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    BRAMA News and Community Press

    BRAMA, March 24, 2003, 9:00 am ET

    Christian fundamentalism and corruption: a member of the British House of Lords offers her views on the Iraq war and Ukraine
    by Tony Leliw

    A few days before Coalition forces moved into Iraq, Baroness Williams of Crosby, who sits in the British House of Lords gave her strong opinions on the driving forces behind the current conflict. An expert on issues relating to the European Union, Central and Eastern Europe, she also offered her robust views on President Kuchmas leadership.

    Baroness "Shirley" Williams of Crosby

    Baroness Williams of Crosby is sitting in the tea room at the House of Lords part of the hub of the Mother of Parliaments convinced that the momentum for war is unstoppable.

    For her, a political veteran, a member of the Labour Party for 35 years, serving the Wilson and Callaghan Governments in the 1960s and 1970s, before splitting to set up the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and then merging it to form the Liberal Democrats, she sees a religious dimension that runs parallel to the political one in this current world crisis.

    Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Shirley, as she likes to be known, says its not just the Islamic side that is fundamentalist sadly, both Christianity and Judaism have their fundamentalists too.

    Both are making their position very clear, and Im afraid are fuelling the drive for war.

    This is in contrast to the mainstream churches, she contends both our own [Catholic] and also the Anglican and Protestant churches in Europe and Episcopal church in America that are pursuing a path of peace and conciliation, seeing if there is a way out of this crisis, and thinking of war as the last resort.

    This terrifying apocalyptic energy which is partly people who are looking for the second coming is much stronger within the US administration than those people in the UK believe.

    Its a powerful force a Christian coalition which is allied quite closely to Sharon supporters and those to the right of him in the Jewish community in the United States.

    It is those that believe in the idea that there should be no Palestinian state that Palestinians should be driven into Jordan and therefore Israel should go back to the Israel of the Old Testament and include what we call today the Palestinian territories as well as Israel proper.

    Shirley recognises that people probably dont realise the religious dimension readily because Britain is a rather secular society.

    The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi of this country, are all pleading for peace, conciliation and attempting to find a peaceful settlement, and above all, to resume the Middle East peace process.

    On the one side these fundamentalists, who are Christian, Jewish, sometimes Russian Orthodox, are essentially making common cause. Its not a split between Christians, Jews and Muslims, but a profound division between those who believe the great tradition of major religions is towards trying to find conciliation and peace and those that take the opposite view.

    © British Information Services

    British PM Tony Blair prays at interfaith service for British Nationals affected by World Trade Center attack. St. Thomas Church, 5th Avenue, New York, New York, 20 September 2001. Also in the photo are UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former U.S. president Bill Clinton.


    How does our prime minister Tony Blair as a Christian, figure in this equation? I ask. Almost flummoxed, she answers: The best I can do, she says is that he is a Christian driven by moral considerations.

    During my life I have spent large chunks of my life in the US. Im still a professor Emeritus at Harvard. It is a country I am very fond of and have lots of friends. I am not anti-American in any way I still think its probably the worlds greatest democracy in spite of its many flaws.

    I think that Tony Blair did not realise the strength of these fundamentalist elements within the present administration it wasnt there under Bill Clinton or George Bush Senior.

    Blair failed to recognise this was not a traditional right wing government that at the heart of this administration is this extraordinary evangelical fundamentalist power and you really have to know America well to stumble across that, she tells me.

    He may know it now what hes tried to do is pull America back to a multilateralist and multiculturalist tradition that is why he has gone out of his way to repeatedly say this is not an anti-Islam campaign its about Saddam.

    For her, Blair begun by underestimating this force and has now tried to bring it round to a more conciliatory approach. She is sure he will fail.

    I ask what the long-term consequences of going to war against the will of the united community will be. Her answer is frank and quite shocking. It will be a throwback to the 19th century back to the British Empire, French Empire, and all the rest of it.

