Monthly Archives: August 2014

In praise of – “The buck stops here”

The US President Harry Trueman famously placed on his desk a sign that read “The buck stops here”. It was an innovation in its time, it was popular, and it is one that is still remembered and quoted.

Christians might reflect upon that principle whenever they come to prayer.

An influential priest in Brother Ivo’s life used to periodically return to the theme in his sermons, pointing  that God does not save by “job lot” but one by one. We are called, and either engage or do not engage on an individual basis.

Jesus has come to our rescue and made easy the way to reconcile our recalcitrant natures with God’s expectations for us, but we still have to accept the responsibility to “Say yes to Jesus”.  Theologically, “ the buck stops here”. We cannot take much comfort in avoiding our sin by suggesting that “the big boys made me do it”.

This is a very important theological statement and yet it tends to resonate in the secular world with with Joe Public.

As we hear of the dreadful child abuse failures of the police and council services in Yorkshire, there is a groundswell of public opinion that those who were rewarded well to protect our children, ought to be held accountable for their failure, not only for their individual inadequacies, but also for their responsibility as senior figures in charge of important public services.

In the 1950’s Sir Thomas Dugdale promptly resigned his position as Minister for Agriculture over the Crichel Down scandal because he accepted that as the Minister in charge he held personal responsibility for the actions of his departmental civil servants.

For many years this was taught to students of Constitutional Law as a primary case on how a minister ought to behave, He may not have declared “ the buck stops here” but he plainly understood and embodied this valuable principle in public life.

It is one that seems to have slipped off the agenda, even as public servants have become immensely richer, and as Councillors have moved from local dignitaries to professional career path politicians.

Christians believe that much is expected of those to whom much is given.

All is not lost in public life.

Whatever one may think of the politics of Douglas Carswell, he has upheld standards by recognising that by changing political allegiance, he has chosen to alter the “contract” between himself and the electorate, and consequently, he is submitting himself for re-election in order to secure a proper mandate for the position he holds.

Although the headlines have been about his Euro-sceptic views, this aspect of true accountability in public life seems to be no less a strand of his disillusionment with his old party, whom he judges (along with the other major parties) to be insufficiently serious about restoring proper accountability within our public institutions.

In this identification of the problem, he appears to have captured the public mood.

It is something that the Anglican Church might do well to support. Anglicans have had their share of child abuse scandal, and yet its recent response has been to the credit of the Church of England. It has accepted responsibility, reviewed procedures, removed miscreants, agreed compensation and issued genuine apologies. Plainly it has not achieved perfection,nor complete victim satisfaction, but that is unlikely to occur in such a sensitive area. Nevertheless, the Church has gone a considerable way in setting the example and accepting that “the buck stops here”.

In the public debate over responding to the scandals, and living up to the  proper standards, Anglicans have a story to tell, and an underlying principle to assert.

Our Bishops do, from time to time speak out on politically sensitive and contentious issues. Climate change, Gaza, economic policy, have attracted the attention of various Church committees and leaders, even though serious Christians can and do come to differing opinions upon such subjects.

On the subject of living a life of integrity, however, and in asserting that “ the buck stops here” for heads of public institutions, and emphasising the importance of acting honourably , the Church is both in tune with the public mood and its own core beliefs.

Brother Ivo would encourage the Bishops to become involved in this debate – in a non party political way – praising good practice and holding poor examples to public account. For once we have a story to tell which will resonate with the wide public mood.

It is time for the public to see that Anglicans are indeed on the side of the angels.

What is the uniquely British contribution towards Jihad?

The terrible events in the Middle East and the appalling behaviour of the “Islamic State” terrorists rightly occupy our thoughts of late.

Brother Ivo would like to write on other things but this seems to be the priority for the time being.

When Brother Ivo wrote on this site recently he quoted the US General who stated that the only way to end this kind of militancy is by lethal force. It is a shocking conclusion, but this country had to take a similar approach when confronted with the evils of Nazism in the last century. We ought to have learned from that experience that delay only postpones the hard decisions; it does not avoid them.

There could be no compromise with the advocates of the “Final Solution” then, and there can be none with the theological absolutists of the Islamic State now.

