The following statement was issued on 5 September 2013
A lament for the people of Syria and a prayer for peace
The current debate in the United States Congress over whether to go to war against Syria gives the United States the opportunity to place sanity, logic and respect for the right to life above the understandable desire simply to hit back in anger and punish President Bashar al-Assad and his regime for their evil use of chemical weapons.
Yes, Syria's dictator has killed his own people. Yes, we all acknowledge the insanity of chemical attacks. Yes, we were horrified by the images of children, their parents and grandparents who died agonising deaths, probably from sarin gas, in Damascus on August 21. Yes, the general population across the globe must rise up against Assad.
But would an attack on Syria now meet the conditions required for a just war? To meet those conditions, we need to balance the chances that an attack will protect people's lives in future against the possibility that intervention will escalate the conflict and lead only to greater killing.
Military leaders warn us that once we start a war, the effects are unforeseeable and can quickly become unmanageable. Can we truly say that the international community has exhausted all peaceful ways of bringing humanitarian and diplomatic pressure to bear on Damascus? Are we sure no innocent civilians will die in a military intervention?
President Obama's advocacy of war is anachronistic and runs the risk of responding to killings with more killings. By referring the issue to Congress, he has given himself space to act, as we would expect of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and to exhaust all peaceful means of bringing an end to the suffering in Syria before considering a resort to war.
I lament in my prayers for the suffering of the people of Syria. I pray passionately that they will be given what we all desire for ourselves, namely security and peace. And I pray that President Obama will not go down in history as a leader who had the opportunity to broker peace but instead opted for war.
Issued by the Office of the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town
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