Archbishops rebuke Blair over Iraq and warn of Christian Zionism - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
June 30, 2004

Archbishops rebuke Blair over Iraq and warn of Christian Zionism

-30/6/04

The archbishops of Canterbury and York have delivered what is being seen as a rebuke to the Government, over the behaviour of Western security forces in Iraq.

It follows the revelations of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners made by several groups including Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in January.

In a joint letter they also warn about the dangers of Christian Zionism saying that "theological work" needs to be done to "counter those interpretations of Scripture from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land."

The letter from Dr Rowan Williams and Dr David Hope, which was supposed to be private, accuses Tony Blair of ìdouble standardsî and gives warning that the credibility of his Government is at risk over the treatment of Iraqi detainees.

The letter was written on behalf of all Church of England bishops and was seen by The Times newspaper, which carries the story on its front page.

In the letter the archbishops say; ìIt is clear that the apparent breach of international law in relation to the treatment of Iraqi detainees has been deeply damaging.

ìThe appearance of double standards inevitably diminishes the credibility of Western governments with the people of Iraq and of the Islamic world more generally.

ìMore fundamentally still, there is a wider risk to our own integrity if we no longer experience a sense of moral shock at the enormity of what appears to have been inflicted on those who were in the custody of Western security forces.î The letter, written with the unanimous support of all the Churchís 120 diocesan, suffragan and assistant bishops, who met in Liverpool this month, was sent to the Prime Minister on Friday. It was timed to coincide with the handover of power in Iraq.

The archbishops also say that the reputation of Britain as ìhonest brokersî in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must not be jeopardised. They are understood to be concerned by the growing influence of Christian Zionists in the Christian community and the US Administration.

In a sermon in Cambridge recently, Dr Williams issued what many saw as a warning to Mr Blair over losing the public's truth and forfeiting the authority to govern.

Dr Williams and Dr Hope insist that the priority must be to do everything possible to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their country. For this, they say, it is essential to maintain the rule of law.

They continue: ìThe credibility of coalition partners in advocating respect for the law and the peaceful resolution of disputes will, we fear, be undermined unless the necessary moral authority is clearly demonstrated at every level.î

One of their main concerns is the damage caused by the conflict to community relations in Britain between Muslims and non-Muslims. Some of the strongest advocates for the letter were bishops from cities with large Muslim populations, such as Bradford.

They are concerned by a rise in Islamophobia and fear that the September 11 attacks have desensitised emotions so that the treatment meted out to detainees no longer causes the moral outrage it should.

In their letter, the two archbishops welcome the assurances of the British and US authorities that those responsible for the abuses will be brought to justice. But they say: ìNevertheless, there remain serious questions over how such brutal and indecent behaviour could have come about.î

Citing the Arab-Israeli conflict as another ìlitmus testî of the Blair Governmentís respect for human rights and international agreements, they argue that the legacy of British commitment to respect both sides has enabled the UK to be accepted as ìhonest brokersî. They continue: ìIt is vitally important that this position is not eroded.î

In a guarded reference to the growing influence of the Christian Zionist movement in the US ó which takes the view that the restoration of the biblical Israel is necessary to facilitate the Second Coming of Christ ó the archbishops admit; ìWithin the wider Christian community we also have theological work to do to counter those interpretations of Scripture from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land.î

A Church of England spokesman said last night: ìThe letter was not written for publication, but was intended as a positive contribution to the development of government policy.î

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

During their annual meeting earlier this month, the bishops of the Church of England discussed recent developments in Iraq and the Middle East. It was the wish of those present that we should write to you to put on record a number of the points made during the discussion.

At the same time as we were meeting, the United Nations Security Council unanimously endorsed Resolution 1546. We warmly welcome the clear international consensus this now expresses on the importance of the transfer of sovereignty to a transitional Iraqi government.

There are bound to be further testing times before elections can be held there and the future arrangements for governance established. Sustaining a wide measure of international support, under the auspices of the United Nations, should be a key objective during this period.

We believe that the priority now must be to do everything possible to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their own country after many years of oppression and hardship. The establishment and maintenance of the rule of law are clearly prerequisites for stability and eventual prosperity.

Yet, the credibility of coalition partners in advocating respect for the law and the peaceful resolution of disputes will, we fear, be undermined unless the necessary moral authority is clearly demonstrated at every level. It is all the more important and challenging as a task when murderous and arbitrary violence, which we condemn utterly, is being used against westerners and others in Iraq.

