The Archbishop of Canterbury, who this morning stood alongside Muslim and Jewish leaders at Westminster Abbey to pray for peace in the Middle East, has spoken of the unprecedented brutality of Islamic State militants in Iraq in the wake of the murder of a second American journalist.
Following a meeting with 20 leaders and representatives of Middle East Churches in the UK at Lambeth Palace Archbishop Justin Welby said that this kind of persecution of Christians in the region was a new phenomenon.
“It took the barbarism of the jihadist militants to wake the West up. Someone said at the meeting earlier that this is a new thing. There’s not been treatment of Christians in this region in this way since Ghengis Khan.”
He remembered in particular the beheading of a second US citizen, journalist Steven Sotloff, whose murder by an apparently British jihadist was revealed in a video posted online yesterday.
“We remember that he is both the latest, most prominent recent victim but also represents many who have suffered in that way,” he said.
Reflecting on the meeting, which he co-hosted with Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Archbishop Welby decried the “extreme religious ideology” behind the persecution.
“Those who promote this intolerance must be challenged, and the perpetrators of violence held to account. We must act and bear witness, provide relief and safety for those displaced and in fear for their lives. We must also bring pressure to bear on those who can provide security to those affected,” he said.
The Bishops of Coventry and London confirmed that they would continue to lobby for the UK to take asylum seekers. But Archbishop Welby stressed the importance of maintaining a Christian presence in Iraq, saying: “The last thing we want to do is to empty the Middle East of Christians. There must be provision of safe havens and security to enable people to re-establish their communities in the area. It needs to be remembered that Christians have been there longer than anyone else.”
After the meeting Archbishop Welby and Bishop Angaelos led a Christian delegation across the Thames to nearby Westminster Abbey where, beside the Innocent Victims Memorial, they prayed together with the heads of Muslim and Jewish groups.
Speakers at the vigil, which was organised in partnership with Christian Aid, included Imam Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner of the Movement for Reform Judaism and Ayatollah Dr Sayyid Fadhil H Al-Milani.
Above: Archbishop Welby with Christian leaders and interfaith leaders. Photos: Liz Dodd