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One response to events in Mosul and Iraq is to demand that ‘something should be done’; the difficulty is that the activities of the Western world in this region are a large part of the reason for the problem; when in a hole the best thing is to stop digging.

The geopolitics of the second Iraq war were always troubling. The first Iraq war had a clear motive, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, and a clear aim, the liberation of Kuwait; neither of these things were try of its successor. It was clear that the removal of Saddam would lead to the destabilisation of Iraq, and the one victor from that would be Iran; quite why anyone thought otherwise is a puzzle. A cold, hard look at where were are now points up three allies, none of themย sympatico: Russia, Syria and Iran. They have one thing in common with us – they fear Shia Islam in the Wahhabite form practiced and propagated by Saudi Arabia. But the times, and our stomachs, are not attuned to the strong meat this would be. A public revolted at Russian behaviour in the Ukraine would not readily see past that to a moreย Realpolitik view of the world; but the alternatives are so thin on the ground as to be invisible.

Our friend Quiavideruntoculi blames the last few Popes for having a dialogue with Islam. With all respect due to the Papacy, there is nothing it could have done to prevent this situation. Indeed, in many ways, it is Western interventions across the last century which have made what was never a good situation worse. For all its many faults, the Ottoman Empire provided an environment in which the Christians could coexist with Muslims, as they did for centuries. It was not equal coexistence, and in the Ottoman heartlands, it led to the virtual extinction of Christianity across five hundred years; there were massacres, such as those which occurred in Bulgaria in 1876, and there was the Armenian genocide in 1915; and, of course, Christians were second-class subjects. But, with all of those drawbacks, things were better than than they are now. Christians have been in Mosul since at least the sixth century; there are none left.

I have listened to the BBC here, and have heard nothing of any of this; neither have I heard our Government or the American Government complain. Thinking in purely secular ways produces no answer to the current situation in the Middle East. What is going on there is, broadly speaking, a Sunni-Shia struggle, and we should be looking to organise help from those Shias who see ISIS as the spearhead of a Sunni assault aimed predominantly at them. That means working with Iran. It also means working with the Power which sees Sunni Islam as a threat to Orthodox Christians – Putin’s Russia. It means thinking about the world in a way which our leaders have not done since the Thirty Years’ War. Yes, it is revolting to deal with Putin who is an ex-KGB thug; but it is that or see Christianity exterminated from the region, and millions of Christians suffer. If our leaders cannot compute in this way, they need to learn how to do so. The ISIS forces have dealt speedily with the well-equipped and expensively-trained forces of the Iraqi government, and in the present political climate, no Western Government is going to put good money in after bad, and even if they did, the West can’t stay there for ever – and the Sunnis will; so there has to be a smarter way of dealing with this. The one think which links the grouping needed here is religion. It isn’t that we think Islam is the same as Christianity, it is that we recognise that there is a breach in Islam through which we can create a coalition which will defeat ISIS. If we forget everything we knew about the Cold War, it will help. There’s no use seeing Putin as the KGB thug he is. If we think that the West can do anything in this region without Iran and Russia on side, then we are dreaming. Whatever Putin’s motives (and it is safe to assume they are of the lowest) he takes Orthodoxy seriously in political terms, and historically, the Christians in this region have looked to Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Should we be following Putin and seeing religion as a political tool? Well, it is better than the alternative.