It’s surely tempting fate to satirize James Bond the way I did in another blog, assuming that every time I head off on an innocuous assignment I’ll end up avoiding a shooting war by the skin of my teeth or be seduced by a Monica Bellucci look-alike. So it was certainly quite a surprise only weeks after hearing something about the possibility of doing an armed forces-related speech via my publisher, and only days after the Paris attacks, to find myself walking into the Ministry of Defence (MoD), HQ of the British Armed Forces and the building from which UK defence policy is implemented.
Some surprise and certainly no joke, with the Parisian death toll hovering at around 130, Islamists attacking a hotel in Mali and Brussels going into lockdown virtually as I delivered my talk. Perhaps ironic to be looking for ways to promote co-operation and inter-faith dialogue within the military as the West faces an onslaught from without. From an organization that (defined with difficulty by The Atlantic):
“…rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of – and headline player in – the imminent end of the world.”
But the One Voice Initiative, founded by RAF Flight-Lieutenant Harriet Tadikonda and gathering in the very building where hard and terrible decisions have been and will be made to ensure the security of the British State, strives nevertheless to open a corridor to a world “where fear and hatred are nothing more than thorns upon a rose” despite being part of a planet which might be moving towards a piecemeal World War III.
If memory serves, a wise old sage once said that any military operation is automatically a failure – if no peaceful solution has been found, war is the obscene alternative. Could an effort to ‘recognise difference as an enabler for innovative thought’ (the title of my talk) find some way of enabling the armed forces better to understand themselves, and to move away from the potential dangers of traditional “one size fits all” thinking? To understand differences in faith (Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist), in the way people think and work (in my case, autism), and/or in sexual orientation.
And not just to tolerate these differences, but use them to enrich internal military thinking and thereby, perhaps, avoid external warfare.
The funny thing is, shuttling between Edinburgh and London, preparing my paper, poring over my father’s words (born into the British Army in India but fluent in Urdu before he learnt English) in accounts he wrote about Army thinking, skip-reading news articles and enabling innovative thoughts in my autistic mind, I saw one fascinating quote which made some sense of the present-day Middle East meltdown and its monstrous ripple effect…
The talk itself, deliberately delivered open-ended as I don’t know exactly how the MoD could cope with those free-thinkers now known as ‘disruptive talent’ had, as its last point, the revelation that Lawrence of Arabia, a British Army officer fluent not in Urdu but in Arabic, had also been (like me) an Asperger.
No one else in that room knew that.
Then there was the quote I’d seen. Three short paragraphs in a screed about Islamic State from the Labour peer, Lord Maurice Glasman:
“It is nearly a hundred years since Britain and France, in the form of Sykes-Picot, drew their lines in the sand and created Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt as multi-faith secular states with centralised governments."
“That settlement has clearly failed. There is no loyalty or affection towards the state and we need to imagine a different way in which the peoples of the region can govern themselves and live together.
“Lawrence of Arabia drew a much more realistic map and it was rejected. It may be time to revisit it.”
(The Mail on Sunday, 22nd November 2015)
That final paragraph may be the key to a locked and forgotten drawer within which at least part of the answer to curing the current catastrophe of a militant Caliphate may be found. As Glasman said, and
One Voice may well agree, “we need to imagine a different way.”
But Lawrence is gone, so maybe another Asperger will have to gather up the threads of his thoughts.
I’d better not tempt fate by suggesting someone send me off into the desert on a camel. 007’s former spymaster, Dame Judi Dench, is now patron of the One Voice Initiative.
I can just imagine her calling me a sexist misogynist dinosaur and sending me on my way…