POLICE dogs checking for explosives at St George's Anglican
Church, Tunis, on Sunday, were "a healthy reminder that we live in
volatile times", the Area Bishop for North Africa, Dr Bill Musk,
said on Tuesday. He spoke in the wake of an attack by Islamist
terrorists in Algeria in which 37 hostages were killed, and a
warning by the Prime Minister that North African states had become
"a magnet for jihadists".
Addressing Parliament on Monday, Mr Cameron said that the
"murderous violence" perpetrated by the terrorists at the remote
Tigantourine gas complex in the Saharan desert last week required a
"strong security response". Britain was engaged in a "generational
struggle against an ideology which is an extreme distortion of the
Clergy had mixed views on the implications of Mr Cameron's
speech for Christians.
Dr Musk said that, in "strong Islamic contexts", Christians
living as minorities "always run the risk of being perceived as
fifth columnists, agents of the West - politically as well as
religiously". For some Muslims, the "religious motivation and
political motivation by Western powers in their 'war on terror' or
definition of an 'axis of evil' is seen as much as a religious
phenomenon as a security issue." Some Christians in North Africa
were discovering, in the wake of the Arab Spring, that "instead of
the previous state-security-sponsored persecution, they are now
being targeted by Islamist groups of different varieties".
Dr Musk suggested that "a really serious, risky engagement by
Western powers to address the major, historic issue of perceived
injustice in the region - purposeful collusion in the setting up of
a Zionist and expansive state of Israel at the expense of
Palestinian communities - would go a long way towards the pulling
out of the rug from under the feet of those with a more extreme
Islamic, politico-religious agenda."
Mr Cameron's comments, including his reference to a "strong
security response", drew criticism from the Revd Nadim Nassar, the
director of the Awareness Foundation, which promotes greater
understanding among religions.
"Wherever an incident happens or a regime is shaken, the first
thing we talk about is military intervention," he said. "Where do
we draw the line? . . . I ask Mr Cameron a question: Why did they
allow the opposition to use jihadists in Syria? . . . Why is Aleppo
full of al-Qaeda fighters under a black flag?. . . What are you
doing about jihadists and Islamic fanaticism in this country?"
Dialogue, not military action, was the way forward.
Mr Nassar said that Muslim leaders had "much more to do . . . to
stop religious fanatacism. We can help them with our support, build
bridges with them, but after all there must be a moderate force
within Islam to say 'enough is enough for abusing religion'. . . At
the moment we are still in the area of pleasantries and making
compliments to each other . . . but we have to deal with the
problem on a deeper level."
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Christian Solidarity Worldwide
(CSW) welcomed Mr Cameron's "recognition of the issue of terrorism
in the Maghreb at large". Events in Nigeria suggested that
Christians and moderate Muslims would be "more endangered by a lack
of action that allows space for these groups to embed themselves
and enforce their repressive policies." CSW had received reports
from Mali of "appalling mistreatment of the general population of
On Tuesday, the Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John
Packer, asked the Leader of the House of Lords to "express his
support for the vast majority of Muslims . . . who express their
own bitter opposition to violence". This violence was "sometimes
associated, on the part of terrorist organisations, with
allegations of western and Christian aggression." Interfaith
activity, he said, was "crucial".
On Tuesday, giving the Thought for the Day on Radio 4,
the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, spoke of the
families of Paul Morgan and Garry Barlow, murdered in the
Tigantourine siege. Their grief would be compounded by the fact
that, in a "violation of faith", the terrorist leader Mokhtar
Belmokhtar had called the attack a "blessed operation", he said.
"If God is violated by such misrepresentation, then it's a sign of
how he's violated day by day by the slaughter of innocents."