ENGLAND: On 9/11 anniversary, Williams makes plea for suspected terrorists

September 11, 2007

The dignity of every human being -- including suspected terrorists -- is non-negotiable, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told members of a Christian Muslim Forum during a lecture marking the sixth anniversary of 9/11.

"The dignity of every person is non-negotiable," Williams told an audience at Cambridge University in his September 10 lecture. "This remains true whether we are speaking of a gravely disabled person -- when we might be tempted to think that they would be better off removed from human society -- or of a suspected terrorist, when we might be tempted to think that torture could be justified in extracting information."

Williams was making his first public address since a period of leave for study and prayer that began in June.

Senior members from Christian churches attended the forum meeting, along with prominent members of the Islamic, Hindu and Jewish communities. Williams used the talk to counter arguments that religion promotes division and violence.

During his lecture, Williams contrasted the destruction of Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001 with events in South Africa 101 years ago when Mohandas Gandhi founded the Satyagrapha ("force for truth and love") Movement. "It was a movement which put principles into action but which rejected violence," he said.

Williams noted that on September 11, 1906 Gandhi addressed a meeting in Johannesburg's Empire Theatre to protest against the introduction of registration and fingerprinting for all Indians in South Africa, one of the first acts of legal racism in South Africa that only ended in the final decade of the 20th century. Williams said it was a Muslim in that audience, Haji Habib, who first proposed non-violent resistance to the legislation should be taken "in the name of God."

The Anglican leader paid homage to the Muslim imperative to jihad as the duty to defend the community but suggested that the only jihad now justifiable "is the struggle against evil in the heart and the resistance to a culture of cruelty and indifference to suffering, a struggle which of its nature must be non-violent".

The Christian Muslim Forum is set up to strengthen links and to promote common action between adherents of the two faiths.

The full text of Williams' lecture is available here.

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