Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Libya - Will bombs help?

Interfering in another country’s Civil War is always a dangerous thing. History does not provide us with many successful examples. It is even more difficult when we don’t know whose side we are on – we only know whose side we are against. Such “anyone but my enemy” strategies have led to a number of costly disasters - it led the west to support the Taliban in Afghanistan as an alternative to the Soviets, and Israel to support Hamas as an alternative to PLO/Fatah – decisions which the west and Israel have repented on at leisure.

I know the government doesn’t like Gadaffi – some may say it came to this conclusion a bit late – but by and large I agree. I don’t know who we are supporting in Libya, and I am not sure the government does either. Protecting civilians and supporting democracy are laudable aims, but high explosive fired from planes and submarines hundreds of miles from their targets are very clumsy tools to achieve these objectives.

Already there is BBC news footage of “genuinely angry” people in Tripoli attending funerals of people killed by bombing. When people are killed by well-intentioned bombs, the consequences, in terms of loss, pain, anger and the desire for revenge are much the same as when people are killed by ill-intentioned bombs. Growing up in Northern Ireland it was very easy to see the motive of the person pulling the trigger was much less important than the effect of the bullet.

Our missiles are bringing instantaneous blasts each day as well as many less tangible and long term consequences upon the Libyan people. Our TV screens and newspapers are getting exited about the thrill of the first days of a war, with “Blown to Brits”, being a particularly sickening headline. But they won’t let us see how each missile affects the lives of people one month, one year or one decade later. You can however be absolutely sure that each missile will have lasting human effects - I have no idea what they will mean for the long-term peace of the Libyan people and I don’t think anyone else has either.

Over recent years I have become more and more inclined towards pacifism, because war - even in the rare event that it is waged for the purest of motives - has awful consequences which persist long after the ceasefire and political solution have been reached. One of those consequences is almost always more violence within the societies that are involved and very often one war sows the seeds of the next. Again a childhood spent in Belfast will convince you of the brutalising effects of violence on the entire of society, but historical evidence shows this trend in the aftermath of many other conflicts.

Pacifism is not passive - at its best it is more courageous, more vigorous, and more effective than using violence. It may not produce instant results, it will not provide glorious News of the World headlines, but when I look at the gospels I have to conclude that non-violence seems more Jesus’s style than bombing. Looking at the cycles of violence running throughout history, it seems non-violence is more likely to bring lasting peace as well.