The new head of Britain’s army, Sir Richard Dannatt, this week questioned how long his forces should remain in Iraq. What most people don’t know is that he also suggested that British society needs a renewal of Christian values.
He questioned the place of a multi-faith approach to deciding our core cultural values.
Sir Richard did not question the decision to enter Iraq; he simply suggested that the government needs to declare a clear timetable for the endgame and that withdrawal should happen sooner rather than later. He also suggested that the Army’s presence in Iraq is now doing more harm than good, by attracting the violence of hardline insurgents.
These comments were widely reported and perhaps sensationalised by sections of the British media. Many suggested that his statements represent an unusually public wedge between government policy and the head of the Army.
Reading some of the reported comments of men and women on the front-lines of the conflict, I can only conclude that the General’s thoughts reflect the feeling among his troops.
Yet the remainder of his statement should be just as newsworthy, given that it goes to the heart of what drives British values, the values for which the armed forces are called to fight.
The Times called the General ‘a serious-minded evangelical Christian, [who is] visibly honest.’The Daily Mail noted that he is a practising Christian and this ‘informs his views on the Army's role and place in society.’
The Mail continued: ‘He believes our weak values have allowed the predatory Islamist vision to take hold.’
‘We need to face up to the Islamist threat,’ said Sir Richard, ‘to those who act in the name of Islam and in a perverted way try to impose Islam by force on societies that do not wish it. In the Cold War, the threats to this country were about armies rolling in. Threats now are not territorial but to the values of our country.’
He feels that it is vital for the army, which is entrusted with using lethal force, that society should ‘maintain high values and that there is a moral dimension to that and a spiritual dimension.’
‘When I see the Islamist threat,’ Dannatt continued, ‘I hope it doesn't make undue progress because there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in this country.’
‘Our society has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind.’
As someone who is, he said, responsible to make sure that the Army’s moral compass is properly aligned, and that, in his words ‘we live by what we believe in’, the General is concerned that we’re abandoning the Christian ideals that have made our society strong and durable.
‘It is said we live in a post-Christian society,’ he remarked. ‘I think that is a great shame. The Judaic-Christian tradition has underpinned British society. It underpins the British Army.’
The General did not suggest for a moment that everyone serving in his Army should be a Christian. In fact, he mentioned the work of Muslims in the ranks. What he is saying is that no Army – and no society – can long stand if it does not agree on its core values.
An Army cannot survive if it is wishy-washy on what it stands for, or against. Neither can the society from which the Army is drawn and which it is called to defend.
Like it or not, we in the West are not children of nothing. We are the offspring of our cultural parentage; we have inherited a set of ideas and values which have shaped our culture.
We are foolish to turn away from these, on the flimsy pretext of being inoffensive to those who have a different view.
It is time for a debate not just about the politics of multi-culturalism and the use of armed force, but the values which these are meant to protect. It is time for us to stop our fruitless dalliance with political correctness, which only confuses issues and makes social cohesion more difficult to achieve.
It is time to look again at what Sir Richard called our ‘moral compass’ and decide what we represent as a society and what we do not.