The Syrian dilemma, the parliamentary motion and the parable of the Good Samaritan

I don’t necessarily believe that Jesus was the son of god, or that god is some sentient overlord, but there are many lessons in the bible that are worth reading, understanding and living by.  One such lesson is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which I have heard thrown into conversation numerous times in discussions about how we should respond to the heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Sadly, many of the people who throw this parable into discussions seem oblivious of what the parable actually says, and as it bears repeating I will quote the King James Version that is popular in England.


Luke 10:25-37
21st Century King James Version (KJ21)
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 He said unto him, “What is written in the law? How readest thou?”
27 And he answering said, “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.’”
28 And He said unto him, “Thou hast answered right; this do, and thou shalt live.”
29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said unto Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 And Jesus answering said, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his raiment and wounded him and departed, leaving him half dead.
31 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32 And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him and passed by on the other side.
33 But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was. And when he saw him he had compassion on him,
34 and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
35 And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host and said unto him, ‘Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.’
36 Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?”
37 And he said, “He that showed mercy on him.” Then said Jesus unto him, “Go and do thou likewise.”


What the Good Samaritan did not do is establish who had beaten the man up and send a lynch mob round to sort him out.

If we are to do the Good Samaritan thing then what we should do is provide humanitarian aid to those who have suffered in this atrocity regardless of who is responsible or what the final outcome of this horrendous war may be.

However, we must also bear in mind that the man the Good Samaritan found on the road had not been killed by his attackers.  No doubt if he had been then the correct response from the Samaritan would have been to notify the authorities.  The authorities would then carry out an investigation and if they were able to identify the murderer they would prosecute him.

Similarly in Syria, we must first send in the Weapons Inspectors to do their job and establish who is responsible for this atrocity: only when they have done that the UN must seek an international arrest warrant for the perpetrator to be subjected to a full criminal trial in The Hague and, if found guilty, face punishment in accordance with the laws of Syria.

This is where I have difficulty with the motion to be placed before Parliament today, it is not seeking follow the correct legal processes, and it is prejudging guilt.  That prejudgement could lead us into another illegal war but this time one which has the potential to spread to other parts of the Middle East and also into Europe.  We must remember that Syria is a neighbour by land to Turkey, Israel, Lebanon and Iraq amongst others, and by sea to every country with a Mediterranean coast.  If what is currently a civil war is allowed to spread over national borders we could be looking at the start of a much bigger conflict.

Let us then consider the motion before the House of Commons today:


This House:

Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;

Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;

Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on savings lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;

Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;

Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity – and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;

Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community, represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;

Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;

Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus. Whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;

Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken. Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place.

Notes that this motion relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.


Despite having sent in Weapons Inspectors to establish the facts of the atrocity, the motion presumes that their findings are already known.  In its very first sentence it assumes “the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime” and from that moment on all else in the motion can not be impartial.   If we are to take seriously the Government’s assertion that the inspectors are there to establish the facts then it is incumbent upon the Government, and the House, not to assume those facts before they are known.

The motion also jumps from what is clearly the case to some pretty fanciful conclusions such as where is states that the House “Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on savings lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;”

This could mean anything from bombing chemical weapons stocks, risking millions of lives in the process as the chemical weapons are released, to deploying a full occupying army.  Unless it is qualified as to what the response is proportionate we can not know for certain the scale of response which would be proportionate.

The motion then says that the House “Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;” but how far is as far as possible, and who determines what is possible.  This is nebulous phrasing which basically means that “When we get fed up of waiting we will attack anyway.”

The motion then goes on to say that the House “Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus. Whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;”

HANG ON A MOMENT:  hasn’t all the talk been about establishing who is responsible?  Now we are being told that establishing who is responsible is not actually within the remit of the UN Weapons inspectors.  At this point we need to wake up and smell the coffee.  This motion is simply trying to salve the conscience of MP’s by allowing them to pretend that all possible avenues have been followed before they say yes to military intervention (or war as we used to call it in the last Century).

If it isn’t about military action then why is the penultimate sentence there at all?

Surely a far better motion would read:


This house:

Condemns the atrocious and illegal use of chemical weapons in Syria, an action expressly forbidden under international law.

Calls on the UN to extend the mandate of the weapons inspectors to establish where responsibility for this atrocity lies and then seek through the international courts in The Hague that full and appropriate legal action be brought against those who have perpetrated this atrocity.

Commits the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to continue the provision of humanitarian aid to the victims of the civil war in Syria.

Confirms that in the event that military action is required in order to execute an international arrest warrant for the alleged perpetrators of this atrocity to face trial before the international courts, following evidence based legal action, that any proposed action by British Troops would be subject to a further vote in this house.


I appreciate that it doesn’t take as many words to say, and doesn’t give the drama of the proposal actually before the house, but I do think it sets out the right course of action.

I don’t necessarily think we will gain eternal life for doing this, but it seems to me that it is the right thing to do.

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5 responses to “The Syrian dilemma, the parliamentary motion and the parable of the Good Samaritan

  1. Although I’m convinced that there is more than enough evidence to implicate the Syrian regime in these attacks, putting that to one side you make many good points.

    When I was at university I became aware through friends doing Development Studies (and related subjects) that Britain was actually pretty good at doing development aid and disaster response. I think Clare Short probably had a fair amount to do with this, and I think probably our political culture (which so often is a cause of frustration to me) helps ensure that we take our aid commitments more seriously than most.

    • One of Britains greatest assets in crises is its rapid response medical unit. Cllr Simon Wheale, now the leader of the Manchester Lib Dems and back then one of our front bench spokespeople, was very much involved in helping to make he contacts that secured the parliamentary support for the team in the 1990s.

  2. Good point about misinterpretting the parable, but I wonder what the Good Samaritan would have done if he’d come across the thieves actually in the act of robbing and beating the man up? If he thought he could prevent the man possibly being killed, might he have intervened to stop the continuing assault? Would he have been wrong to do so?

    Whatever else this country does or does not do, calling upon the UN to change the mandate of the inspectors strikes me as naval-gazing. The mandate is pretty useless now because of the active support of Russia for the Assad regime. Why would Russia back an enquiry meant to establish who the guilty were now if they didn’t want to do so before?

    • Jonathan, thank you for your comments.

      I honestly don’t know what the Good Samaritan would have done if he had come across the thieves actually in the act of robbing and beating the man up. Having said that as we didn’t see the perpetrators of this attrocity carrying it out I do not know what we would have done in those circumstances either.

      As it is we know that the chemical weapons have been used, we do not know for certain who by, and we do know that those who survived the attack along with many refugees are in need of help.

      Britain is providing the second largest contribution of humanitarian aid to those who are suffering in this conflict (and possibly the largest humanitarian aid pagage in our history) and we are pursuing all diplomatic channels through the United Nations. I appreciate that some people have suggested that this stance will weaken the alliance with America, or our standing in the world, but those people seem to have forgotten that a former President of America calling the French a bunch of ‘Cheese eating surrender monkeys’ because they refused to back an illegal war in Iraq does not seem to have diminished the French reputation internationally, indeed yesterday they were hailed as America’s oldest ally despite that action.

      The real tragedy of this situation is the wanton destruction of so many innocent lives. If evidence exists, even the balance of evidence, that the Assad regime committed these attrocities then (just as I suggested with those who robbed the man the Good Samaritan helped) it is for the courts to decide. Assad has stated that he was not reponsible, and there are now suggestions that it was a rogue general. In any case, what are the cruise missiles aimed at? Most of the hardware of the Syrian regime is based in its cities where innocent people live.

      As for navel gazing, that would only be the case if Britain withdrew from all activities, she has not. She is giving aid, she is following diplomatic and legal channels. Having told he can not enter the fray, perhaps the combined might of British intelligence, the British Foriegn Services and the diplomatic corps can focus entirely on the job that needs to be done and help negotiate the political solution that is the only way to end these attocities.

  3. Nice analysis of the revised motion Iain – thanks.

    Donnachadh