We are currently asking ourselves why so many British Muslim youngsters have found themselves caught up with this evil movement. It is not an easy or comfortable question to answer, and we need to reflect that not all of the answers can be laid at the feet of the Muslim community. these are children of 21st century Britain too.

We may remind ourselves that these young people  have been exposed to all the benefits of modern secular values and multicultural education; very few of them fit the liberal model that such extremism comes out of poverty, lack of hope or lack of career prospects. Some have dropped out of hard won places in good universities to become agents of inhumanity.

“How did this happen?’ we inevitably ask.

One answer, rarely considered in the public debate so far is to be found within the doctrine of Original Sin. we humans are fallen and flawed and prone to such disorder.

Many suggest that the actions of these terrorists speak of the evils of faith, and yet what is plain to the more orthodox, is that the crimes come from two aspects of Man’s flawed nature identified in Genesis.

First, when Man confidently regards himself as having the knowledge of good and evil he feels empowered to act with impunity.

The Jihadist “knows he is right” and is utterly confident that he is doing the will of God. This is the plain old sin of Pride, which sits at the heart of all the other sins.

When we see ourselves as confidently able to know the will of God, we soon seek equality of judgement with God , and submission to him, easily elides into submission to us , his faithful perfect followers.

Second, such self confidence is potentiated by power, not least by military success. Every win, every concession, every fear engendered in one’s enemy, reaffirms the first proposition.

Such power and self-affirmation is very attractive to the young.

We  also need to remind ourselves that War is very exciting and attractive to a younger generation brought up on interactive violent video games or at least – it is when you are winning, which you always do on the gaming console.

Every victory boast can now be amplified through the media of social media. It is quick and easy to present a triumphant image to the whole world and that too can be very appealing.

You acquire a dark celebrity – Look at me –  Jihadis’ got talent.

Our mainstream society tends to have a muted attitude to war, born of a close remembrance of the sacrifices of the last century, but we should remind ourselves that war is inherently glamorous. Someone once sad that trying to take the glamour out of war is like trying to remove sex from the appeal of the Rolling Stones.

Some say that confronting Islamists recruits more. Brother Ivo rejects that idea.Nothing would see the recruiting lines shrink faster amongst would be Jihadis than swift comprehensive defeat and failure. Paradoxically the longer we wait the less merciful we are.

As we begin to ask why the UK seems to have delivered more than its quota of Islamic extremists, we might need to consider the special ingredients which our own youth culture contributes to the perversion of the young.

In the UK, young people have been encouraged to to feel themselves different, and to a degree morally superior to their forebears. This is why the “old morality” has been supplanted by  “political correctness”. It is the moral Golden Calf of the secularists own invention. Even if you have rejected secular values, the racism and hypocrisy meme is easily subsumed into the Islamist narrative and the self justification.

In our commercial pandering to the youth market, we encourage all young people to separate themselves out as a special interest group. That is a distinctive contribution; traditional Muslim families had strict control over their young, yet our “follow your dream” culture has loosened that important generational social control.

We  engendered the cult of the outsider, the lionisation of the transgressive; it started long ago with Marlon Brando and James Dean, it continues with every performer promoting their their rejecting “edginess” through images of drugs, promiscuity, or violence.

Young Muslims cannot join some “rebellions” and so become attracted to one of their own. When you add western narcissism to hard line Islamic theology it is really not that surprising that you see a head cut off and boasted about on You Tube.

These youngsters are pursuing a dystopian future . It is like an Islamic Clockwork Orange.

There may thus be a distinctive British cultural component to the process that has seen British Muslims committing atrocity in the middle east

Yet, before we conclude that there is something uniquely Muslim about a  violent response to an enhanced sense of self pride or perceived rejection, try showing “disrespect” in parts of our inner cities late on a Saturday night.

To identify this as part of the problem is not a great step towards solving it. Changing it is a huge piece of work.

It may, however, make us appreciate that the Jihadi problem it is just part of a wider societal problem, and we may need to reflect carefully before casting  the first stone towards our Muslin neighbours even if, between us, we have disinhibited some of their young people from doing just that.


A first response to the Bishop of Leeds debate


This last weekend saw a senior Church of England Bishop asking searching questions of the Prime Minister.

