Christianity and Islam

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 23rd March 2006.

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Photo of Lord Bramall Lord Bramall Crossbench 3:01 pm, 23rd March 2006

My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester for introducing this debate at this crucial time. Surely what this country now so badly needs, particularly in the Middle East, is a new, coherent, well thought-through foreign and defence policy, in which, as a Christian country in which also live and prosper many other faiths with strong historic and economic ties with the Muslim world, we would then be in the best position to act and encourage others to act, as the right reverend Prelate advocates. No one in their right mind would pretend that we have a coherent policy at the moment. Indeed, it has been sad on occasions to see two great departments of state, Foreign and Commonwealth and Defence, virtually sidetracked in a political and special relationship rush to follow the American interventionist line and its painful and ill thought-through aftermath. As a result, we have stumbled into our diplomacy on the back of 9/11; on a determination for whatever reason—good or bad, valid or invalid—to effect a regime change in Iraq, leading to lack of priority focus on the crucial Israel-Palestine problem, to some disruption of the established balance of power in the area, and to an increase in local terrorism. Later, desperately clutching at straws of respectability, it has centred on putting perhaps undue and even premature emphasis on the cultivation of the frail shoots of democracy in none too fertile soil.

We are now, it is generally agreed, in a difficult position and we need to adjust our approach with as much amour propre and good will as possible. But surely the best way to do this quickly is to get back to a more enlightened and historically realistic policy in which military force supports diplomacy and does not determine it, and in which we take advantage of the good will that we—sadly unlike the Americans—can still call on in the Middle East and then help friends to help themselves. We need a policy that is dynamic but which indulges more in the language of co-operation, dialogue and mutual respect and less in that of confrontation. Of course, there are problems to be faced up to and resolved. Although historically possession leading to an area balance of nuclear weapons has proved more a guarantee of peace than a trigger for war and mass destruction, Iran has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and its movement towards possession must be a cause for concern to the UN and to all neighbouring countries, particularly when accompanied by most intemperate language by Iran's president, which is not I suspect wholly in line with the views of the Iranian people.

Hamas, with its record of violence and its totally unacceptable threats to the future of Israel, is now legitimately in a position to form the government of the Palestinians and is therefore firmly in the equation of meaningful negotiations. I seem to remember at the height of the Cold War Nikita Khrushchev threatened to "bury capitalism". However, you could argue, and perhaps now most people would argue, that had we resisted the temptation to invade Iraq and instead put the priority of Western and particularly American influence on expediting the so-called road map, or some version passing for it, Hamas might not have won the election.

Then it is being noised abroad that some sort of ideological and religious conflict exists between Islam and Christianity as there was in the Cold War between capitalism and communism. I would not make too much of that, for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Hannay, as any confrontation that there appears to be may much more reflect disenchantment and resentment over what is held to be excessive intrusion of Western influence and military presence in the Middle East than it does any religious hostility, particularly when there is so much commonality between the faiths. In any case, such thoughts would seem more appropriate to the ramblings and rabble-rousing of Osama bin Laden, and we would hardly want to make it any easier for him by encouraging those ideas.

For whatever reason, there has emerged in the Middle East a militant and particularly dangerous and violent form of international terrorism which we must and I believe we can learn both to live with and deal with. The world remains an uncertain place; there can therefore be no dropping of our guard or weakening of our alertness or our determination to protect our people and vital interests. We need to take all sensible steps to improve intelligence with the help of friends, enhance our protection and speed of reaction to terrorist and criminal acts, and continue to succour our Armed Forces, incomparable in peace and war, as an insurance as to what the future may hold.

All those problems can be dealt with more effectively and within the rule of law by developing a realistic foreign policy that fully takes account of local sensitivities, is prepared to help those who seek it with advice and aid to help them help themselves, and is generally more prepared to infuse those ideas that help to free and enhance the human spirit rather than try to dictate and impose them. We need a moderation of power except in self defence or as a last resort as applied both in the Falklands and the first Gulf War and a greater emphasis on co-operation and reconciliation. That surely must be an alternative and the correct way forward and indeed it should be the Christian way, which is why the right reverend Prelate's exhortations and initiatives are so important and should be so warmly welcomed.