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I oppose military action in Syria - but I believe we must act to save lives

Humanitarian action is different from a march to war, says Green co-leader Caroline Lucas. 

Though the English language is rich, it fails today because words simply cannot express the horror of what is occurring in Aleppo. Government forces are reported to be murdering people as they hide in their homes or flee on to the streets. Families are stranded in the last remaining neighbourhoods that haven’t been captured by Assad and the rebel groups too are reported by the UN to be firing on civilians. Russia appears to be adopting a very deliberate strategy of preventing the evacuation of doctors and medical staff alongside the patients they are keeping alive.

People are starving in Aleppo too – with food provisions used up and water cut off as government forces use starvation as a tactic of war. Families in Aleppo are being purged from their own city if they’re lucky, slaughtered if they’re not.

In Parliament – thousands of miles away from the chaos both literally and metaphorically – over 200 MPs from every party have joined together, and alongside CEOs of eight international NGOs, to urge our government to do all they can to get aid into Eastern Aleppo. Our party allegiances are different, but our demand is simple: people should not be left to starve.

I believe humanitarian airdrops should begin immediately, and should be carried out by drones or GPS-guided parachutes. The use of drones is not something I have advocated before but, given the risks associated with a manned aircraft potentially being shot down and the resulting escalation in violence, it’s a compromise I am willing to make.

British MPs are quite possibly, in my opinion, to soon be asked to vote on whether to commit the British military to the conflict in Syria. In the House of Commons chamber today a number of MPs made that exact point. Indeed George Osborne claimed that the crisis in Syria "came out of a vacuum - a vacuum of Western leadership" and that "we are beginning to learn the price of not intervening". That claim will be repeated often now – British MPs blaming our lack of intervention for causing the crisis as it is today.

The truth is that nobody knows what would have happened if Britain had committed troops to the conflict in 2013. I stand by my decision not to back such a proposal, not least because an attack on President Assad then would have strengthened Daesh’s grip on the region, and potentially led an even bloodier battle than we have today.

What is certain is that nobody believes there is a military solution to what is happening in Syria – it is diplomacy, both hard and soft, that will pave the way for the long road to peace. The West’s fingerprints are all over the various crises destabilising the region today, and we have to take responsibility for the disastrous long-term consequences of intervention in Iraq and Libya before we throw our military towards further actions in the future. Concluding from Iraq and Syria that UK intervention is always wrong is a folly. However, ignoring the lessons from those conflicts is, frankly, an even more reckless thing to do. Furthermore – as evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee made clear last year – British military involvement in Syria pushes us further away from the role of peacemaker that we should be stepping into, especially ahead of Donald Trump taking the helm in the USA.

Let me be clear, too, that I don’t believe that humanitarian airdops are the only action we should be taking. That’s why I joined a group of MPs in tabling amendment to a piece of Government legislation to freeze assets of those with "blood on their hands" for human rights abuses – including Russia. As Adam Smith, Barack Obama’s former sanctions adviser, says "there is a lot of headroom” to apply more restrictions — on Russian banks, oil companies and individuals. Additionally, the importance of ensuring accountability for the crimes committed in Syria should remain high on our agenda. We must urgently look at how we can better support NGOs documenting human rights violations in Syria – and then explore the creation of a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal.

I will continue to urge the government to do all they can to help the people of Aleppo from starvation by deploying aid drops – and to use every diplomatic tool available to stop the horror that’s occurring in Syria. At the same time, I will resist a march to war that could lead to more people dying and write Britain out of being a peacemaker in the future. When we voted last year on engaging Daesh in Syria, I said that MPs on both sides of the debate made their case with the best of intentions. I continue to believe that to be the case now – and hope that we can all continue to urge government action when we agree – and respect each other’s opinions on the issues on which we do not see eye to eye.

Right now Theresa May has a unique opportunity to forge a new role for Britain on the international stage. Indeed, the world is crying out for leadership that isn’t based on brinkmanship. Let’s get humanitarian aid to the people of Aleppo immediately, and let’s use this moment to recast Britain as a positive force for good in increasingly turbulent times. 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.