Though it was widely reported a a “bitter attack” on the Government, The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines was swift to deny this on his blog. He is not afraid of controversy and is surely to be congratulated for his overall commitment to engagement with the wider world. He says he seeks a debate on complex issues and asks the initiating questions..

Those who have followed his writings, heard him on the radio, or seen him speak, will know that he probably resides politically to the Left of Centre ( he originates in Liverpool ) but he is nothing if not measured and intelligent in his examination of complex issues and always accords honest opposition with respect and an interest in finding what truths may reside in a contrary opinion.

That is important, because if the story were simply ” Leftist Bishop bashes Tories” the issue would not last long, whereas Bishop Nick’s questions, asked with the support of the equally serious Archbishop Justin, are likely to reverberate for some time.

This post is an early to that the debate

Much of the attention on the letter centres upon the later questions posed, where he issues a direct challenge to the Government to be active on behalf of the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and he will be supported in this not only across many churches, but by a significant majority of the wider population, many of whom wonders why the likes of Abu Qutada and Abu Hamsa seem to get a better roll of the Human Rights dice than our Christian brothers and sisters.

It is not this which struck Brother Ivo as the most radical question posed on behalf of the Anglican Church however.

It was his first lengthy question which appears to represent the most significant long term challenge to this and other Governments, and indeed the wider zeitgeist.

His first point bears repeating.

” It appears that, in common with the United States and other partners, the UK is responding to events in a reactive way, and it is difficult to discern the strategic intentions behind this approach. Please can you tell me what is the overall strategy that holds together the UK Government’s response to both the humanitarian situation and what IS is actually doing in Syria and Iraq? Behind this question is the serious concern that we do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism as it is developing across the globe. Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groups represent particular manifestations of a global phenomenon, and it is not clear what our broader global strategy is – particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect. The Church internationally must be a primary partner in addressing this complexity.”

Brother Ivo offers his own endorsement of that question.

It has its scriptural foundation.

St Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”

Bishop Nick begins his criticism with the US President. He is right to do so. Whilst this crisis unfolds the ” leader of the free world” who was presented with a Nobel a Peace Prize after 11 days in office , is on a two week golfing holiday at Martha’s Vineyard. The story is unfolding even as we begin our thinking. Events are moving on an hourly basis: the apparent absence of leadership has been deeply worrying.

It is hard to better Mark Steyne’s devastating critique of the man who came from nowhere.

“For the last half-century, Obama has simply had to be. Just being Obama was enough to waft him onwards and upwards: He was the Harvard Law Review president who never published a word, the community organizer who never organized a thing, the state legislator who voted present. And then one day came the day when it wasn’t enough simply to be. For the first time in his life, he had to do. And it turns out he can’t.”

Obama campaigned to end the American presence in Iraq. In office he delivered on that promise, ostensibly on the basis that agreement on the ” status of forces ” could not be agreed. Without such an agreement, US forces might be at risk of prosecution by Iraq civil authorities. One ought to recall that the USA maintained troops in Germany and Japan for over 50 years after the Second World War.

President Obama delegated that negotiation to the hapless Joe Biden who neither secured the necessary result, nor suggested some of the other functional solutions. Elsewhere in the Middle East collateral agreements permit troops to remain. Residual US forces and advisors could have been designated as diplomats by simple letter, and that would have enabled forces to remain.

The President – and our Prime Minister – “wanted out”. The Christians, and other minorities are suffering as a direct result of that decision.

At the very least, our Prime Minister should now be urging the President to “do his job”; we may wish that David Cameron had greater individual power or that the UN or EU could become swiftly resolute, but that is an idealistic fantasy. The only swift intervention that can come, will be as a result of resolute action by the US. They are the world’s policeman, and must be engaged though they need to be supported by the UK and probably France.

What should our military strategy comprise?

This is hard for a Christian Bishop to articulate but it may need to be embraced, given the intransigent evil of the enemy, Bishop Nick calls for a debate; in Brother Ivo’s judgement it may take him, like Peter, to a place of violence where he does not wish to go.

Former US Army Vice Chief of Staff General Jack Keane seems to be on the same page as Bishop Nick when he described ISIS as “the most significant threat to the Middle East” and said that the United States is doing virtually nothing to stop them.”

