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03 September 2013

Jim Wallis: Tackle refugee crisis, don’t drop bombs

Jim Wallis: Tackle refugee crisis, don’t drop bombs

Military intervention could make the situation in Syria worse, according to US Christian writer and political activist Jim Wallis.

Speaking to the Evangelical Alliance during a UK tour to promote his latest book On God's Side, he urged global leaders to find new ways to deal with the conflict.

"I'm suspicious of military strikes because they often have unintended consequences," he said. "Inevitably, they take civilian lives: those Tomahawk missiles aren't as accurate as they say, they could bring other players into the conflict, things could escalate quickly.

"You might end up having to respond in a deeper way and we've got to get out of the old straight jackets, and look for other solutions, because they didn't work in Iraq and Afghanistan."

His comments come as the extent of the refugee crisis in Syria becomes apparent, with two million refugees now in other countries and 4.3 million internally displaced.

Antonio Guterres, head of the UN High Commission for Refugees, said: "Syria has become the great tragedy of this century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history."

The number of refugees is 10 times what it was 12 months ago, with most fleeing to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. This surge equates to 5,000 people leaving every day, and there are now more Syrians forcibly displaced than from any other country. One camp in Jordan is now effectively the country's fourth largest city, with 120,000 inhabitants.

Wallis commented on the refugee crisis, saying: "So if Lebanon has four million people and I'm hearing one million Syrian refugees already, half of them children, that's where we might decide to first intervene, mobilise around those refugees and children and win the hearts and minds of the Syrian people.

"Then put Assad on trial, in the international criminal court, put him on trial, prove him to be the criminal that he is, and use that to completely isolate him and surround him with dissent, and eventually remove him from power through international opinion."

He went on to explain where he might support military action: "I would have supported the use of force in Darfur to protect the people being attacked by the Janjaweed because you could target these thugs, you could go in there and stop them, without missiles and hurting civilians, it has to be for a just cause, it has to be well intended, it has to be proportionate, and finally it has to be of last resort and this is not at the last resort."

In his book, Wallis tells the story of a church in Tennessee that welcomed the Memphis Islamic Centre at a time when plans for an Islamic Cultural Centre were causing controversy in New York. Following media coverage of this response, the pastor of the church received a call late one night from Kashmir, where residents told him that because of his actions "we are now trying to be good neighbors, too. Pastor Stone, tell your congregation we do not hate them, we love them".

Wallis said of loving your neighbour: "This is not some esoteric ideal that never works, this really does work, it can change things, it can change our economy, it can change our households, outcomes in all sorts of ways if we really love our neighbours as ourselves."

Jim Wallis is speaking at the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity on 3 September, while the event is sold out, the live stream is available to view at a small nominal cost.

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