So say two British bishops, one Anglican and one Catholic:
In a statement welcoming the hostages’ release on Thursday, [Catholic] Bishop [of the Forces Tom] Burns said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had spoken of forgiveness, and appealed to the religious traditions of Islam. This might seem puzzling, said the bishop. But it had to be seen in the context of the Iranians’ belief that Britain had violated their territorial waters.
"So, if that is the case they are putting forward, then by their own standards, the standards enshrined in their religion, they have then chosen to put their faith into action to resolve the situation," said the bishop.
"Faith in a forgiving God has been exemplified in action by their good deeds. They are offering to release the sailors and marines, not just as the result of diplomacy, but also as an act of mercy in accordance with their religion."
He added that the Iranian’s Islamic faith shared many religious values with Christianity. "Over the past two weeks, there has been a unity of purpose between Britain and Iran, whereby everyone has sought justice and forgiveness where that is appropriate," he said.
"Repentance has a common root in each religion. We all profess to hold a faith that comes from Abraham - the Father of all Nations.
"All nations form one community: we come from the one God who created us, and we will return to the one God as our common destiny."
And here’s the Anglican Bishop of Rochester, the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali:
"I saw on the one hand what Iran was doing, and what the president [of Iran] said had much to do with the moral and spiritual tradition of their country," he said.
"The president talked about the religious background to the release, with reference to the Prophet’s birthday and the passing over of Christ. What struck me was that if there were any values on the British side they were free-floating and not anchored in a spiritual and moral tradition."
He added, however, that he believed that both sides were acting from mixed motives, and challenged the Iranians to demonstrate similar tolerance in their treatment of religious minorities.
The nicest thing said in response to these comments is that the men are naive. I don’t object to appealing to the "better angels of our natures" and of our religious traditions, but the analysis accompanying that should be based both in a solid appreciation of the political and strategic context and in a clear-sighted appreciation of right and wrong. I get no sense from the statements that the bishops have thought about the former. And I’m distressed that Bishop Burns seems to be practicing a kind of moral equivalency, working from the assumption that, if the Iranians claim to have had right on their side, there’s no way we can call them on that.
In other words, unless they’re as "wise as serpents," they can’t be as "harmless as doves."