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9/11 and the shaming of the C of E


I WONDER if the Taliban, much heartened by the appeasing policies of Johnson and Biden, will find a way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers next month? On September 11, 2001 I was at a theological conference in Oxford when, in the college bar after lunch, news came in from New York on the big screen. The clergy were entirely predictable:

‘Oh, I do hope Bush doesn’t retaliate!’

I said, ‘I bloody well hope he does!’

Thus I made myself more unpopular than ever! I have never been more ashamed of the Church of England than for its cowardly appeasement of the Islamic – not, please, Islamist* – terrorists. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury was craven – and illogical. If you have a few minutes, I’ll tell you what happened next . . .

I escaped from that conference and returned to my parishes in the City of London. I put on a Requiem Mass at St Sepulchre at 24 hours’ notice and 250 turned out for it. City types can be a bit raucous, insensitive, philistine. Not that day. I swear no one moved a muscle for the 35 minutes start to finish. No mobile phone went off. There was an atmosphere of intense reverence and sympathy. Here were people, largely un-churched, with more idea of the holy than the cream of London’s clergy at an Oxford conference.

We had no jogging-for-Jesus music, no smarmy grins, no creepy introduction of the ‘We are living in tragic times’ variety. No superfluous ecclesiastical chat of any kind. I started off with

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis . . . I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand upon the earth at the latter day; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall behold and not another.

The sun burst through the stained glass and lit the altar spectrally. When it was over, I stood out in the street by the porch as the City workers walked out, many sobbing silently, and went back to their desks.

Adjacent to St Sepulchre is the HQ of Merrill Lynch, its trading floor the largest in Europe, about a hundred yards long. Three of the bank’s employees were killed in the attack on the Twin Towers and their chief executive asked me to put on a memorial service for them in St Sepulchre. For this, three tall candles dominated the transept and the church was again filled with City workers. There were prayers and readings and a couple of well-known hymns. Then a soaring soprano led us into the first verse of The Star-Spangled Banner. Then all – all who could quell the lump in their throats – joined in. Reverence. Resolve. Defiance. I bloody well hope he does retaliate . . . The Requiem Mass and that memorial service show that, even in the 21st century, you can still be authentically religious – providing you start by ignoring most of the Church of England.

Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, happened to be in New York when the terrorists struck and he swiftly wrote a short book about it, Writing in the Dust. It’s frightening stuff. Dr Williams said the West should not fight back:

‘If I decide to answer in the same terms, that is how the conversation will continue.’

What, Archbishop – the suicide bombing of populous skyscrapers an opening gambit in a conversation?! Besides, the Archbishop was confused, for we did not ‘answer in the same terms’. The response of the West was a disciplined military operation designed to eliminate specific terrorists, while the attack on New York was the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians. There was more confusion in the Archbishop’s mind between revenge and justice. For, while I may seek on my own behalf to follow the teaching of Christ to turn the other cheek, I must not do this on behalf of those of my own people who have suffered innocently. It is my duty to take up the sword on behalf of the fatherless children and the widows. Not to do this is to concede victory to the aggressors, and that would be unjust.

Would Dr Williams argue that the intrepid passengers who fought back against the terrorists in the fourth plane were wrong to do so?  If they had not summoned up oceans of courage – and, by the way, said the Lord’s Prayer first – and attacked the terrorists, certainly that fourth plane would have been deliberately crashed into another densely populated target and the loss of life would have been catastrophically greater.

Dr Williams would not even allow us to describe the terrorists as evil men:

‘Bombast about evil doesn’t help in understanding anything.’

Bombast never gets anyone anywhere, but if we are not allowed to describe indiscriminate mass murderers as evil, then the word evil becomes denuded of all meaning. The Archbishop wanted us to ‘understand’ the terrorists’ motivation. He reckoned they had no choice:

‘We have something of the freedom to consider whether or not we turn to violence and so, in virtue of that very fact, are rather different from those who experience the world as leaving no other option.’

