Protest for peace: demo opposes Syria air strikes

On Tuesday 350 people met in the city centre to demonstrate their defiance against David Cameron’s proposal to bomb Syria. Huddled together opposite the Christmas markets they were served speeches by various activists, who each explored different angles of the argument against the proposed military action.

The protest began with a speech detailing the counter-productive fourteen years of Western intervention in the Middle East, going from the strengthening of al-Qaeda due to the Iraq war to the rise of ISIS in the countries left depleted and broken by Western actions. This speech, as were all that followed, was met with applause by those assembled, with the crowd led through multiple chants of “DON’T BOMB SYRIA” by the speakers.

The Courier spoke to some of the activists, asking why they were there to protest:

“We don’t want Syria to be bombed […] The reason we have this problem in the first place is because of the stuff that happened in Iraq and Afghanistan […] The fact that the government thinks it can do this and not speak to the people and listen to us, when quite clearly the vast majority don’t want this to happen, is a joke,” one demonstrator said.

“We don’t think the people of Syria should have to suffer from the judgements of people in power. It’s always the people on the ground that end up suffering and bleeding for the mistakes that people higher up make. They don’t care at the end of the day, they’re not the ones getting blown up.”

Another said: “It’s ludicrous to think that blowing them up isn’t going to be a recruitment poster for ISIS

“I don’t see why we should support a policy that will exasperate the problem. It doesn’t matter how accurate the bombs are civilians will always die and ISIS will use that as a way to recruit more people. They can show that the West has intervened with bombs once again and it works as a recruitment program. If you look at the strength of al-Qaeda it was actually stronger after the Iraq war than it was before.”

Faced with the proposed military action, we asked one demonstrator what he believed the alternatives were:

“One the greatest hypocrisies of our foreign policy is we continue to back Saudi Arabia to the hilt with finance and arms, which then through proxies end up in ISIS’s hands. So we need to stop our association with Saudi Arabia. There’s a political solution for the Syrian civil war, there’s a summit right now in Vienna looking for a resolution to that conflict. If we can bring that to an end that will dramatically limit ISIS’s capabilities as well who are thriving in the chaos.”

When asked about whether civil disobedience can affect government decisions, the demonstrator said:  “Definitely, if you look historically at the Vietnam war Nixon said the greatest enemy to American operations in Vietnam is the American public. So it shows that people can make a difference when it comes to these sort of decisions, so hopefully this will have an influence.”

One activist’s speech on Islamaphobia and the treatment of Muslims is very important to regard following all of ISIS’s exposure. The diverse crowd gathered that night were united in their protest against bombing Syria, and the feeling of a society opposed together against Cameron was powerful. Britain as a multicultural society was another aspect the speakers described as under threat due to the proposed intervention, as something that would separate communities.

Regarding Britain as a country in austerity, the activists spoke of the enormous cost of airstrikes in Syria, believing the money could be much better spent on restoring frontline services, training doctors, nurses, teachers and other pillars of our society that have been cut back.

There was also a speech given by a primary school pupil, bringing to the fore the basic humanity and compassion that was at the heart of many people’s opposition to bombing in Syria.

Last week, MPs in the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in support of air strikes in Syria. As a result, more demonstrations have been planned nation-wide.

Images: Sam Woodhams

Images: Sam Woodhams

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