Archbishop Welby has let Islamists use him to burnish their public image

'It's good to talk' is a wrong-headed mantra. Sometimes it's very bad to talk


Interview The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, about people being able to identify with the Queen losing her husband Prince Philip, as people have lost loved ones during Coronavirus pandemic (BBC News 10pm Bulletin - 16/04/2021 - AEXZ288W)

September 21, 2023 14:52

Here we go again. This week’s JC leads with the story of how the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed a group of friendly Muslim leaders for a chinwag over tea and cake at Lambeth Palace last week.

And who could object to that, eh? It’s all good interfaith work. Let’s get out of our bunkers and share time and chat  with people from other faiths. Blah, blah, blah… you know the way it goes.

The problem is, when you’re driven by Kumbaya as your guiding light, you end up in all sorts of messes, as the Archbishop has just found out.

Two of his palace guests are what we might best call problematic.

For five years, Mohammad Ali Shomali was head of the Islamic Centre of England (ICE), and as such the UK representative of the Iranian supreme leader. ICE is under investigation by the Charity Commission over its role in promoting extremism.

Alongside him chomping on the Dundee cake was Mohammed Kozbar, deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. The same MCB, that is, that has been boycotted by every government since 2009, when one of its leaders was revealed to have co-signed the so-called "Istanbul declaration", which appeared to urge attacks on British ships – and thus our armed forces – if they were part of a blockade to prevent weapons being sent to Hamas in Gaza.

Kozbar has, you will not be remotely surprised to learn, praised the founder of Hamas as a “holy warrior”. Kozbar has previously told the JC that he is committed to working together with Jews against Islamophobia and antisemitism. Does that explain, I wonder, why last year he described the antisemitic Egyptian imam Omar Abdelkafi as a “beloved” preacher when he hosted the iman his mosque? Abdelkafi quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and prays to “liberate the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem of the filth of the Jews”.

Isn’t interfaith wonderful when it brings together such lovely upstanding chaps and the Archbishop! Indeed, Justin Welby said after the meeting that it had been a “pleasure to welcome friends”. He had enjoyed “the honest sharing of different perspectives”. I suspect that the sharing of different perspectives was not exactly a rigorous deep dive. (You can read more about their views in David Rose’s report, here.)

When the JC asked Lambeth Palace about the meeting, a spokesman said that not everyone “is in full agreement on important issues”. I am in awe of the spokesman’s ability to - presumably - keep a straight face when he said that.

I don’t for a moment think that Welby is even remotely sympathetic to the views of Shomali or Kozbar. But the fact that he is happy to host them at Lambeth Palace points to the fundamental flaw in so much interfaith dialogue. For one thing the word dialogue is a misnomer, because this is not a serious exchange between people openly sharing their views. It is, rather, a form of hechsher. For the likes of Shomali and Kozbar, it’s a mechanism by which they can, bit by bit, normalise their public standing.

That’s because all too often, as we see in this instance, those who invite people with such views for tea or its equivalent don’t do anything resembling due diligence about what their guests actually say and believe.

Worse – and I think this is more often the case – they don’t even care, because they naively think that "it’s good to talk" – that somehow if we all sit round and talk that must be a good thing in itself, when the act of sitting together and talking can, in reality, be a very bad thing.

There are so many instances of this, but I have one favourite, as it were. In 2014 the Board of Deputies signed a joint statement with the MCB calling for “peace and unity amongst our communities and in Israel and Palestine”. That’s the same MCB that has been boycotted by every government since 2009.

Idiotic doesn’t come close. Not only did it give the MCB ammunition to argue that the boycott should be lifted – the Jews love us! - but it undermined all those moderate Muslim voices who despair that organisations like the MCB are seen as being the appropriate representative of British Muslims.

That is the real betrayal of the interfaith industry. It is the very moderates who don’t actually need to be handheld into meeting with people from other faiths who are most let down.

September 21, 2023 14:52

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive