Sunday, 17 August 2014

Letter to Government - Iraq and IS

Updated Sunday evening

Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, has sent a letter about Iraq and IS to the Prime Minister. The bishop has published the text of the letter on his blog with this explanation.

Recognising the complexities of such matters and the difficult role of the Prime Minister in them, I wrote the letter as a constructive stimulus to discussion of the wider questions provoked by what is happening in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Attempting to fix the immediate will prove costly in every respect, if we don’t have a long-term, overarching and holistic vision for what we – along with other governments, agencies and partners (such as the churches) – need to achieve. The lack of clarity about such a comprehensive and coherent vision is being commonly remarked upon, and my letter seeks concisely and respectfully to elicit some response to these serious questions.

Mark Townsend writes in The Observer today that Church launches bitter attack on PM’s ‘incoherent’ Middle East policy.

The Church of England has delivered a withering critique of David Cameron’s Middle East policy, describing the government’s approach as incoherent, ill-thought-out and determined by “the loudest media voice at any particular time”.

The criticisms are made in an extraordinary letter to the prime minister signed by the bishop of Leeds, Nicholas Baines, and written with the support of the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Seen by the Observer, it describes the UK’s foreign policy as so muddled and reactive that it is “difficult to discern the strategic intentions” of the government’s approach to the region…

[The Observer’s link to the full text of the letter is broken; it should be Dear prime minister: what is the UK government’s strategy in Iraq and Syria?]

The Telegraph has Church of England attacks Government response to Iraq crisis.

This morning’s BBC Radio4 Sunday programme covers this story with an interview with the Bishop of Manchester [starting at 1 minute 6 seconds].

The Church of England website has this page on Iraq.

Symon Hill writes that Nick Baines is mistaken: Cameron’s policy is coherent, but morally foul.


Nick Baines has some “comments of explanation”: As I was saying…

Posted by Peter Owen on Sunday, 17 August 2014 at 12:26pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

I think Symon is correct, but I guess Nick Baines believes that too and is just beng a tad more diplomatic.

But the CofE bishops are in for a drubbing if the government decide to point out their incoherent and foul policies .......

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Sunday, 17 August 2014 at 1:14pm BST

The ABC has uttered about Iraq, Leeds has spoken - good things, on the whole, but meanwhile Uganda is talking of bringing back the "Kill the Gays" law, Nigeria is talking of similar steps, and from Lambeth and Leeds... silence.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Sunday, 17 August 2014 at 5:48pm BST

Why does the bishop even think that we can have any kind of comprehensive policy regarding global radical Islam? I did my MPhil in Oriental Studies and followed the whole thing as best I could for more than 20 years. It is constantly evolving, its causes are ridiculously varied across continents, and nationally. Its aims, resources, ambitions etc... are also constantly changing. What would any kind of 'overarching and holistic vision' achieve? Our attitude cannot but largely be reactive. It seems to me Bp Baines is precisely not 'recognising the complexities of such matters.'

Posted by: Lorenzo Fernandez-Vicente on Sunday, 17 August 2014 at 6:51pm BST

Can people here not drag every story into gay rights, can we just for once focus on the systematic destruction of a ethnic and religious group of people who have no voice no shelter and no food?

Posted by: Paul on Sunday, 17 August 2014 at 11:25pm BST

Leaving aside, for one moment, the seriousness of the issue under discussion, am I alone in finding CofE Bishops and Archbishops lecturing anyone on 'incoherent', 'ill thought out', 'muddled' and 'reactive' approaches that lack 'strategic intention', more than a little ironic? #potsandkettles

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Monday, 18 August 2014 at 7:54am BST

The Bishops are far too simplistic.The situation is very complex and there are no easy answers. The comments by Rory Stewart from the actual place are much more sensible in pointing out the complications in a region he knows so well. It would be much more helpful if the Bishops could recognise the complications and help the government as they try to pursue the right policy instead of just indulging in one of their favourite occupations - Tory bashing.

The trouble about taking refugees is that there are so many people we are obliged by legal treaty to take in we have little room for those we OUGHT to take in. I reluctantly feel that if we pulled out of the EU the responsibility to accept Europeans would go and this would give more space for Azidi or Christians. We are after all the most overcrowded country in Europe.
On the other hand would it be better to try to provide a safe place for them in Iraq which is the country they have inhabited for thousands of years. It is very very hard to do the best for all but I know we have to try. Some serious discussion might be helpful - but not loaded attacks.

Posted by: Jean Mayland on Monday, 18 August 2014 at 11:44am BST

Jean Mayland wrote:

We are after all the most overcrowded country in Europe.

Could I have primary source citation for this please, as I don't believe this is true for the UK.


Posted by: kennedy on Monday, 18 August 2014 at 1:21pm BST

Perhaps a little bit of breast-beating and humility would be more in order and more evangelical. For centuries Christians persecuted and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people of different faiths and orientations, in Spain, Central, South, and North America, France (even England and Ireland!!! We made the Jews wear stars, made the Muslims convert or leave, made non-Anglicans pay a special tax if they did not attend church, etc.
This is not to say that what is going on in the middle-East is Ok. It is to say that we are the last people who can throw stones. Perhaps pressure put on Saudi Arabia, Iran,etc , to intervene would be more constructive.

Posted by: gerry reilly on Monday, 18 August 2014 at 3:02pm BST

I am disheartened by the suggestion that the church ought to 'play politics' in the way that kingdoms and empires do (and yes, Gerry Reilly, in the way the church occasionally has). It is not for the church to scrimp and tally every wretched refugee who bobs like a plastic bottle onto our filthy shores, nor to lobby for despotic Middle Eastern governments to terminate their enemies with extreme prejudice. It is distressing that the C of E's unhappy alliance with the secular state forces us into complicity with some very unholy agendas and that our very-polite bishops are inhibited from calling them what they are.

Though I am not in complete agreement with all of it, Symon Hill's piece nevertheless feels very much like a breath of fresh air. Symon reminds us that we do not have to think about the Middle East as a problem for us to solve, and we don't have to accept the inevitability of violent intervention. Most importantly, we can recognise the evils of militarism and colonialism, on both the Western and Islamist sides, and we can name them.

Posted by: rjb on Tuesday, 19 August 2014 at 3:50am BST

"Could I have primary source citation for this please,"

If easily checkable secondary is sufficient, then

The only places with population densities higher than England are small islands and assorted micro-states, which added together have an area of about 500 square kilometres and a population of about half a million, most of both of those figures being in Malta. England, at 419 per square kilometre, is the densest population of anywhere in Europe that is bigger than Malta.

If you insert into Jean's comment "large" or "mainland" or "substantial" or "bigger than Malta" it is factually true; in terms of "countries likely to be able to take refugees in any significant numbers" then it is unambiguously true.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Tuesday, 19 August 2014 at 8:42am BST

...The only places with population densities higher than England are small islands and assorted micro-states...

Ah, so we are talking about England and not the UK, whose Prime Minister the letter was addressed to.

If we consider the UK, the UK is below Netherlands and Belgium and with same sort of density as Germany.

It would be interesting to see the population density for England excluding the London conurbation.

I don't think that finding places for these refugees to live is the road block here.

Posted by: Kennedy on Tuesday, 19 August 2014 at 1:16pm BST
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