[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] “You can’t create peace and security by doing things to [people], you have to be alongside, doing things with people,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said this evening.
Archbishop Welby made his comments during a panel discussion on “Violent extremism: global threat, local solution” at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The panel included the deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, Rowsch Shaways; and the discussion was chaired by L Markus Karlsson, the business editor of television station France24, which broadcast the discussion.
During the discussion, the Archbishop defended the place of religion, and particularly the Christian faith, saying: “The answer to bad religion is not no religion, but good religion.
“And I think that religious leaders – well, I can only speak as a Christian – but as a Christian I would say that our role is to present the faith of Christ in a way that is so clearly full of the love and grace of God that it is an effective counter-narrative in and of itself. . .”
He spoke of the “absolutely wonderful” relations that some Church of England clergy serving Muslim-majority parishes have with their neighbours; and said of one such priest: “there is a constant exchange of friendship, of love, of welcome, of caring for each other when things are tough. . .
“That is an effective antidote because it says ‘don’t pay attention to these people who say there is no purpose or call or hope for life in the West.’”
And, admitting that women had often been seen as “inferior” because of the “history of patriarchy” within the main religious traditions, he said that this had “created a culture in which a group of people – in that case women – are seen as somehow inferior.
“Once you have done that with one group of people it is very easy to do it with other groups of people. You have created the atmosphere in which you can demonise or say that a group is dangerous and must be controlled, eliminated, or whatever it happens to be. I think that we have to be very conscious of that.”
He continued: “Within many faith traditions – and within the Christian tradition – there is the idea of the essential dignity of every single human being regardless of who they are.
“Reclaiming the proclamation of that, the absolute standing of that, in our political statements, in our commercial transactions, in our education, in health treatment, in all the key areas of life; is essential in order to show an alternative way.”
Responding to a question from the audience, Archbishop Welby expressed a nuanced caution about crackdowns on extremist thought.
“There are certain slippery slopes that when you start believing a certain way it leads you inexorably to violence,” he said. “If we go back 20-or-more years to the Rwanda genocide: the moment you start seeing a group of people as cockroaches, as they were called on the radio – that might just be a thought but it opens the way to violence.
“Queen Elizabeth the First said that – if you will excuse the gender based language – that ‘you cannot make windows into men’s souls’ was the phrase she used. We cannot look into the inner heart of a person.
“And therefore I think we have to be very careful about thought control. To educate, yes. To inspire, even better. To make things hard to think, better still. Not just because they are unacceptable but because they are contrary to the whole way we look at what a human being is.
“But to control thought is taking on the values we are trying to oppose.”
He said that it was important to deal with the “cockroach” type of thought – speech that demeans people and makes it easy to kill and attack them; but he finished with a challenging question: “Who is an extremist?”
He continued: “Martin Luther King, in one sense, was an extremist; and thank God he existed.”