Justin Welby’s Neocon Proclamations and the Civilizational Clash with Islam

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The former oil executive and Etonian Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, recently stated that there was a need to move away from the notion that ISIS has “nothing to with Islam”:

“If we treat religiously-motivated violence solely as a security issue, or a political issue, then it will be incredibly difficult – probably impossible – to overcome it… A theological voice needs to be part of the response, and we should not be bashful in offering that… This requires a move away from the argument that has become increasingly popular, which is to say that Isis is ‘nothing to do with Islam’, or that Christian militia in the Central African Republic are nothing to do with Christianity, or Hindu nationalist persecution of Christians in South India is nothing to do with Hinduism.. 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.

The argument seems ostensibly balanced. After all, the theological element is mentioned as a factor (albeit a defining one) and Welby highlights the Christian militia in CAR, as well as the Hindu nationalist persecution, though, limiting it to Christian persecution whilst ignoring the rape and killing of Kashmiri Muslims by an army overseen by the fascist PM of India, Narendra Modi. However, the reporting, language and timing of his statements, upon closer inspection, reveal a smokescreen for a continued agenda to target Islam.

Welby delivered the statements at a ceremony at the Catholic Institute of Paris – a city which has seen attacks perpetrated against its citizens by ISIS, thus making the intervention one tainted with dog-whistling; the audience will not be thinking of the Christians in CAR or the Hindus in India but a minority group which has been at the receiving end of classic and modern French colonialisms. Linguistically, it is noteworthy that murderous Christians are referred to militias, but not extremists or terrorists. This is to be contrasted with Welby’s treatment of Muslims.  The peaceful, democratically elected and subsequently overthrown (by a dictator now courted by the West) Muslim Brotherhood are referred to as an “extremist Muslim group” by Welby. Further, Western militarism has not intervened to attack Christians in CAR or nationalist Hindus in Indian with democracy bombs. Another difference between the faith groups highlighted is that other faith groups in the West, least of all Christianity, are not subjected to callous, discriminatory and intrusive treatment which is reserved for Islam and Muslims. The broader examples, in other words, are simply tokenistic.  Given Welby’s own history of closed-door comments on Islam becoming “more and more violent”, the diplomatic language of non-discrimination is a smokescreen for a specific target.

Suffice to say the chief neocon/right-wing outlets completely understood the aim of Welby’s comments.

The Telegraph reported it as,

Justin Welby: It’s time to stop saying Isil has ‘nothing to do with Islam’

The Sun:

“BISHOP BASHES JIHADIS – Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby slams ISIS apologists who say group are not Islamic – as he demands religious leaders ‘take responsibility’ for terror fanatics’ crimes

The Daily Mail:

“It’s wrong to claim ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, says Archbishop of Canterbury” 

The Express:

“‘Stop saying ISIS has nothing to do with Islam’ blasts Archbishop of Canterbury

Interestingly, it was also reproduced by the UK-banned, Catholic deacon hate-preacher Robert Spencer on his anti-Islam hate website Jihad Watch, in order to draw parallels between what Welby stated and what Spencer was banned for.

Continuing the Neocon Culturalist Account

Fascist neoconservative hate-preacher Douglas Murray has repeatedly made exactly the same claims (see here, here and here).  Murray positively quoted David Cameron one year ago who said,

“It is not good enough to say simply that Islam is a religion of peace and then to deny any connection between Islam and the extremists. Because these extremists are self-identifying as Muslims.

Neoconservative-enabler and Southern Poverty Law centre-designated “anti-Muslim extremist” Maajid Nawaz has also dedicated articles to the topic. One PR project for his counter-extremism career is even titled “Please stop saying the Nice attacks have nothing to do with Islam”.

Ignoring the fact that academic opinion on ideological causes for terrorism largely stack against the Archbishop, the argument, as I have comprehensively deconstructed before (see here also) is a dangerously reductionist statement which conflates abuse of scriptural texts by individuals, whom are as much influenced by modernity and liberalism as they are by their faith, with the faith itself.  Despite this, Muslim scholars globally have loudly and repetitively condemned illegitimate political violence targeting innocent civilians as antithetical to Islam since the inception of the War on Terror.  The statement has, therefore, a distinct purpose which is to fulfil the neocon aim of creating a repulsion of Islam and mould the public perception of Muslims as representations of the barbaric, violent archetype.  It is an attempt to nudge the discourse back towards the “culturalist account” of the neoconservatives, which is based on the clash of civilisations hypothesis advocated by the likes of Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis. Professor Arun Kundnani notes that the “culturalist” account,

“find[s] terrorism’s origins in the content of an ideology that is rooted in an alien culture, whether that ideology is thought of as Islam itself or as Islamist extremism.

Welby’s distinctly neoconservative metanarrative emboldens neoconservatives like Murray to ascribe all manner of crimes to Islam, leading to the faith being publicly stigmatized and contributing to the violent air which sees Muslim women having their hijabs torn off by brave, young, white men.  This etches the path for calls to “reform” (and therefore regulate) Islam, something which Welby’s predecessor George Carey has urged Christians to do in emphatic terms:

“…we non-muslims (sic) must also play our part by encouraging a moderate, reforming and secularising Islam.

