We may have to use force in the Middle East, but we should not relinquish our valuesby Justin Welby / October 15, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
One hundred years ago, the first casualty reports from the Battle of Mons were received. Although the war had been declared on 4th August, the first British casualty was on the 21st. He is buried opposite the last one, who fell in the same area four years and millions of dead later.
The front line was back where it had started. I saw their graves at the service in August to remember the outbreak of the war at the St Symphorien cemetery in Belgium. Seventeen-year-old John Parr lay near 40-year-old George Elison, who had also fought at Mons in 1914, served in all the major battles of the war and was killed a few minutes before the armistice. Laid to rest together by chance, their graves seemed to cry out against the miscalculations and stupidities that led to more than 10m deaths in those years.
Historians will argue the causes and errors forever. Yet the world risks the same errors of blind and pointless conflict now as leaders respond to ISIS and other groups like it who call themselves “jihadists,” although in much of Islam the term “jihad” means the peaceful, internal struggle for spiritual life and obedience. Whatever is done to face these groups must be global, holistic, and determined over the long term with a clear intention of building a just peace. Above all there needs to be a new and compelling alternative narrative to that of the self-styled jihadists.
Strategy must be global. The emergence of ISIS has been a wake-up call. The attacks on religious and ethnic minorities, Christian and others, have been getting rapidly more severe. In many cases where there are such attacks, they come from extremist groups whom courageous Muslim leaders have rejected while often being overwhelmed and unable to hold the line. Although the fighting in Nigeria has ceased to grab headlines, the killings are running at a high level, and are every bit as savage as in Iraq or Syria. Kenya is constantly under attack. The ancient Christian communities of the Levant are more threatened with extinction than at any time since the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. And the list could go on.