Thursday, 29 August 2013

Archbishop of Canterbury speaks about Syria

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, delivered the following speech in the House of Lords on the situation in Syria:

My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity to have been able to speak later in this debate because of the extraordinary quality of many of the contributions that have been made, and how much one can learn by listening to them. Like many noble Lords I have some experience in the region, partly from this role that I have and recent visits and contacts with many faith leaders of all three Abrahamic faiths, and also through 10 years of, from time to time, working on reconciliation projects.

I don’t intend to repeat the powerful points that have been made on international law which is itself based on the Christian theory of Just War, and that has been said very eloquently. But I want to pick up a couple of points - first is, it has been said, quite rightly, that there is as much risk in inaction as there is in action. But as in a conflict in another part of the world, a civil conflict in which I was mediating some years ago, a general said to me “we have to learn that there are intermediate steps between being in barracks and opening fire”. And the reality is that until we are sure that all those intermediate steps have been pursued, Just War theory says that the step of opening fire is one that must only be taken when there is no possible alternative whatsoever, under any circumstances. Because, as the noble Lord Lord Alli just said very clearly and very eloquently, the consequences are totally out of our hands once it has started. And some consequences we can predict – we’ve heard already about the Lebanon and about Iran, particularly the effect that an intervention would cause on the new government in Iran as it is humiliated by such an intervention.

But there is a further point, talking to a very senior Christian leader in the region yesterday, he said “intervention from abroad will declare open season on the Christian communities”. They have already been devastated, 2 million Christians in Iraq 12 years ago, less than half a million today. These are churches that don’t just go back to St Paul but, in the case of Damascus and Antioch, predate him. They will surely suffer terribly (as they already are) if action goes ahead. And that consequence has to be weighed against the consequences of inaction. In civil wars, those who are internal to the civil conflict fight for their lives, necessarily. Those who are external have a responsibility, if they get involved at all, to fight for the outcome, and that outcome must be one which improves the chances of long term peace and reconciliation. If we take action that diminishes the chance of peace and reconciliation, when inevitably a political solution has to be found, whether it’s near term or in the long term future, then we will have contributed to more killing and this war will be deeply unjust.

In consequence my Lords, I feel that any intervention must be effective in terms of preventing any further use of chemical weapons. I’ve not yet heard that that has been adequately demonstrated as likely. That it must effectively deal with those who are promoting the use of chemical weapons. And it must have a third aim which is: somewhere in the strategy, there must be more chance of a Syria and a Middle East in which there are not millions of refugees and these haunting pictures are not the stuff of our evening viewing.

The context in which this speech was delivered can be seen in the Hansard record of the day’s debate. Full list of speakers starts here.

The debate on Syria in the House of Commons resulted in an unexpected defeat for the government, 285 votes to 272 - a majority of 13.

The Church Times has this report by Madeleine Davies Western air strikes not the answer, say Syrian clerics.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 29 August 2013 at 9:43pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

As an evangelical, Justin Welby might well be expected to ask some difficult questions, such as 'how Biblical is the Just War tradition?' A traditional doctrine that not only finds no warrant in Scripture but which often seems to run directly counter to the clear meaning of the Gospel must be viewed with some scepticism, at the very least. Admitting that the 'Just War' tradition may have served some useful purpose in the past, it is perhaps time for the churches, including the established church, to think critically about their submission to the authority of Scripture, and their public role in sanctioning violence.

Posted by: rjb on Friday, 30 August 2013 at 1:57pm BST

If only the Bible were clearer on this and most other topics.

Posted by: Laurence on Friday, 30 August 2013 at 6:25pm BST

Actually the Just War theory entered Christian thought via St Ambrose, who cribbed it from Cicero. In my view, it is really more about moral justification for a war waged by an Empire than "civilised" rules for warfare. Even if it is useful, it must be used with great trepidation.

Posted by: Alan T Perry on Friday, 30 August 2013 at 9:29pm BST

So the nation that gave us agent orange and napalm is taking the moral high ground. Hopefully the Russians will threaten action, and put a stop to this. In my experience, bulllies fear bullies.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Saturday, 31 August 2013 at 6:17am BST

*If only the Bible were clearer on this and most other topics.*
Actually, I think the NT is clearer about the imperative to solve all kinds of conflict by non-violent means than it is on almost any other ethical issue.......

Posted by: RosalindR on Saturday, 31 August 2013 at 9:33am BST

When I was a boy in England, Robert, during the second world war; I remember being very grateful to the American people for helping rid the world of Nazi agression against me and my family. Don't forget, it's not long since we Brits were at war protecting what we thought was our 'property' in various Colonial situations - including America.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 31 August 2013 at 9:58am BST

RosalindR I am inclined to agree with you, but wonder why the Churches do not then act on it.

