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The Worst Archbishop By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, December 05, 2007


According to a recent Times of London headline, the Archbishop of Canterbury has declared the U.S. to be the “worst imperialist.” Rowan Williams is the senior prelate of the Church of England and the spiritual head of 77 million Anglicans worldwide. He apparently thinks the 4 year U.S. presence in Iraq is far more insidious than any of Great Britain’s 3 centuries of imperialism.

Williams’ anti-U.S. interview was not with The Times, but with Emel, a British Islamic “lifestyle” magazine, which fawned over the archbishop’s anti-Americanism. “He is quite extraordinary, even among bishops!” gushed Emel.

No doubt also to the delight of Emel, Rowan lambasted Christian Zionists, America’s “chosen nation” syndrome, and Israel’s security fence against Palestinian terrorism. He expressed concern for Christian Palestinians and Christian Iraqis, but only as victims of U.S. and Israeli wrongheaded policies. That both are more immediately victimized by anti-Christian Islamists apparently was not worth noting, either by the archbishop, or by Emel. Williams preferred to shy away from critique of radical Islam’s own proclivity towards war, though he did suggest that Islam’s present political arrangements aren’t always “very impressive.”

When Emel asked Williams if America had lost the “moral high ground” since 9/11, he simply answered. “Yes.” For the U.S. to recover its moral authority, he suggested: “A generous and intelligent programme of aid directed to the societies that have been ravaged; a check on the economic exploitation of defeated territories; a demilitarization of their presence. All these things would help.”

By “ravaged” [by the U.S.] societies, Williams must mean Afghanistan and the U.S. So deeply lost in prayerful contemplation and theological study, he apparently is unaware of the tens of billions that the U.S. is investing in trying to restore some semblance of infrastructure both countries. Both Iraq and Afghanistan in fact already had been “ravaged” by years of war and kleptocratic, murderous regimes long before the U.S. led overthrows of Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar. Do the U.S. and its British ally get ANY credit for removing those tyrants?

Apparently not from the archbishop. On the Iraq War, Williams wants to “keep before the government and others the great question of how you can actually contribute to a responsible civil society in a context where you’ve undermined most of the foundations on which that society can be built.” Evidently the archbishop did not describe for Emel the “foundations” for a strong civil society that had been allowed to exist under Saddam but were undermined by the U.S.-led removal of the tyrant.

Williams dismissively described “violence” as a “quick discharge of frustration. It serves you. It does not serve the situation. Whenever people turn to violence what they do is temporarily release themselves from some sort of problem but they help no one else.” Disappointingly, the archbishop’s perspective on “violence,” like the Religious Left’s throughout the West, is facile. He portrayed all “violence” as equally sinister, when classical Christianity affirms the state’s responsibility to employ force in defense of the good when other options fail. The archbishop preferred to portray the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam as merely an emotional catharsis. “A lot of the pressure around the invasion of Iraq was ‘We’ve got to do something! Then we’ll feel better.’ That’s very dangerous.”

America as the world’s only superpower disturbs the British archbishop. “We have only one global hegemonic power at the moment,” he regretted to the Islamic magazine. “It is not accumulating territory; it is trying to accumulate influence and control. That’s not working.” He called this American predominance the “worst of all worlds.” He preferred British imperialism. “It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalizing it. Rightly or wrongly that’s what the British Empire did – in India for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put the things back together - Iraq for example.”

How odd that Williams complained that America is trying to “move on” from Iraq after its selfish “quick burst of violent action.” Are not critics of the U.S. presence, like Williams, demanding that the U.S. immediately “move on,” while condemning the U.S. for seeking to stabilize the Iraq security situation before departure? It also should seem evident that the U.S. is pouring into Iraq “energy and resources” on a scale unseen since the Marshall Plan for Europe 60 years ago. The U.S. expenditure on “normalizing” Iraq may exceed in less than a decade what Britain spent on India across two centuries. And unlike Britain with its colonies, the U.S. is not taxing Iraqis for its vast exertion.

Emel reported that Williams was “scathing” about Christian Zionists who support Israel, connecting them to “the chosen nation myth of America, meaning that what happens in America is very much at the heart of God’s purpose for humanity.” Seemingly the archbishop, who was not “scathing” against the world’s many dictators or Islamist terror groups, reserved his special fire for the supporters of U.S. and Israeli policies. Presiding over a secularized nation, the archbishop has probably forgotten that Christians traditionally believe that all nations are mystically instruments of providence. It would be heterodox for American Christians to think that their nation is not part of God’s purpose, especially after its uniquely offering refuge to persecuted Christians, the first wave of which were victims of Williams’ own nation and church.

Williams was distressed about the “beleaguered Christian communities” in Iraq, as he should be. But he reported they are suffering because their “neighbors” have “turned against them, identifying them with the West.” Why not identify these “neighbors” as radical Islamists? Or would that divert Williams from its primary objective of faulting the U.S. and winning the favor of an Islamic magazine? He also has special condemnation for Israel’s security fence. “Whatever justification given for the existence for the wall, the human cost is colossal.” The justification, of course, is defending Israelis from Palestinian suicide bombers. Why was Williams dismissive of that goal, while calling the inconveniences imposed upon Palestinians “colossal?”

In contrast with his harsh critique of the U.S. and Israel, The Times of London called Williams’ oblique criticisms of the Islamic world “mild.” Indeed. The archbishop suggested Muslims might learn from asking questions of “classical liberal democracy that might fit with an Islamic world view.” Very inspiring. Emel concluded there is “much to absorb from his insight, and one wishes more Muslims could have greater access to him.”

So, the Church of England’s chief prelate scored a media hit with a Muslim magazine. But is that the rightful purpose of a Christian bishop in a Western nation targeted by terrorists?


Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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