The criticisms are made in an extraordinary letter to the prime minister signed by the Bishop of Leeds, Nicholas Baines, and written with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Seen by the Observer, it describes the UK's foreign policy as so muddled and reactive that it is "difficult to discern the strategic intentions" of the government's approach to the region.
The letter follows widespread claims that Britain and the west have been slow to respond to unfolding events in Iraq as Islamic State, formerly known as Isis, has imposed its bloody rule across northern Iraq and swaths of Syria.
Cameron is taken to task for failing to develop an effective plan to tackle the spread of violent Islamist extremism from Iraq to Nigeria, where the militant group Boko Haram has terrorised the north of the country. "We do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamic extremism as it is developing across the globe," the bishop writes.
Cameron is accused of turning his back on the suffering of Christians. The letter asks why the plight of other religious minorities in Iraq, such as the Yazidis, seems to have taken precedence. It notes that, though the government responded promptly to reports of at least 30,000 Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, the fate of tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians fleeing Jihadists from Mosul, Iraq's second city, and elsewhere appears to have "fallen from consciousness".
Church launches bitter attack on PM's 'incoherent' Middle East policy
Bishop of Leeds slams failure over Islamist extremism in scathing letter backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury
Full text of the letter to David Cameron (external - login to view)
Mark Townsend (external - login to view), home affairs editor
The Observer (external - login to view),
Saturday 16 August 2014
The letter to Cameron describes the government’s approach as incoherent and determined by 'the loudest media voice'. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters
The Church of England has delivered a withering critique of David Cameron (external - login to view)'s Middle East policy, describing the government's approach as incoherent, ill-thought-out and determined by "the loudest media voice at any particular time".
The criticisms are made in an extraordinary letter to the prime minister signed by the Bishop of Leeds, Nicholas Baines, and written with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (external - login to view). Seen by the Observer, it describes the UK's foreign policy as so muddled and reactive that it is "difficult to discern the strategic intentions" of the government's approach to the region.
The letter follows widespread claims that Britain and the west have been slow to respond to unfolding events in Iraq (external - login to view) as Islamic State, formerly known as Isis (external - login to view), has imposed its bloody rule across northern Iraq and swaths of Syria (external - login to view).
Cameron is taken to task for failing to develop an effective plan to tackle the spread of violent Islamist extremism from Iraq to Nigeria (external - login to view), where the militant group Boko Haram (external - login to view) has terrorised the north of the country. "We do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamic extremism as it is developing across the globe," the bishop writes.
Bishop of Leeds Nicholas Baines (left) and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Cameron is accused of turning his back on the suffering of Christians. The letter asks why the plight of other religious minorities in Iraq, such as the Yazidis, seems to have taken precedence. It notes that, though the government responded promptly to reports of at least 30,000 Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar (external - login to view), the fate of tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians fleeing jihadists (external - login to view)from Mosul, Iraq's second city, and elsewhere appears to have "fallen from consciousness".
Bishop Baines asks: "Does your government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others? Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any particular time?" He condemns the failure to offer sanctuary to Iraqi Christians driven from their homes: "The French and German governments have already made provision, but there has so far been only silence from the UK government."
The letter asks why parliamentary questions tabled last month to find out whether the UK intends to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians have still not been answered. Baines says the failure to confront the issue is "something that causes me and colleagues some concern".
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Cameron suggests he is inching towards supporting Britain's involvement in a military response to the threat from the Islamic State. He says it is important not to let the controversy and tragedy of the 2003 war in Iraq colour Britain's response to today's crisis.
He writes: "The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home. Nor is it a problem that should be defined by a war 10 years ago. It is our concern here and now. Because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain. We also need a broader political, diplomatic and security response … This threat cannot simply be removed by air strikes alone. We need a tough, intelligent and patient long-term approach that can defeat the terrorist threat at source."
As Britain prepares to give military assistance to the Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq, a leading security expert has warned that recent military intervention in northern Iraq (external - login to view) could play into the hands of Isis. Richard Barrett, former head of counterterrorism at MI6, said air strikes and the decision by Cameron to arm Kurdish forces (external - login to view) could escalate the threat against the west, hardening the resolve of jihadists to such an extent that fighters from Isis and al-Qaida might join forces.
Barrett, who spent more than a decade tracking the Taliban for the UN, said the attacks on Isis "feed the narrative that America, the west, is part of the problem". He added: "If the west is part of the problem, then the question is: 'Why don't you attack the west right now?' There's a definite possible downside that action by the US, particularly if it's prolonged, could lead the al-Qaida guys and the Islamic State guys to say: 'OK, let's get back together and do this'."
US intelligence assessments suggest that some jihadists are abandoning al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen and Africa to join Isis. Spy agencies are watching to see if senior al-Qaida leaders are prepared to switch allegiance.
