Daesh - an affront and a threat to liberal values


Last night, I spoke with local members in North East Fife about the situation in Syria. This is what I had to say:

The situation in Syria is at the front of our minds tonight.

Not least here in North East Fife with the Leuchars military base nearby.

With that there should be a clearer focus on the challenge to our way of life, to liberal values, to our safety and to peace in these dangerous times.

Daesh has killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia; 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane; 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruç and 130 people in Paris.

Gay men were thrown off fifth storey buildings in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor.

The 82-year-old guardian of the antiquities of Palmyra, Professor Khaled al-Asaad, was beheaded, and his headless body was hung from a traffic light.

Mass graves in Sinjar have been discovered, one said to contain the bodies of older Yazidi women murdered by Daesh because they were judged too old to be sold for sex.

Daesh are an affront and a threat to our liberal values.

They have demonstrated in Europe what they have also shown in Iraq and Syria.

That the concept of human rights means nothing to them.

That they hold their interpretation of Islam to be right.

And that every other human being – of all faiths and none – is a legitimate target for murder.

As a liberal, I cherish our human rights – and tolerance, and decency and compassion.

And I abhor everything that Daesh stands for.

People are wrestling with their consciences on how to deal with them.

The situation is so extreme I believe we must act decisively.

I have taken the view that there should be a military element after a great deal of careful consideration and joint work with Tim Farron and colleagues on a number of strong tests,

With a UN mandate, an invitation from our allies and UK military efforts in Iraq against Daesh already degrading their capability, we should proceed with targeted military strikes.

There are strong, intelligent and principled objections to the decision to extend the UK's mission against Daesh extremists to Syria, just as there is strong, intelligent and principled support for it.

There is a clear diversity of view in the Liberal Democrats including amongst MSPs as there is in most political parties, communities and household.

There is disagreement but also respect - at least with the most people.

No one knows how Charles Kennedy would have voted on Syria but one thing is for sure: he would have found the personal attacks of recent days repulsive.

I was impressed with many contributions to the debate in the Commons. From Labour's Hilary Benn to Conservatives Sarah Wollaston and John Barron to Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron on either side of the debate. They exhibited passion and principle that should be deployed on such occasions. They raised the standard of the debate to a level that was fitting to the grave decision before them.

Indeed, now that the vote has been taken, it will need all of us to become completely united to do two things;

First to support our armed forces in the difficult work they do;

Secondly to keep up the search for a solution through the diplomatic process at Vienna and with regional allies.

All people, all leaders, whether they voted for military action or not should be prepared to work hard to do both of those things.

In the face of that life and death debate - quite literally the difference between peace and war - the last thing for a political party to do is to use it for its own ends.

To oppose conflict on principle is a respectable thing; to oppose it for narrow party gain is not.

Liberal Democrats opposed the Iraq war in 2003 because it didn't have a UN mandate, there was no post conflict plan and the threat to the west was grossly exaggerated.

History has shown that we got that judgment right.

Syria 2015 is not Iraq 2003. We have the UN mandate, we have regional backing, we have an emerging post conflict plan, we have diplomatic efforts and we have a direct threat against us which has already been exercised.

Just like in Kosovo and Bosnia we must act to defeat these fascist thugs.

The little Syrian boy who landed from a small boat in the seas off Greece with fear in his eyes should be a stark reminder of the nature of Daesh. His first question on arrival was chilling. It was not where is the food, shelter or warmth. It was: is ISIL here. He is why we must act.

The Vienna process is a route to achieve a ceasefire and a new Syrian government.

The U.K. must lead the post conflict reconstruction.

We must continue to fund aid to the refugee camps, take more refugees in the UK and take thousands of orphan refugees here too.

There is no doubt there is a threat to us and to others within reach of Daesh.

The UK has the capability to respond.

There is a moral case for action.

The legal case is sound.

We must act.


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