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“A Blemish on British Political History”: Antiwar Activist Decries U.K. Vote to Bomb Syria

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“For those who stand in solidarity with the Syrian people, we cannot say the decision to send more bombs by U.K. airplanes will help them,” says Asad Rehman, former national organizer of the Stop the War Coalition in the United Kingdom, reacting to the British airstrikes on Syria just hours after lawmakers voted 397 to 223 to support Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan for bombing the country. “Nobody has invented a bomb yet that is magically precision, that can take out the so-called terrorists but can keep innocent civilians alive. We know there will be a tragic loss of life, and that is a blemish on British political history.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, joining us here in Paris is Asad Rehman, former national organizer of the Stop the War Coalition in the U.K. He now serves as head of international climate for Friends of the Earth. And in a moment, we’re going to talk with him about what’s going on here at the COP. But first, you’re not speaking for Friends of the Earth, Asad, but in this former capacity as Stop the War Coalition coordinator, respond to your country Britain’s decision to bomb Syria.

ASAD REHMAN: I think it’s a very sad day. For those who put the interests of the Syrian people at the heart of any decision making, they cannot be rejoicing at the decision by the British Parliament to put more bombs and kill more people in Syria. We know that the Syrian people have endured a tragic, violent war. Millions of people have been forced to be refugees, and hundreds of thousands of people continue to be killed each year. And they’re being killed by the bombs of all sides. And for those who stand in solidarity with the Syrian people, you cannot say that the decision to send more bombs by U.K. airplanes will do anything to help them.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you respond to Hilary Benn, the son of Tony Benn, who, you know, is not David Cameron—he is in the Labour Party, and the Labour Party was fiercely divided?

ASAD REHMAN: Absolutely. And, of course, there has been a deep and vigorous debate both within the Labour Party and in British public opinion. But the reality is, you know, we’ve seen that even the bombs that have fallen from the Western allies, you know, independent sources now tell us that 459 civilians have been killed, over a hundred children have died, as a result of our Western bombing. We know that nobody can guarantee that the bombs that are being dropped on—in Syria will not kill more innocent people. The deaths of individuals are tragic, and we cannot see an exceptionalism that says the lives of people in the West are valued more than the lives of people in Syria.

As Friends of the Earth, we have—many of our groups have lived through conflict situations—in Sri Lanka, in Colombia, in El Salvador, in the Balkans. We understand what the reality of war means for civilian population. I think we should listen to the people of Syria. Many of the people who have been fleeing from Raqqa have said, “Please don’t bomb Raqqa. We are being—we are the civilian population. We are civilians there in Syria.” Nobody has invented a bomb yet that is magically precision, that can take out the so-called terrorists but will keep innocent civilians alive. We know that there will be a tragic loss of life, and that is a blemish on British political history.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about what the alternative is right now in dealing with ISIS.

ASAD REHMAN: So, of course, we all recognize we need a political settlement. We’ve seen 10 years of bombing and war in Iraq has left the country in ruins. We’ve seen the intervention in Libya, military intervention in Libya, has left the country in ruins. We’re seeing the war, civil war, in Syria has left the country in ruins. The reality is, the military option will not deliver a lasting peaceful solution.

What we really need to do is tackle the arms that are being sent to Syria, who is funding Daesh and other armed groups. We need to start talking about ensuring that the geopolitical fight, the big political fight between allies of the United States and Britain, such as Saudi Arabia, which invests millions and billions in spreading its particular ideology and puritanical version of Islam and is partly responsible for creating this version of jihadism, is also tackled. So, what we need is less war, less conflict, less military intervention, and more support for the Syrian people, more support for the Syrian refugees.

I have to say, I think it’s absolutely atrocious that the prime minister could talk in Parliament about the U.K. needing to stand shoulder to shoulder and lift—take on our fair share of burden, when we’re doing nothing to help the Syrian refugees who are fleeing this war and persecution and coming into Europe. We’ve taken only hundreds. What we should be doing is taking—doing our fair share of responsibility and taking in the people fleeing from this war.

AMY GOODMAN: The strikes targeted the oil fields in eastern Syria under ISIS control, they say. The British defense secretary, Michael Fallon, had personally approved the targets before the parliamentary vote. Why was this action so swift?

ASAD REHMAN: Well, I mean, it is incredible, especially sitting in this building here, when we talk about climate change and we talk about the need for urgency and ambition, and we’re constantly told we have to be pragmatic. We are constantly told not today, tomorrow. We’re constantly told it’s not possible to move so fast. Yet, when it comes to war, we are able to move very rapidly. We’re able to find the finances to be able to fund the bombs that drop. I’d much rather those money was going to help the actual people of Syria, that we were supporting people in all conflict areas, you know, with the right to live a decent life. And I think that would go to some way to show that actually we’re living in a world where we value everybody’s lives.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re speaking with Asad Rehman, head of international climate for Friends of the Earth. He was previously the national organizer of the Stop the War Coalition in Britain. This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting live from the COP21, the U.N. climate summit here just outside of Paris in Bourget. Stay with us.

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