A tale of two houses

THE men in the house are talking about bombs. This is not that other house, the House where the politicians go to preen and to argue. This is a house in Raqqa, Syria and the missiles they are discussing are those that fall around them, shuddering like an earthquake and sending bricks crashing into the street.

“So here’s a question for you. What is the difference between a bomb sent by Russia and a bomb sent by Britain?”

“Ah, this is no time for jokes.”

“I am not joking. The difference, my old friend, is that the Russian bomb sends all the body bits in one direction, and the bomb sent by the Mother of all Parliaments sends the body bits flying in the opposite direction.”

“So there is no difference, is that what you are saying?”

“There is no difference, my old friend. They want to bomb those hellish terrorists and they end up bombing us instead. And why don’t they remove the cause of our problems which is Assad instead of the symptom which is Isis?”*

“The last time Britain wanted to drop bombs to finish of Assad and…”

“And now they want to drop bombs to protect Assad and they seem to have forgotten all those terrible things he has done to this once beautiful country of ours.”

“And those bombs – they don’t always know where they are going. Did you hear about the women near the border? They were farmers heading to harvest and their vehicle was wiped out by a missile. They’d covered their faces and people in their village say they were killed because they were mistaken for jihadis in disguise.”

“What sort of a world is this that we live in?”

“One that can only get worse, my old friend, one that can only get worse.”


MEANWHILE the men and women in big house by the river are preparing to talk for ten hours today about the Syria airstrikes.

Prime Minister David Cameron has set the mood nicely by reportedly telling Conservative MPs that Jeremy Corbyn and his allies were “terrorist sympathisers”. **

Labour, meanwhile, do not escape with their morals unsullied either. According to the Daily Telegraph this morning, “numerous Labour MPs have been left in tears after being warned by hard-left activists that they will be ‘murdering women and babies’ by backing military action.”

That report does of course come with the important qualification “according to the Daily Telegraph”. But if it’s true, neither side seems to be covering themselves in glory.

David Cameron has yet to make a fully convincing case for airstrikes against Isis in Syria – other than as an act of revenge for the appalling Paris outrage (understandable, yet in danger of matching the terrorists’ atrocity with one of our own).

The claims being made for what the airstrikes might achieve are fairly spurious. The safety of Britain comes into this argument, again understandably enough. The Daily Express says this morning that Britain must not “sit on the sidelines and rely on others to keep us safe”.  Against this it is fair to ask how adding a few British missiles to all the American and French missiles already being dropped on Isis in Syria will make a difference.

Isn’t this more about saving face and looking good, the usual macho politics of war – and couldn’t it do the opposite of keeping us safe by make Britain a more likely target? That isn’t a reason in itself to stop the bombs, but it is a dangerous illusion to say that the missiles will make us safer.

Sometimes from the way David Cameron talks it is almost as if he imagines a place on the map that says “here be Isis terrorists”, a neat location that can be bombed to bits, a one-missile-fits all solution to our problems.

And will this be the start of another Afghanistan and Iraq war – a new and never-ending conflict that attempts to solve one problem and creates many more in the process? And these 70,000 Syrian fighters David Cameron has summoned up as potential ground troops Britain could employ, do they actually exist and, if so, where are they? Perhaps it’s that bit of the map that says “here be cavalry to come to the rescue”.


THE day will be long in the House by the river, but it will be longer still in the house in Raqqa.

“We sit and we wait, that is all we can do, isn’t it?”

“Yes, old friend, we sit and wait. We smoke cigarettes and drink the horrible coffee.”

“Ah, yes, do you remember the good coffee?”

“Every day, old friend, every day.”

The men sit out the day, waiting for the missiles, knowing that the chances of staying in one piece are faint. They think of the life they used to lead and they think of their countrymen who have died. One of the men has heard that 250,000 Syrians have been killed so far. The figure seems so large it is hard to comprehend.

He drains his coffee and spits out the bitter grounds.


* While this is an actual quote from a report in The Observer, most of the dialogue is made up

** This is an actual quote. Yes, David Cameron really did say that, according to widespread reports this morning. This isn’t made up – well, you couldn’t make it up, could you?


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