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Libya, Police Brutality and Dadaab

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Christians may be inconsistent and hypocritical, but a look at Libya, East and Central Africa and even British policing suggests that they are not exactly alone.

Inconsistency is a legitimate charge to lay against the most vocal parts of the Christian Church. We call ourselves 'pro-life', but sign petitions in support of the death penalty and are often the first, in some countries, clamouring for war with our enemies. We demand religious freedom for our brothers and sisters to pray at work or display symbols of our religion, yet campaign alarmingly (and 'alarmistly', if that is a word) against others building mosques. Let's hold our hands up and say that, as a body of believers with different politics, priorities and levels of intellectual engagement, some of us are less than consistent.

But we are not alone. Sadly, we are a reflection of our culture. Earlier this year, a young man with cerebral palsy was dragged from his wheelchair across the street by police at the student protests (remember the student protests? They don't seem so terrible now, do they?) Last week he pointed out, quite justly, that while the police involved were potentially guilty of common assault, the verdict of the Independent Police Complaints Commission had come too late for him to press charges. There was little public outcry. This seems a mite inconsistent when, as as he said, courts were kept open through the early hours of morning to process the cases of those guilty of stealing as little as a pack of gum during the recent riots. Those looters were called 'animals'. What do we call the police involved in the wheelchair attack or deaths as a result of 'non-lethal' weapons? Is our sense of proportion that unhealthy, or are we just massively inconsistent?

Last week also saw a great deal of debate about 'liberal interventions' in countries like Libya. Did they work? Were they a good idea? The answer always came back that the Libyan civilians needed protection against violence from their despotic leader. Of course, NATO forces were more cagey when asked if they would use their power to prevent rebel forces from shelling civilian areas in their quest to capture Gaddafi.

In East Africa, the good and generous giving of British people has funded a massive refugee camp, the biggest in the world, full of Somali refugees, on Kenyan soil at Dadaab. And Western governments, which are fond of lecturing developing countries on the subject of planning and learning from history, are currently ignoring the historic example of Operation Tourquoise, a French military intervention of the 90s, allowed by the UN Security Council, which moved millions of Rwandans into Eastern Congo and made no plan to remove them. A large number of them are still there and their presence has, at least in part, been a trigger for the worst violence the world has seen since the Second World War.

Part of the solution to our inconsistent attitude is a more internationalist way of thinking about the world. By this I mean a way of looking at society and global politics that sees every nation, race and class in the way nationalists see just one exclusive group. A solidarity with and concern for the welfare not just of Britain but all countries. Not just our age group and class but all human beings. For Christians, this should be easy. In theory, we see every nation, tribe and tongue as equally part of the Body of Christ. Different cultural, linguistic, aesthetic and (gasp!) theological expressions can contribute to expressing God's truth.

That way, we wouldn't react to news that immigration levels have risen with horror, but with an understanding that people will stop flocking to our wealthy country if we stop keeping theirs in poverty. Libyan rebels would not have to be at pains to reassure Western shareholders that their oil contracts in Libya will remain 'absolutely sacrosanct' in case we with draw our less than altruistic aid in removing a despot. And we'd get just as upset with the injustice inherent in trying prosecute the police as we do when a brother or sister isn't allowed to pray at work. This won't solve everything. But it might make us look less like hypocrites. Jesus never had much time for hypocrites.


This post first appeared in The Baptist Times