Bishop fears worse problems for Muslims

BRITISH involvement in any military action against Iraq would increase problems faced by Muslim communities in this country, a bishop has warned.In a presidential address to the diocesan synod, held in Woodbridge, The Right Reverend Richard Lewis, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said such action "could severely de-stabilise inter-faith relations".

BRITISH involvement in any military action against Iraq would increase problems faced by Muslim communities in this country, a bishop has warned.

In a presidential address to the diocesan synod, held in Woodbridge, The Right Reverend Richard Lewis, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said such action "could severely de-stabilise inter-faith relations".

"Muslims have felt that their identity as British citizens has been questioned and they have been subject to verbal abuse and in some cases physical attacks," he said.

"Most Muslims, while appalled by the September 11 attacks, have felt deeply unhappy with the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, and many have been prominent in anti-war protests."

The bishop also highlighted the difficulty in considering the issues concerning Iraq and whether it was involved in world terrorism or secretly developing weapons of mass destruction.

"How much hard evidence is there and would military intervention be justified and could it achieve a reasonable outcome?

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"The bottom line is that no one is in a position to answer these questions with much objective accuracy and therefore we are inevitably in the sphere of opinion and hunch with heavy pressure from American hawks to get a quick result."

He said much attention had been given to the question of whether war can be justified and very little to what would constitute peace.

"If the genuine goal of US policy is to replace the current Iraqi government with a government which is respectful of human rights and other internationally agreed standards, then it would be important to see some evidence of the intention to help build an alternative regime.

"Not only does there seem to be a total absence of such thinking but there has to be some doubt about whether the United States as an occupying force, which it would have to be, could possibly enable a viable and acceptable government to come into being.

"The Americans seem amazingly unaware of how they and their western allies are perceived in many parts of the Middle East."

He pointed out that when the BBC World Service ran a competition for Man of the Year in 1989, the front runner was Saddam Hussein.

The bishop was responding to a request for a debate on the issue. He said that he did not feel they were "in a position for a suitably informed debate today".

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