"UNHELPFUL". That was the word used by Boris Johnson's Foreign and Commonwealth Office to describe a mission last Saturday. Members of the House of Lords, and some Anglican Clergy, went to Damascus.
They included Michael Langrish, emeritus Bishop of Exeter. I spent some years in his Diocese; I can assure you that he is not an eccentric; not some wild firebrand; not a barmy Trot.
They met Syrian hierarchs and politicians. They went to the Liturgy on Sunday.
I was not previously aware through the British Media of the united statement by three Patriarchs of Syrian Churches, both Catholic and dissident, condemning the recent Western military intervention in Syria. Such things just don't seem to grab the headlines, do they? Western politicians and journalists never have shown the slightest interest in the beleaguered Christian communities which have lived in the Middle East since centuries before Islam was even invented. Considering the determination of the cultural elites here in the West to destroy the last remnants of Christendom in our own sick and depopulating countries, this is hardly surprising.
What we are seeing in Syria is simply the current stage of 'the Arab Spring' so enthusiastically encouraged by Western politicians. While they were cheering it on, they never thought it would lead to anything like the Syrian catastrophe. Of course not. They anticipated a comfortable domino effect of regime-change which would lead to "Parliamentary Democracy" throughout the Middle East ... you know, Black Rod, the Mace, State Opening of Parliament, and all that.
President Assad of Syria, despite his British background, unaccountably refused to act out the script they had written for him. He probably felt nervous reservations about being hauled out of a sewer, sodomised with a knife, and then shot, like Gaddhafi in Libya. It's all a matter of these little details of perspective, isn't it? Middle-Easterners often haven't been to Eton and so they don't see things in the same balanced sort of way that Boris does. Western politicians have never forgiven Assad for this appalling lack of good manners in refusing to walk down the path they had mapped out for him. For a decade, their foolish mantra has been "Assad must go; ruat caelum".
There have been atrocities galore in Syria. I don't applaud anybody who has had any part in any of them. And, among those who seem to me to have a big share of guilty responsibility, are all the Western politicians who encouraged "the Syrian moderate opposition" to believe that, were they to take up arms against Assad, they would get our support. Nod Nod, Wink Wink. Until: "Oops-a-daisy there's a Russky round the corner. Sorry; you're on your own after all".
I do wish that the political class in my country could grasp that political situations are rarely as univocally straightforward as they like to believe. Stuff ... the unexpected ... happens, and it's not the FCO cat but other people who do the dying. This simple historical reality is, curiously, beyond the comprehension of outwardly sane people many of whom read PPE at Oxford (to be pedantic: that is one crime Boris has not committed). Perhaps the sum of human happiness would be increased if that particular faculty could have a (precisely targetted) cluster-bomb dropped on it.
'UNHELPFUL'. I know all about that word. It is part of the vocabulary Establishment People use in my country when they want to effect a disdainful put-down. It avoids explanation, because an explanation can always be analysed ... an explanation might prove to be a hostage to Fortune. And UNHELPFUL doesn't sound too shrill. UNHELPFUL just means "You're not playing my game my way and you weren't elected to the Buller and you're an oik".
I wonder what sort of fees David Cameron is currently charging on the Lecture Circuit.