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Be honest about extremism, Welby warns

09 October 2015

FAITH communities must take responsibility for extremists, and do more than simply condemn them, the Archbishop of Canterbury said last week. Warning that fear of those of other faiths was threatening to divide British communities, he argued that the onus was on faith leaders to confront it with “truth and love”.

“There has to be more honesty, a willingness to take responsibility for those of our own faith traditions who interpret our text differently and resort to violence,” he said. “We have unequivocally to condemn those who misuse our own scriptures for their own ends.” The Archbishop was the keynote speaker at an event, attended by four of the Primates of the British Isles, to mark the tenth anniversary of the founding of Cardiff University’s Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK.

“We are living in a time of tension and fear,” he said. “That fear has seeped into our society in a way that is new to me in my lifetime and begins to work at the cracks between us in our diversity, deepening them into barriers between us. The answer to fear is truth and love not force, truth about each other and confidence in each other.”

After arguing that interfaith work required greater honesty, he declined simply to disown Christians who committed acts of violence: “I cannot say that Christians who resort to violence are not Christians. At Srebrenica, the perpetrators claimed Christian faith. I cannot deny their purported Christianity, but must acknowledge that event as yet another in the long history of Christian violence, and I must repudiate that what they did was in any way following the life and teaching of Jesus.” Condemnation of extremists was “not enough”, he said. The mainstreams of the various faiths should develop a “counter-narrative so exciting and so beautiful that it defeats the radicalisers’ message of hate and despair”.

The Archbishop, who is patron of the Christian Muslim Forum, has previously expressed impatience with “bland statements of anaemic intent” in inter-faith dialogue (News, 8 May). In Cardiff, he said that he would “seek to speak as a Christian, not glossing over differences, but challenging fear”.

Christians were charged with taking the “first steps” in “unconditionally and unilaterally” seeking reconciliation, he said. Britain’s faith communities should “compete with each other in the service of the common good without the falsity of syncretism”.

The co-chair of the Forum, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, welcomed the Archbishop’s remarks. He had refused requests to disown terrorists as non-Muslims by excommunicating them, he said on Monday.

“To my mind, that is the easy way out and perhaps a cop-out. The biggest challenge is to acknowledge that they do claim to be Muslims, they do claim falsely to be following the teachings of Islam; and then to reject their claim, to challenge them, and to present the authentic mainstream interpretation of those scriptures.”

Muslim leaders had been providing a counter-narrative, he said, condemning killing, and advising young people to help Muslims abroad by funding humanitarian aid. He warned that many Muslims “feel that they are constantly having to distance themselves from evil and violent terrorists when the same is not expected of people of other religions when people of their religion are involved in terrorism”.

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