Giles Fraser: Uneasy? Dr Williams is right to be

11 May 2011

I SUSPECT that one of the reasons why the AV vote was defeated so de­cisively was that, rightly or wrongly, AV was linked in the public imagina­tion with the Liberal Democrats and, more specifically, with a perception that Nick Clegg had sacrificed too many of his principles in the pursuit of power.

I don’t blame Mr Clegg — it is not as if his party commanded any sort of majority in the House of Commons and could therefore do all it had promised in its manifesto. In a coali­tion, compromise is a neces­sity.

None the less, the idea that one might negotiate away one’s deepest convictions in some backroom deal is what makes many of us wary of any version of proportional representa­tion. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

Which is why it is time for three cheers for the Archbishop of Canter­bury, for his intervention over the death of Osama bin Laden. He must have known that questioning the manner of bin Laden’s assassination was not going to win him many friends in the right-wing press, especially after the reaction to his previous comments about sharia.

Sure enough, he was widely con­demned. But it is not the job of an archbishop to trim his convictions to the opinion polls, or soften a line that will not win him any votes. The Archbishop, like the rest of us in the Church, is not in the votes business. One of his tasks in the Es­tablish-ment is to say the unpopular things that politicians can never say.

The death of bin Laden ought to have made us all more than a little uncomfortable. I can’t say that I am traumatised that he is now with the fishes. But if the Allies’ mission in Afghanistan is to help build up a nation with a commitment to human rights and the rule of law, the Americans ought to have been more scrupulous in leading by example. The assassination of an unarmed man in the middle of the night seemed little more than an act of raw and visceral revenge: payback for 9/11. It did little to forward the cause of democratic renewal.

The justification that he might have been wearing a suicide belt, and thus the shooting was a form of self-defence, seems deeply implausible. Did the special forces really think that, after ten years on the run, he still slept in a bomb belt? Of course not. It seems that they wanted any excuse to take him out, and so they did.

The Christian conviction does not allow us the satisfaction to answer violence in kind. Justice is not a euphemism for revenge. And the Archbishop was right to suggest as much.

Canon Giles Fraser is Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral.


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