get involved, and that we should join countries such as France, or Russia, in attacking the extremists.
YEAH, BUT WHO AGREED WITH DAVID CAMERON?
A significant proportion of parliament, it would appear. There are 650 MPs in the House of Commons, and after ten hours of debates, they each voted for or against the attacks. In total, 397 MPs voted for the bombing, and 223 MPs voted against it. There was a lot of controversy over the fact that 66 Labour MPs decided to support David Cameron, instead of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. But that isn’t actually that extraordinary.
SO WILL THE LABOUR MPS WHO VOTED FOR THE BOMBINGS BE IN TROUBLE?
There have been rumours swirling all over the place that MPs such as Stella Creasy, who supports the airstrikes in Syria, will be ‘deselected’ from the Labour government as a result. But as it stands, there’s zero evidence to support this, and Jeremy Corbyn even took to Facebook to assure his party members that there won’t be professional repercussions for the decisions they made on the 2nd December.
‘I want a great debate within the party, I want all our members to have the opportunity to help create the policies that will lead us to victory in 2020,’ he said. ‘With a party of over 380,000 members we will not always agree and I think that is healthy for our party democracy. But democratic debate comes with responsibilities – the responsibility of respect for others, even if they don’t agree with you.’
WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT, WHAT WERE THE ALTERNATIVES?
The people who disagree with the bombing (that’s 223 MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and the whole of the SNP – not to mention the majority of the liberal Twittersphere) believe that we haven’t done enough politically to stop ISIS before resorting to violence. By imposing financial sanctions on Syria, they believe we could cut off the extremists’ resources and obstruct them financially. After all, one of the most important things to recognise is how much money ISIS/Daesh makes from tax.
Sure, it’s not tax like our kind of tax (where a couple of hundred quid disappears from our paycheque once a month and we get a free health service in exchange), and much more like an unofficial series of threats placed on smugglers and businesses across the Middle East, but it’s tax nevertheless.
Basically, David Cameron’s argument is that Daesh make a lot of money from oil – and yes, we can target oil fields with air strikes. (In fact, we already have.) But Jeremy Corbyn wants us to remember that bombs won’t stop these methods of taxation – and according to The Guardian, that’s where most of their cash flow comes from.
The other alternative is to focus on education and integration – when society does little to include people of different religions and backgrounds, it’s easier for those people to feel disenfranchised, rejected or attacked – and look for belonging elsewhere. Many people believe that warfare is likely to increase – not reduce – this kind of segregation.
BACK UP FOR A SECOND – WHY DO YOU KEEP SAYING ‘DAESH’?
Basically, Daesh is the term used within Syria to refer to the extremists – and it’s the term that parliament has now taken to using as well. Apparently it’s also the term that ISIS-IS-ISIL-Islamic-State hate the most, too.
RIGHT. ANYWAY, WHAT ARE THE RISKS THAT COME WITH BOMBING SYRIA?
Some people believe that air strikes are likely to increase the risk of terrorist attack in the UK – there were attacks on Russia and France shortly after they began airstrikes on the extremist caliphate. But of course, on the other hand, doing nothing simply for fear of revenge attacks might not be the best argument against the airstrikes. (Especially when there are so many good arguments out there for you to use already. If you want to. We’re trying to remain impartial here.)
HOW STRONG IS DAESH/ISIS RIGHT NOW?
We’re not actually sure. In 2014, it was estimated by the CIA that there were 31,500 fighters for their cause in Syria/Iraq, and recent estimates put numbers at up to 50,000. To put this into perspective, the combined population of Iraq and Syria is over 55 million.
SO THERE ARE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE FIGHTING ISIS ALREADY?
Not exactly, but that doesn’t mean they support them, either. It just means they’re regular people, who don’t really want to go out fighting for things every day. (Like Aysha, the refugee woman who marie claire traveled across Europe with in September.)
According to David Cameron, there are 70,000 non-extremist opposition forces in Syria, who could feasibly help in the fight against Daesh. But it’s worth acknowledging that they’re not all trained, they’re not all working together, and that for many people in Syria, it’s not just a matter of fighting Daesh. It’s a matter of fighting Assad, too. And in many cases, fighting Assad is actually the priority.
HOW MANY SYRIAN CIVILIANS ARE AT RISK?
Again, it’s hard to know for certain. After all, while some people believe that bombing Syria could wipe out Daesh in a matter of weeks, others believe it could take years. And the longer the violence goes on for, the more civilians there are who will be at risk. In November, 12 civilians – including five children – were killed by a bomb that fell near a school in Raqqa. We don’t know whether it was dropped by a Russian, French or American plane.
WHEN DOES THE BOMBING START?
It already has. Four RAF Tornado jets carried out air strikes over Syria in the hours following the vote in the House of Commons, focusing on six targets across an Daesh-controlled oil field in the east of the country, near the Iraq border. It’s been confirmed that eight more planes will join them today.