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Archbishop of Canterbury speaks on UK’s anti-Daesh military campaign

Posted on: December 2, 2015 5:18 PM
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, speaks about military action against Daesh targets in Syria during a speech in the House of Lords on Wednesday evening

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said that the “Just War” criteria have been met to justify military action against Daesh (IS, ISIL, ISIS) in Syria; but warned that merely bombing Daesh targets would “confirm their dreadful belief that what they are doing is the will of God.” He called for a holistic approach to tackling Daesh, which should include a “global theological component”.

Archbishop Welby made his comments in a speech in the House of Lords – the upper house of the UK Parliament – on a day when both houses were debating a government proposal to extend its current anti-Daesh campaign in Iraq to also include targets in Syria. Later tonight the lower house – the House of Commons – will vote to decide whether to support such a motion. Approval from the upper house is not required or sought.

In saying that the Just War criteria had been met, Archbishop Welby added that “while they are necessary, they are not by themselves sufficient in action of this kind, where we can end up doing the right thing in such a wrong way that it becomes the wrong thing.”

He said that three components were missing from the debate. Firstly, he said that “through visiting all 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion [and] through the constant contacts we have with Muslim and Christian contacts in the region – as recently as three weeks ago in a conference at Lambeth Palace – I am constantly reminded that this is a global issue to which we are providing local solutions.

“Isil is but-one head of the Hydra: religiously motivated extremism is not restricted to one part of the world.”

Secondly, Archbishop Welby warned that bombing Daesh targets “plays into the expectation of Isil and other jihadist groups in the region, springing from their apocalyptic theology: the totality of our actions must subvert that false narrative because by itself it will not work.

“If we act only against Isil globally, and only in the way proposed so far, we will strengthen their resolve, increase their recruitment and encourage their sympathisers. Without a far more comprehensive approach, we confirm their dreadful belief that what they are doing is the will of God.”

Thirdly, he said it was “essential to defeat Isil and other extremist narratives” and called for a global theological and ideological component – not just one in this country – to what we are doing.

“And it must be one which is relentlessly pursued and promoted; and it must include challenging Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose own promotion of a particular brand of Islamic theology has provided a source from which Isil have drawn a false legitimisation.

“It must also show clear support for global mainstream Muslim and other religious leaders.”

Concluding his speech, Archbishop Welby called for “greater generosity in our nation’s hospitality to refugees” along with “a clear strategy that reduces the need for others to seek sanctuary and enables those who have fled to return.

“The communities who have lived there for 2,000 years should not simply be emptied from that region. The additional military force we are bringing to this quasi-policing operation, already active over Syria, symbolically and to some extent significantly adds to what is happening there. But far more than that, it enables us to act where our resources and expertise are world leading in the creation of post-conflict peace and nation building.

“Only a holistic, theological and global policy will achieve our aims.”

The debate, which is continuing this evening, will also hear from the Bishop of Coventry, the Right Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth, and from Baron Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries who now sits as a cross-bench (independent) Peer in the House of Lords.


Full text of Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech to the House of Lords on Wednesday 2 December 2015 in a debate about whether the UK should extend its current anti-Daesh military action in Iraq to include targets in Syria.

After welcoming the former Foreign Secretary William Hague to the House of Lords, the Archbishop said:

The Just War criteria have, to my mind, been met. But while they are necessary, they are not by themselves sufficient in action of this kind where we can end up doing the right thing in such a wrong way that it becomes the wrong thing.

To my mind, there are three components which currently need more emphasis and to some extent are missing:

In this role, through visiting all 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion, through the constant contacts we have with Muslim and Christian contacts in the region – as recently as three weeks ago in a conference at Lambeth Palace – I am constantly reminded that this is a global issue to which we are providing local solutions.

Isil is but one head of the Hydra: religiously motivated extremism is not restricted to one part of the world.

Secondly, our bombing action plays into the expectation of Isil and other jihadist groups in the region, springing from their apocalyptic theology. The totality of our actions must subvert that false narrative because by itself it will not work.

If we act only against Isil globally, and only in the way proposed so far, we will strengthen their resolve, increase their recruitment and encourage their sympathisers. Without a far more comprehensive approach, we confirm their dreadful belief that what they are doing is the will of God.

Thirdly, it is essential to defeat Isil and other extremist narratives. The Prime Minister’s strategy and the speech of the Noble Lady [Baroness Stowell of Beeston, the Lord Privy Seal, mover of the motion on behalf of the government] rightly recognised that military action is only one part of the answer. But there must be a global theological and ideological component – not just one in this country – to what we are doing; and it must be one which is relentlessly pursued and promoted. And it must include challenging Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose own promotion of a particular brand of Islamic theology has provided a source from which Isil have drawn a false legitimisation.

It must also show clear support for global mainstream Muslim and other religious leaders.

There is, finally, room and requirement for greater generosity in our nation’s hospitality to refugees. But hospitality must be accompanied by a clear strategy that reduces the need for others to seek sanctuary and enables those who have fled to return. The communities who have lived there for 2,000 years should not simply be emptied from that region. The additional military force we are bringing to this quasi-policing operation, already active over Syria, symbolically and to some extent significantly adds to what is happening there. But far more than that, it enables us to act where our resources and expertise are world leading in the creation of post-conflict peace and nation building.

Only a holistic, theological and global policy will achieve our aims.