It is clear that the apparent breach of international law in relation to the treatment of Iraqi detainees has been deeply damaging. The appearance of double standards inevitably diminishes the credibility of Western governments with the people of Iraq and of the Islamic world more generally. More fundamentally still, there is a wider risk to our own integrity if we no longer experience a sense of moral shock at the enormity of what appears to have been inflicted on those who were in the custody of western security forces.

We welcome the assurances of the British and American authorities about their determination to establish the facts and bring those responsible to justice. Nevertheless, there remain serious questions over how such brutal and indecent behaviour could have come about.

Since September 11, 2001, the moral case for making counter-terrorism capabilities more effective has not been in doubt. This needs, however, to be achieved in a way that avoids any perception that the commitment of Western governmentsí to internationally agreed standards on the treatment of detainees is diminished. Perceptions can be as important as the reality in terms of the signals which they send to members of the security forces about what constitutes acceptable conduct. We cannot afford to be other than tenacious in our commitment to the Geneva Convention and other relevant international agreements.

Among Muslim and Arab opinion another litmus test of our respect both for human rights and for international agreements is our stance on the continuing Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is of course a matter of historical record that UN Security Council Resolution 242 ó the reference point for all attempts to provide a settlement since 1967 ó was a British proposal. The terms of an eventual settlement must, ultimately, be for the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. Nevertheless, British willingness down the years to respect the legitimate interests of both sides in the conflict has previously enabled our representatives, in partnership with others, to be accepted on both sides as honest brokers. It is vitally important that this position is not eroded.

International tensions have undoubtedly been exacerbated by attempts to cast many problems in crude terms of religious confrontation, most obviously between Muslims and Christians. In calling on the Government to take the necessary action to counter these perceptions we accept that we too have a part to play. Many of us have been working with Islamic leaders in our own communities, nationally and indeed internationally, to build greater trust and mutual understanding wherever they are threatened.

Within the wider Christian community we also have theological work to do to counter those interpretations of the Scriptures from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land.

The need for resolve and determination in the face of terrorism is not in doubt. Nor is the need to nurture greater understanding between religious communities and promote religious freedom. In our view the way forward is give a lead in showing that respect for human dignity, the rule of law and religious freedom are indivisible. As a new chapter opens in Iraq and as the search continues for an end to the present cycle of violence in the Middle East, we urge our Government to keep these principles at the heart of its own policy making.

Archbishops rebuke Blair over Iraq and warn of Christian Zionism

-30/6/04

The archbishops of Canterbury and York have delivered what is being seen as a rebuke to the Government, over the behaviour of Western security forces in Iraq.

It follows the revelations of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners made by several groups including Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in January.

In a joint letter they also warn about the dangers of Christian Zionism saying that "theological work" needs to be done to "counter those interpretations of Scripture from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land."

The letter from Dr Rowan Williams and Dr David Hope, which was supposed to be private, accuses Tony Blair of ìdouble standardsî and gives warning that the credibility of his Government is at risk over the treatment of Iraqi detainees.

The letter was written on behalf of all Church of England bishops and was seen by The Times newspaper, which carries the story on its front page.

In the letter the archbishops say; ìIt is clear that the apparent breach of international law in relation to the treatment of Iraqi detainees has been deeply damaging.

ìThe appearance of double standards inevitably diminishes the credibility of Western governments with the people of Iraq and of the Islamic world more generally.

ìMore fundamentally still, there is a wider risk to our own integrity if we no longer experience a sense of moral shock at the enormity of what appears to have been inflicted on those who were in the custody of Western security forces.î The letter, written with the unanimous support of all the Churchís 120 diocesan, suffragan and assistant bishops, who met in Liverpool this month, was sent to the Prime Minister on Friday. It was timed to coincide with the handover of power in Iraq.

The archbishops also say that the reputation of Britain as ìhonest brokersî in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must not be jeopardised. They are understood to be concerned by the growing influence of Christian Zionists in the Christian community and the US Administration.

In a sermon in Cambridge recently, Dr Williams issued what many saw as a warning to Mr Blair over losing the public's truth and forfeiting the authority to govern.

Dr Williams and Dr Hope insist that the priority must be to do everything possible to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their country. For this, they say, it is essential to maintain the rule of law.

They continue: ìThe credibility of coalition partners in advocating respect for the law and the peaceful resolution of disputes will, we fear, be undermined unless the necessary moral authority is clearly demonstrated at every level.î

One of their main concerns is the damage caused by the conflict to community relations in Britain between Muslims and non-Muslims. Some of the strongest advocates for the letter were bishops from cities with large Muslim populations, such as Bradford.

