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The General speaks out

General Sir Richard Dannatt's remarks on the need to take the army out of Iraq have attracted a lot of comments, mostly favourable and he's probably right, though I tend to agree with Sir Malcolm Rifkind that he shouldn't have said it. Serving officers are not supposed to be political.

Leaving that aside, however, I'm more concerned with another aspect of what he said. He talks about a "spiritual vacuum" in Britain because our society is no longer bound together by the Christian religion, and he also says "The Judaic-Christian tradition has underpinned British society. It underpins the British Army."

I find this worrying. For one thing, there are Muslim soldiers in the Army; in fact, one of them was killed recently in Afghanistan. For another, remarks of this kind seem to bring the General perilously close to the thinking of fundamentallist Christians in the USA. George Bush, with his talk of a "crusade", would no doubt endorse them.

I have no wish to live in an Islamic society under shari'a law, but nor do I wish to live in the kind of society envisioned by Christian fundamentalists. Pace Sir Richard, what we have had for a long time in Britain, as in other European states, is a secular society, in which the ideals of the Enlightenment prevail and religion is predominantly a private affair. There may be a lot wrong with society in Britain today, but I don't think it will be remedied by an infusion of religion. Certainly the example of the USA, where Christianity dominates public life to a much greater extent than it does in Europe, does not provide much in the way of encouragement.

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