Part of yesterday’s motion on Syria proposed that the House of Commons:

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;

The house did not agree. The French have a good word for what happened to the Prime Minister – un camouflet. Originally it meant ‘a mine so charged and placed that its detonation will destroy enemy mining tunnels’ – and now figuratively, an unsuspected explosion destroying someone’s plans. What a perfect picture of that surprising vote.

But better an explosion under the government’s plans than yet another attempt to bring peace by violence. The contradiction is in the section of the motion I quoted. To define death as destruction as any sort of humanitarian response is to push language beyond its limit. It could be argued as just (if you believe in just wars), or politically expedient – but to suggest that there are humanitarian missile attacks is a perversion of the word.

The Syrian tragedy is an appalling on-going disaster, but the natural desire to ‘do something about it’ should be channelled into more genuinely humanitarian responses – like, dare I say it, a more generous response to those who come to us as refugees.