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This page last updated 14 October 2007  
Speech by Bishop of London to House of Lords
4 October 2001
Full official transcript (HM Stationery Office) here

The Lord Bishop of London:


I do not want to rehearse many of the themes that have been well stated by previous speakers. But one of the perils which has come into focus since our last debate in this House is the wider impact of possible military action against Afghanistan on the already unstable situation in central Asia as a whole, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.

I have a special responsibility for relations with eastern orthodox Christians. That is why I have travelled over many years in the former Soviet Union and in the states which have emerged since the fall of Communism. As we all know, the five central Asian states were already attempting to mobilise before 11th September against their own internal terrorist threats. They had even agreed to establish a joint anti-terrorist centre in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. As we have heard, the region is also afflicted by the consequences of the drought, as well as by insurgencies of various kinds.

It seems clear that any coalition action in or from that region needs to be accompanied by long-term efforts to stabilise central Asia politically and economically. Some kind of Marshall Plan for the region is needed. We must be aware--as many noble Lords are aware--of the danger reflected in a recent statement by an Uzbek official, who cautioned that,

"our government will get full support from the West to fight against those our government declares terrorists. Since the West has little understanding or interest in distinguishing between devoted Muslims and extremists or terrorists, all opponents of the government will be easily jailed".

There is clearly a dangerous prospect of greater instability. The danger is that we shall once again unwittingly create a Frankenstein in central Asia.

The importance of supporting any action with a humanitarian relief programme has already, rightly, been stressed. The Scriptures say:

    "If your enemy hungers, feed him".

This may be controversial advice in conventional warfare but, as we seek to deny to terrorists the achievement of their aim to spread fear and hatred, it seems to me that it is a strategy that is prudent as well as pious.

But analyses of the conflict which suggest that religion--again, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, touched on this point--is simply a cover for economic discontent and the unequal development caused by globalisation are hangovers from the flatland Marxist interpretation of the world. Osama bin Laden himself does not come from the ranks of the poor and marginalised, nor are his stated aims in his struggles with the US, moderate Arab governments and the Shi'ite regime in Iran reducible to economic grievances. Aid and development may reduce the pool of those who sympathise with terrorists, but it will not solve the problem of what we might call "apocalyptic terrorism", which, like the gas attack on the Japanese underground, arises not from a clash between civilisations--many noble Lords have rightly made this point--or between haves and have nots, but from profound anxiety within civilisations about the direction that secular materialism is taking in our time.

Terrorism cannot possibly be defended from any of the great spiritual traditions of the world, but the religious dimension of the present crisis is not reducible to any other categories. In a world of divergent histories and beliefs it is vital that we reinvest in a long, ancient tradition of genuine tolerance and respect built on genuine though divergent belief.

It is easy to point to Muslim civilisations in which this tolerance has been an especial characteristic. Let me give one small example. The great Christian defender of the icon tradition in which Christ and his saints are depicted, St John of Damascus, was free to write his book defending the holy icons at a time when his views were being persecuted in the Christian empire. Why? Because this great Christian saint and scholar was the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Umayyad Caliph of Damascus. That is how he got away with it.

Faith-based tolerance is a vital component of our response to the present emergency. I was glad to stand together last night with London Muslims in an event organised by the Muslim Council to demonstrate our many common values and to make new allies in combating fear and hate.

My most reverend brother, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, has issued an open invitation to prayer, focused on tomorrow, Friday, 5th October. The invitation is to all Christians, but also to all people of faith. Already the response has been very encouraging--not in terms of great events but of people committing themselves to pray in the workplace and at home for peace, justice and the reconciliation of faiths. To demonstrate that we are fully part of the modern world, the most reverend Primate has opened up a web site, with suggestions and materials, which can be accessed from

Lastly, I wonder whether it would be wise to consider establishing an ad hoc Select Committee of the House to report on the changing nature of global conflict and on strategies for defeating deadly conflict. Such a committee would be able to embrace a multi-track approach and consider the role of religious and cultural factors as well as the more traditional diplomatic, economic and military tools for combating the new threat, and any necessary changes to domestic and international law. I know that your Lordships' House has a tradition of establishing such Select Committees on an ad hoc basis. I remember in particular the success and the great influence of the committee on medical ethics which set the agenda for so many of the debates in the 1990s.

The subject matter would not be the immediate response to the dreadful events of 11th September but the consideration of a longer term strategy for a conflict which, as the noble Baroness has already said, will, I fear, haunt us for a long time to come. We shall have to travel, with cool minds and humility, through to victory for the whole of the world community.

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