Acts of Terror

Following the attack at the Manchester Arena in 2017, the Archbishop spoke of the loss which touches all.  'They have our prayers and support at this terrible time. This is a time for communities to hold together, to care for one another, to respect the privacy of those carrying this grief'

Love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

In November 2015, two days after terrorist gunmen attacked the Bataclan theatre in Paris, in which 89 people died, Antoine Leiris wrote an open letter to his wife’s killers on Facebook.  “On Friday night, you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hate.  I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know.  You are dead souls,” he said.  He went on: “You want me to be scared, to see my fellow citizens through suspicious eyes, to sacrifice my freedom for security.  You have failed.  I will not change.”

Our world is in pain, groaning and longing to be liberated from futility and decay.  The deliberate targeting of children and their families - with a calculated and callous equation of evil - demonstrated that brokenness.  A deliberate act contorted and twisted within the framework of a brutalist ideology that exists outside the understanding of shared humanity. 

One of the fundamental laws of physics reminds us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  It’s a law that salafi-jihadists - the purveyors of these heinous criminal acts across cities and continents – fail to understand. 

It was seen within minutes of the bomb in Manchester.  The women and men of the emergency services showing their professionalism and care, the taxi drivers taking people home and refusing to charge, the householders opening up their doors and offering safety to the stranded and bewildered, the countless acts of love and kindness by ordinary men and women seeking the welfare of one another in the very midst of tragedy.  The opposite reaction to the actions of a lone bomber has been an outpouring of generosity and solidarity - a coming together of love.

The love that we have witnessed stands in stark opposition to the evil that sought to taunt it.  It’s the love of which we have become familiar hearing about at weddings and funerals in the famous reading from St Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13 (that great hymn of love), and which we have seen lived out.

It’s the kind of love which contends with tragedy, endures hardship, is steadfast in difficulty and in the end wins out.  That strong and long-lasting love that carries people through both good times and bad.  The love that many waters cannot quench or blow apart.  The love that can’t be bought or sold or measured out.  The love that is so strong and so passionate that it refuses to die even when we ourselves may die or pass away.

We celebrate the fact that in the battle between good and evil, death and justice, hate and love, love wins. In the midst of the brokenness of our world we have seen the triumph of love over the worst kind of hate.

In the opening verses of John’s Gospel: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The pain, grief, anger and the consequences of the bombing will endure for years in the lives of those who have lost loved ones.  But the hatred that inspired the act will lose.  It will not have the final word.  As Martin Luther King Jr once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Read the Archbishop's statement following the death of York residents, Angelika and Marcin Klis, who were killed as they waited to collect their daughters from Manchester Arena.

A Prayer 

A Collect for Peace
O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, 
to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom:
Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies;
that we, surely trusting in your defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries;
through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. 
Amen.

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.

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