What’s the story?
A coalition of forces from America, the UK and France carried out military strikes against Syria after its president ordered the use of chemical weapons on his own people. With Syria closely allied to Russia, many are concerned that the situation is edging dangerously close to global catastrophe.
There is no doubting that the use of chemical weapons is despicable and absolutely forbidden under international law. The question is always over what the response of the rest of the world should be against a nation that transgresses those rules.
France claims that it has ‘irrefutable evidence’ that President Assad of Syria ordered a chemical weapons strike against his own people, in the town of Douma in early April. At least 40 people were killed in the attack, which is thought to have involved use of a chlorine-based weapon, while hundreds more were injured.
In response, the US, UK and France led a co-ordinated missile attack on various Syrian military facilities, and in particular compounds near Homs and Damascus where chemical weapons were believed to be manufactured and stored. Over 100 missiles were launched, and satellite imagery later showed heavy damage to both installations. Both Russian and US media reported that there were no civilian casualties.
Response among the international community – and among citizens of the various nations involved – has been mixed however. While in the US President Trump’s action was broadly supported, in the UK there was widespread concern that Prime Minister Teresa May was acting on Trump’s ‘orders’, and had done so without first consulting parliament.
The greatest concern of all however is around the impact on US and UK relations with Russia, still a massive nuclear superpower and increasingly close to being on the opposite side of a major conflict. Many are worried that at some point a conflict with one of their allies will draw Russia into conflict with the West – at which point, the world will be at its most unstable point since 1945.
What have others been saying?
The UK media have been divided along somewhat predictable lines on the air strikes. The Sun carried a proud front page with the clear message ‘Striking back at evil’, while the Daily Mirror’s Head of Politics Jason Beattie was critical of the Prime Minister’s decision, writing ‘should the situation in Syria spiral out of control and drag the UK into a conflict on a scale of a different magnitude then she [May] will be the sole owner of this unravelling.’
Church leaders in Syria widely condemned the strikes, calling them ‘brutal’ and ‘unjustified’, according to Christian Today.
#1 – JUST WAR?
Although many Christians subscribe to a pacifist ideology, others including the current Archbishop of Canterbury agree with Thomas Aquinas’ theory of a ‘just war’, by which certain conflicts are justified. Aquinas wrote in the Middle Ages that in order for a war to be ‘just’ it should meet three criteria: ‘first the authority of the sovereign… secondly a just cause… thirdly… a rightful intention.’ It could be argued that the strikes in Syria meet this test, however in the Bible God lays down some specific laws around how warfare is to be conducted, which don’t seem to have been observed here. For example, Deuteronomy 20:10 says ‘when you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace.’ In this case, no such terms were offered before the strikes began.
#2 – FEAR AND UNCERTAINTY
The growing instability within the superpowers of the international community is a cause of great concern for many. Yet Jesus clearly commands us in Matthew 6:34: ‘do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ Worry is natural, but it is also something that Jesus tells us to fight against, choosing instead to trust in him and focus on the day in front of us, rather than what might happen in the long-term future. In a time of increasing conflict, we hold this command in tension with the continued need to pursue peace and reconciliation in the world.
Points for prayer
Pray for the peace of the whole world, at a time when conflict between powerful nations appears to be escalating at speed.
Pray for those specifically affected by the chemical attacks, that the bereaved would be comforted, and that the injured would be healed even beyond medical expectations.
Pray for wisdom for world leaders, especially Donald Trump, Teresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Putin, and also President Assad of Syria. Pray that they would seek peace and reconciliation.
Pray for the safety of civilians in Syria, that they will not be harmed by military strikes.
Pray for the long-term recovery of the country, and that those who have attacked it will also see through their responsibility for rebuilding.
Martin Saunders is Youthscape’s Deputy Chief Executive. A former editor of Youthwork magazine and the founding Editor of sister-title Childrenswork, Martin is a popular speaker and the author of various books including ‘Youth Work From Scratch’. He lives in Reigate, Surrey with his wife Jo and their four children.