Security

It is often said that the first duty of any government is to keep its citizens safe. We would like this to be a given, and debate other political issues, but the sad truth is that recent events in the UK and elsewhere have brought security to the forefront of the national conscience in the lead up to this election. A spate of terror attacks across the world, including recently in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge, have brought up difficult questions about security and terrorism, both at home and abroad.

mcrflowers.jpgThe first response is to say that we absolutely condemn violence of the sort we have witnessed on our streets. There is never an excuse for murdering innocent civilians, and as Christians we are appalled that such barbarism could possibly be carried out in the name of God.

The God we know is slow to anger (a phrase used no fewer than nine times in the Old Testament), and his son famously described peacemakers as ‘blessed’ (Matthew 5:9). God made human life in his own image (Genesis 1:26) and protects the weak against the strong (Psalm 82). He utterly rejects terrorism, the violence, fear and sorrow that it brings. His desire is to provide comfort to those hurt and mourning from loss, and healing for this broken world.

It can seem glib, naïve or even fantastical to assert this in the face of such evil. However, many Christians would say that sometimes the absence of God is as startling as his presence. It is incidents like the dreadful recent attacks that make us cry out that something is seriously wrong with the world, that there is too much injustice and pain. They remind us that, however ‘progressive’ our politics may be, humanity can never and will never fix the problems we face by making ‘progress’ towards some kind of humanist utopia. They are a stark reminder that the world is not so much imperfect as incomplete, and reminds us that it is only through the grace and power of God that it can ever be made complete. They make us long for the day when our Lord will set all things right and wipe every tear from our eyes.

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But as much as we believe we cannot fix this fallen world, it is wrong to suggest we are powerless in the present. A biblical worldview tells us that we can and should attempt to bring reconciliation and healing, as a reflection of God’s values and his ultimate intention for the world. Indeed, Christians on the Left’s mission is underpinned by a calling to implement godly values of standing up for the vulnerable, striving for social justice and seeking peace here and now.

Britain and other countries have witnessed terrorism from a variety of sources in recent years. In some cases, such as the murder of Jo Cox just a year ago, the motivator has been far-right extremism. In others, as with both attacks during the campaign (Manchester and London Bridge), the threat has been from Islamist fundamentalism.

It is arguably in the latter case that the social implications of terrorism are most profound. Knee-jerk reactions can be tempting, but in many cases would be extremely damaging.

It is undeniable that groups such as al-Qaeda and so-called Islamic State (IS) have had some success in recent years, imposing their warped ideology through fear and destruction. While it would be incorrect to deny that this is happening in the house of Islam, to suggest that more than a tiny fraction of British Muslims sympathise with such views, and to regard the entire Muslim community with suspicion as a result, would be a grave mistake, and would implicitly aid extremists who want to be seen to represent the whole of Islam.

We must be absolutely clear that we reject attempts to stigmatise or exclude certain communities due to fear, hatred and division. By contrast, it is even more crucial than ever that Muslims and other minorities are welcomed and integrated into British society. Those of us who believe everyone is a fallen but loved creation in the image of God should be leading the way. Those of us involved in politics must affirm and uphold the example set by colleagues in various parties. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, stands out as a positive example of a Muslim with a heart to improve the lives of millions.

We also cannot allow terrorists to succeed in destroying our hard-won freedoms. While police and security services do need adequate funding, resources and powers to be able to prevent potential attacks, calls for a wholescale increase in powers for the state, including sweeping surveillance powers or even the worrying prospect of internment without trial, must be resisted. Our human rights legislation should not be watered down in response to the terror threat but held up as a virtue of our value system which protects millions from harm.

The balance between liberty and security is among the hardest decisions for any government and difficult decisions will have to be taken. But to shift the balance too far towards security is to give in to the objectives of terrorism. The best response to fundamentalism that hates the concept of liberal democracy is to be just that: to revel in our freedoms and our right to vote. The response of those affected by recent tragedies, most visibly in the astonishing benefit concert in Manchester, has been nothing short of incredible.Omran-Daqneesh.jpg

It is also important to recognise that there are actions that we can and should take in response to terrorism. The government’s controversial Prevent strategy has strengths and weaknesses, but it is likely that a more conciliatory, community-based approach may bring better results. Justice and security co-operation is an area in which we must work with Europe in Brexit negotiations to ensure that strong links remain in place.

The security and emergency services must be adequately resourced. Deep cuts to the police and security agencies – the past seven years have seen a 14.9% fall in the number of police officers[1] – are not to blame for terror attacks, but they are the wrong response to a growing threat level and they do not help keep us safe.

The same is true of our armed services: official NATO statistics show the UK’s defence budget has fallen from 2.51% of national income in 2010 to just 2.21% last year, meaning 37,000 fewer personnel[2]. It is vital that we have a government willing to spend money on our security and invest in both the police and the armed forces in order to keep us safe.

While it is wrong to suggest that Britain has brought terrorism on itself, it is equally naïve to think that the increased threat level has nothing to do with the security situation in the Middle East. This means it is right to consider the effects of British foreign policy on Middle Eastern geopolitics in recent years.

Recent interventions in Iraq and Libya have shown that a foreign policy that places too much emphasis on armed force is always likely to fail. On the other hand, the inability of the international community to prevent Syria’s slip into chaos, violence and humanitarian tragedy may demonstrate the weaknesses of an approach too reluctant to take military action. Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned is that establishing the rule of law and a secure state should always be the main priority of any intervention. Military intervention may be a legitimate means to this end in some situations, but it should never be treated as an end in itself.

Brexit will bring both challenges and opportunities for British foreign policy, and it is important that we use our power as a NATO and UN Security Council member as a force for good in the world. British diplomacy should continue to support peaceful solutions to problems in many parts of the world where that is needed. The next government should take a much stronger stance on making the protection of human rights an integral part of our foreign policy: this means making protections explicit in future trading arrangements as well as immediately halting arms sales to countries we have reason to believe are using them to abuse human rights.

praying-at-sunset.jpgThe godly values set out by our Prince of Peace mean we should always be reluctant to go to war. Wars are unquestionably evil, a symptom of basic human brokenness (Romans 3:23) and the cause of huge amounts of suffering and lost potential around the world. The use of military force should be used only as a last resort in situations where conciliation and negotiation have definitively failed: this is the main thrust of the ‘just war’ tradition which many Christians (on the Left and elsewhere) identify with. While we can and should acknowledge and prepare for the necessary evil of military conflict, we should always prioritise making steps towards peace. This includes working towards a world free of nuclear weapons and other deadly machines as well as making genocide prevention a specific priority.

Terrorism, conflict and war are always complicated, but fundamentally they are about domination and forcing something on a group of people. This is not a godly approach. Jesus taught his disciples that ‘whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant’, saying that He himself ‘did not come to be served, but to serve’ (Mark 10:43,45). Our security is ultimately provided not by military force but by the love of God, so powerful and all-embracing that it allows us to consider and even prioritise the needs of others in a spirit of co-operation and community.

This is what peace on earth would ultimately look like, and what we as Christians on the Left long for. Our future hope does not mean we should not face up to the reality of the world around us, but it does mean we should in everything remember our father in heaven. As we pray for peace, let us look forward to the coming of a kingdom in which there is no war: the kingdom of God, where every citizen will be safe forever.

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