Text of address by Dr Hugh Miall at Lancaster Cathedral

 The following address was given by Dr Hugh Miall at Lancaster Lecturer in Peace Studies at Lancaster University, at an Interfaith Service for Peace held at Lancaster Cathedral on Sunday We are at the threshold of war. To cross the threshold, and unleash violence, is to accept the certainty of causing suffering. It is time to stop, to pause, to reflect. We should reflect, first of all, about the innocent Iraqi civilians, who are caught between the Iraqi dictatorship and the approaching machines of war. A friend, Scilla Elworthy, was in Baghdad this month. She visited the Al Amarya Shelter, which was bombed in the last war. Lest we forget what we are unleashing, may I quote what she saw: "This shelter, which looks like a rectangular concrete box, was bombed at 4.30am on 13th February 1991, by two laser-guided bombs each weighing two tons. The first penetrated two metres of concrete ceiling like a drill; we saw the hole with reinforcements hanging down. 422 women and children were sleeping below on bunks. 408 of them died, mostly burned to death in 400 degrees centigrade temperatures, because the second bomb went into the ventilation system and created an oven of the entire building. The whole thing took four minutes." We should reflect on violence, aware of its consequences: aware that every child, woman and man is precious and irreplaceable. We should reflect on the unpredictable consequences of violence, and its tendency to escalate. We know that our government, and the United States government, and the Israeli government, have adopted policies of using nuclear weapons in response to weapons of mass destruction. If the Iraqi regime does indeed possess chemical and biological weapons, it may use them in this war. We should reflect on what the world would be like, and what our own place in the world would be like, if a war were to reach such a pass as this. We should reflect on the unpredictable consequences for the region. We know how deeply people have reacted against colonialism and against American troops in Saudi Arabia. Have the consequences of placing American and British troops for a long time in Iraq been sufficiently considered? Has it really been understood how people in the region will see the imposition of another Western-backed regime in the heart of the Arab lands? Will this action pacify or inflame the other conflicts in the region? We should reflect on the consequences for terrorism. This is supposed to be a war on terrorism. But nothing seems more calculated to provoke a terrorist response than the present course of action. We should reflect on the consequences for the peace of the world if the United States starts a pre-emptive war without the authority of the United Nations. It is difficult to construe such action as being compatible with international law. We should reflect, too, on our hopes for a different kind of response to violence: a response inspired by the spiritual traditions represented here. A response that is non-violent. A response that waters the seeds of compassion and healing, rather than the seeds of anger. A response that sees violence and suffering as a cycle of actions, but a cycle that can be broken. A response that reaches out to redress the root causes of humiliation, rage and fear. There are other paths forward than war. The French and German governments, and many in Britain, argue for giving the United Nations inspectors more time. The Saudi government has proposed a way out for Saddam. Rosemary Hollis, Director of the Middle East programme at Chatham House, has proposed linking a new approach to Palestine with enlisting the co-operation of the Arab states and seeking political reform in Iraq. Britain could better pursue an alternative approach with the Europeans than follow the United States into a dangerous and unnecessary war. We need to tackle weapons of mass destruction, not by countries bombing other countries that won't comply, but within the framework of multilateral United Nations agreements. We need to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime, not undermine it by threatening to use nuclear weapons first against non-nuclear states. If we resist the path of violence, we do not have to cross this threshold. We can seek a different path forward in hope and trust. If we look for it together, with open minds and hearts, it will be there. Source: Lancaster Diocese

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