He goes further, and speaks with a bluntness one cannot expect of a Bishop, though the discussion called for, almost certainly leads to this conclusion.

” The way you deal with them is you kill them, and that is the only way that they understand, is force. You have to apply force to deal with it,” (sic)

“We need a strategy to deal with it. We have none, and the fact is, the strategy should not just be the killing aspect of it.”

Keane also offered advice beyond military matters . “We know what banks they’re using. We actually know the names of their seven portfolio managers. We should target the barks and target the managers. We should separate the groups that are supporting them politically,” Keane elaborated.

This seems a powerful contribution to the Bishops debate.

There seems to be little alternative available.

We have seen the gruesome evidence of what ISIS do to “the other”.

Remarkably, western public opinion finds it hard to believe what Islamists are quite happy to tell us plainly.

Some of this comes not only from ISIS but also Hamas; de-coupling the two has been a mistake; they are cast from the same metal. In addressing the growing theat from Islamist extremism, Bishop Nick references ISIS and Boko Haram, but not Hamas. That is a mistaken omission.

They have warned us that ” The Al-Qassam Brigades love death more than you love life.”

The Hamas Charter spells out many other things plainly. It bears examination. It tells us about this well established part of the Muslim Brotherhood franchise and by implication their even more extreme colleagues,

TheHamas Charter tells us

Article Thirteen: Peaceful Solutions, [Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: “Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware.”

That makes clear that negotiation is no part of their thinking.

Article Eight: The Slogan of the Hamas
Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model, the Qur’an its Constitution, Jihad its path and death for the case of Allah its most sublime belief.

This confirms what we see on the ground. We are not seeing rogue action but rather a clear ideological programme.

Set in the midst of such a violent volatile and intransigent region we should be slow to condemn and undermine Israel, the only established functional liberal plural democracy in the Middle East.

Iraq, however, is a now a weak but fledgling democracy. It has had successful elections and has peacefully seen its Prime Minister step down and replaced by an opponent, because he had lost his mandate. That is an enormously significant development. The peaceful Constitutional passing of power is a fundamental feature of democracy – and anathema to the jihadis.

Returning to Iraq after the error of premature exit is vital. Supporting countries that share or incline towards our values is vital ; that includes Israel and perhaps Kurdistan. Political perfection is a luxury we – and more importantly the people on the ground – cannot afford.

We also need to win the argument in this country, not least o explain why Israel is our friend, not Hamas, and we need to remind our population that the Iraq War happened for good reason. It was not a George W Bush vanity project but the culmination of a coherent policy that began with Bill Clinton who, speaking of the Saddam threat in 1998 said

“The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Government -government ready to live in peace with its neighbours, a government that respects the rights of its people.

Heavy as they are, the costs if action must be weighed against the price of inaction. If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond we will face a far greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike at his neighbours. He will strike at his neighbours. He will make war on his own people, and mark my words he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them and he will use them”

What part of Bill Clinton’s strategy then does not apply to ISIS and its Iranian backers, and friends in Hamad Hezbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Yet the former strategy, rejected by Obama and so many of the western progressives, had an equally positive side articulated by George W Bush.

” The Middle East was the centre of a global ideological struggle. On one side were decent people who wanted to live with dignity and peace. On the other side were extremists who sought to impose their radical views through violence and intimidation. They exploited conditions of hopelessness and repression to recruit and spread their ideology. The best way to to protect our countries in the long runways to counter their dark vision with a more compelling vision.

That alternative was freedom. People who could choose their leaders at the ballot box would be less likely to turn to violence. Young people growing up with hope in the future would not search for meaning in the ideology of terror. Once liberty took root in one society, it could spread to others.”

What is wrong with that analysis in the context of Bishop Nick’s questions?

Bishop Nick calls for a debate and a strategy. There used to be one.

Overnight we see that President Obama has again authorised military air strikes. He may be returning to his predecessors approach which is not an easy or comfortable strategy but neither was that which confronted the Third Reich.

Periodically we have to recognise the presence of evil and the need to contest it. ISIS and its allies have not made identification of evil difficult. We need leaders who are ready to protect the innocent, support our friends, and to confront the pernicious ideology of Islamism in all its manifestations.

