One question is whether bombing is morally justifiable. Another is whether it is strategically wise. Both sit against a backdrop of the 2003 Iraqi invasion and painful thoughts about what was actually achieved.
Given the devastation that is taking place in the affected regions – the barbaric acts including beheadings, kidnappings and sexual slavery – can we possibly be justified in sitting back and doing nothing?
Ethnic cleansing is taking place, with minorities being given the choice of leaving or being killed. Now that we know all that we do about Hitler and his treatment of Jews, it is hard to imagine how non-intervention would have been right in that case. Is the current situation morally different?
Christians looking to their faith for answers to these difficult questions are often pulled in two directions. One is the direction of pacifism, based on Jesus’ example as a suffering servant and his call to be peacemakers, forgiving our enemies. The other is the direction of just war theory, which states that in certain extreme circumstances, we have a justification – even a moral obligation – to intervene to protect the vulnerable. Coming to any sort of conclusion on the right thing to do can be an agonising process.
But we have a responsibility to undergo this process. It is worth each of us reflecting on this question:
If David Cameron asked you for your advice on whether to bomb IS, what would you say?
It is easy to avoid engaging deeply with these issues, thinking that we will never have to be the one who makes the decision. But we must not simply avoid responsibility for making a judgement on this moral dilemma and leave it in the hands of others. It is vital that we play our role as citizens and help to shape the decisions made by our leaders.
An opportunity to think and discuss
Next Tuesday, there is a great opportunity to think through these issues. The Rt Hon Shirley Williams, a deeply experienced thinker and politician, will speak on ‘How can we best promote peace in the world?’
She grew up during the Second World War, raised by strongly pacifist parents. Her career has involved deep engagement with international affairs, including being Gordon Brown’s Adviser on nuclear proliferation while he was Prime Minister.
Shirley writes extensively about the moral decision-making involved in questions of war in her book God and Caesar: Personal Reflections on Politics and Religion. She writes about the struggles involved in such questions but also the basis for the hope she has:
“While the challenge of evil is very great…there is also great potential force for good. The good among us often distrust power, and power in turn underestimates moral and spiritual force. But I have seen that force, in the hands of men and women without material or political power, move nations.”
The Gladstone Lecture
If you want high quality input with a chance to grapple with these vital issues then please come along to the annual Gladstone Lecture. Please share with anyone you think might want to come.
Rt Hon Shirley Williams: How can we best promote peace in the world?
- Tuesday 21 October 2014, 7.30pm drinks, 8pm lecture followed by Q&A
- Held at St James the Less, Vauxhall Bridge Road, Pimlico, London SW1V 2P
- Visit the LDCF website for more information and tickets