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Imtiaz Ameen: As a British Muslim, I believe we must act in Syria for moral, strategic and symbolic reasons

Imtiaz_ameenImtiaz Ameen was Conservative candidate for Blackburn at the 2005 general election, is a former councillor in Dewsbury and writes a regular blog

Last week Paul Goodman discussed the potential effect military involvement by the UK government would have on Muslims in this country. At the time it seemed inevitable that Britain would be involved with the US and other allies in some form of action against the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons.

However, the decision taken by Ed Milliband and the Labour Party to oppose the PM’s motion in Parliament supported by some Tories and Liberal Democrats means that as things stand Britain will not participate in any military action but watch from the sidelines as other nations act. In the worst case scenario we as a nation will be turning a blind eye to genocide and even more deadly use of chemical weapons against its own people by the Syrian regime.

Will this decision, branded by some as a great victory by Parliament against the Executive mean that Muslims in this country will be euphoric and praise Ed Milliband’s actions or view his behaviour with contempt and deem them as political cowardice?

I believe that it will be the latter and the decision to not involve Britain in any military action for the genocide of 1400 mainly Muslim people will undoubtedly be regarded as a very poor one by British Muslims for reasons set out below.

  1. The indiscriminate killing of people by the use of chemical weapons should be unreservedly condemned by every single British Muslim. Had this killing been done under the watch of a non-Muslim, Muslims here and around the world would have been outraged and marches and demonstration would have been held calling for immediate retaliatory action. The fact that this killing has been done by Muslims under the watch of a Muslim leader in Basher Al-Assad should not matter one iota and it would be shameful for any Muslim to argue otherwise or use the excuse of civil war to ignore or excuse his actions. Shouldn’t every Muslim be supportive of any action that may prevent such an atrocity happening again, or even if military action is being taken as an act of retribution shouldn’t we all be fully supportive?
  2. "We shouldn’t rush to war" is the pretext used frequently for military non-involvement. It seems 100 000 people dead, 2 million refugees, several million living without adequate food and basic amenities and now civilians being killed en masse with nerve agents isn’t enough pain and anguish for some to be moved to take action. We should have learnt our lesson by now that you can’t negotiate with dictators who have no qualms about killing their own people. In the end dictators have to be dealt with sooner or later and recent history provides many examples of this. Had for example Israel carried out the same attack on Syrians across its border I wonder how many Muslims here would have demanded a ‘negotiated’ settlement supported by the UN?  How can there be any form of negotiation with a regime that indiscriminately kills its own civilians using chemical weapons? To turn a blind eye like Ed Milliband has advocated is negligent behaviour of the worst kind by a Leader of a Party of a democratic and liberal nation which is a member of the UN Security Council. I look forward to seeing the Labour Party having as a policy objective Britain’s resignation as a member of the UN Security Council now it favours an isolationist foreign policy, and advocates turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons.
  3. After the use of chemical weapons to indiscriminately kill people living in the region of Ghouta there appears to have been a clamour from some politicians and commentators in the media to verify with evidence they approve of that this attack was carried out by the Syrian regime and not by the rebels. This argument is also one that many Muslims have put forward and used as reason to avoid military intervention. As far as I can recall the Syrian government has at no point in the past two years stated that any of its chemical weapons were missing or had fallen into rebels hands or ever alleged that the rebels were capable of making such weapons. In fact the regime didn’t even raise an alarm warning citizens to take preventive measures which surely they would have done so had the rebels had actually used such weapons. Furthermore I have no doubt that the regime would have used chemical weapon use by rebels in every medium available to it as propaganda which it has failed to do and additional evidence of some form of chemical weapon use against civilians was provided by the BBC a few days later. These excuses have been made by apologists of the actions of the Syrian government. They further argue that the regime was starting to militarily overcome its opponents but the fact that battles were taking place on the outskirts of Damascus obviously prove otherwise. The presumption must be that it is the regime that has carried out this atrocity unless it can prove otherwise – which it has glaringly failed to do.
  4. The Iraq war and the lies which took us to war are being used as reasons to urge caution and avoid military action. While this is a legitimate concern, the dishonesty of some politicians should not be used to tar everyone with the same brush. The mendacity of some in the past cannot be reason enough not to do anything in the future. Why should innocent civilians in Syria be punished for the deception of some politicians? And in any event despite the fact that the Labour Party was in government and Tony Blair was responsible for the fabricated evidence relating to WMD in Iraq, Muslims still gave Labour their vote at the subsequent general election.
  5. It is argued that we should not interfere in a region and country which is unstable to say the least and when the outcome of any military action is so unclear. Preventing more innocent people being killed by the use of chemicals is a legitimate and relevant aim which surely outweighs any concern of what may happen and what effect this may have in the region and beyond. What can be more adverse in its impact than a green light by the West to a tyrannical regime in the Middle East to continue using chemical weapons? There is also the possibility that there are no adverse ramifications and therefore shouldn’t the ongoing killing of innocent people be a far more important concern than of unknown consequences?
  6. During the past two years in Mosques throughout the country, on Islamic TV channels, in the Asian press/media campaigns by various charities for help with humanitarian assistance in Syria have been made and are still ongoing. Millions of pounds have been raised from Muslims and non-Muslims alike to help Syrian refugees, orphans, widows and the elderly who have suffered as a result of this conflict. Isn’t it better to support action which avoids the need for more humanitarian aid than to ensure it has to be provided on an ongoing and indeterminate basis?
  7. Finally the default argument put forward in all such scenarios is that any military action will be seen as an attack on Islam and will lead to an increase in support of extremists and mean more people will engage in terrorist activities in this country. The Syrian conflict has been raging for two years and if a military attack to deter any future use of chemical weapons and/or retribution is an attack on Islam then what the Syrian regime has been doing for the past two years is much worse. Extremists will latch on to any excuse to swell their ranks – that cannot be a reason not to do the right thing.

British Muslims should wholeheartedly support any military action against the Syrian regime for its use of chemical weapons. If no action is taken hundreds if not thousands more will be killed by a tyrannical regime which has no interests in the welfare and well being of its own people. British Muslims who seek to turn a blind eye to this atrocity will also forfeit the right to seek military action against any other country where atrocities against Muslims take place.

The consequences of ignoring the actions of the Syrian regime would mean that every despot and dictator especially in the Middle East would in future actively acquire and use such weapons in the belief that there will be no repercussions or retribution for his actions.

The involvement of Britain in military action against the Syrian regime is symbolically, strategically and morally necessary and once the UN investigators, the United States and/or any other body conclude their investigations and report that chemical weapons have been used the Prime Minister should return to Parliament with this evidence and again try and seek a mandate for British involvement in military action. Doing the right thing is far more important that losing a vote in Parliament once.


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