Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has said that those close to the Bush administration in the USA who want military action against Syria and Iran are guilty of “criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly”.
In words of extraordinary force for the usually mild-mannered spiritual head of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, the Archbishop told the BBC on his return from a Middle East trip that “we do hear talk from some quarters of action against Syria and Iran” but that “I can't understand what planet such persons are living on, when you see the conditions that are already there.”
Dr Williams continued: “When people talk about further destabilization of the region and you read some American political advisers speaking of action against Syria and Iran, I can only say that I regard that as criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly.”
Anglican bishops and other church leaders have been unanimous in their opposition to more military adventurism in the Middle East. The vast majority, like the Archbishop, also opposed the 2003 Iraq war.
The only voice suggesting that armed action against Iran might be necessary is the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir Ali, whose stance on a number of issues has increasingly contradicted those of his archiepiscopal leader. Dr Nazir Ali was a candidate for the post when Dr Williams was appointed.
Speaking of Iraq, Dr Williams told the BBC: “The events of the last few years have done terrible damage in the whole of this region and many people, I know, do not see the cost in human terms of the war which was unleashed.”
He said that action to stabilise Iraq was “urgent”. The Foreign Office issued a rapid response defending current policy.
Dr Williams emphasised: “Every child deserves to grow up in a home that is safe; every child deserves to grow up in a home where there are people around who can be trusted; every child deserves to grow up in a place where they can see a future that is peaceful for them.”
The Archbishop has also condemned terrorism and sectarian killing by militant groups of all kinds. And in a September speech in Johannesburg, South Africa, he urged both Christians and Muslims to participate creatively and humbly in secular civil societies.
Dr Williams declared: “Both our faiths bring to civil society a conviction that what they embody and affirm is not a marginal affair; both claim that their legitimacy rests not on the license of society but on God’s gift. Yet for those very reasons, they carry in them the seeds of a non-violent and non-possessive witness. They cannot be committed to violent struggle to prevail at all costs, because that would suggest a lack of faith in the God who has called them; they cannot be committed to a policy of coercion and oppression because that would again seek to put the power of the human believer or the religious institution in the sovereign place that only God’s reality can occupy.”
The Archbishop also cautioned: “Because both our traditions have a history scarred by terrible betrayals of this, we have to approach our civil society and its institutions with humility and repentance.”