An early and destructive response to the ISIS forces is important for our own impressionable youngsters. The young need to re-learn that freedom has to be defended and can be costly. Young Muslims need to have the glamorous attraction of Jihadi success removed; disgrace and failure is a powerful disincentive to recruitment.

It seems to Brother Ivo that what we need is not a reinventing of the wheel but turning our back on the lax and lazy notion that western intervention in the area caused all the problems and that peace and goodwill will break out if only we remain inactive.



The ” What is truth?” question returns


One cannot get away from it, and nobody who steps into a pulpit can avoid Pilate’s famous question if they seek to do justice to the text.

Preachers quickly earn that the answer is usually subtle and we often find ourselves refining the question to ” Which of the truths within this text speaks to our circumstances and needs today?”

People of faith are habituated to thinking in this way but sadly the secular world, particularly the political world, is more utilitarian than philosophical in its collective approach to the question.

“How can I tell the truth whilst not compromising myself?”  becomes the subtext of the Special Advisors briefing notes to his or her political master.

Brother Ivo has been brought to ponder the ancient question by a number of recent events, which remind us how much of the Bible is indeed relevant today.

Let him briefly outline them,

On the early morning radio, the BBC Today programme interviewed Professor David Miles of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee about the recent data on the economy and what it might mean. It was an interesting and intelligent piece, and it seems a pity that it was not on much later when more people would have heard it.

This Committee is charged with giving the best and informed advice to the Chancellor, and as one would hope, the Professor was low key ,scholarly and a good, if not exciting communicator on his complex subject.

Brother Ivo could no help but contrast this careful and nuanced examination of the truth with what usually comes later, when the politicians are asked to interpret the news.

When the greater part of the population – and perhaps one should say “electorate” is listening, one gets the “sound bite” the “talking point ” and the “spin”. Unlike the delivery of Professor Miles, too often one is getting not news or analysis, but party propaganda.

Readers may find Brother Ivo’s criticism of the BBC tiresome but it is well meant and intended to be corrective and constructive. When economic news is in the forefront of programmes, we should be presented with much more of the examination and less of the comment.

A classic example is over the report that “average incomes have fallen”. That is no doubt accurate, but it is not the whole truth. Many people on a regular wage will have received the same in their wage packet this month as any other.

On another programme Professor Art Laffer ( famous for the Laffer curve on tax receipts) explained that  there will be some who are worse off , and some who will doubtless suffer as a result of the economic situation. Yet another commentator pointed out that the ‘fall” is partly arithmetic.

If many people join the work force from lower benefits, they may be better off, but their addition to the workforce, if below the former average, will depress the average whilst comparatively few are actually worse off.

This is not to deny that wages are not keeping up with prices but that is a different, if equally important question which ought to be left for another day.

The point of Brother Ivo’s thought today is that we in the faith Community should bring our openness to subtlety into the everyday world. We ought to challenge the culture of the repetitious part truth – from whatever side it comes, and we should require our broadcasters to be harder on those who come, not to enlighten but to repeat a pre-prepared soundbite.

Brother Ivo flirted with the idea of suggesting that the Broadcasters might flash a “sound bite warning” on our screens whenever the well worn phrases are trotted out or a new one is obviously coined for the purpose of obfuscation.

Another news item illustrated the kind of truth problem we have in public life.

Some may know that there is a serious scandal in the USA arising out of an investigation of the Revenue Service which may have targeted certain political groups. This was one of the charges that brought down President Nixon who also famously ” lost ” 18 minutes of the famous Watergate tapes, which were “accidentally” erased.

In the latest scandal, all the emails of 20 Internal Revenue Services employees, over a two year period, have all “accidentally” been erased in simultaneous but independent hard drive crashes which have mysteriously coincided with the host servers not holding duplicates and none of the employees complying with a Federal law to keep and preserve hard copies of any erased documents.

The Judge investigating this alongside the Congressional Committee recently required an affidavit from the IRS to place on record the events, staff involved , technical explanation, and timeline so that he can begin to piece together the truth.

The document he received was remarked upon as being a masterpiece of what Brother Ivo is currently highlighting. It told the Judge nothing but the truth – but also told him nothing he did not already know; most of it was already in the public domain. We shall see how this plays out.

