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.