Unpublished letter to The Guardian, 03 09 2013
Recent letters to The Guardian have variously stressed the importance of diplomacy, non-military solutions (Natalie Bennett, 03 09 203), negotiations, an interim government, UN involvement, the SAS and shooting Assad if “necessary” (Evelyn Adey, 03 09 2013). Meanwhile, politicians and the media, in the UK, USA and the middle east, continue to obsess about the use of nerve gas as a reason for military intervention of the bombing kind. I suggest there are two mistakes being made here.
First, these old-style men are arguing about the wrong thing: proving whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria, and who was responsible, does not provide an automatic assumption that this is the appropriate and incontrovertible basis / justification for taking military action against the Syrian government. Obsessing about this single issue closes off other, more creative options, such as non-military initiatives, in an attempt to establish a more sustainable, long-term solution to the problem of Assad via international alliance. This could negotiate in the first instance, a ceasefire, followed by a negotiated international embargo on arms deals with and weapons supply to the Assad regime, while other diplomatic and political efforts are made. This involves more than simple pressing the trigger on aggression. It requires a total change of the traditional political mindset of those men at the top on all sides; a reversal of hardcore hyper-mascuinity.
There has been much talk of “American credibility”, of “standing up” to Assad, of “punishing” him, etc.. As Max Hastings pointed out this week on TV, this is the language of boys in the playground, and John Harris (Westminster’s posturing élite can’t engage the public, 02 09 2013) noted the ad-libbed jokiness of the Prime Minister in the House when he presented his Motion, and other MPs indulging in “the usual boyish knockabout”. That’s how serious they take the business of deciding whether to bomb another country. That is the measure of their disconnect with the country at large, and their danger to it.
John Harris ended his article speculating on what might “start to repair the chasm between politics and the public . . . not pretend messiahs astride white chargers, but humility, caution and the ability to listen”. Here is an intimation of what is both at stake and what is needed.
Following his recent death, Seamus Heaney, as a person / poet / partner / son / father / friend, for example, is being savoured and celebrated as an inadvertent peacemaker: personally, professionally, poetically (see Andrew O’Hagan, Oysters with Seamus, 03 09 2013. The contrast to the manly mania that politics has presented us with this last week or so in particular, is stark. Heaney counselled: “do not be afraid”, whether as writer, person or politician, “in choosing the path of peace and eventually ending the Troubles by putting down the gun” (Henry McDonald [03 09 2013] Noli timere: Heaney’s son tells mourners of poet’s final words to wife).
val walsh / 03 09 2013