Statement on Syria

"The acts of intolerance and hatred carried out in the name ofISIS are wholly abhorrent.
As Methodist people we join with others across Britain and theworld to pray for the victims of these ongoing terrorist acts. Itis clear that measures must be taken to overcome this evil. Indoing so we must remain firm to our own values.
Our Response must not be driven by anger or fear, but compassionand longing for peace. A strategy that protects civilians isrequired to achieve these aims - not simply aerial bombardment. Ourunderstanding must be informed by listening to the voices ofSyrians themselves including Christian and other minorities whohave suffered greatly.
We continue to pray for all those affected by terrorism and alsofor our politicians as they consider how the UK might best use itsinfluence in this situation."

-         The RevdSteve Wild and Dr Jill Barber, President and Vice President of theMethodist Conference


The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church ofScotland, the Methodist Church in Britain and the United ReformedChurch have released a joint statement on military action inSyria:

Our churches: -

  • Express our abhorrence of the actions of ISIS/Daesh in Syriaand their support of terrorist actions elsewhere and bring beforeGod in prayer all victims of recent terrorist attacks and thefamilies and communities affected by these atrocities
  • Are grateful for the vital work of the security services in theUK in suppressing acts of terrorism
  • Note that regional partners and Syrian factions have differingand contrary interests and welcome the efforts of the Vienna peaceprocess to gain agreement on an approach to countering terrorismand to search for a way forward for the political process inSyria
  • Are convinced that Daesh can only be defeated through acomprehensive economic, diplomatic and security strategy that hasthe involvement of all partners in the region and the full supportof the UN Security Council
  • Assert that aerial bombing is unlikely to have a decisive rolein defeating Daesh and that even the use of precision weaponry islikely to cause civilian casualties and trauma withincommunities
  • Urge the UN Security Council to call to account all parties inSyria who have committed crimes against humanity and call on the UKand its allies to avoid security strategies that are based on areliance on those same militias
  • Suggest that any military support from the UK in Syria becontingent on a clearer endorsement by the UN Security Council thatis unambiguous as to the legal basis for intervention
  • Call on our members to continue to pray for all who suffer as aconsequence of more than four years of conflict, including refugeesin the region and in Europe and also for those tasked withnegotiating solutions and bringing security
  • Call on our members to reach out in love and solidarity tomembers of other faith communities, to challenge the divisiverhetoric that sets communities apart and to show the love of Christby building bridges where there are fractures.

The wider context of our opposition to Daesh and otherswho promote terror

The Christian gospel has at its heart the assurance of a lovingGod who acts justly and directs all people in the way ofpeace.  Throughout the Middle East, Christians are acutelyaware of how difficult it is to maintain physical peace andsecurity when sectarianism is rife and arms are easilyacquired.  In Syria Christian communities who can trace theirhistories back through many centuries have been forced out of theirvillages and are displaced within Syria or have sought refuge inother countries.  ISIS/Daesh has destroyed historic Christianand other buildings in an effort to remove symbols of cultural andreligious diversity and peaceful co-existence, to which they areopposed.

The tragedy of the attack in Paris is shocking in its scale asis the scale of the suffering in Syria where to date 250,000 havebeen killed, 7 million internally displaced and a further fourmillion forced to seek refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Our churches eschew all forms of intolerance and hatred and urgethat measures taken to overcome the intolerance demonstrated byDaesh must also seek to promote values that we hold dear.

Countering Terrorism

The terrorist threat will not be eliminated by conquering Daeshin Syria but, sadly, is likely to remain with us for theforeseeable future.

Daesh's call for Jihad against some Muslim groups and Westernnations has found fertile ground among a few people within our owncommunities.  The threat of terrorism is very real and ourhearts go out to families of those in Russia, France, Beirut,Tunisia and elsewhere who have been killed in terrorist attacksover the past year.  We are grateful for the important effortsof the security services in our own country as they act to keep ussafe.

Ultimately a more vigorous campaign across the Middle-East aswell as in our own country is vital to counter the ideology ofDaesh and the propaganda that endorses religious and sectarianviolence.  Western military intervention in the Middle East isunhelpful in that it makes sharing on matters of peace, equalityand the common good more challenging.  The assertion that UKmilitary intervention in Syria will reduce the terrorist threat tothe UK therefore requires significant qualification.