The Church of England has accused Cameron of turning his back on the suffering of Christians. The letter asks why the plight of other religious minorities in Iraq, such as the Yazidis, seems to have taken precedence
Barrett said the west also needed to confront the dilemma that, even if Isis were defeated on the battlefield, significant problems would lie in store. "They have their own territory to defend now. Even so, they are not going to all die on the battlefield; the many thousands of foreigners ... will go back home if they are defeated with a strong sense of injustice and a strong motivation to carry on the fight. Of course, if they are not defeated, then they will want to spread their rule into their homelands anyway. You sort of lose either way."
The Metropolitan police's senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism, Helen Ball, said the situation in Iraq had evolved to the extent that police were appealing for the girlfriends, wives and mothers of potential jihadists to dissuade the men from travelling abroad.
Dear prime minister: what is the UK government's strategy in Iraq and Syria?
Full text of the letter to David Cameron from the Bishop of Leeds
Saturday 16 August 2014
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has given his support to the letter from the Bishop of Leeds to David Cameron Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA
Dear Prime Minister
Iraq and Islamic State
I am conscious of the speed at which events are moving in Iraq and Syria, and write recognising the complexity and interconnectedness of the challenges faced by the international community in responding to the crises in Syria and Iraq.
However, in common with many bishops and other correspondents here in the UK, I remain very concerned about the government's response to several issues. I write with the support of the archbishop of Canterbury to put these questions to you.
1. It appears that, in common with the United States and other partners, the UK is responding to events in a reactive way, and it is difficult to discern the strategic intentions behind this approach.
Please can you tell me what is the overall strategy that holds together the UK government's response to both the humanitarian situation and what Islamic State is actually doing in Syria and Iraq? Behind this question is the serious concern that we do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism as it is developing across the globe. Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groups represent particular manifestations of a global phenomenon, and it is not clear what our broader global strategy is – particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect.
The Church internationally must be a primary partner in addressing this complexity.
2. The focus by both politicians and media on the plight of the Yazidis has been notable and admirable. However, there has been increasing silence about the plight of tens of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, driven from cities and homelands, and who face a bleak future. Despite appalling persecution, they seem to have fallen from consciousness, and I wonder why. Does your government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others? Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any particular time?
3. As yet, there appears to have been no response to pleas for asylum provision to be made for those Christians (and other minorities) needing sanctuary from Iraq in the UK. I recognise that we do not wish to encourage Christians or other displaced and suffering people to leave their homeland – the consequences for those cultures and nations would be extremely detrimental at every level – but for some of them this will be the only recourse. The French and German governments have already made provision, but there has so far been only silence from the UK government. Therefore, I ask for a response to the question of whether there is any intention to offer asylum to Iraqi migrants (as part of a holistic strategy to addressing the challenges of Iraq)?
4. Following on from this, I note that the bishop of Coventry tabled a series of questions to HM government in the House of Lords on Monday 28 July. All but two were answered on Monday 11 August. The outstanding questions included the following: "The lord bishop of Coventry to ask Her Majesty's government what consideration they have given to resettling here in the UK a fair proportion of those displaced from Isis controlled areas of northern Iraq." I would be grateful to know why this question has not so far been answered – something that causes me and colleagues some concern.
5. Underlying these concerns is the need for reassurance that a commitment to religious freedom will remain a priority for the government, given the departure of ministers who championed this. Will the foreign secretary's human rights advisory panel continue under the new foreign secretary? Is this not the time to appoint an ambassador at large for international religious freedom – which would demonstrate the government's serious commitment to developing an overarching strategy (backed by expertise) against Islamist extremism and violence?
I look forward to your considered response to these pressing questions.
The Rt Rev Nicholas Baines
The Bishop of Leeds
Church launches bitter attack on PM's 'incoherent' Middle East policy | Politics | The Observer (external - login to view)
Dear prime minister: what is the UK government's strategy in Iraq and Syria? | World news | theguardian.com
David Cameron: Isil poses a direct and deadly threat to Britain
The poisonous extremism on the march in Iraq and Syria affects us all - and we have no choice but to rise to the challenge, says the Prime Minister
Clear and present danger: Isis militants pose at a captured checkpoint in northern Iraq Photo: AFP/Getty
By Prime Minister David Cameron (external - login to view)
16 Aug 2014
Stability. Security. The peace of mind that comes from being able to get a decent job and provide for your family, in a country that you feel has a good future ahead of it and that treats people fairly. In a nutshell, that is what people in Britain want – and what the Government I lead is dedicated to building.
Britain – our economy, our security, our future – must come first. After a deep and damaging recession, and our involvement in long and difficult conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is hardly surprising that so many people say to me when seeing the tragedies unfolding on their television screens: “Yes, let’s help with aid, but let’s not get any more involved.”
I agree that we should avoid sending armies to fight or occupy. But we need to recognise that the brighter future we long for requires a long-term plan for our security as well as for our economy. True security will only be achieved if we use all our resources – aid, diplomacy, our military prowess – to help bring about a more stable world. Today, when every nation is so immediately interconnected, we cannot turn a blind eye and assume that there will not be a cost for us if we do.
