“Enjoy this tea, as we may not wake up tomorrow morning!” I’m in Limassol, Cyprus, just 15km from RAF Akrotiri, and our hosts are afraid. With nervous grins on their faces they compare last week’s meteor shower to tonight’s potential display of British military firepower.
And why wouldn’t they be afraid? As the UK government lays out its plans for military intervention in Syria, they become a target for the Assad government or Iran. They have seen enough war in their land.
As I flew out, reading reports of ongoing slaughter and oncoming airstrikes, my heart broke. On the way from the airport, we ate at a restaurant on the beach overlooking the RAF Akrotiri base. It was in blackout – our 81-year-old host told us that it is usually ablaze with lights.
On Al Jazeera last night, Syria was up first, then bombs in Iraq, bombs in Afghanistan, war in Congo…
I’m crying out for just a glimmer of hope.
Yet why are we only just waking up to this now? More than 100,000 have died in Syria, yet only now is it really hitting me. I’m condemned by the brutality of my silence. Our prime minister says that this “is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war” – is he blind? By training and advising the rebels in recent months, we are already heavily involved. By destroying the weapons dumps of the government military, we would simply be taking this further.
What a timely reminder those reports of Iraq and Afghanistan were. Yet we no longer hear of the chaos in Libya, following our “limited intervention”. I work in Ghana with a peace and reconciliation organisation, where I am acutely aware of the flow of weapons and fighters between countries. Last year this movement of resources went into Mali, strengthening the militant terrorist organisations Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was right as he urged us to consider the “inter-linkedness of everything that happens” – these things always spread.
In Iraq, more than 4,000 have died this year, and bomb attacks are an almost daily occurrence. In Afghanistan, people die daily as the government is unable to control all the chaos we left behind. Our military intervention has only led to further violence and schism in the world of our Muslim brothers and sisters.
Is this love? I am lost in lament for all this death and brokenness. I feel so powerless. Surely there is some alternative other than military intervention? Where has the investment – political, human, financial, spiritual – been in those alternative options? We have sung the praises of the UN-Arab League envoy, Brahimi, yet we ignore him as he says “there is no military solution”. Or is the real political aim of the West just to bleed the Middle East dry?
Yet we are not impotent. We are called to respond. We are called to share in the sufferings of these people; to pray, to stand up and to speak out.
A decade ago, a million of us were in London saying: “Not in our name.” The war may have gone ahead, but we did not hide in indecision and the potential futility of our action – we called and cried out. We can do it again. Here are a few direct actions you can take:
– Email your MP. Right now.
The word from parliament is that people want to do this properly – one commentator said the government is being “held back by the democratic process”. Let us make this hold-up bite.
– Pray. Get on it. See some ideas from Tearfund.
– Get your friends and church involved. Mobilise them to write emails, tweets, Facebook, messages etc. Share positive updates and calls for alternatives.
– Organise a vigil of prayer, or of shouting, or of debate. You could use this Litany of Reconciliation.
– Research, read and know the situation. Protest. Stop the War coalition have called a rally on Saturday at 1pm in London. If you can’t make it there, round up some friends and get out in your own town, outside your MP’s constituency office, in front of the town hall. Make your voice heard loud and clear.
Those are just a few ideas, and I’d love to hear more from you. Get creative.
There is hope, and we must make it real and visible. Let’s lament like Nehemiah for these people made in the image of God both causing and suffering in this violence. Let us ask God for inspiration and confidence to act in boldness like Nehemiah did, as he stood before the king in danger of losing his life and pleaded for his people. These people are our people. We must respond.
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Christian International Peace Service.
Image adapted from Creative Commons.