Defeating Daesh

Countering the threat of Daesh in Syria will require action on anumber of fronts.  Gulf States must prevent the flow of moneyand people across the border.  There needs to be furthereffort on the part of Turkey, Jordan and Kurdish authorities toprevent the export of oil that earns Daesh revenue of millions ofdollars each week.

Even with a more cohesive regional cooperation in these areas itseems unlikely that Daesh could be removed from the urban centresthat it currently holds without some form of military action. Even while under pressure from coalition air power, Daesh has madeadvances this year in predominantly Sunni areas, including largeparts of Anbar province in Iraq and Palmyra and the approaches toAleppo in Syria.  Defence experts have advised that in a citysuch as Raqqa, with a population of 350,000 people, air strikeshave a limited role.  However precisely they are targeted theuse of explosive weapons in populated areas always entailssubstantial risk.  In recent weeks airstrikes have hit a Daeshschool killing children, exploded in a market place and destroyedwater systems and other infrastructure on which communitiesrely.  Our churches urge that protection of civilianpopulations must be at the forefront of a response to thisconflict.  In populated areas the military utility of aerialbombing is limited by the vital restraint that is necessary inorder to avoid collateral effects.  It is likely that the UK'sinvolvement in a military action in Syria would inevitablyassociate our nation with the civilian cost of this conflict evenif the UK's rules of engagement or the characteristics of ourweaponry differ from that of other partners.

These are issues that will exercise politicians and militarystrategists and that their careful evaluation requires expertisebut nevertheless our Churches express deep concern regarding thetremendous humanitarian cost associated with aerial bombing in thecontext of the confused situation in Syria.

The lack of an international consensus on a strategy formilitary intervention

The UN Security Council when passing resolution 2249 did notinvoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter that is often used toauthorise multilateral intervention. The legality of theintervention is presumed to be on the basis of "individual andcollective self-defence". The lack of a clear direction on the partof the Security Council reflects the differences between Russia andthe United States on the role of the Syrian Government in grantingpermission for an intervention or indeed the Syrian Army incontributing to the intervention.

The Foreign Affairs Committee published a report of an inquiryinto the extension of offensive British military operations toSyria shortly before the UN Security Council passed resolution2249.  The report of the inquiry states that achievingagreement on a Security Council resolution would be difficult butwould be desirable for more simply legal reasons as it wouldrequire negotiation between all parties and compromise to achievean agreed response.

The Security Council has succeeded in agreeing a resolution thatprovides some measure of legal sanction for intervention althoughthe legal grounds are still contested.  But significantly thisresolution demonstrates that Russia and the US coalition have notyet been able to resolve the issue of the future role of theAssad-led Syrian Government or identified which groups in Syria areallies or opponents.  Similar differences exist between theUnited States and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.

There is still much diplomatic work to be done to address thefundamental differences around which groups should have a role inguaranteeing Syria's future security.  There is a danger atthis stage that the UK could be drawn into an extended militarycampaign that only adds to the cycle of violence and struggles tomaintain regional and international support.

Building a stable future

Further conflict in Syria is likely to result in more deaths ofcivilians.  Fighting in Aleppo and other large cities wouldmost likely cause an exodus of 10,000s of people.  Jihadigroups are seeing growth in their numbers at the expense of moremoderate factions.  The continued extensive humanitariansuffering demands that Government and opposition factions arebrought together to negotiate an end to the fighting and to work onachieving a viable political process.  Regional powers alongwith the United States and Russia must make this a priority ascountering extremism requires a focused effort and coherence on thepart of all factions.

The UK Government has provided substantial financial support forrefugee programmes in the region.   The G20 summit inOctober 2015 considered a call for the creation of a RegionalGrowth and Stabilization Plan to help those countries most affectedby the refugee crisis to mitigate the impact of the crisis on theireconomies, health systems, and social services.  Such aprogramme would help to increase stability in the region.  Ourchurches have also called on the Government to increase itscommitment to the resettlement in the UK of vulnerable Syrianrefugees.

2 December 2015