If Islam is a religion of violence, so is Christianity. So are Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Paganism and Pastafarianism (i.e. the Religion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). Religions are all violent so don’t demonise Islam.
This sums up the Solomonic wisdom of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his BBC Radio 4 response to the London Bridge attacks. Predictably, the media lapped it up like the Queen of Sheba’s cat drinking out of Solomon’s silver saucer. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby: London attack link to Islam as Christians killing Muslims is linked to Christianity shrieked the Independent’s headline.
Instead of defending Christianity, Welby used his faith as a human shield to cover up violent Islam and then went on to gun down Christianity as collateral damage in a burst of random gunfire from the only automatic weapon he possesses—his big mouth.
Welby did get something right when he pointed to the ‘lack of religious literacy’ among people tackling the terrorist threat. ‘They often don’t understand the very basic doctrines of the faith they’re dealing with,’ he said. Yes, Justin. Is that why you thought you could fool all the people all the time in your Radio 4 interview?
The Daily Mail’s four-decker header flashed like an au naturel streaker running through an Opera House: Archbishop of Canterbury says Islam should ‘take responsibility’ for the London Bridge attack just as Christianity should for killing Muslims. So where on God’s good earth are Christians killing Muslims just as Muslims are killing Christians, Yazidis, Pastafarians and other Muslims?
Srebrenica. Welby’s evidence for “Christian” terrorism is Srebrenica. Let’s quote him in context. The BBC interviewer asks Welby: ‘But when politicians have told us as they have done, this is nothing to do with Islam, you’re saying that is a mistake, it is a cul de sac, it’s not getting us anywhere?’
Welby replies, ‘I don’t think it is getting us anywhere, any more than if we said that Srebrenica had nothing to do with Christianity.’ Billions of bilious blue blistering boiled and barbecued barnacles in a thundering typhoon! That’s how Captain Haddock would respond to the Archcomedian of Candybury.
Let me respond in a more measured manner. Let’s examine Welby’s moral equivalence between Islamic and Christian violence. You’ve heard of logical fallacies, Justin? How about the fallacy of false equivalence? Welby is pretending to treat both sides fairly. But he comes across like a dodgy science reporter who claims that the Earth is 6,000 years old and makes her case by citing a geologist who believes the Earth is billions of years old and then quotes 16th century biblical scholar James Ussher who believed that the world began in 4,004 BC.
Welby does the same when the interviewer asks him about the treatment of women. He says that denying women the right to the priesthood in Anglicanism is as misogynistic as the ill treatment of women in Islam. As terrible as Female Genital Mutilation, eh Justin? So you’re telling us that St Paul exhorting husbands to lay down their lives for their wives in his Letter to the Ephesians (5:25), is on par with Muhammad asking husbands to beat their disobedient wives in the Qur’an? (4:34, 38:44)
Welby also falls prey to the anachronistic fallacy. He compares Christian violence in the past to Islamic violence in the present. There is no epidemic of Christian terrorism sweeping the world in recent years! If there is a knife attack at Heathrow nobody is going to debate whether the terrorist was a Lutheran or a Quaker! All religions inspired violence sometime during their history, ergo we should not pick on Islam, but hold all religions culpable, argues Welby.
One could list a compendium of logical fallacies to debunk Welby’s claims. How about cherry picking, suppressed evidence, concealed quantification, analogical fallacy, abusive analogy and the Sharpshooter’s fallacy, which gets its name from someone aiming at the side of a barn and then drawing a bull’s eye concentrically around the bullet hole? But Welby couldn’t hit a barn with a bazooka!
So he blames religious texts that have ‘been twisted and misused’ to justify violence. We’ll come to Srebrenica, but in the only example of “Christian” violence he cites, can the Archbishop demonstrate how Orthodox Serbs ‘twisted and misused’ the Bible when they were slaughtering Bosnian Muslims?
Welby is insulting Islam when he accuses Muslims of misinterpreting the Qur’an. The Qur’an claims to be clear and unambiguous. It has numerous verses defending its clarity. ‘Shall I seek for a judge other than Allah, when He it is Who has sent down to you the Book fully explained? (6:114) ‘This is a Book, whose verses have been made firm and free from imperfection and then they have been expounded in detail’ (11:1). ‘These are verses of the clear Book’ (12:1). ‘These are verses of the Qur’an—a book that makes (things) clear (27:1). ‘A Book, whereof the verses are explained in detail….’ (41:3). ‘He it is who sends down clear communications upon His servant, that he may bring you forth from utter darkness into light’ (57:9).
Welby knows nothing when it comes to interpretation of Islamic texts. The interpretation of the Qur’an is a highly precise and comprehensive discipline. It is not whimsical and arbitrary but carefully controlled and safeguarded by a whole chain of canonical authorities explaining what the text means—most importantly using the example of Muhammad himself. As a biblical scholar, I am positively envious of the brilliantly schematised system of Islamic interpretation.
But the Archpeddler of Candyfloss thinks we are all a basket of religiously illiterate deplorables and so he shouts ‘Srebrenica!’ like a man in a theatre shouting ‘Fire!’ So what does ‘Srebrenica’ have to do with ‘Christian’ violence? In 1995, during the Bosnia-Herzegovina wars, Serbian forces under the control of General Ratko Mladic massacred around 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the city of Srebrenica. This has been rightly described as ‘the largest single war crime in Europe since the Second World War.’
As is the case with the Crusades, Welby doesn’t tell us that the Muslim-Christian conflict began from the time of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 when Muslim Turks attacked Christian Serbs and subjugated them to five centuries of Muslim Ottoman rule. He completely skirts over the pivotal issue of Serbian nationalism, which was subordinate to Communism and became full-blown after Tito’s death in 1980. He doesn’t tell us that this was a military conflict and Srebrenica was valuable as a strategic military target as well as a symbolic stronghold. He is silent about the role of ethnicity. He doesn’t talk about Naser Oric’s Muslim armed units executing 120 Serbs in 1992 and committing numerous atrocities launched mostly from the Srebrenica ‘safe area.’ He omits to mention it was a Muslim attack on a Serb village in January 1993 that led the Serbs to cut off the link between Srebrenica and Zepa.
In the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal, Katherine Southwick shows how the defence at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ‘put forward substantial evidence that reasonably characterised the Srebrenica massacres not as genocide, but as a heinous effort to remove a military threat in one of the conflict’s most hotly contested regions.’ According to the defence, had the Serbian forces actually ‘intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslim community of Srebrenica, it would have killed all the women and children, who were powerless and already under its control….’ Instead, the Serb forces ‘did not kill the women, children, and elderly … but transported them safely to Kladanj, as opposed to all other genocides in modern history, which have indiscriminately targeted men, women, and children.’
Yes, the Serbs were Orthodox Christians. However, their Christian faith neither caused nor motivated nor inspired them to the mass murder of Bosnian Muslim men. Welby has completely confused causation with correlation. If the perpetrators of the Srebrenica massacre were basketball players (a game Serbs are known for), would Welby blame basketball for their actions?
The question is: did a certain interpretation of biblical texts or theology or an imitation of the life of Jesus provide motive or intent to the mass murderers of Srebrenica? No. Do certain interpretations of Islamic texts or theology or the sunna (example/prophetic precedent) of the life of Muhammad provide motive or intent to the mass murderers of ISIS? Yes.
Sadly, the Archbishop is too much of a coward to acknowledge this. Ironically, the Arch-atheist Richard Dawkins got it just right when he tweeted: ‘No, all religions are NOT equally violent. Some have never been violent, some gave it up centuries ago. One religion conspicuously didn’t.’