    © White House photo by Eric Draper

    President George W. Bush prays with all his might during a church service honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover, Md., Jan. 20, 2003. "...Out of the church comes the notion of equality and justice," said the President.


    You order the world by power. The US is more powerful than the British and French ever were, so it can do it. But in this advanced age where most people are educated and the Internet gives access to information it is going to be a very uncomfortable life.

    Her own life began in 1930. Her Catholic father was the political scientist and philosopher Sir George Catlin and Anglican mother novelist Vera Brittain.

    I was brought up firmly on Thomas Aquinas. My father was also a great admirer of Sir Thomas More and started a fund for a statue of him outside Chelsea Old Church, which still sits there to this day.

    Her father didnt get her baptised as a child it was left for her when she was 18 at Oxford, though he took her to church.

    Shirley went to eight different schools because she was perpetually evacuated and re-evacuated but admits they were not Catholic schools.

    She worked at the Daily Mirror [a national newspaper] and in 1959 got her first major headline a scoop about the Duke of Edinburgh {Queen's husband] playing and winning a game of polo on a Sunday in some rural place miles from London.

    The Church of England werent that keen on him playing sport on a Sunday, and when he guzzled down part of his prize - a bottle of champagne, he uttered words to the effect I dont care a f*** what the Church of England thinks, it sent her rushing back to London at great speed by car to get the story and picture into the paper.

    It was a far cry from the day she got into parliament in 1964 as Labour MP for Hitchin and then in 1967 when she became Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science.

    She is married to Professor Richard Neustadt, a leading American political scientist. Her previous husband was philosopher Bernard Williams. Shirley re-entered parliament in 1993 as a peer, and chose to use her old constituency of Crosby in her title.

    As well as her political work, Shirley has had many books published including In God and Caesar, where she paints a moving account in which her political career has been shaped by her personal faith.

    She examines the way traditional structures of pre-industrial society have been damaged and in cases destroyed by scientific and material progress. This process, she believes, has distanced human beings from God and the natural world.

    Despite being a bit over five foot tall, Shirley can be a giant if she wants to in terms of making herself heard.

    In mid-interview she is approached by a fellow peer and congratulated on her strong exchange with what appears to have been an American hawk in a television interview - the subject being the Iraqi conflict.

    You were brilliant Shirley Im not a violent person, but you really wiped the floor with her, he says with glee.

    © President.Gov.UA photo by Valeriy Solovyov

    President Leonid Kuchma visiting the Orthodox Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (Monastery), 7/4/02.


    It almost seems the perfect cue to ask Shirley about her views on Ukraine. She served on an international advisory committee for Ukraine just prior to independence for several years.

    I have to say that while we [the committee] thought and think that Ukraine has huge potential, and should be associated with the European Union in the same way as Turkey is, our worry was that there was little stomach on behalf of the Kravchuk and Kuchma government to tackle extreme levels of corruption.

    And, Im afraid to say the Government of Ukraine has been involved too seriously with corruption, which is why it is very hard to get decent businesses to invest.

    Until Ukraine tackles corruption, its not going to take off in the way that it should.

    In her view Ukraine has to learn to live by the rules which is what is now happening in Russia under President Putin. For that reason Russia is likely to move ahead of Ukraine, she makes clear.

    If Ukraine had a decent leader it could pick itself up tomorrow, she assures me. Our encounter ends abruptly because the Baroness has to rush off to speak on the floor of the Lords on the brewing crisis in Korea.

    Her sharp mind follows her out of the door as she bumps into a fellow member of the Lords in the corridor. She retorts: Hes one of us, to which I reply: A Liberal Democrat? No, comes her calm and soothing reply, hes a Catholic.

    Tony Leliw is a London-based journalist whose articles have appeared in respected publications such as the London Evening Standard and The Times, as well as news services in Ukraine and the U.S. Email: tony@youwhat.fsnet.co.uk

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