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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

7/7: Remembering and Forgetting

Preaching at the memorial service for the victims of the 7 July London bombings at St Paul’s this afternoon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, referred to ‘the powerful and consistent responses of all our faith communities’ (full text here).

Also present at the service was Mayor Ken Livingstone, who read a lesson from Isaiah. Now Mayor Livingstone has, since 7 July, faced a lot of criticism over his relationship with the Muslim scholar (some would put the word in quotes) Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. You can sample this here and here, but for my present purposes the salient points are firstly that Livingstone justifies the relationship by arguing that Qaradawi is widely respected among British Muslims; and secondly that Qaradawi unashamedly defends the right of Palestinians to engage in terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens:-

‘Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, he insists, are a form of jihad. "The actor who commits this is a martyr because he gave his life for the noble cause of fighting oppression and defending his community," he says. "These operations are best seen as the weapon of the weak against the powerful. It is a kind of divine justice when the poor, who don't have weapons, are given a weapon which the fully equipped and armed-to-the-teeth powerful don't have - the powerful are not willing to give their lives for any cause."’ (read the rest of this interview here)

And there can be little doubt that many British Muslims do indeed agree with him. Even the leadership of the supposedly moderate Muslim Council of Britain has been deeply equivocal on this issue.

So whilst it may seem absurdly obsessive to pick one small phrase out of the Archbishop’s sermon, I do believe it is both significant and troubling. How are we to understand it in the light of the Qaradawi factor? Was it intended as the kind of emollient half-truth appropriate to a big civic event? Is it an instance of Dr Williams’s use of poetic language, so that I am missing the point if I inquire into its truth value? Is he indulging in wishful thinking, responding to an imagined ideal Muslim community which he can no longer differentiate from the reality? Or finally, and this is of course where I get really worried, does he see no contradiction between a ‘powerful and consistent response’ to suicide bombings in London and apologetics for suicide bombings in Tel Aviv?

Dr Williams began his sermon with these words:-

‘There is one thing that is always common to any sort of terrorist action, wherever it happens and whoever performs it. It aims at death – not the death of anyone in particular, just death. It does not matter to the killers if their victims are Christian or Muslim, Hindu or Humanist; what matters is that they show that they can kill where they please.

‘And the shock of terrorist violence is just this sense of arbitrariness. It really doesn’t matter who you are, what you have done or not done, what you think and believe, you are still a target just by being where you are at a particular time. The terrorist is the enemy not just of a system or a government but of the whole idea that we are each of us unique and responsible and non-replaceable. If it were true that one victim would be as good as any other, which is what the terrorist believes, the human world would be a completely different place, unrecognisable to most of us.’


This all sounds very wise and profound until you start unpacking it – in which it is not untypical of Dr Williams’s utterances, I fear. For is it really true that terrorists don’t care who they kill? It might have been true of the 7 July bombers. But for Palestinian suicide bombers there is one characteristic of their victims that is irreplaceable. They have to be Jewish.

So is the Archbishop simply talking through his mitre, or is he somehow suggesting that if you select your victims by race you don’t quite count as a terrorist? In which case he and Qaradawi really do have some common ground to explore, and I become a very unhappy Anglican.

1 comment:

Jonty Goodson said...

Good posting and excellent questions.

Although I'm not an Anglican, or indeed a Christian, I've lost all respect for the Archbishop.

Not only has he stood up for Saddam Hussein and for the homophobes in the church. Not only has he 'welcomed' that libelous ACC report on Israel/Palestine.

But he has now also left out the Jews from his list of terror victims in a way that is quite disgusting after Ahmadinejad's comments last week.

No offense to anyone intended - but as a UK citizen I feel that the sooner the CofE is disestablished the better!