The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home. Nor is it a problem that should be defined by a war 10 years ago. It is our concern here and now. Because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain. We already know that it has the murderous intent. Indeed, the first Isil-inspired terrorist acts on the continent of Europe have already taken place.
Our first priority has of course been to deal with the acute humanitarian crisis in Iraq. We should be proud of the role that our brave armed services and aid workers have played in the international effort. British citizens have risked their lives to get 80 tons of vital supplies to the Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar. It is right that we use our aid programme to respond rapidly to a situation like this: Britain has given £13 million to support the aid effort. We also helped to plan a detailed international rescue operation and we remain ready and flexible to respond to the ongoing challenges in or around Dahuk, where more than 450,000 people have increased the population by 50 per cent.
But a humanitarian response alone is not enough. We also need a broader political, diplomatic and security response. For that, we must understand the true nature of the threat we face. We should be clear: this is not the “War on Terror”, nor is it a war of religions. It is a struggle for decency, tolerance and moderation in our modern world. It is a battle against a poisonous ideology that is condemned by all faiths and by all faith leaders, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim.
Of course there is conflict between Shias and Sunnis, but that is the wrong way to see what is really happening. What we are witnessing is actually a battle between Islam on the one hand and extremists who want to abuse Islam on the other. These extremists, often funded by fanatics living far away from the battlefields, pervert the Islamic faith as a way of justifying their warped and barbaric ideology – and they do so not just in Iraq and Syria but right across the world, from Boko Haram and al-Shabaab to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
So this threat cannot simply be removed by airstrikes alone. We need a tough, intelligent and patient long-term approach that can defeat the terrorist threat at source.
First, we need a firm security response, whether that is military action to go after the terrorists, international co-operation on intelligence and counter-terrorism or uncompromising action against terrorists at home. On Friday we agreed with our European partners that we will provide equipment directly to the Kurdish forces; we are now identifying what we might supply, from body armour to specialist counter-explosive equipment. We have also secured a United Nations Security Council resolution to disrupt the flows of finance to Isil, sanction those who are seeking to recruit for it and encourage countries to do all they can to prevent foreign fighters joining the extremist cause.
Here in Britain we have recently introduced stronger powers through our Immigration Act to deprive naturalised Britons of their citizenship if they are suspected of being involved in terrorist activities. We have taken down 28,000 pieces of terrorist-related material from the web, including 46 Isil-related videos. And I have also discussed the police response to this growing threat of extremism with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. The position is clear. If people are walking around with Isil flags or trying to recruit people to their terrorist cause, they will be arrested and their materials will be seized. We are a tolerant people, but no tolerance should allow the room for this sort of poisonous extremism in our country.
Alongside a tough security response, there must also be an intelligent political response. We know that terrorist organisations thrive where there is political instability and weak or dysfunctional political institutions. So we must support the building blocks of democracy – the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the rights of minorities, free media and association and a proper place in society for the army. None of these things can be imposed by the West. Every country must make its own way. But we can and must play a valuable role in supporting them to do that.
Isil militants have exploited the absence of a unified and representative government in Baghdad. So we strongly welcome the opportunity of a new start with Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi. I spoke to him earlier this week and assured him that we will support any attempts to forge a genuinely inclusive government that can unite all Iraqi communities – Sunnis, Shias and Kurds – against the common enemy of Isil, which threatens the way of life of them all.
The international community will rally around this new government. But Iraq’s neighbours in the region are equally vital. So we must work with countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the UAE, Egypt and Turkey against these extremist forces, and perhaps even with Iran, which could choose this moment to engage with the international community against this shared threat. I want Britain to play a leading role in this diplomatic effort. So we will be appointing a Special Representative to the Kurdistan Regional Government and using the Nato summit in Wales and the United Nations General Assembly in New York to help rally support across the international community.
Finally, while being tough and intelligent, we must also be patient and resolute. We are in the middle of a generational struggle against a poisonous and extremist ideology, which I believe we will be fighting for the rest of my political lifetime. We face in Isil a new threat that is single-minded, determined and unflinching in pursuit of its objectives. Already it controls not just thousands of minds, but thousands of square miles of territory, sweeping aside much of the boundary between Iraq and Syria to carve out its so-called caliphate. It makes no secret of its expansionist aims. Even today it has the ancient city of Aleppo firmly within its sights. And it boasts of its designs on Jordan and Lebanon, and right up to the Turkish border. If it succeeds, we would be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a Nato member.
This is a clear danger to Europe and to our security. It is a daunting challenge. But it is not an invincible one, as long as we are now ready and able to summon up the political will to defend our own values and way of life with the same determination, courage and tenacity as we have faced danger before in our history. That is how much is at stake here: we have no choice but to rise to the challenge.
David Cameron: Isil poses a direct and deadly threat to Britain - Telegraph (external - login to view)