H O M E
Dear Lord Carey of Clifton
Written exclusively for Salaam by al-Maktabi
I am troubled and astonished by the views on Islam you have expressed in your recent speech ‘Christianity and Islam: Collision or convergence’1 at the Gregorian University, Rome. Your successor Rowan Thomas has just settled on the crease and is batting well for better inter-faith understanding, but it seems that you have decided to lobby incendiary devices from the outfield. Instead of holding out a vision of convergence that ought to be there between those who revere the Scriptures and God’s beneficence to man, I was left with the desolate panorama of collision. Surely a former Archbishop of Canterbury would have more to say than merely repeating media clichés. The respected Zaki Badawi of London’s Muslim College aptly described it as “nonsense and untrue” in parts. You make Ruritarian references of having served as a young soldier in Iraq, of spending “a great deal of time with some of the most important names in Islam”, (one of whom, Hassan al-Turabi you seriously misrepresent), participation in the interfaith Alexandria Declaration Process, the work with Davos, collaborations with Prince Turki – but what is lacking in your speech is depth and compassion.
Your earlier contributions to the national conversation on religious tolerance have not been auspicious either. I remember around 1998 there was a suggestion that when Charles is crowned King, he could promise to be “Defender of Faith," rather than "Defender of the Faith." At the time you argued against such a change, on the grounds that the UK is a Christian nation, not a multifaith nation. As such, "the Faith" means Church of England. It is ironic that your recent speech was in Rome, where the Pope claims ‘the Faith’ to be solely the Roman Catholic Church.
Your forays in the international arena have been equally partisan. For example in 1994 you ventured to Sudan, where in a gross slight to its Government, you spent four days in rebel-held territory and bypassed the capital Khartoum completely. The Observer noted, “The Archbishop of Canterbury must be naive if he ever thought that he could be the exclusive guest of the South, tour rebel-held areas, be present in rallies where ‘Banners demanding that Sudan be split in two’ have talks with both rebel leaders of the SPLA, whose aims include overthrowing the Khartoum Government, and expect Muslims in the Sudan, and outside, to believe that this was an innocent episcopal tour, not a clumsy incursion into Sudanese politics, at best, or, at worst, his Church's bid to destabilise further - and split - the country."
Bishop Nazer Ali offered you the following valedictorian on your departure from office: "In his worldwide role, his appreciation of the importance of Islam must be, in the light of recent events, seen as prophetic”. I hope you have not taken this effusive praise, made during the lobbying for the selection of the next Archbishop, as a validation of your role as an impartial elder statesman in faith matters.
Your speech begins with a restatement of the Nineteenth Century Missionary-Orientalist allegation that Islam is a religion of the sword: “wherever we look, Islam seems to be embroiled in conflict with other faiths and other cultures. It is in opposition to practically every other world religion- to Judaism in the Middle East; to Christianity in the West, in Nigeria, and in the Middle East; to Hinduism in India; to Buddhism, especially since the destruction of the Temples in Afghanistan…we are presented therefore with a huge puzzle concerning Islam. Why is it associated with violence throughout the world? Is extremism so ineluctably bound up with its faith that we are at last seeing its true character?”.
