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Faith leaders speak out against air strikes on Syria

27 November 2015


Memorial: people injured in the Paris attacks a fortnight ago attend a ceremony presided over by President Hollande at Les Invalides, on Friday 

Memorial: people injured in the Paris attacks a fortnight ago attend a ceremony presided over by President Hollande at Les Invalides, on Friday ...

RELIGIOUS leaders have criticised the decision by governments to conduct air-strikes on Syria, after it was reported that hundreds of civilians were killed by Russian bombs in the country on Monday.

A report from The Independent suggests that 403 civilians, among them 97 children, have been killed since the Russian resident Vladimir Putin stepped up his air campaign against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.

The report came days after David Cameron offered the French President, François Hollande, the use of the UK’s RAF airbase on Cyprus from which to launch air-strikes in Syria. The offer was in response to seven co-ordinated attacks by IS militants in Paris on 13 November, which killed 130 people and injured more than 400.

On Thursday, Mr Cameron presented MPs with a “comprehensive strategy” to tackle IS and urged them to back military actionAir-strikes against IS militants in Syria would be in the “national interest” of the UK, he said. The country could not “outsource our security to allies” and must stand by France. He denied that the strikes would make the UK a bigger target for terror attacks.

Before his speech Mr Cameron published his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report The Extension of Offensive British Military Operations to Syria, in which he said that the decision whether or not to use military force is the “most significant” a Government was called to make. He went on to say that the “deadly intent” of IS must be prevented.

In an interview with the BBC, the Archbishop of Canterbury called on the Government to "be the means of justice". Archbishop Welby spoke out against French air-strikes in Raqqa, Syria, that took place days after the attacks, with suspected civilian causalities. "Two injustices do not make justice," he said on Sunday. "If we start randomly killing those who have not done wrong, that is not going to provide solutions."

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said that terrorists want to make people live in fear, breed hatred, and strike divisions in society — but that people must try to resist. "We really should be solid in our commitment to each other — to stand in the face of this evil," he said.

On Tuesday, the Quakers said in a statement that military action by the West would "recruit more people to the cause than they kill" and is driving the refugee crisis by forcing more people to flee their homelands. Acts of terrorism are a "deliberate effort to provoke fear", the statement said.

The Central Association of Sunni Muslims UK has called upon all Islamic scholars to use their Friday sermons to condemn the attacks. The senior Islamic scholar Allama Qazi Abdul Aziz Chishti told crowds outside the Jamia Islamia Ghousia Trust, in Luton, to be "strongly spoken out against the extremists", and to write to the Government to denounce the attacks.

Muslim members of the European Council of Religious Leaders have also condemned the attacks. On Sunday, members from seven nations said that the loss of life left them "filled with sorrow and grief".

Also, last weekend, seven Pakistani Christians, including the chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), Wilson Chowdhry, visited the Malian and the French Embassies. The demonstration was organised after gunmen raided a hotel in the Malian capital, Bamako, last Friday, killing 19.

A spokesman for BPCA, Christian Malik, said that their "hearts were moved" when news of the two attacks, within a week of each other, materialised. "We felt the pain of the French and Mali people who, like us, have suffered great loss as a consequence of Islamic extremism," he said.

IS has since claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, and a number of people were arrested after more than 100 raids across France and Belgium last week. On Thursday of last week, police staged a seven-hour raid on an apartment in Saint-Denis, during which seven terrorists were arrested, and two were killed, including the ringleader of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

Speaking alongside Mr Hollande at the Élysée Palace on Monday, Mr Cameron said that the UK would do "all in its power" to support France and "defeat this evil death cult". Mr Cameron also called for a "pan-European effort" to tackle the threat of terrorism in Europe, and later announced, as part of the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, that two 5000-strong "strike brigades" are to be created from existing army numbers in the UK, by 2025, to help respond to "diverse" threats.

Responding in the House of Lords, Archbishop of Welby called for "the total mobilisation of effort in a focussed way that recognises the long-term needs of security for indigenous populations, and particularly the Christian populations, being harried out of the area at the time".

He went on: “For the first time in almost 300 years, we’re facing a conflict that has a distinct theological and religious element, which we have not faced before. . . 

“Does the Government realise that in facing this conflict there must be an ideological response that is not only national in dealing with the threat of extremism here, but is global in challenging the doctrines that draw so many people to support ISIS internationally? And what steps are they proposing to take to put together the conflict at the ideological and theological level, as well as at humanitarian and military?”

Questions to weigh before bombing - Just-war theory can guide MPs in these decisions, says Paul Vallely



'We should be like the psalmist' THE Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken out about his comments on the recent attacks in Paris, which he said had made him "doubt" the presence of God.

Speaking in an interview for the BBC’s Songs of Praise, last Sunday, Archbishop Welby had said that the deaths of at least 129 people in the French capital, at the hands of terrorists from IS, on 13 November, had left him in "shock and horror", and had put "a chink in his armour" — comments that were widely reported in the media.

On Monday, Archbishop Welby wrote on his blog that he was "kicking myself" after the interview, and should have realised that parts would be taken "out of context" by editors. "I was asked whether events like Paris ever caused me to doubt and question. Foolishly, I said exactly what I thought," he wrote.

"The essence of my answer was that everyone has moments when they question things, and one sees that in the Psalms. . . When there are tragedies like Paris . . . when evil seems to cover the face of the Earth, then we should be like the psalmist."

Archbishop Welby said that this is "not the same as a settled belief that God does not exist, or even any serious questioning about his reality": rather it was "a moment of protest and arguing". He wrote: "For the record, I do believe in God."

In the interview, the Archbishop had referred to his questioning of God, and to the Psalms: "As I was walking [the morning after the attacks], I was praying and saying: ‘God, why — why is this happening? Where are you in all this?"

He said that God had answered that he was: "‘In the middle of it’, and also in answer from Psalm 56 — ‘he stores up our tears in a bottle, none of our sufferings are lost.’"

The Archbishop said that the violence had caused him "profound sadness", particularly as he and his wife Caroline had lived in Paris for five years. He described the suffering as "utterly heart-breaking".

Archbishop Welby's comments on Paris - Letters to the editor

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