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The following column by Andreas Whittan Smith was in today's Independent. He makes the nice point that Abraham, in whose steps the Pope wishes to follow, plays an important role in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Colin Rowat Coordinator, Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq ** USE THIS WEB ADDRESS FOR casi: http://welcome.to/casi *********************************************** * Support the: * * NATIONAL PETITION AGAINST SANCTIONS ON IRAQ * * http://go.to/iraqpetition * * or: 12 Trinity Road, London N2 8JJ * * or: firstname.lastname@example.org * *********************************************** King's College Cambridge CB2 1ST tel: +44 (0)468 056 984 England fax: +44 (0)1223 335 219 -------------------------------------------------------------------- [The Independent 20 September 1999 Andreas Whittan Smith] I WOULD RATHER THE POPE WENT TO IRAQ THAN OUR WARPLANES `How dare our government suggest to a pilgrim Pope that he shouldn't follow in the footsteps of Abraham' WHEN I read last week that the British and American governments were trying to persuade Pope John Paul II to cancel his plans to visit the ancient city of Ur, birthplace of Abraham in southern Iraq, I felt a pang of anger. How dare the two governments suggest to a pilgrim Pope that he should not follow in the footsteps of Abraham, going on to visit Egypt, where Abraham lived in exile, and Israel - "the land that I will show you"? The objections are the standard usage of Anglo-American diplomacy. The Pope's arrival will bring great comfort to the Iraqi government. Saddam Hussein will inevitably greet him; pictures of the meeting will go round the world. More seriously for the superpower and its faithful ally, the accompanying journalists will report the misery that nine years of sanctions have inflicted upon the population. This will weaken public support for continued sanctions and the enforcement of two no-fly zones. Indeed, daily sorties are flown over Ur. The equation is simple: we lose, Saddam gains. Let us leave such considerations to one side for the moment, and consider the Pope's plans. The ruins of the great Mesopotamian city of Ur of the Chaldees are an unusual starting-point for pilgrims. Why does this old, frail, but resolute Pope, who must believe that he is near the end of his ministry, fix his attention now upon Abraham? The first Book of the Bible, Genesis, tells us that Abraham and his family had migrated from Ur and settled in Haran, 500 miles to the north west, when God told him to "go from your country... to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great." It was an arduous undertaking, requiring immense faith. The Promised Land was infertile and populated by Canaanites; his wife, Sarah, hadn't been able to have children. Eventually, as Mesopotamian law allowed, she let him have a child by a servant girl, Hagar. But then, miraculously as it must have seemed, Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, Isaac. However, a few years later came the terrible command from God: "take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you". In Karen Armstrong's commentary on the Book of Genesis, In the Beginning, she sees Abraham as a man of vision who had the imagination to look beneath the unpromising surface of events. The verb "to see" recurs constantly in the Abraham story; he was a man, she writes, who "had learnt to look with the inner eye of the soul". Is it this which attracts Pope John Paul II to Abraham? There is a second feature of the biblical account which suddenly appears relevant. Abraham and Hagar's child was also a boy, Ishmael. But once Sarah's own child had arrived, she insisted that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. God commanded Abraham to obey, but pledged that Ishmael would also be the father of a great nation. Hagar went off into the desert with Ishmael. They survived. Ishmael became a mighty archer and, according to tradition, the father of the Arab peoples. In his person, therefore, Abraham brings together the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Is the Pope beginning to plan how to secure closer relations between the three faiths? But even the Christians of Iraq - there are one million out of a population of 17 million - are divided. There is the pitiful remnant of the Church of the oldest surviving Christian heresy, the Nestorians or Assyrians, whose expulsion dates back to 431. They stressed the humanity of Christ and refused to recognise Mary as the Mother of God. After flourishing mightily for 1,000 years, the Nestorians have since suffered a series of reverses, not least Rome's success in the 17th century in attracting a substantial number of them back into its fold with the offer of rite - that is, the privilege of retaining ecclesiastical autonomy, local liturgies and canon law, in exchange for recognising the supremacy of the Pope and altering their creed. It is this body, the Chaldean Catholic Church, which has invited the Pope to Iraq. If his visit to this church takes place, as seems likely, the Pope will have something to gain as well as to impart. For these old Christian communities of the East have retained what many suppose to be the atmosphere of the Early Church. There is no kneeling; supplicants assume the ancient upright pose, with arms half-extended and palms held upwards, before addressing the Almighty. The Pope's visit will bring great solace and permanently strengthen the community. This explanation of the Pope's "ardent" wish to make the pilgrimage, if it is correct, could gain only grudging respect from the State Department and the Foreign Office. Whatever Robin Cook may say about ethical foreign policy, the officials conduct realpolitik. But these diplomats should at least remember Cuba. The Pope went to the island early last year. He naturally had talks with President Castro. And there, visibly, the Pope's moral authority prevailed. Remember also Poland, where John Paul II strengthened the forces opposed to the Communist government of his homeland. Frankly I don't believe that Saddam Hussein will be impressed by his visitor. But perhaps others in the dictator's circle will be. Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, who is a Christian, may feel the Pope's moral force. However it turns out, I would rather see the Pope in Baghdad than American and British warplanes ceaselessly patrolling the skies above. Message to the State Department and Foreign Office: back off! -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Please do not sent emails with attached files to the list *** Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html ***