They are concerned by a rise in Islamophobia and fear that the September 11 attacks have desensitised emotions so that the treatment meted out to detainees no longer causes the moral outrage it should.

In their letter, the two archbishops welcome the assurances of the British and US authorities that those responsible for the abuses will be brought to justice. But they say: ìNevertheless, there remain serious questions over how such brutal and indecent behaviour could have come about.î

Citing the Arab-Israeli conflict as another ìlitmus testî of the Blair Governmentís respect for human rights and international agreements, they argue that the legacy of British commitment to respect both sides has enabled the UK to be accepted as ìhonest brokersî. They continue: ìIt is vitally important that this position is not eroded.î

In a guarded reference to the growing influence of the Christian Zionist movement in the US ó which takes the view that the restoration of the biblical Israel is necessary to facilitate the Second Coming of Christ ó the archbishops admit; ìWithin the wider Christian community we also have theological work to do to counter those interpretations of Scripture from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land.î

A Church of England spokesman said last night: ìThe letter was not written for publication, but was intended as a positive contribution to the development of government policy.î

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

During their annual meeting earlier this month, the bishops of the Church of England discussed recent developments in Iraq and the Middle East. It was the wish of those present that we should write to you to put on record a number of the points made during the discussion.

At the same time as we were meeting, the United Nations Security Council unanimously endorsed Resolution 1546. We warmly welcome the clear international consensus this now expresses on the importance of the transfer of sovereignty to a transitional Iraqi government.

There are bound to be further testing times before elections can be held there and the future arrangements for governance established. Sustaining a wide measure of international support, under the auspices of the United Nations, should be a key objective during this period.

We believe that the priority now must be to do everything possible to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their own country after many years of oppression and hardship. The establishment and maintenance of the rule of law are clearly prerequisites for stability and eventual prosperity.

Yet, the credibility of coalition partners in advocating respect for the law and the peaceful resolution of disputes will, we fear, be undermined unless the necessary moral authority is clearly demonstrated at every level. It is all the more important and challenging as a task when murderous and arbitrary violence, which we condemn utterly, is being used against westerners and others in Iraq.

It is clear that the apparent breach of international law in relation to the treatment of Iraqi detainees has been deeply damaging. The appearance of double standards inevitably diminishes the credibility of Western governments with the people of Iraq and of the Islamic world more generally. More fundamentally still, there is a wider risk to our own integrity if we no longer experience a sense of moral shock at the enormity of what appears to have been inflicted on those who were in the custody of western security forces.

We welcome the assurances of the British and American authorities about their determination to establish the facts and bring those responsible to justice. Nevertheless, there remain serious questions over how such brutal and indecent behaviour could have come about.

Since September 11, 2001, the moral case for making counter-terrorism capabilities more effective has not been in doubt. This needs, however, to be achieved in a way that avoids any perception that the commitment of Western governmentsí to internationally agreed standards on the treatment of detainees is diminished. Perceptions can be as important as the reality in terms of the signals which they send to members of the security forces about what constitutes acceptable conduct. We cannot afford to be other than tenacious in our commitment to the Geneva Convention and other relevant international agreements.

Among Muslim and Arab opinion another litmus test of our respect both for human rights and for international agreements is our stance on the continuing Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is of course a matter of historical record that UN Security Council Resolution 242 ó the reference point for all attempts to provide a settlement since 1967 ó was a British proposal. The terms of an eventual settlement must, ultimately, be for the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. Nevertheless, British willingness down the years to respect the legitimate interests of both sides in the conflict has previously enabled our representatives, in partnership with others, to be accepted on both sides as honest brokers. It is vitally important that this position is not eroded.

International tensions have undoubtedly been exacerbated by attempts to cast many problems in crude terms of religious confrontation, most obviously between Muslims and Christians. In calling on the Government to take the necessary action to counter these perceptions we accept that we too have a part to play. Many of us have been working with Islamic leaders in our own communities, nationally and indeed internationally, to build greater trust and mutual understanding wherever they are threatened.

Within the wider Christian community we also have theological work to do to counter those interpretations of the Scriptures from outside the mainstream of the tradition which appear to have become increasingly influential in fostering an uncritical and one-sided approach to the future of the Holy Land.

The need for resolve and determination in the face of terrorism is not in doubt. Nor is the need to nurture greater understanding between religious communities and promote religious freedom. In our view the way forward is give a lead in showing that respect for human dignity, the rule of law and religious freedom are indivisible. As a new chapter opens in Iraq and as the search continues for an end to the present cycle of violence in the Middle East, we urge our Government to keep these principles at the heart of its own policy making.

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