Tensions have ‘seeped into our society in a way that is new to me in my lifetime’, warns Archbishop of Canterbury
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with his friend Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra jointly condemned the murder of Lee Rigby in 2013
Fear of Muslims has stirred up division between neighbours in Britain in a way not seen in living memory, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said tensions had “seeped into our society” threatening to fracture multiculturalism by widening “cracks” between different communities into seemingly insurmountable barriers.
Britain, he said, is now “living in a time of time of tension and fear” in which extremists try to marginalise the mainstream while secularists wish to turn religion itself into an activity like sex, which should be “between consenting adults in private”.
He told a gathering organised by Muslim leaders in Cardiff that mainstream elements in all major religions must make their message more “exciting and beautiful” to drown out extremists.
It is not enough, he said, simply to condemn hate preachers who seek to radicalise vulnerable young people without putting forward a powerful alternative message.
And while emphasising parallels between Christianity and Islam – including remarking that they share strikingly similar beliefs about the justification for war – he said it was important not to “gloss over” fundamental differences.
He insisted that many faiths, not just Islam, have a problem with radicalisation.
And, significantly, he said Christians should not deny “accountability” for the role of their faith in “many atrocities” over the centuries including recent decades
.His remarks came in an address to an interfaith dinner at Cardiff City Hall hosted by the Muslim Council of Wales.
Among the guests were the heads of the Anglican churches of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the first time all four primates of the British Isles had met in one place.
Saleem Kidwai, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales, described terrorism as a “cancer” which must be addressed but added said Muslims felt like they are effectively living under siege.
“The Muslims I meet in Mosques and across Wales generally are concerned about the environment where they are raising their children,” he said.
“[It is] an environment in which to be a Muslim is to be treated with suspicion; an environment in which far right groups increasingly protest against Muslims; an environment in which there are arson attacks against mosques; an environment in which a Muslim woman walking down the street is likely to be … spat at or abused.
“Call it Islamophobia, call it anti-Muslim prejudice, call it racism, but whatever you call it is wrong and it is sadly becoming a norm.”
The Archbishop echoed Mr Kidwai’s remarks telling the audience: “We are living in a time of tension and fear.
“That fear has seeped into our society in a way that is new to me in my lifetime and begins to work at the cracks between us in our diversity, deepening them into barriers between us.
“The answer to fear is truth and love not force, truth about each other and confidence in each other.”
Insisting it is essential not to ignore differences, he touched on central tenets of the Christian faith which Muslims fundamentally reject including the belief that Jesus was the incarnation of God.
“There has to be more honesty a willingness to take responsibility for those in our own faith traditions who interpret our texts differently and resort to violence,” he added.
“I cannot stand here and say to you that those who professed Christ and committed the atrocity of Srebrenica were not Christians I can only say they acted in a way contrary to all the teaching of Christ.
“But I must not deny the accountability of the Christian faith over the centuries for miscellaneous and many atrocities.”
He went on: “We have unequivocally to condemn those who misuse our own scriptures for their own ends but condemnation, a negative, is never enough.
“It is not the common good simply to condemn, it does not show anyone anything of the goodness of God.
“The mainstreams of our faith are not at the mercy of the radicalisers who seek in all the major faith traditions of the world – I could quote examples [involvong] other traditions as well as Christianity and Islam – to radicalise and marginalise the mainstream.
"That is the aim of the radicalisers, they want to marginalise the great traditions of their deferent faiths.
“The mainstream faiths ought to generate a positive, not just condemnatory, a positive counter-narrative that acknowledges our differences and commits to resource and support one another in defiance of those who wish to divide us.
“The counter-narrative must be so exciting and so beautiful that it defeats the radicalisers with their message of hate, despair and destruction.”