All civilizations and peoples have had phases of peace and militarism. Judaism, Christianity and the Islamic civilization too contain within themselves the seeds of various extremist tendencies that can come to the fore when there is disequilibrium. What do you make of this ecstatic response of the German Protestant Church to Hitler: “through God's intercession, our beloved German Fatherland has experienced a mighty exaltation. In this turning point in history we hear, as faithful evangelical Christians, the call of God to a closing of ranks and a return, the call also for a single German Evangelical Church .... The Confessions are its unalterable basis .... A national bishop of the Lutheran confession stands at its head .... Christ comes again and brings an eternal completion in the majesty of His Kingdom …”.2
What you cite is mish-mash of encounters that bypasses broad swathes of world history, the effects of the colonial encounter, the cold war and the emergence of client states, the brain drain, globalization etc etc. It is historically myopic: it forgets Saladin’s magnanimous entry into Jerusalem and the millennia during which persecuted Jews found haven in Muslim lands in the Maghreb, Iran and Ottoman dominions. It ignores the rich cultural interchange that took place between the Christian West and the Islamic East during the 16th Century – there would have been no Renaissance without it. It grossly underplays the injustice of the Zionist project of Israel in its dispossession of the Palestinian people of their land. Nigeria features on your list presumably because its people are reclaiming their heritage of Shariah law – this was the law of the land in Northern Nigeria prior to the British rule (and please note - Christians do not have to appear in front of Shariah courts). Your own Church of England pastor, Rt Revd Professor Iain Torrance has observed on the Amina Lawal case that the lifting of the sentence was “a demonstration of the compassion so vigilitantly exercised by Islamic courts”. 3
It is also bizarre the prominence you give to the the regrettable destruction of the Buddhas in Afghanistan. Such a holier than thou attitude requires to be deflated. Do you know of Palmerston’s instructions to Lord Canning, the Indian Viceroy: “Every civil building connected with Mohammedan tradition should be leveled to the ground without regard to antiquarian veneration or artistic predeliction”. Are you aware of the practice of British engineers building the railroads in Sindh in the 1850s of sending labourers to the ancient ruined city of Harappa to pillage its bricks?
What is particularly distorted is your account of the Prophetic experience. You state: “In the case of Islam, Mohammed, acknowledged by all in spite of his religious greatness, to be illiterate man, is said to have received God's word direct, word by word, from angels and scribes who recorded them later. Thus, believers are told, because they have come direct from Allah they are not to be questioned or revised.” This again is a restatement of two Missionary-Orientalist positions: first that the Qur'an was not fully compiled under the Prophet’s supervision and so contains scribes’ interpolations from ‘later’. Second the Qur’an inculcates blind faith. To understand the inaccuracy of the first assertion please see any work of authentic historical scholarship – for example the recent book by Professor Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami. 4 To appreciate the Qur’an’s call to man to ponder and apply his mind and power of reason I ask you to spend some time in Lent reading the Holy Book.
You cite many examples to convey the blood on Muslim hands: “on September 11 2001 the World Islamic Front struck through dedicated young men who were prepared to die with the Koran at their side shouting 'Allah is great!' guiding huge planes to destroy the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. With them died many hundreds of others who were going about their lawful and good business. Further atrocities were to follow. A few days after Sept 11, in Indonesia, 120 Muslim troops struck at a village of Chinese and Christian people at dawn shouting 'Allah is great!' killing he men and raping any women they could find. A year after September 11 2001 came the murder of many hundreds of innocent, fun loving people in Bali, Indonesia. Madrid is but another awful episode in the unfolding drama of Islamic terrorism.”
Your twice-fold association between “Allah is great” and the acts of violence peddles to the worst possible stereotype of sword-brandishing natives.
You mention Indonesia in your speech. Please consider the following news report from 1999:
Church leaders would quite rightly point out that the perpetrators of crazed acts should not be described as ‘Christian’. More often than not the media will respect this wish – hence Serbian acts of genocide, Real IRA atrocities, Basque separatist extremists, US far right terrorists etc etc.
Finally Lord Carey please do not lecture Muslims on the need for greater literacy, critical scholarship, scientific breakthroughs, creativity and so on. Democracy, the starting point for such upliftment has been largely sabotaged in the Muslim world by the power play of super powers. Only the other day The Guardian (26th March) noted how unsavoury dictators have been “supported politically and militarily by the west, particularly by the United States and its allies including Britain and France….[now] we have a new ‘war on terror’, and a US administration that is once again judging its friends not by the quality of their souls but by geo-political calculation. The so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ almost certainly includes leaders willing to line their own pockets. This is the danger of choosing allies by dint of their muscle alone: it rewards the bully and the tyrant, while penalising the honest democrat who dares to disagree”.
I conclude Lord Carey, with the prayer, “ Lord, forsake me not for my inequities”.