This is the full text I would have delivered on 22nd October, but because of the time limit it had to be cut by about a half. A spoken version can be found at House of Lords Grand Committee col 50 for 22.10.2015
“There is good news for this debate because the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has recognized how churches and faiths contribute to peace and human solidarity. It recently called on governments to protect freedom of religion. That is much needed at present, and includes the right of individuals to change or abandon their religion. It is a sign of parliamentarians beginning to grasp that faith, or its absence, has a strong bearing on public and social behaviour. I trust that today’s debate will reinforce that point of view, which I commend to HMG.
My experience this year has shown me how the mistakes of governments, combined with religious fanaticism, can generate bloodthirsty and destructive wars. On the other hand, religious goodness can provide hospitality and care. In March I was in Lebanon, where over 1 million refugees from Syria had already been accommodated without using a single camp, even a temporary one. I doubt that would have been possible had Christians, Muslims and Druze not shared common traditions of welcome and hospitality for their neighbours in distress. I met Syrian families who had found shelter in former Palestinian camps, which today are rather scruffy permanent suburbs. I pay tribute to the way in which a major emergency has been handled.
In May, with church leaders, I visited the Kurdistan Regional Government. In the capital, Erbil, and near the city of Dohuc, large numbers of people, displaced from Mosul and the Nineveh plain, were being cared for. Some were in camps of trailer homes, others in houses, flats and ad-hoc buildings. The Chaldean Catholic Church had joined with the Syria Orthodox to mobilize all available church resources. Education was being kept up, formally and informally, and in the circumstances the morale of the displaced seemed remarkably good.
I went on to the Jazira Canton of north-east Syria. This had already taken in many from other parts of Syria. In the late summer of 2014 it received even more people fleeing ISIS/Daesh attacks on Sinjar and on the borders of Iraq and Syria. Yezidis had been welcomed, just as much as Muslims and Christians. In the one camp I visited, I noticed that there were no barriers between it and the nearby town. Two-way movement was encouraged. Once again, I urge HMG to visit Jazira and the other two cantons (something they have so far refused to do). If the UN can be present, why not the representatives of a permanent members of the Security Council?
We have to ask, why have so many Syrians and Iraqis been driven from their homes? Many militant groups have caused this, of which ISIS/Daesh has been the most fanatical. It is important to know that the members of this sect are more extreme than the Wahabis and Salafis. They believe that the end of the world is near. Armageddon is almost on us, therefore the Caliphate must be established now. Their “true believers” include some who despise western life-style and democracy, seeking an austere and ethical life. They also attract some psychopaths. The combination of idealists and thugs is dynamic and dangerous, as well as totally intolerant.
I trust that ISIS will be first contained and then disarmed. The neighbouring states and others, such as Russia, should reject any idea that they can use or manipulate it to serve their own ends. They will only be rejected as pagans and idol-worshippers. Military means alone will not be enough to defeat ISIS; Muslim minds must be won over by showing that better ideas can work in practice.
I am glad to conclude by noting that the Catholic and many other churches have led the way in caring and meeting the needs of refugees and the displaced. This is true from Calais or Malta and the Greek Islands, to Beirut, Amman and Baghdad. In Eastern Europe brave catholic bishops have resisted the harsh line taken by their government. Pope Francis and many other leaders have appealed for practical help and for resettlement for the most vulnerable. These are all reasons why human rights and religious freedom must be upheld.”