I have just walked disgusted from my living room, having watched the House of Commons emergency debate on Syria — disgusted with democracy, disgusted with elected MPs, disgusted with humanity. I am the personification of “Disgusted of W2”.
First, there was virtually no one in the house. Maybe 50 MPs. Don’t hold me to that, I didn’t count and I only caught a little of the coverage. Fifty MPs. For an emergency debate, a matter of, well, death and death. A genocide is happening in Aleppo and crimes against humanity have been happening for the past five years. Boris Johnson, representing the Foreign Office, and as far as I could see, the Tory front and back benches, looked as though he had been hauled up before the Head of RE and asked to recite the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by heart. In fairness to Boris, he spoke out firmly against appeasement and also urged us to go and demonstrate outside the Russian embassy, which predictably set off an international furore.
Emily Thornberry, representing Jeremy peace-in-our-time Corbyn, kept rolling her eyes as though she’d been asked to pin down excluded kids at break-time. Others in the house looked shiftily at the door or their shoes. Sir Nicholas Soames and former members of the armed forces looked very depressed.
Aside from the dread I feel for the beleaguered citizens of a city razed to the ground in order to wipe out a small body of rebels and jihadists, it is hard for me not to mention the word disproportionate. I search desperately on the internet for outrage. I want to see what Jon Snow, Ken Loach, Jeremy Hardy, James O’Brien and the rest have to say about the bombardment of grandmothers, babies, the sick and dying and starving and those already hospitalised, by Assad’s foul government and the creeping bloodthirsty ambition of Vlad the Impaler II.
I am wondering, taking up Boris’s challenge, is there a protest I could join? A march to the Syrian and Russian embassies to which I could carry my placard, “IS-ASS-USSR Murderers out of Syria!”?
On every campus in the land, is there a student leader or a cleric willing to whip up the rhetoric to ban Russian academics, and boycott dates and vodka? Forgive me if such rhetoric does indeed exist, but the activities of these anti-war advocates just don’t seem to reach the pages of the Guardian or the New York Times or the other papers I read in quite the same way. Maybe the media find it hard to point fingers at an aggressor, and one who has nothing to defend, from somewhere other than the American Colony hotel, Jerusalem.
OK, help me here: where precisely has the footsore “Stop the War” coalition been for the past five years? Where was it when the Russian bombs fell on an aid convoy? When Russia is blowing up hospitals with such precision targeting that it can only be deliberate? I see no sign of warning leaflets fluttering down on areas about to be pulverised.
Is Gerald Kaufman suffering from a strep throat? Is Baroness Tonge hastening to Broadcasting House with apartheid on her mind, or Ken Livingstone queuing up at LBC to whine that the Russians are behaving like the Luftwaffe? It is hard not to think that Syria, home to one of the oldest civilisations in the world, is just not a spot on the map that exercises the conscience of the world. Do ordinary Syrians not have the Right of Return?
I won’t continue my obvious “whataboutism”. Neither do I need to, because it is as clear as the nose on my face.
Andrew Mitchell said the Russians were “acting like the Nazis in Guernica” in their contempt for international law. Untrammelled by global censure or any real threat from the UN or the West they have vetoed UN proposals to end airstrikes. The world has lost its collective short-term memory. Who can doubt that the psychotics have taken control of the asylum?
Nobody wants war. The West is obsessed by moneybags and handbags, and paralysed by the fear of bodybags. We don’t want our sons and now our daughters on the front line when the line is underequipped, weapons may be chemical, and the return home may be to the opposite of a heroes’ welcome. Where a soldier may face a court case for serving her country. The book by my bedside, Naples ’44 by Norman Lewis, tells of the chaos in southern Italy in the final years of the Second World War, when one order received was to take no German prisoners, but to use the butt of their guns to beat to death those who try to surrender. War is ugly, and morality and 24-hour news coverage are bad companions.
As a result, we only rush in when the foe is weaker than we are, like Arsenal constantly being pitted against Accrington Stanley. We got it badly wrong in Iraq, in Libya, in Afghanistan, but the truth is that despots like Putin revel in others’ weakness. A man with a facelift who poses bare-chested on horseback is not a well man. He believes his own imagery. Like Idi Amin and Pol Pot before him, he has reached the stage where he believes his power is absolute and invulnerable. In other words, just this side of madness and ripe to be deposed.
His athletes were issued state-sponsored drugs, his minions have poisoned journalists in our own country, his forces invaded Crimea and threaten the countries around it. We are constantly being told we live in “challenging times”, If there is a time to challenge Russia it is now. I believe we need to start proceedings to withdraw from the World Cup in Russia in 2018, issue hard sanctions and fight at the UN for a no-fly zone. Today.