Here as people of faith we need to be counter cultural.

Whoever we may like or dislike politically, the commitment to hearing truth,  and to promoting integrity in public life is surely the starting point for us. Our political  constitutions have arisen out of much discord – a great deal of it was religious. It was because ultra partisanship resulted in war (and still does across the world)  that we agreed to live together with integrity under plain rules that need adherence if trust is to survive.

A commitment to truth and honest speaking is the sine qua non of a peaceful civil society.

It may not look as if there is a close relationship between the conduct of our politicians and commentators and the chaos in the Middle East and Africa but surely one of the key components of functional democracy is bona fides between opponents.

People of different opinions must be opponents not enemies.

A cynical friend once said to Brother Ivo “Truth is a precious commodity- we must use it sparingly”. That way lies not only perdition  but the political distrust and chaos that blights much of the world.

Christians should be foremost in both living and reminding the world that our “Yea should be Yea, and our Nay, Nay”. At least we shall in that manner, contribute to becoming conveyors and guardians of the truth, however subtle and elusive it may be.

In praise of respectability


Brother Ivo was recently watching the genealogical programme “Who do you thinkyou are” when the subject matter, paused whilst looking at a photograph of her grandparents to remark disapprovingly how “ respectable “ they looked.

That set Brother Ivo thinking.

Since when did to cease to be admirable to be “respectable”?

We have become so habituated to the term being used perjoratively that we scarcely pause to think about what is actually being said.

Jesus had no time for the hypocrite or those who thought too well of themselves or courted public recognition, but that is not really what a respectable person is.

In the middle of the last century there was something that called itself the “respectable working class”.

They did not like charity -”hand outs “ they called it. The washing would always be hung out on a Monday morning, the men “stood their round” in the pub, and the front step had its brass polished and the stone was frequently reddened as a mark that this household was proud to have standards and kept to them.

A front room was often kept for Sunday use only and visitors would be ushered in and offered tea and cake.

Such signifiers are not uniquely British.

Brother Ivo recalls viewing the display on Ellis Island of the things that 19th Century immigrants from around the world  took with them to their new life.

Many took Bibles or Torahs, one man took and empty suitcase so that the immigration officials would not realise that he came with nothing and turn him away.

A Danish lady carried a beautifully embroidered sheet to put on the bed so that when she was confined, the doctor would know that she came from a “respectable family”. It mattered a lot to her.

Many of these working people had a history of being in service. They knew how the better off lived and accepted some of their standards as part of their own appreciation of what it might take to be disciplined and motivated to get on in life.They adopted for themselves the idea of clean clothes and changed bedding.

Many of the men went into wartime service where standards of personal presentation were instilled into them – habits which lasted a lifetime. The armed forces wanted “respectable” soldiers, and they still do.

Those who could afford to let such standards slip were the better off, those who might take much for granted; louche standards proclaimed “ I do not need the approval of others”.

It was the ultimate snobbery and it has become the bedrock of much of our fragmenting society.

Perhaps we need to look at the word again and rehabilitate it.

If we deconstruct the word we see that it means that the subject is “worthy of respect”. Why is this something we have come to denigrate? Why do we see many in the media sneering at “respectable people”?

The worker who performs a modest job to the best of his/her ability for low wages is surely “respect-able” in a way that the person who just can’t be bothered, is not.

The girl who resists peer pressure and chooses not to behave like a would-be pornstar during her adolescence is surely “respectable” – in a good way.

Those who take their faith seriously and follow it at a cost of scorn and derision are also highly respect-able.

Perhaps we need to think about this word and what it connotes a little more, and begin to challenge the trendy assumption that there is something wrong with being in that cohort of people showing a good example of acting with integrity, thoughtfulness and neatness.

Maybe we cannot even begin to  build a” Big Society “unless and until there is a strong core of those who actively seek the respect and good opinion of their fellow citizens.

Perhaps it is the “respectable” that need our opinion formers and media to “understand a little more and condemn a little less”.

Is it immoral not to militarily confront ISIS?

beheading iraqi soldier


The radical Islamic group ISIS have advanced towards regional power with remarkably fortuitous timing.

