“A Muslim should attempt to reform the ruler and enjoin good without resorting to violence. Violence and terrorism leads to the fracturing of Muslim society, which is even worse than the oppression of the rulers. Instead, Muslims must be patient and wise in the face of such injustice, and they should pray for Allah to guide the rulers to right conduct.”

Outside the war box

The above ancient teaching is only remarkable because it is so startling in today’s climate of confrontation. At first its counter-intuitive message is a shock to the status quo because the world has become conditioned over centuries to the automatic reaction that dangerous enemies must be defeated, with military force if necessary.

So what are the implications of this radical message urging patience in the face of evil? An exercise in comparing outcomes of the two opposite approaches would reward honest study. Lateral thinking is  now commonplace in all other arenas. Introducing its practice into conflict situations might prove surprising and even viable.

In modern times it has become the moral imperative that peoples suffering injustices on a scale of humanitarian disaster must be stoutly rescued, even if that involves a blood-letting intervention against tyrants. But when the unintended consequences cause even more devastation to those peoples who had beseeched support from outsiders, the west might now pause for a rethink. Perhaps it would be safer for all if we pass by on the other side of the street until the problems of others fade into history and its finger moves on to write new chapters. At least the west would not then be blamed for making matters even worse than when they committed their resources in response to heartrending pleas for deliverance, freedom and dignity. Untainted by consequent conspiracy theories of a Master Plan to ravage the lands of the victimised, the west might then plough its own proud furrows, tunnelling forwards untrammelled, uncompromised… but apart.


But Rory Stewart, MP, head of Foreign Affairs committee, has outlined a possible middle way in which British foreign policy might be more effective in promoting and building stability in war-torn regions where boots on the ground are no longer an option. Instead, he argues for more people on the ground. By that he does not mean simply the special forces  and other personnel who train local forces, but an actively constructive provision of intelligence, understanding and strategic planning. On one of Andrew Neil’s Sunday Politics programmes, BBC, he was challenged over an apparently diminishing role played by UK military within coalitions of several other countries. He confirmed that Britain will indeed resist being dragged into any more ground warfare, but that the UK role was no less significant for being less visible. He stated firmly that Britain will always remain outward-looking, the opposite of isolationist , and due to its unsurpassed experience of the Arab world, will evolve an imaginative new approach for better results.

Andrew Neil reminded the MP that the Arabist “Camel Corps” of the British Foreign office proved useless in preventing the Suez disaster in 1956. (Naively, perhaps, they had not anticipated the unhelpful intervention by America,  a republic which to this day nurtures a visceral hatred of “colonialism”…)

Rory Stewart responded with his affirmation of evolving UK foreign policy, drawing upon its deep resources, based on          ” compassion, common-sense and confidence“. The solutions will be regional ones, drawn upon “granular”  knowledge of the ground, which will shape future plans in co-ordination with Iraq and the US. He clarified that UK would no longer simply sign up to plans drawn up by other parties, but will aim to provide a desperately needed leadership and direction.

He concluded by saying we must talk much more about Libya, and also Yemen…

( Penstorm)