The Zionist Exception

It is the absence of a particular ideology, however, that reveals more than what is explicitly mentioned.  Zionist persecution of Christians is well-documented. As I have covered before, ironically in the context of Douglas Murray who articulated similar statements to the Archbishop, Christians are spat on, attacked and killed in the Holy Lands governed by Israel. Members of Orthodox Jewish organisations have voiced their support for burning down churches. Zionist land-thief and head of the ultra-far-right Lehava movement Benzi Gopstein has referred to Christians as blood-sucking vampires. Earlier this month, it was reported that the Zionist flag was provocatively raised at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Yet nothing is mentioned of this Jewish extremism, and no calls are made for Jewish religious leaders to theologise this violence away.

It is not the first time that Welby seems to be tongue-tied on the topic of Israel. In 2012, when the General Synod overwhelmingly passed a motion for Christian human rights observers to be placed in the Palestine to monitor persecution of Christians, British Jewish groups reacted strongly.  Welby, who abstained from the vote, became embroiled in controversy a year later for stating that he regretted not voting against the motion. When he visited Israel that year, whilst highlighting “Islamist persecution” of Christians in the Middle East, he failed to draw attention to Jewish persecution of Christians.  Welby, in other words, is consistent in his omission of Israel from his discourses.

During the period of his visit, an article was published on a Zionist media platform asking whether then new Archbishop was a “friend of Israel”.  The author asserted that Welby was opposed to boycotts of Israel.  Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad is quoted as saying that Welby is an ally of Israel and that “Israel and the Jewish people have nothing to fear”. Ed Kessler, executive director of the Woolf Institute is also cited stating Welby is “open to Israel as a Jewish state.”

“Judeo-Christian” Roots and the Neocon/Far-Right Supremacist Connection

The omission of Israel seems to broadly tie with his suggestions for resolving the “mass disenchantment” which led to the Brexit vote in the UK and the rise of anti-establishment leaders. Having established the “enemy” through linguistic sophistry, Welby’s suggestion is to reconstitute the European identity around neoconservative lines. Countries across Europe should, according to Welby, recognise and rediscover the “Judaeo Christian” roots of their culture to find solutions. In other words, this part of his speech clandestinely completes the clash of civilisations imagery.

This invocation of “Judeo-Christian” roots of Western culture is distinctive to neoconservative rhetoricians.  It is also one which is riddled with contradictions given the deep theological and historic divergence between Christianity and Judaism, some of the fruits of which have already been expressed above. The Yale Jewish professor, Harold Bloom, in his book Jesus and Yahweh, writes,

“Politicians and religious figures (are they still separate characters?) speak of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but that is a social myth. It would make about as much sense if they spoke of a Christian-Islamic tradition.[1]

From a historic perspective, the disparity is evident in the Christian persecution of Jews.  In the 19th Century, Europe’s identity was being forged off the back of Jews and Judaism, with emphasis being placed on the “Christian character” of states. The time now, as stated by Professor Shlomo Sands is for the political hatred of Islam to be used to foster a new European identity.  With now “Judeo” prefixed to the “Christian” following the former being subjected to a genocide, an awkward, artificial hybrid culture and values comprising the “Western way of life” is created.  Murray explains it thusly in his anti-Muslim book,

“Both believing and non-believing neoconservatives agree that Judeo-Christian values should pervade our actions. As Richard Nehaus put it, “politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality, and at the heart of morality is religion”.[2]

The function of this post-Holocaust, mythical civilizational hybridization is to create a nationalist identity in opposition to an enemy. This enemy has been elaborated well by Murray’s celebrated inspiration, the British neoconservative philosopher Roger Scruton. Scruton wrote an article in 2009 titled, “Islam and the West: Lines of Demarcation”, in which he posited Islam as a “new opponent” of the West, which is threatening their “way of life”. He then pinpoints seven areas of divergence in the world views of Islam and the “Judeo-Christian civilisation” as points of “possible conflict”.

Far-right, hatemongering neoconservative organisations like Gatestone Institute also pedal pseudo-intellectualism aimed at portraying Islam as a threat to “Judeo-Christian civilisation” (see here for instance, which is subsequently shared on “counterjihad” websites). This is echoed by far-right white supremacists in the US. Recently crowned Donald Trump chief strategist and CEO of Breitbart (a virulently anti-Islam and Muslim online media platforms in the US) Stephen Bannon, in a 2014 speech to the Vatican, thoroughly advocated the clash of civilisations. He called for the need to strengthen the Judeo-Christian stronghold against what he implied are the creeping ideals of Islam:

If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places … It bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West.

What follows inevitably from such nationalist discourse is securitisation of the “threat” to secure the “Judeo-Christian civilisation”, through the neocon-advocated military doctrine of pre-emption.  From bombing Muslims abroad and spying on them locally through agent-provocateurs and thought-policing, imperial Countering Violent Extremism policies of persecution, to Donald Trump’s Muslim register and ban on Muslim immigration. If history teaches its student one thing, it is that the trajectory of such policies premised upon aggressive adversarial nationalism is towards violence and genocide.

Concluding Remarks

The neoconservative exploitation of religion is based on achievement of power and state interests.  It seems the Archbishop has co-opted the dangerous and volatile neoconservative worldview. In doing so, he has contributed to the anti-Muslim animus pervading political and social Western spheres.  Indeed, a continuation down this path will disintegrate community relations and propel us further down the path of a civilizational clash to the invigoration of neoconservative warmongers. This is not a world any upright human being wishes to see.


References:

[1] Bloom H., Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, Riverhead Books: New York, 2005, p.113

[2] Douglas Murray, Neoconservatism: Why We Need It, Encounter Books: New York, 2006, p.175

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