They probably deliberately planned to do so when the Obama administration made good on its commitment to withdraw US forced from Iraq. That has proved a grave error as the absence of US “instructors” ,providing the necessary leadership and backbone, resulted in a raw and badly led Iraqi Army failing in its duties and allowing the ISIS militias to make  progress with greater rapidity than even they might have dared dream hope.

The ease of that advance has emboldened them with even greater self belief that they are fulfilling the will of Allah.  Their sense of invincibility has fuelled sense of impunity which leads to atrocity, for they will never be called to account in this world and have all the confidences of justification in the next. Their advance however comes in the context of a number of other events that weaken the international resolve to do anything about them.

The Arab Spring has proved anything but benign. Egypt fell into the hands of similar thinking zealots,  and the army has once again intervened; Libya is collapsing into civil war, and the Syrian situation is so depressing that we scarcely bother to take in what is happening.

Best of all for the ISIS forces, Israel has felt obliged to intervene in Gaza. It is surely precisely because Israel is a decent plural liberal democracy that they are attracting such widespread western hatred. They are obviously quite “ like us”, and so, in a world of madmen, barbarians and incomprehensible religious fanatics, it is so much easier for the bien pensants to direct all attempts at influence in the region towards the only peoples in the region potentially amenable to our kind of rational persuasion.

Western opinion has lost any confidence that there is a natural and unstoppable “progress “ of humankind towards liberal democracy and with that disappointment there is no current enthusiasm for advancing any alternative to letting ISIS get on with its foul work.

This week, the recollections of the First World War is adding to the miasma.

The “we must never let this happen again” narrative is abroad and with it, a pre-supposition that all interventions overseas must be a) bad b) misguided c) opposed at all costs.

Is that truly what we have come to?

Are there no circumstances in which ISIS should be militarily confronted? Are we to let them entrench and begin fulfilling their declared programme before we begin to think belatedly that we should have started opposing them them sooner?

An early application of air power would have stopped the speedy but comparatively lightly armed advance.

Sadly the Leader of the free world doesn’t do swift decisive action, and in any event has been largely on vacation as the problem unfolded.

Just to offer him a word of advice. ISIS are not frightened of his speeches, his condemnation, his phone or his pen.

The world community is in a semi-pacifist intellectual mode at present. Certainly most of the political spectrum to the Left of the Prime Minister is, and he is no doubt calibrating his stance with one eye on the coming election.

So Brother Ivo is taking an unpopular line by asking if this is indeed the time for Internationally co-ordinated armed intervention to confront and destroy ISIS.

Furthermore, he has to ask, if there comes a point when it is immoral not to take up arms?

ISIS are acting appallingly towards a wide range of those who do not submit to their version of Islam. Submission to Allah, necessarily connotes submission to them.

Those at risk includes Jews and Christians but also many variations of the Islamic faith.

Above all there are 4 million women who are currently anxiously fearing rape, forced marriage or a threat of female genital mutilation.

It is extraordinary that in the USA where Democrats have declared and denounced an alleged “war on women” by those merely asking women to pay for their own birth control, that what is happening in Iraq is not attracting greater outrage, especially from the feminist movement.

Here we begin to approach the point.

With these things happening, as we wring our hands about active intervention, we might do well to explore whether there is indeed an immorality in inaction.

Brother Ivo has previously contrasted modern attitudes with the suppression of the slave trade.

That initiative would have broken every modern value close to the progressive heart.

When the Royal Navy began interdicting the International Slave Trade it was against International Law, it violated the common values of societies across the world, it involved regime change in Africa, it was unilateral, it was a colonial imposition of power and was, in short, everything that modern thinkers loathe when such actions are mooted today.

And yet, we now honour it as one of the high points of morality in action.

Should we not be considering a similar intervention when the world is faced with a harsh and implacable version of Islam that brings death poverty and cruelty wherever it lays claim to power?

Suppose ISIS does begin its programme of hacking out the genital of women? Will that make us act?

How many deaths, how much ethnic cleansing, how much suppression of opposition or civilisation, will we accept before beginning the tortuous process of turning around public opinion?

This is very hard to contemplate.

We have had many wars, and too many ineffectual ones. It is, however possible that this one needs to happen because the alternative is worse, and the consequences of a delayed alternative is worse still.

