Hereford Times Article - Afghanistan

Published on: 2nd September 2021

Image of Bishop Richard Jackson standing besides an apple tree

As I write this the end game is playing out at Kabul airport. The Taliban are flexing their muscles. Efforts to encourage the world’s global policeman not to cut and run seem fruitless. The anger by our local military on behalf of Afghan colleagues left to the mercy of the Taliban is entirely justified.

Taliban/ Al Qaida/ ISIS are classic examples of what happens when you mix religion and power. I have no problem mixing religion and politics. If religious faith has anything to say, it must speak to the whole of life including politics. At its best, it reminds those in authority that we are accountable to a higher power than public opinion or our own self-interest. The problem with the toxic mix with power is it quickly morphs into God on our side. Islamic extremists use their interpretation of the Koran to justify acts of barbarity. If you think you’re doing God’s work it hardly allows for democratic discussion!

For those with no religious faith, the probable response is a ‘plague on all your houses’. Perhaps naively, I’ll try to judge Islam by its highest expressions: the Sufi mystics and great Arabic contributors to art and science. In the same way, I hope people will judge Christianity at its best: Mother Teresa, William Wilberforce who fought to abolish slavery, the many thousands of Christians who have run food banks and cared for people during the pandemic, and of course the life and teaching of Jesus.

However, in our society the knowledge to make these sorts of judgements is in short supply. Someone once asked me whether Jesus was English! She wasn’t taking the mick; she genuinely didn’t know the answer. We slip into platitudes like all faiths are different roads up the same mountain. The problem is they differ on the nature of God, humanity, heaven, hell, morality and the good life. We might all be wrong, but we can’t all be right.

Perhaps a spiritual contribution to the Afghan issue might be to remind us of Jesus’ advice that no-one goes to war without counting the cost. If you are going to exercise power as an international policeman, you’d better finish what you start. Otherwise you might drive out one demon and find 7 worse ones coming in to occupy the space. The betrayal of your friends is serious business that will shame the west for generations.