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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of UK in Holy See

21st September 2012

Religion, Foreign Affairs and Dialogue

World Meeting of Peace, Sarajevo (9-11 September 2012). Photo copyright: Sant’Egidio Community, all rights reserved

In her book “The Mighty and the Almighty”, Madeline Albright asked rhetorically:“Why can’t we just keep religion out of foreign policy?”. She responded: “we can’t and shouldn’t. Religion is a large part of what motivates people and shapes their views of justice and right behaviour. It must be taken into account”. The last fortnight has demonstrated this with clarity. Arguably, issues around faith and religion are more important to the work of diplomacy than at any time since the 17thcentury.

The outrage across the Muslim world to the film “The Innocence of Muslims” is understandable. Even if some responses have been terribly misplaced or, worse, wilfully manipulated – the violence, the targeting of diplomats, the deliberate misunderstanding of democratic norms of free speech – it is clear that in this networked world, a single act by a madman or extremist provocateur can be flashed around the world in minutes, and we all have to deal with the consequences. How we do so is in large part a task for leaders, religious and secular, including diplomats.

And that is where two extraordinary events of the last fortnight come in. The first was the meeting of dialogue and prayer organised in Sarajevo by the Sant’Egidio Community. On the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of war in Bosnia, Sant’Egidio brought religious and political leaders to Sarajevo to reflect, to talk, and to pray. The key message was that in this modern and globalised world, in which diversity is the norm not the exception, religions have a role in forging peace and helping different communities live together.

The other event, of course, was Pope Benedict’s extraordinary visit to Lebanon. The Pope’s messages were clear and stark: fundamentalism is a negation of religion; authentic faith does not lead to death; shared freedom, tolerance and creativity, must be the fruit of the Arab Spring; if you want peace, respect life; dialogue across the religious divide is the key to peaceful coexistence. In other words, whilst religion is an element in the problem, it also needs to be part of the solution. As diplomats, we cannot ignore that.

If diplomats have a tool, it is dialogue. If authentic religious leaders have instruments, they are their words and prayers. Andrea Riccardi, founder of Sant’Egidio, has asked since the Sarajevo meeting: “Can dialogue really change relations between peoples?”. The interim answer appears to be: well, without dialogue, there is no chance, even if dialogue alone is not sufficient. That’s the challenge.

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About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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