TV producer defends claims about God, Bush and Iraq
The producer of a BBC documentary aired last night has defended the truth of its claims that US President George W. Bush claimed a war mandate from God - after those claims were anxiously denied by the White House.
The sensational story broke on 7 October 2005, when two British newspapers headlined remarks by a senior Palestinian negotiator that President Bush directly indicated at the 2003 Aqaba summit that he saw himself as being on a ëmission from God' when he launched the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
In ëIsrael and the Arabs: Elusive Peace' (BBC2, repeated tonight, 21:00-22:00) Palestinian Authority minister Nabil Sha'ath declares: 'President Bush said to all of us, ëI'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ëGeorge, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, ëGeorge, go and end the tyranny in Iraq Ö' And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, ëGo get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.' And, by God, I'm gonna do it.''
The White House promptly ridiculed Mr Sha'ath's account. US administration spokesperson Scott McClellan said it was ridiculous.
Concerned about criticism, the BBC also shied away from the story about its own programme, relegating and then dropping the news item on television and radio broadcasts and on its website.
But TV producer Norma Percy has double-checked the evidence and believes she was quite justified in including the remarks.
Writing in yesterday's Guardian, she says: 'The White House's first response was ëwe never comment on private conversations'. Fine. But soon, after the story hit the headlines, they decided that they didÖ Scott McClellan said ëThat's absurd'. Asked by a reporter if he had been at this meeting, McClellan replied, ëI didn't travel on that trip but I checked the report.'
So did Ms Percy and her team. Mr Sha'ath's presence at the meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh is clearly confirmed on film.
Moreover, although he cannot remember the exact words recalled by his colleague, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) himself recounts that Mr Bush said that he was working under 'a political, moral and religious obligation.'
The President is alleged to have compared his divine calling to work for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement with his God-given mandate for war elsewhere in the Middle East.
The Bush claim to holy sanction for his policies was widely condemned by Christian and other religious leaders when it hit the headlines earlier this month.
Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow commented: 'At a time when political and faith leaders are rightly concerned about the misuse of religious zeal to justify acts of terror, it is hardly encouraging to hear that the leader of the world's most powerful nation shares this simplistic approach from the opposite angle.'
Though the White House has denied the claims in the BBC film, it has not directly repudiated the views alleged to have come from the President's mouth. As a result, commentators are still concerned.
Andrew Bradstock, Director of the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) in the UK, said recently that alarm bells should always ring when somebody says they are doing something ëbecause God has told them to do it'.
He explained: 'History has many examples of people doing the most bizarre things on this basis, sometimes with quite disastrous consequences. It is an argument that can be used to justify anything. Would Mr Bush accept it from someone invading the US?'
'The problem is not that the president is a believer, nor that his faith informs his politics', Dr Bradstock, a writer and theologian, continued. ëCSM firmly believes that faith should influence politics. But we need to start with what has already been revealed to us about God from our scriptures and our church's tradition ... God has given us faculties to make decisions on the basis of reason, experience and knowledge and we should use those.'
He added: 'If Mr Bush really wants to ëobey God' he should start with what is blindingly obvious from the Bible (which he believes to be the Word of God) rather than perceived supernatural messages - and that would lead him to the rather less glamorous business of prioritising the needs of the poor, the downtrodden and the marginalized in his own country and abroad.'
The ëElusive Peace' series charts the attempts to bring peace to the Middle East, from President Bill Clinton's peace talks in 1999/2000 to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005.
Norma Percy, series producer of The 50 Years War (1998) works with producers Mark Anderson and Dan Edge, to tell the inside story of seven years of crisis.
Presidents and Prime Ministers, their generals and ministers tell what happened behind closed doors as peace talks failed and the intifada exploded.