Public Comment

Speech by Lord Singh of Wimbledon (Cross Bench), in the U.K. House of Lords Debate on the ‘National Security Situation’ on 19 April 2018

Lord Singh of Wimbledon
Saturday May 12, 2018 - 10:55:00 AM

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I speak from a Sikh perspective and I offer my apologies if what I say is out of sync with today’s 19th and 20th-century power-bloc politics.

Sikh teachings on the prevention of conflict almost parallel the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, formulated after the horror of the ​Second World War, and they stress the dignity and equality of all members of our one human family. They also legitimise the use of military force only as a last recourse when all other means have failed. I believe that we and other great powers have pushed the declaration—the key to true peace and security—to one side in our pursuit of supposed “national interest”, using smaller countries as pawns in power-bloc politics. The conflict in Syria is a case study of the futility and cruel effect of such policies on innocent lives.

Following his election, US President Donald Trump made clear his desire to withdraw from international conflicts. Anxious to preserve our special relationship with the USA, our Prime Minister dutifully echoed him, saying that we will have to stop being the world’s policeman. A few weeks back, President Trump made clear his desire to extricate the US from the conflict in Syria and was expected to do so with an impressive military flourish. 

We are then expected to believe that President Assad, having secured control of much of the country, suddenly decides to launch a chemical attack on a children’s hospital. It could be true, although it sounds implausible, but it gave the US President an opportunity to withdraw from the conflict flourishing his military might. France and Britain dutifully backed him in a combined military strike against Assad. President Trump predictably tweeted “Mission accomplished”. It is sad that our PM should feel duty-bound to back military action prior to any investigation. I thought that it was only in Alice in Wonderland that we had the saying, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”. 

I find the propaganda in government statements and in the media to justify the military action morally questionable and sometimes hypocritical. We have grown used to the convention of calling countries we do not like “regimes”. Now, to justify action and our intervention, President Assad is widely referred to as a monster. Our PM rightly says that the conflict in Syria can be ended only through negotiations, but it does not help negotiations to call someone a monster. I agree that Assad is no angel and is, like many leaders we have propped up in the Middle East, a brutal dictator. But we should always also remember that his troubles began when, on “humanitarian grounds”, he let in nearly a million Sunni Muslims from the earlier conflict in Iraq. Now, we are being told that the strike against him was on humanitarian grounds. 

Are we really saying that it is morally okay to kill and maim the people of Syria with bullets, bombs and missiles, but somehow morally wrong to do so with chemical weapons? I think that our Prime Minister was more honest—but wrong—when, as justification, she said that the action was “in Britain’s national interest”. The conflict in Syria is also in Iran’s national strategic interest and that of the USA, Russia, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other global players, including ISIS, anxious to have a so-called strategic presence in the Middle East regardless of the horrendous consequences, suffered by innocents. In the quagmire of the Middle East, and in trying to punish Assad, we have also helped ISIS in its beheadings and amputations, not only of the people of Syria but of innocent aid workers. ​ 

I am saddened by the hypocrisy of our Government and the Governments of the USA and France. While wringing their hands about the monster Assad’s supposed chemical weapon attack on little children, they have all in the last two or three of weeks signed billion-dollar deals with Saudi Arabia to export arms for use in Yemen, so that Saudi Arabia can strut its military might in the Middle East with the continued bombing of men, women and little children in Yemen. Such displays of machismo were the norm in the 19th and 20th centuries, leading to two world wars and countless other conflicts in the pursuit of national or strategic interest and to the continuing death and suffering of millions. An important aspect of strategic action is trade: it is important, but trade should never trump human rights. I was appalled when a Minister openly said that when we talk trade with China we should not raise issues of human rights. The same sentiments have been raised by government officials in the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia to destroy lives in Yemen. 

It is not only the West that has lost its moral direction. The same immoral policies are being pursued by Russia, China and others: 80% of the weaponry flooding the world today and fuelling countless conflicts is supplied by members of the so-called Security Council. The whole concept of supposed strategic interest has, over the centuries, been shown to be deeply flawed and a recipe for continuing conflict. A Christian hymn reminds us: 

“They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin”. 

It is a truth echoed in Sikh teachings and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only strategic interest worth pursuing is respect for human rights and social justice for all and for future generations in our highly interdependent world. 

Lord Indarjit Singh, Lord Singh of Wimbledon (Cross Bench), is the brother of frequent Planet commenter Jagjit Singh.