Posted by: Laurence on Saturday, 31 August 2013 at 12:11pm BST

“…. intervention from abroad will declare open season on the Christian communities”.

Ba’athism emphasises secular pan-Arabism rather than Islamic religious identity. Perhaps then it’s not surprising that for decades Syrian Christians (like other religious minorities in Syria) have generally been staunchly supportive of the Syrian Ba’ath Party. If and when the rebels succeed in Syria, it probably will become open season on the Christian communities there, but this will have little to do with foreign military intervention and much to do with their perceived association with the Assad regime.

If the only consideration in Syria was the welfare of the Christian minority, we should probably praying for Bashar al-Assad to overcome his enemies and the restoration of the status quo ante bellum. Somehow I cannot bring myself to do that.

Posted by: William Raines on Saturday, 31 August 2013 at 1:24pm BST

'Actually, I think the NT is clearer about the imperative to solve all kinds of conflict by non-violent means than it is on almost any other ethical issue.......'

I understand what you are saying, Rosalind, but the NT is really rather mixed on its attitude to violence. Even in the gospels there is violence in God's judgment on the unbelievers - darkness, eternal punishment, torment, wailing' etc. And let's not forget the Book of Revelation where God dishes out all kinds of nasty things against his enemies.

Posted by: Roger Antell on Saturday, 31 August 2013 at 11:07pm BST

I am grateful and don't doubt the heroism of the US soldiers in WW2, but remember the USA only reluctanly entered after the Japanese attacked them. Now they think they can go into any country..except just like bulllies thay never pick on countries their own size. Look at North Korea and Iran.

Look how they ( Britain too ) have ruined Iraq and destroyed the thriving Christian minority.

They seemingly do not share any ethical concerns about their medieavalist allies in Saudi Arabia or the new Berlin wall in Israel /Palestine.

Posted by: Robert ian Williams on Sunday, 1 September 2013 at 6:40am BST

'the new Berlin wall in Israel /Palestine'

The implementation of the building of the Wall through Palestinian territories is indeed unjust. But recall why it has been built: to prevent bombers having unrestricted access to Israeli towns and cities to commit acts of mass murder. When we were in Israel some years back and the Wall was still under construction, the number of terrorist bomb attacks had virtually ceased. The Wall was a security measure to protect Israeli citizens and has been very effective in that respect. Interestingly, not many people want to talk about that in their castigation of Israel, as if Israel and its people had no right to security. I can't quite see the difference in principle, other than the scale, between the Wall in Israel and the security fortifications in Belfast, for example, which were built for the same purposes against bombers.

Posted by: Roger Antell on Sunday, 1 September 2013 at 11:49am BST

Instead of casting aspersions on Mr. Miliband, Mr. Cameron should be grateful to him for saving him from an Eden type Suez crisis. Surely much more thought and prayer is needed before Britain engages in military action in Syria. Heaven knows what the consequences might be if we start lobbing bombs into Damascus.

Posted by: Father David on Sunday, 1 September 2013 at 4:46pm BST

I disagree with your comparison of the Ulster walls with the Israeli wall.The latter is a total barrier and not a localised measure. I do agree the people of Israel have a right to safety as do the Palestinians.The wall simply delays a just and lasting peace settlement.

Posted by: Robert Ian williams on Monday, 2 September 2013 at 6:20am BST

Tomorrow I’m leaving on a short vacation, six days walking the Hadrian’s Wall path. Whatever its protective merits, the Israeli West Bank wall is perhaps best understood as a cultural statement, similar to Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China. In each case the builders created a structure clearly conveying the message “This is where civilization ends; on the other side live only barbarians.”

The Berlin wall was quite different in intent, since its primary purpose was to keep people in rather than out. The Belfast “peace walls” separating Unionists from Nationalists are different again, since they were imposed by a third party, the British.

Posted by: William Raines on Monday, 2 September 2013 at 11:09am BST

Re the Israeli wall: I would find your case more convincing Roger, if the Wall were built on the Green Line, Israel's internationally recognised border. The fact that for much of its length it is built well inside the West Bank suggests that it is part of a general strategy of land grab.
There has been a great deal of discussion among Palestinians within the West Bank about the morality and efficacy of violence generally and suicide bombing in particular, and the incidence of the latter, as you state, reduced dramatically even while the Wall was under construction and it was easy to get through. There still are "holes" in the Wall: I!ve used one.
Israel is "castigated" not because of genuine security measures, but because of the human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories, many of which are related to the illegal settlements.

Posted by: Helen on Monday, 2 September 2013 at 11:29am BST

Helen, I did say that the implementation of the building of the Wall through Palestinian territories was unjust. I too have seen that for myself.

Posted by: Roger Antell on Monday, 2 September 2013 at 6:29pm BST
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