Syria, What is “Skilful”

Last night the British Parliament voted by 397 votes to 223 to bomb Daesh in Syria, one hour later RAF Tornados took off to bomb an oil refinery in Syria’s Omar oil fields.

Those opposing the resolution argued passionately that civilians would inevitably be killed or injured in these raids and that we were entering a confused and multi-factional conflict with no clear long term aims or exit strategy.

Those arguing for airstrikes likewise argued fervently that the “evil” of Daesh must be confronted to protect both the peoples of Syria, Iraq and the citizens of this country.

Hilary Benn, the Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, delivered a powerful speech in favour of taking action, “The question which confronts us in a very, very complex conflict is at its heart very simple. What should we do with others to confront this threat to our citizens, our nation, other nations and the people who suffer under the yoke, the cruel yoke, of Daesh? The carnage in Paris brought home to us the clear and present danger we face from them. It could have just as easily been London, or Glasgow, or Leeds or Birmingham and it could still be. And I believe that we have a moral and a practical duty to extend the action we are already taking in Iraq to Syria…………………………….

And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight, and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. And my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. And that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight.”

So, how do I as a Buddhist respond to this? I would like offer the story of Captain Jātaka from the Upāyakauśalya-sūtra…………..

The Buddha, in a past life as a ship’s captain named Jātaka, discovered a
criminal on board who intended to kill the 500 passengers. If he told
the passengers, they would panic and become killers themselves. With no
other way out, he compassionately stabbed the criminal to death. Captain
Jātaka saved the passengers not only from murder, but from becoming
murderers themselves. Unlike him, they would have killed in rage and
suffered hell. He saved the criminal from becoming a mass murderer and
even worse suffering. He himself generated vast karmic merit by acting
with compassion.

I am also grateful to Jack for his comment on our previous post on the Paris atrocities  where he points out some of the complexity of the wider situation.

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2 thoughts on “Syria, What is “Skilful”

  1. In this story, the Buddah acted knowing that he ran no risk of accidentally killing innocents, nor inciting hatred in others and having those others turn to becoming murders themselves in the name of revenge against his action. He also had a very clear target, very clear reasoning and very clear objective and goal.
    Really a comparison?

    Like

    1. Hi Christian,
      Thanks for commenting. My point was precisely that. It takes a Buddha to be that skilful and to act totally out of compassion. For “non Buddhas” the skilful thing to do is usually nothing…. a whole new can of worms.

      Like

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