THE world is engaged in a “global and generational struggle against an evil cult that chooses death and fear”, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned on Saturday, after attacks by Islamist extremists in Paris last Friday left 129 people dead and more than 400 wounded.
“We choose life and hope, to overcome their hate with the power of God’s love,” he said. “In solidarity across all faiths and none, and with all human beings, rather than in the victimisation of any, we will find the way to defeat the demonic curse of terrorism.”
The attacks were the deadliest act of violence in France since the Second World War. The terrorists targeted six locations, including the Stade de France, restaurants, and the Bataclan concert hall. Survivors have spoken of gunmen picking off people one by one, including those in wheelchairs.
Among the victims was Nick Alexander, from Essex, who was selling merchandise at the Bataclan. The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, has sent a message to the family of Mr Alexander, who was an altar server at St Andrew’s, Weeley. French authorities have named six of the eight men they believe to have carried out the attacks, four of whom are French nationals. Seven of the eight blew themselves up, or were shot dead. One suspect, Salah Abdeslam, is still on the run.
After declaring a state of emergency and closing borders on Friday, the French President, François Hollande, promised to “lead a war which will be pitiless”. French warplanes have since launched several strikes on Raqqa, a city in the heart of territory controlled by IS.
Amid talk of escalating military action in Syria, bishops have pointed to a different path.
“The day after this heinous attack, we may wish for God to come down and wipe out our enemies,” wrote Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, on Saturday. “Instead, Christ on the cross, completely powerless at the last, shows us that it is only love that can overcome hatred, evil and even death.” Christians must strive for peace, he said.
The Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Archbishop Mouneer Anis, also warned against “the path of retributive justice, of reciprocate hatred, of fear and anger” and spoke of the need for “Profound forgiveness. Profound mercy. Profound grace.”
The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, said that Christians “must never lose sight of the effectiveness of prayer, nor of the powerful impact that our collective acts of solidarity offer”. He went on: “We can never truly know when and how such acts of rampant violence will cease, but we pray for those who commit them to realise the full, wasteful, and devastating impact of their actions on the lives of so many who bleed and mourn, just as they do. We also pray that the pain, anger, and resentment caused by these events do not corrupt good hearts or tear communities apart.”
The attacks prompted several police raids, on Molenbeek, a district of Brussels which is said to have the highest concentration of foreign terrorist fighters in Europe. Two of the Paris attackers have been linked to the district, and the suspected mastermind behind them, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, grew up there. He was one of two suspects killed in a raid in St Denis, in Paris, on Wednesday, during which eight were arrested. One woman died after after activating a suicide vest. The Paris prosecutor's office said that it was still unclear whether Abaaoud blew himself up or not. His body was found riddled with bullets, the BBC reported.
It emerged on Friday that Abaaoud, and two of the Paris attackers, had returned to Europe from Syria via the migration route through Greece used by refugees. Abaaoud was subject the subject of both a European and international arrest warrant. The discovery has led to recriminations about the ease with which it is possible to exploit the Schengen agreement, which abolished internal borders between many European countries, and about the lack of coordination between security forces.
Also on Wednesday, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, who has lived in Belgium for ten years, said that there were “excellent relations between the faiths”, and that the connections to the Paris attacks were “a terrible tragedy” for the country.
“The fragility of the enterprise on the continent of which we are part is a very serious matter, and, at this time, our leaders and our public need to do all they can to strengthen ties and build bonds of affection.”
The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, expressed anxiety that the attacks would “harden our hearts” to refugees.
The Dean of the American Cathedral, the Very Revd Lucinda Laird, said: “I suspect there will be very, very strong anti-Muslim sentiment, and one thing we must do is stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and foster conversation and understanding. I think we also need to work harder to care for the flood of refugees fleeing terror in their own countries — work for immediate care and for political solutions.”
St George’s, Paris, made its main Sunday service a requiem. The website of St Michael’s, Paris, assured the victims and medical teams of the congregation’s prayers.
The secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Dr Shuja Shafi, was one of several Muslim leaders to issue a statement condemning the attackers. “There is nothing Islamic about such people, and their actions are evil and outside the boundaries set by our faith,” he said.
David Cameron spoke on Monday of a “battle of ideas”. The extremists’ “diseased view of the world” had become “an epidemic, infecting minds from the mosques of Mogadishu to the bedrooms of Birmingham”, he warned.
“It is not good enough to say simply that Islam is a religion of peace, and then to deny any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists,” he said.
It would “disempower the critical reforming voices that want to challenge the scriptural basis on which extremists claim to be acting — the voices that are crucial in providing an alternative world-view that could stop a teenager’s slide along the spectrum of extremism.”
Speaking after the attacks, he pledged to “redouble our efforts to wipe out this poisonous extremist ideology and, together with the French and our allies around the world, stand up for all we believe in”.
On Tuesday, he told the House of Commons that the case for airstrikes in Syria had been strengthened by the attacks.
Social cohesion can defeat terror - Community-building undermines extremism: churches can help here, says Alan Billings
Try winning the peace with ideas - Responses to terrorism in Paris need to break the cycle of violence, says Paul Vallely
Responses to last week's atrocities in Paris - Letters to the editor
Getting inside the mind of IS - Press column by Andrew Brown
Can Islamic State be defeated only by military means? Vote now