WEEKLY COMMENT 3-12-2015
By Barry Edwards
The Syria Debate
The UK government has achieved its majority in the House of Commons to extend the bombing that is currently taking place in Iraq into Syria as expected. The long debate was full of reasons for and against the support for military action which included many valid points supporting the decisions made by the 157 members of parliament that wished to speak in the debate.
If you did not hear the entire speech given by Hillary Benn at the end of the debate, I recommend you click on the link below and listen. It was one of the most inspiring speeches you are likely to hear and made a big difference to the outcome of the vote.
The attacks in Paris clearly changed the whole perspective for MP’s and many in the nation to allow the government to propose the motion with the confidence that they would win the day. At the centre of the argument is the evidence that this evil cult, now called Daesh, is clearly a threat to the UK and all allied countries which requires retaliation to reduce the capabilities of the aggressor. It is also important to all the countries involved that the British RAF is an intricate part of the forces to attack the infrastructure of this organisation wherever they occupy land.
Throughout the debate in the Commons, there was reference to the long-term solution to this continuous terrorist threat which was mentioned in a few speeches. Not surprisingly, most discussion concentrates on the immediate threat and how to prevent it from escalating. Unless the conference in Vienna incorporates a complete solution for the entire Middle East region as well as Syria, there is little chance that peace will last long.
To understand why the current troubles have evolved it is worth looking back over the past 100 years to see how events have created the framework for the current situation. A brief explanation here should help to set the scene for the point I wish to make. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War 1 which was the major power for 600 years in the region is the main reason for the troubles we are seeing all over the Arab world. The main problem was when the Sykes-Pekot agreement was signed during World War 1 in 1916 by the British and the French in secret with Russian compliance which was exposed during the Russian revolution; the Arabs were not aware of this agreement. Basically it was a division of land drawn on the map to represent areas under British and French control without taking into consideration the religious and cultural areas that had existed previously. Very similar to the unnatural tribal boundaries created in Africa by European powers.
The British and the French just about managed to keep control of the endless disputes that broke out following the enactment of the agreement but the underlying tension continued and has remained in the region right up to the present day (if you would like to know more check Sykes-Picot in Wikipedia). You may be surprised to learn that talk of an Israeli state was discussed during this time. After World War 2, the British and French relinquished control but retained their influence in the countries they used to consider colonies. The United Nations created the state of Israel in Palestine against the wishes of the Arab countries. The ruling families and religious sects that had formed in the region gradually gained power while the ever expanding demand for oil provided the funds for them to retain control and rely on the patronage of the British, French and Americans.
The rest of the history is well known to everyone and does not need further explanation here. The point of stating the early history is to make clear that there has always been trouble in the region, at least for 100 years, and the reason for it is that it has been embedded in the minds of the people supported by strict religious belief. Therefore unravelling Sykes-Pekot is the core of the problem and unless that is resolved there can be no long-term peace. That is why the talks in Vienna are so important and must include a reworking of that agreement to reflect the natural boundaries that existed when the Ottomans ruled the region which were mostly autonomous.
Although after all this time it is not certain that all participants would agree to any proposal to present a genuine solution along these lines, it could transform the approach all factions in the region would take if they believed they could live in peace. There would need to be substantial funding commitments from the international community to rebuild and structure the framework of communities with some kind of democratic involvement even if it is not a direct copy of European and American systems.
Although it is important to react to current circumstances, it is not the ultimate solution to the restoration of some kind of coordination of understanding between the different parties in the region. In my view this is the basis of discussion for all with any influence and it is imperative that the talks in Vienna reflect this fundamental point. Time will tell if this does progress to a real plan to provide for long-term peace which may begin to reduce the anxiety of the troubled young men and women who currently have no faith in their own future or any opportunity to make a better life for themselves.
That’s all for this week, more observations next week.