Monday, 14 December 2009
I was struck by something the new bishop for the British Armed Forces, the Rt Rev Stephen Venner, said yesterday. According to the Daily Telegraph website, Venner called for a more sympathetic approach to the Taliban that recognises their humanity.
While stressing his admiration for the sacrifices being made by British soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, he said:
"There’s a large number of things that the Taliban say and stand for which none of us in the west could approve, but simply to say therefore that everything they do is bad is not helping the situation because it’s not honest really. The Taliban can perhaps be admired for their conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty to each other.”
He added: “We must remember that there are a lot of people who are under their influence for a whole range of reasons, and we simply can’t lump all of those together. To blanket them all as evil and paint them as black is not helpful in a very complex situation.”
As the Telegraph article pointed out, the Bishop is not the first person to make this point. Earlier this year, Peter Davies, the new right-wing mayor of Doncaster in South Yorkshire, claimed that British society could learn from Taliban family values. He said: "The one thing that can be said about the Taliban is that they do have an ordered society of some sort and that they don't have hundreds of cases of children under threat of abuse from violent parents as we do in Doncaster."
Naive, perhaps, but these kind of comments hightlight the growing moral deficit between the Karzai government and Mullah Omar's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The main story in Kabul at present is President Karzai's feeble attempts to deal with endemic and colossal government corruption. Compare that to the decision by Mullah Omar to issue a Book of Rules earlier this year (see my posting on this) to govern the conduct of his fighters, as well as the Quetta Shura's recent attempts to distance itself from the excesses of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
I am not a philosopher, but all this begs the question of how to justify a war against an enemy that may be morally superior to your own allies. That is, of course, if you can put aside questions such as attitudes to women, fierce Islamic punishments, etc. However, if that was the only basis for war, then we would probably have to declare war on Saudi Arabia as well.
Update: On Monday afternoon, Bishop Venner apologised for claiming that the Taliban could be admired for their "conviction to their faith and their sense of loyalty." Clearly he had been jumped upon from a great height. Of the 20 comments on the Telegraph's website reporting the apology, almost all were supportive of Venner, saying that he had said nothing disloyal or insulting to the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.