THE global turmoil and conflict driven by extremism can be stopped only once religiously motivated violence has been purged from every faith tradition, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
The world was facing, for the first time in centuries, an obviously religious conflict that encompassed all faiths, Archbishop Welby said. In his travels around the Anglican Communion, he had come across “Islamic violence, Christian violence, Hindu violence, Buddhist violence”.
While he believed that the current bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria met the tests for a just war, bombing alone could not end the violence. “We must aim for nothing less than chasing religiously motivated violence out of every tradition,” the Archbishop said to an audience of hundreds at Queen’s University, Belfast, as he gave the annual Church of Ireland Theological Lecture.
“If warfare and armed action are the sole, or even the primary, tools we use, then what we are doing will become utterly wrong, and we will fail.”
If there had to be soldiers sent into war in the Middle East, they must be local people, not Western armies, to avoid provoking further anger at the West: “Bombing creates a false sense of crusade, [but] extensive troops on the ground would be worse by far.”
If the international community failed to engage with the global struggle in the right way, it would sow the seeds for future conflict, he suggested. He also picked out Russia’s intervention in Syria for criticism: “The actions of nations like Russia, seeking primarily their own good, will cause generations of conflict for all of us.”
While the crisis faced by the world was a theological one, religion was not the only cause of violence, he said. Instead, religious differences were used as a pretext for the reality of complex ethnic, economic, and post-colonial factors.
But, he said, “if you use the hook of religion for long enough, as a pretext, sooner or later it begins to become the reality.”
In the face of such carnage and chaos, the Church should model solidarity and wisdom, Archbishop Welby argued.
Solidarity should lead Christians to support policies such as spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid, and to grieve with Muslims at growing radicalisation rather than see all of Islam as a threat.
Wisdom, he said, should push us into accepting the limitations of what military intervention can achieve. “Wisdom also takes into account human sinfulness by recognising that not all situations are resolvable, and that human evil is pervasive and powerful.”
Noting that Westerners who joined the Islamic State (IS), or Daesh, often took with them the book Islam for Dummies, Archbishop Welby said that a more deeply held and nuanced faith could be a bulwark against extremism and radicalisation.
“What we do and say in answer to this challenge has to have more intensity, more beauty, more capacity to capture dreams and visions and hopes and expectations than anything that Daesh can do.”
He did, however, praise the Government’s response to the crisis for its refusal to look for easy answers and for taking account of the “sinfulness of human beings”.
When it came to refugees, the focus should be on rebuilding the economies of countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, so that fewer people would be driven by poverty to make the desperate journey to Europe.
“The hospitality that we offer to refugees should be more generous, but always with a clear strategy, incentive, and aim of enabling return,” he said. “To empty the Middle East of Christians removes diversity, and sows trouble for the future.”