Caroline Spelman – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

Below is the text of the speech made by Caroline Spelman in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

There is an important religious dimension to this debate and faith leaders shape public opinion, so I thought it might be helpful if I shared with the House the views expressed by the Church of England on the subject.

At a meeting of the General Synod last week, a motion on the migrant crisis called unanimously upon the Government

“to work with international partners in Europe and elsewhere to help establish safe and legal routes to places of safety, including this country, for refugees who are vulnerable and at severe risk.”

That motion passed with 333 votes and none opposing. The Archbishop of Canterbury made it clear that, in his view, force might be necessary to keep the refugees safe. He also said that the Church would not be forgiven if it turned inwards at this time of crisis. Rather, it must face the fact that extremism is now a feature of every major faith, including Christianity.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has backed proportionate military intervention to tackle Daesh, and he cites Pope Francis saying that where aggression is unjust, aggression is licit against the aggressor. These are views which I share, which is why I will support the motion.

As the Prime Minister has said, this is not a war against Islam. Religious extremism is global and the key to solving this is the determination of people of faith to overcome it, not just in Syria, but right around the world. The Church is well placed to help, as the conflict is both theological and ideological. By reaching out to other people of faith and showing common cause in tackling extremism, we can demonstrate to a fearful secular world that faith leaders hold one of the keys to finding a solution. Where religion is being hijacked for political ends, we should say so.

The Anglican Communion offers a worldwide network of churches to deploy in the joint global endeavour to stamp out extremism. Together, the integration of hard and soft power is likely to produce a better outcome. I urge my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who will be replying to the debate, to consider this question: to combat Daesh, it is important that prominent theological and ideological strategy is alongside any potential military humanitarian intervention. Unless we understand our enemy and those we choose as our allies in the region, we are unlikely to properly understand the conflict. I hope he will be able to inform the House what thought the Government have given to this advice as they develop their strategy.

The Church can also play an important practical role in offering hospitality, accommodation, support and friendship to refugees, whatever their religious tradition, and advocacy for those who are being persecuted because of their faith. Hospitality is seen as a spiritual gift by the Church and explains why this country, with its Judeo-Christian roots, has a long tradition of providing safe haven to successive waves of migrants. We need to recognise that the conflict may affect the number of migrants and displaced people, and the Prime Minister is therefore right to convene a donors conference early in 2016.

We should also recognise that international development aid agencies, many of which are Christian in origin, would emphasise that it is better to help refugees in their own region, so that once it is safe they can more easily return and rebuild their country. My local imam, who is from Syria and has family still there, is very anxious about the safety of civilians and the need to avoid a power vacuum.

The public will need continuous assurance and transparency about why action is being taken and what outcomes are being achieved, so I welcome the commitment to quarterly updates for the House.

It is all important how we give our international aid, during and post-conflict, and how we ensure that the voice of the displaced is heard in the post-conflict planning. As we know, it is the most vulnerable, and often the women, who have no voice at all in war. We have a duty to ensure that they are heard.