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UK Bishop: We must answer the midnight call on Iraq
THE INDEPENDET UK
We must answer the midnight call on Iraq
05 January 2003
Bishhop Rt Rev Peter B Price:
[The Rt Rev Peter B Price is the Bishop of Bath and Wells.]
"It is midnight in the moral order. There is a knock on the door of mankind," declared Martin Luther King at the height of the struggle among America's minority ethnic population for civil rights. It is a strangely apt observation as we enter 2003, and the Prime Minister has issued notably jeremiad warnings in his New Year message, with its continued litany of despair over war with Iraq, the continuing threat of global terrorism, and the stark realities of a stalled peace process in the Middle East and the systemic crisis in Africa.
Throughout history, relationships between the Christian faith tradition and governments have often been at their most vulnerable at times of moral crisis. Vulnerability offers to all parties the possibility of being exposed to alternative options, different responses, other solutions. Today we live in such a time.
A recent Gallup survey in the US indicates that only 15 per cent support going to war against Iraq, regardless of UN inspections; and a vast majority believe that if Iraq does not disarm, the US should still seek UN approval before invading. "The poor are off the agenda," remarked one prominent church leader. If war erupts in the Middle East it will have a profound effect on aid and development programmes worldwide, resulting in additional hidden holocausts throughout Africa, the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere.
Against this background, the point of no return for war is very close. The dispatching of two carrier and amphibious assault groups, as well as combat hospital ships from US ports, together with further army brigades, F117 fighter squadrons and the call-up of reservists, all beat the war drums louder.
What is at stake is the legitimacy of the US hegemony and global leadership. As the sole remaining superpower, it is America's turn for empire. Neither Saddam nor Iraq pose an imminent threat to the global community, let alone to the US. North Korea is another matter. It is a nuclear power, and will have the capacity within months of producing many weapons of mass destruction. But the US will be unlikely to attack it because there is genuine risk of retaliation and the involvement of China and Japan. So why Iraq?
There are undoubtedly many other dictatorships and unsavoury regimes in the world, not least in North Korea. By manufacturing the crisis over Iraq the US has to follow through or risk losing its hegemony of the post-Cold War world. While I accept that the decision has not yet been made for war, it must be recognised that the situation will be saved only if Iraq complies in a manner which is acceptable to the Americans. It is difficult to see how Iraq can comply. It is arguable that the US going alone into Iraq, albeit with UK support, could prove dangerous for its long-term goal of world domination. However, if a US-administered Iraq emerges from war, it becomes a land-based aircraft carrier for wider control of the region.
The left has long argued "no war for oil", but there is little doubt that oil is a major factor. News reports continue to suggest that France and Russia are hedging their bets because if the US and UK go to war they do not want to be left out of any carve-up of oil rights.
Over Christmas church leaders re-affirmed their opposition to war. Many, like myself, have received letters, calls and emails and had conversations with members of the public who are uneasy over the declared intentions of the US and UK governments. The emergence of a genuine rogue nuclear power in North Korea has led the US to push for "a diplomatic solution at all costs". President Bush's silencing of the early hawkish voices about "fighting two wars at the same time" has heightened that unease.
Yet this is no occasion for being ostrich-like over the dangers of heightened terrorist activity. Whatever the veracity of the "intelligence chatter", there are plenty of highly motivated terrorist groups able to wreak havoc, and this remains a matter of concern. But will war, in Iraq or elsewhere, remove or heighten this threat?
One of my correspondents observed: "I have long held the belief that we must fight extremists, evil and terrorism with massive aid programmes, unrelenting positive discourse and education – regimes led by despots would eventually crumble if the populations in such countries were bombarded by the above rather than bombs." This simple, yet profound view, lies at the heart of the present dilemma.
Much of the final decade of the 20th century was marked by the search for global economic justice. The popular appeal of movements such as Jubilee 2000 highlighted the plight of much of humanity, and people rallied to a different drum: "Drop the debt now!". A nerve was touched about the fundamental inequality that exists within humanity. For a while a movement gathered which resolved to make a difference and to offer hope. There is little doubt that the investment of the billions of dollars that it will take to support one day's fighting, could, if re-directed, solve many of the causes of discontent and eradicate the breeding grounds of terror, without resort to war.
The stark question we face is: will our world be one in which humanity lives in constant fear, promoting a spirit of cynicism and despair? Or is it possible that this moment of "midnight in the moral order" offers the possibility of a different "knock on the door of mankind" – other than the grim reaper?
Christianity has always taught respect for the civil power, but it has always argued there are limits to that obedience. At the heart of the Christian faith lies the task of reconciliation. When we pray for peace we need to do so with a degree of realism about what is at stake: a willingness to give up elements of long-held ideals, to accept "loss of face" and to receive the opponent as "brother" or "sister", as well as dealing with the memories of past evils.
A few days ago carols were sung and stories read about a child bringing "peace on earth, good will to all people". St Paul speaks of "God being in Christ, reconciling the world to himself". This is the heart of the new moral order. It is the task of the people of good will to work for justice, to seek truth and pursue it, to live peaceably and in a spirit of freedom. That demands of us participation in society, among those close to us as well as those distant from us. The peace of the world is as much in our neighbourhood as it is elsewhere. The knock on the door needs an answer. The task is to prevent the war. The ultimate goal: a world of just and equal sharing.
The Rt Rev Peter B Price is the Bishop of Bath and Wells.
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