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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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Acts of Terror

 This is an extract from the Archbishop's 2006 Ebor Lecture

A religious person who commits acts of terror denies the faith they appear to profess. By treating God's creation with contempt through the murdering of others, and in the case of suicide bombers, self-contempt, those who commit acts of terror both usurp and pervert the fundamental tenets of faith in the most basic denial of the faith possible, by killing others in God's very name.

Martyrs witness to their faith by their commitment to love and service and not killing themselves and murdering others in the process.

Some of those who commit acts of terror have been described as 'Islamic fundamentalists' or even as 'Islamic fascists'. These are unhelpful terms to use, not least because they further alienate those who commit these hideous crimes through the use of terms which are Christian in origin in the case of fundamentalists and political in origin in terms of fascism. It is dangerous to use these terms which implies aggressive tendencies of certain strains of Islam are imported rather than indigenous. The simple add on of these disparate terms to Islam does not describe motivation or purpose of these criminals, so have little use and add little to our understanding. Rather I believe the term to use for those committing acts of terror and those who seek to pervert the Islamic faith is "Salafi Jihadists".

In their rejection of all forms of Islamic scholarship in favour of a politically driven agenda, Salafi Jihadists reject the reality of God's creation for a fantasy. Their starting point is victimhood, especially against the West and Christianity.

The violence of those who commit acts of terror is fed less by the clash of civilisations or belief than by its lack, and the insult to God that Western disbelief represents. And sadly individual choice can justify anything, including murder and acts of terror. Knowledge for its own sake has become a power of destruction.

The history of the interpretation of Jihad in Islam is a long one with very a positive emphasis on spiritual growth and development as a process of self-denial in the battle of wills and achievement of peace.

However for the modern day Salafi Jihadist who defines themselves through acts of mass destruction and terror, Jihad has taken on a whole new meaning and the God who it claims to serve has become too small. For the God of the Salafi Jihadist has become far removed from the God of Islam. The love of God, the love of neighbour, whether in or out of the Ummah, and care of God's creation have all been repudiated by the acts of terror carried out by the Salafi Jihadist.

In Islam Allah is "all powerful and all merciful", yet for the Salafi Jihadist there is no mercy or power in the indiscriminate acts of terror. There is only destruction. The merciful character of a creator God has been left aside in favour of a new small god, leading to a perversion of Islam. Hence rather than uncovering the purposes of God, the texts of the Qur'an are abused and selectively applied by the Salafi Jihadist so that the suicide bomber acts in the name of the smallest of gods, whilst those who deal with the aftermath of the bombers handiwork in Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan demonstrate God's love for his creation rather than the salafi jihadist's mutilation of it.

There is always a danger when making comments about 'Jihadists' that the charge of Islamaphobia follows close behind. So let me be clear. I am not by any means talking about all of Islam or all Muslims here. Indeed as a faith community Christians should recognise that one of the biggest contributions of the Muslim community in Britain has been its denial of the secularist call that faith should be privatised and should be regarded as a minority occupation.

It has often been Muslims, as well as leaders of other faiths, who have joined with Christians in refusing to accept the creeping secularisation that would replace 'Christmas' with 'Winterval', and remove references to faith from public noticeboards for fear of causing offence. It is both my view and my experience, that most British Muslims do not feel threatened by our Christian moral foundations but by the cynicism of secularised culture that denies its own foundations. What they object to is the attempt to build human society without God. And so given the choice between the two prefer a faith environment, even one which they do not share, to that of a secularist state. This is something which those who seek to remove offence continuously fail to comprehend or understand. Many, and I include myself in this, cannot understand how those who were shaped by the Christian Gospel dislike the culture that nurtured them.

Reason and human worth are at the very core of the Christian gospel, and that is precisely why, beyond the obvious historical facts, Christianity is the true foundation of British culture and values.

And so my plea to all Muslims in this country is the words of Jesus Christ who to you is a prophet and to me a saviour: "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? . Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Bible reading Matthew 5: 43-46A, 48.