I’m struck, reading Chalcedon’s interesting post on the Ottoman Empire, by something upon which I have commented before, from a different perspective, which is that despite what people used to say when I was at University, religion remains a potent factor in politics.
It doesn’t work domestically in the way it did in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Then, the Liberal Party, and latterly the Labour Party, was seen by ancestors as the repository for their votes because those parties stood for the rights of the Nonconformists against the Conservative Party which was seen as the Anglican Church at prayer. On issues we felt strongly in, such as temperance or the compulsory payment of Church rates, the Liberals could be relied upon to campaign in a direction we wanted, as they could on the issue of paying for Church schools on the rates. None of those issues has any resonance in domestic politics any more.
That leads, naturally, to the view that politicians don’t need to worry about religion. As Blair’s liar-in-chief once said: ‘We don’t do God.’ Well, that was very little Englander of him, because the greatest power in the world, America, does, and so, now does Russia, and so too does the whole of the Middle East; the Chinese will find soon enough that religion matters. So, to leave it out of the equation leads to real and serious risk of error.
To expand on one of C’s points, our intervention in Iraq, as in Saudi Arabia, evokes accusations of being ‘Crusaders’. However much we may not do God, for those who do, the attribution to the former ‘Christendom’ of a religious motive is natural enough. We may not see the world in that Manichean way, the powers with which we wrestle do.
I know that the Copts are very dear to the hearts of C and of Jessica, and if we look at what has happened to the indigenous Christians of Iraq and now Syria, as well as of Egypt, we can see that however much our countries have no religious motives, the Muslims in those states will take out their resentment on the local Christians. One of the more shameful (and where might we start and end of we did such an audit?) aspects of our intervention in the Middle East is the impact it has had on the Christians there.
Does this matter, except to those Christians? I think it does. If we are seen not to be bothered protecting Christians, we are seen as weak, and we are seen as being interested only in financial and political gain. But we shall have neither of those things, and if we project our own lack of interest in faith on the inhabitants of the Middle East, we simply give them the impression that we have no values other than money.
That raises a searching question. Just what were we looking to achieve in Iraq and Afghanistan? Whatever it was, we have stirred up a nest of hornets. We have neglected to do anything to cultivate any connection with the locals. We didn’t, and don’t, need to favour the Christian minorities, but when we bang on about human rights, we’d sound mildly more convincing if we included people like the Copts in that; that would be something the Islamists could understand.