For the first time, a European establishment figure from the Church has spoken out against an argument exonerating ISIS and frequently peddled by Western political and cultural elites. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, speaking in France on November 17, said that dealing with the religiously-motivated violence in Europe
"requires a move away from the argument that has become increasingly popular, which is to say that ISIS is 'nothing to do with Islam'... Until religious leaders stand up and take responsibility for the actions of those who do things in the name of their religion, we will see no resolution."
Archbishop Welby also said that, "It's very difficult to understand the things that impel people to some of the dreadful actions that we have seen over the last few years unless you have some sense of religious literacy".
"Religious literacy" has indeed been in short supply, especially on the European continent. Nevertheless, all over the West, people with little-to-no knowledge of Islam, including political leaders, journalists and opinion makers, have all suddenly become "experts" on Islam and the Quran, assuring everybody that ISIS and other similarly genocidal terrorist groups have nothing to do with the purported "religion of peace," Islam.
It is therefore striking finally to hear a voice from the establishment, especially a man of the Church, oppose, however cautiously, this curiously uniform (and stupefyingly uninformed) view of Islam. Until now, establishment Churches, despite the atrocities committed against Christians by Muslims, have been exceedingly busy only with so-called "inter-faith dialogue." Pope Francis has even castigated Europeans for not being even more accommodating towards the migrants who have overwhelmed the continent, asking Europeans:
"What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?... the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?"
(Perhaps the Pope, before rhetorically asking Europeans to sacrifice their lives for their migrant "brothers and sisters" should ask himself whether many of the Muslim migrants in Europe consider Europeans their "brothers and sisters"?)
A statement on Islam is especially significant coming from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the senior bishop and principal leader of the Anglican Church and the symbolic head of the Anglican Communion, which stands at around 85 million members worldwide, the third-largest communion in the world.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (left), recently said that dealing with the religiously-motivated violence in Europe "requires a move away from the argument that has become increasingly popular, which is to say that ISIS is 'nothing to do with Islam'... Until religious leaders stand up and take responsibility for the actions of those who do things in the name of their religion, we will see no resolution." (Image source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office)
Only a year ago, commenting on the Paris massacres, the Archbishop followed conventional politically correct orthodoxy, pontificating that, "The perversion of faith is one of the most desperate aspects of our world today." He explained that Islamic State terrorists have distorted their faith to the extent that they believe they are glorifying their God. Since then, he has clearly changed his mind.
Can one expect other Church leaders and political figures to heed Archbishop Welby's words, or will they be conveniently overlooked? Western leaders have noticeably practiced selective hearing for many years and ignored truths that did not fit the "narrative" politicians apparently wished to imagine, especially when spoken by actual experts on Islam. When, in November 2015, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Nasr, a scholar of Islamic law and graduate of Egypt's Al Azhar University, explained why the prestigious institution, which educates mainstream Islamic scholars, refused to denounce ISIS as un-Islamic, none of them was listening:
"The Islamic State is a byproduct of Al Azhar's programs. So can Al Azhar denounce itself as un-Islamic? Al Azhar says there must be a caliphate and that it is an obligation for the Muslim world. Al Azhar teaches the law of apostasy and killing the apostate. Al Azhar is hostile towards religious minorities, and teaches things like not building churches, etc. Al Azhar upholds the institution of jizya [extracting tribute from non-Muslims]. Al Azhar teaches stoning people. So can Al Azhar denounce itself as un-Islamic?"
Nor did Western leaders listen when The Atlantic, hardly an anti-establishment periodical, published a study by Graeme Wood, who researched the Islamic State and its ideology in depth. He spoke to members of the Islamic State and Islamic State recruiters and concluded:
"The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam".
In the United States, another establishment figure, Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee and Donald Trump's incoming White House Chief of Staff, recently made statements to the same effect as the Archbishop of Canterbury. "Clearly there are some aspects of that faith that are problematic and we know them; we've seen it," Priebus said when asked to comment on incoming National Security Adviser former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn's view that Islam is a political ideology that hides behind being a religion.
In much of American society, Flynn's view that Islam is a political ideology is considered controversial, despite the fact that the political and military doctrines of Islam, succinctly summarized in the concept of jihad, are codified in Islamic law, sharia, as found in the Quran and the hadiths. The jihadists who carry out terrorist attacks in the service of ISIS, for example, are merely following the commands in the Quran, both 9:5, "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them..." and Quran 8:39, "So fight them until there is no more fitna [strife] and all submit to the religion of Allah."
The question becomes, then, whether other establishment figures will also acknowledge what someone like Archbishop Welby -- and Egypt's extraordinary President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi -- has finally had the courage to say in public: that if one insists on remaining "religiously illiterate," it is impossible to solve the problem of religiously motivated violence.
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.