The flowers and the guns. What a wonderful, invocative picture; the peaceful protestors placing long stems into the weapons of the armed soldiers sent to supress them. It comes, of course, from Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution of November 1989; an astonishing event in history, recently celebrated, but with nothing like enough attention from the media or the wider world. Just think about it for a moment: an oppressive regime, who for years had held the country in its dictatorial palm, swept aside in the space of a few days, in a bloodless, non violent movement, which transcended social classes and effectively bound a people together in unity. One more example of real change being brought about by real people, standing together in peace. We were reminded of the image only recently, when a video of a young boy and his father in Paris, in the aftermath of the horrible attacks, went viral. “They have guns,” said the Dad, “But we have flowers.” What could be more inspiring than that? A parent trying to explain the evils of the world to their child and urging them to confront it with peace and love, not violence and hate. It would be a cold hard indeed, not to appreciate the beauty of the words.
Thankfully for those interested in perpetuating violence, much of the world’s current crop of political leaders don’t have time for the beauty of words. If you’re a political leader, then the idea of non-violent mass change brought about by public will via peaceful means, is about as welcome as a pacifist in a nuclear submarine, or a left winger at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. In fairness to them, peace offers few avenues for political advancement, at least not in a system which churns out ‘Falklands Moments’ for each new political intake like links in a vacuously evil sausage maker, and which takes pride in ignoring the general will of the people it is alleged to protect. And I suppose it’s really not fair of us as a population to deny the opportunities for feux Churchillian posturing to those fledgling politicians who likely spent the bulk of their teenage years fantasising about them. After all, in a system where expressing the desire not to destroy the globe in a nuclear holocaust sees one labelled a dangerous, traitorous extremist, new MPs can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that adopting a serious expression and talking of difficult decisions before voting in favour of war, will better aid their Ministerial ambitions.
Now, I admit that my own grasp of history in relation to current affairs isn’t perfect. I must have been off sick, for example, the day that the historical definition of patriotism, was changed to mean painting your national flag onto your face and throwing pint glasses at foreign children, while developing allergic reactions to education and intelligent thought. But one doesn’t need an excessively detailed knowledge of history to see that further escalating the Syrian conflict isn’t so much continuing the cycle of violence as riding it around the world in perpetuity, dressed in a Stars & Stripes spandex leotard and a Union Jack Cape, endlessly looping round the twin hoops of invasion and terrorist attack.
The Prime Minister’s statement yesterday was delivered with all the bullish indignation of a stroppy teenager sulking about not being given permission to go to his mate’s party, throwing increasingly desperate excuses around in the hope of changing his parent’s mind. I suppose I can understand that. After having illegally invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, I guess it would make Britain feel socially awkward to miss out on the Syria bash now: “Hi guys, what’s up? What’s that? Your bombing Libya? Ah, Man, I so have to get in on that! Nah, my stupid Parliament won’t let me; they’re still mad at me for letting that whole ‘Libya’ thing get out of control. I’ll keep pecking their heads though, they’ll cave in eventually. Hey, do you fancy playing ‘Chicken’ with Russia while we’re there?”
The illogicality of this whole mess is simply astounding: We are advocating military action against a non centralised, terrorist organisation we have been implicated in arming and financing. We are attempting to destroy a radicalised terror group through actions which will radicalise others. We propose action which will directly fuel high numbers of refugees, while balking at aiding said refugees for fear that their number contains terrorists. We oppose the incumbent Syrian regime which is fighting the terrorists, due to its human rights record, while building close business relationships with other regimes with even worse records…
I could go on, but suffice to say that this conflict would be a whole lot easier if the leaders of all the countries and terrorist groups currently in the grip of blood lust, simply lined up together, dropped their pants and we settled once and for all which one has the biggest schlong.
It really doesn’t have to be like this. ISIS can be destroyed by cutting off their funding and arms supply and through education. Military action will merely exacerbate and perpetuate the bloodshed. And let’s not pretend for one moment that innocent people, men, women and children will die, horribly, through British bombs fired for, at best mistaken and at worse contrived, reasons.
At moments like this, the world needs Leaders, like Vaclav Havel and Alexander Dubček, and it needs a new, international Velvet Revolution. Not a movement to topple regimes and see blood in the gutters, but a willingness and desire to end this cycle of destruction.
Havel once said, “I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.” It’s time for us to prove that Havel’s world isn’t over.