This is nonsense on stilts. Not every disaffected Muslim thinks the cure for all his woes is to blow up skyscrapers. And if the perpetrators for whom Williams had so much sympathy really did believe that they had no alternative but to commit mass murder, then they were psychotic as well as psychopathic. Williams’s analysis was a high-grade example of the obsequious drivel we have heard ever since 9/11 from those in the West who despise the civilisation which is their inheritance, while they give house-room to barbarism.

Once we have declared that the atrocities were not the fault of the terrorists who perpetrated them, what next?

‘We begin to find some sense of what they and we together might recognise as good.’

It is at this point that Williams’s confusion and nonsense sinks into lunacy. Is it really possible to make common cause between democratic freedoms and the rule of law on the one hand and psychopathic, nihilistic killing on the other? In any case the Muslim fanatics have spelt it out for us:

‘We shall win – because you believe in life while we believe in death.’

How would we go about establishing Williams’s ‘common cause’?

‘Do come in and sit down, Mr Bin Laden, pour yourself an orange juice and let’s discuss world peace . . . ’

Williams proceeded to dismiss the war on terrorism as ‘a discharge of tension. What possible guarantee could there be that the abolition of terrorism had been achieved?’

Of course, in historical matters there are no guarantees, as there are no inevitabilities, unless you are a Marxist. Williams’s own perversions of logic and truth excited him to draw absurd conclusions. But worse followed. For it was at this point that the Archbishop’s misapprehensions descended into irritable fantasy. He said that the bombing campaign in Afghanistan ‘assaulted public morale by allowing random killing as a matter of calculated policy’.

That was simply not true. There was nothing ‘random’ about it. The coalition forces gave the Taliban scores of warnings before the bombing started and took great pains to avoid civilian casualties. Williams amply demonstrated his insane belief that there was a moral equivalence between the Western powers and Al Qaeda. In fact it’s worse even than that: he actually conceded to the terrorists the high moral ground as he prated the old story again of the nasty capitalists’ cruel exploitation of the Third World’s picturesque poor: ‘We could ask whether the further destabilising of a massively resentful Muslim world were really unavoidable.’

The question is whether petulance and massive resentment are deserving of rewards. When children become resentful, they sulk. At this point the teacher dispenses a spell in the naughty corner, not sweeties.

Williams’s fantasy turned out to be paranoid: ‘Every transaction in the developed economies of the West can be interpreted as an aggression against the economic losers in the worldwide game.’

It is only the likes of Williams and Soviet-style Marxists who would make this interpretation. The facts contradict the Archbishop, for many of those Third World countries which have hitched their economic wagon to the Western engine have massively raised the living standards of their people. The capitalism of the free market has been the most powerful force the world has ever known in the alleviation of poverty. Is it only the modern clergypersons and their useful idiot Archbishop who can’t see this? Paranoia usually goes hand-in-hand with sentimentality, and we saw buckets of the stuff in Writing in the Dust:

‘As we protest at how the West is hated, how we never meant to oppress or diminish other cultures, how we never meant to undermine Islamic integrity, we must try not to avoid the pain of grasping that we are not believed.’

(What, by the way, with reference to suicide bombers, is ‘Islamic integrity’ – beyond the oxymoron?)

Williams’ conclusion was the exact inversion of the truth:

‘It is hard to start any sort of conversation when your conversation partner believes, in all sincerity, that your aim is to silence them.’

I thought it was they who silenced us in all those three thousand innocents slaughtered in the cowardly and psychopathic attack on New York?

I am praying that, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, there will be no repetition of that atrocity. When it comes to terrorism and war, the Anglican hierarchy are as pathetic and spiritless as they were on 9/11. So, as this appalling anniversary approaches, I am praying also for the bishops and clergy to show a bit more backbone in the face of palpable evil.  

*Our mass media always say ‘Islamist’. It’s a cop out: they are telling us, ‘This is nothing to do with Islam which is of course a religion of peace and love.’ Whereas ‘Islamic’ precisely puts the blame where it’s due: on people who commit these acts proudly in the name of Islam.

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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