The ISIS creed is not one easily accessible to the irreligious mind.

Many think that such groupings are amenable to peace talks, compromise, and reason. Yet one cannot compromise with the implacable, one cannot trust the untrustworthy and one cannot hope to moderate the theology of those whom even their own co-religionists cannot reach with soft words. ISIS knows that it is doing the work of God. Your only non-violent choice is submission.

The desire of ISIS to rule is not limited to a single country or region. It is not in the business of accepting appeasement.

This is hard thinking in the centenary year of the Great War.

We rightly hate to contemplate that it might be necessary, and yet 20 years after the 1918 Armistice Truce, with a full and deep recollection of that conflict, a later generation was faced with similar choices and were brave enough to make the right and moral decision.

The question is whether this generation has a similar moral strength.

We should honour the simple values of ordinary soldiers


Brother Ivo has long had an interest in the First World War and has not only read many histories but also visited many of the battlefields and cemeteries of that great conflict.

As the time comes to mark the centenary it might have been difficult to have selected the right theme but the decision was made easy for him several months ago when he read the letter which John Scollen of the Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Irish) wrote on the eve of the battle of the Somme to his wife. He did not survive that day.

My Dear Wife and Children
It is with regret I write these last words of farewell to you. We are about to make a charge against these awful Germans. If it is God”s Holly will that I should fall, I will have done my duty to my King and country and I hope justly in the sight of God. It is hard to part from you but keep a good heart, dear Tina, and do not grieve for me, for God and his Blessed Mother will watch over you and my bonny little children and I have not the least doubt but that my country will help you. For the sake of one of its soldiers that has done his duty. Well Dear Tina, you have been a good wife and mother and looked after my canny bairns and I am sure they will be a credit to both of us. My Joe, Jack, Tina, Aggie not forgetting my bonny twins Nora and Hugh and my last flower baby whom I have only had the great pleasure of seeing once since he came into the world, God bless them.I will try and get to do my duty whilst on this perilous undertaking and if I fall, then you will know I died in God”s Holly Grace. Tell all my friends and yours also that I bid them farwell now. My Dear Wife and children, I have not anything more to say, only I wish you all Gods”s Holly Grace and blessing so GOODBYE GOODBYE and think of me in your prayers. I know these are hard words to receive but God”s will be done.
From your faithful soldier
Husband and Father
John Scollen. B Coy. 27th. S.B.N.F.
Goodbye my loved ones, DON”T CRY.

The letter is deeply touching, and serves well as a remembrance of many who thought such sentiments even if they did not write them so plainly.

As we have approached the centenary, there have been many discussions, not least within churches, as to how we should observe the years of the centenary. Many seek to make a wider point , to promote peace in the modern world, to advance “justice” – in a variety of interpretations – and to extract wider meanings from various levels of the story.

These approaches may have their place, but they are not how Brother Ivo will approach the coming years.

We may have our own preoccupations, but for many, the focus should rightly be on those who fought and died.

These were not saints; few were philosophers, sophisticates or politicians; fewer still were  “peace activists”. None were “politically correct”.

John Scollen’s letter confounds the Blackadder school of history which suggests that such men were fools or dupes, not knowing what they were getting themselves into. John Scollen clearly knew only too well, and faced that eventuality with great fortitude and dignity.

He loved his family, had a deep faith in God and was resolved to do his duty towards his country.

These are not modern virtues, sadly.

There are many in today’s culture who would take issues with John’s simply expressed values.

Yet those values expressed who he was. That which enabled him to write with bravery and fortitude in such terrible circumstances might give our modern society pause for thought in its certainties. Could we face what John faced with such strength?

Brother Ivo will be holding this man and the millions like him in his thoughts and prayers, this night and in the months ahead. He will be attending a vigil to observe the approach of that fateful hour and will be lighting a candle as suggested.

Already there are some seeking to add a gloss to this simple act of remembrance. That is a shame. the sacrifice of John Scollen and those like him bind the inhabitants of this country together, from whatever political, religious perspective or nationality or heritage we may come.

They showed us how to sacrifice to the greater good, and how to meet adversity with bravery and integrity.

It is a lesson we shall do well to remember.

He makes Brother Ivo proud to be British