Last night Threads hosted a gathering to discuss Syria and what we can do in response to it. It also involved a broken chair which I was unfairly characterised as having ‘brandished’, but the less about that the better.
The need acutely highlighted by articles such as ‘9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask‘. A meme spread a few weeks ago where you had to pin point on a map where Damascus is – I was relieved to only be about 80 miles out, apparently better that most other users.
That the situation is complex is a statement so obvious it borders on meaningless. Neither side are angels (are they ever?), the crimes committed are disputed, the efficacy of military action disputed.
Complexity can blind us. Imperfect options can ground us. Fear can stall us. Fatigue can make us turn away.
I put the case last night that while there is a just cause and a moral case for intervention, we should still not take military action. I made the case that without a good prospect of success, or a clear idea of what that success looks like, the moral weight behind military intervention would be scuppered.
Jonty Langley powerfully made the case for not going to war, disputing the outright label of a pacifist he questioned why in the service of the prince of peace we would bow at the altar of the god of war.
We were the polemicists. The opinionated. Those wont to have opinions before they have facts, well I am at least. Which was why the other contributions were vital.
Zoe Baldock from Open Doors set out the regional context, why the situation had arisen at this point, what the implications were, the refugee crisis, and the impact on Christians in the region. And a crucial local insight came from a Syrian now in the UK, but from Aleppo, all the theories in the world pale when set alongside the stories of human suffering from the streets where mortars are falling, home are flattened and families rent asunder.
Sara Guy from Tearfund had been in Lebanon earlier in the summer, she had seen the camps, the crisis, the survival, the absurdities of a modern day refugee crisis. Families with homes and jobs fleeing for their lives, able to keep in touch by mobile phones, but sharing in that common phenomenon of needing somewhere to charge their battery.
And it struck me. What if a public tired of conflict, of suffering, of intractable middle-eastern trials, felt more empathy for someone unable to charge their phone than for the 2 million refugees, for the 100 000 lives lost, for the children burnt, the lives scared?
What if our apathy and disinterest stretched that far?
So what can we do? That was the second question that drew us together. One comment was particularly astute, we saw ourselves as thirty people in their twenties and thirties bouncing ideas around and conscious of our vast knowledge gaps. But if you put 30 MPs in a room they would probably feel the same. Maybe the G20 felt the same. Something is dreadfully wrong but what can we do?
Maybe a lesson is that we cannot solve all crises with a few precision guided Tomahawks. When both the government and rebels are undesirable there’s no side worth taking. When the achievement of one worthy goal could make the whole situation worse.
Have diplomatic solutions reached their last redoubt? Have we brought everyone to the table, no matter our undesirable they might be? Are we prepared to compromise, prepared to accept we don’t have the answers or guarantees of enduring peace?
We had no definitive answers. If we did it would be pretty spectacular. But we have something better.
I was reminded on Sunday, I was reminded before we began yesterday and as we finished again.
Are we praying? And then did we stop. Prayer is not a tokenistic substitute when we do not know what to do. Prayer changes things. It changes hearts and it shifts priorities. It can bring people round a table who would not dream of talking. It can stop bullets being fired, it can stop vengeance in its tracks.
War may be a last resort but prayer is not.