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The bishop of the British armed forces has come under fire in the UK for praising the Iranian leadership for its "forgiveness" and "act of mercy" after the regime's decision last week to release the British service crew held captive in Teheran.
In a statement welcoming the hostages' release, Rev. Tom Burns said the Iranians' religious beliefs had played a large part in the decision to release them and that the act had demonstrated "faith in a forgiving God."
Burns said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had spoken of forgiveness and appealed to Islamic tradition. He also said that Iran's actions must be seen in the context of their belief that Britain had violated their territorial waters.
"So, if that is the case they are putting forward, then by their own standards...they have then chosen to put their faith into action to resolve the situation," Burns said. He added that Islam shared other religions' values.
"We all profess to hold a faith that comes from Abraham, father of all nations," he said.
Conservative party defense spokesman Liam Fox called Burns "naive in the extreme" and said the bishop had been "taken in by the clever propaganda" of the Iranian regime.
"This is a regime that illegally captured our servicemen and held them in quite dreadful conditions for some time. The true moral worth of a leader is in his or her deeds, not words. I think that those who talk in religious terms while practicing abduction should be judged on what they have done, not what they have said." he said.
Nick Harvey, defense spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, concurred: "We will never know whether the Iranian president's decision to release the hostages was motivated by his religion or, most probably, by a desire to ensure that his best interests were served."
"It would be naive to take what the president said at face value, but perhaps we should not dismiss his words entirely," Harvey said.
The criticism follows comments on the captives' release made this week by Bishop of Rochester Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, who told The Sunday Times that, as he watched the release of the British sailors, he "saw... what Iran was doing, and what the president said had much to do with the moral and spiritual tradition of their country."