Dr Williams backs fight against 'skilful' terrorists

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The Independent Online

A "skilful and merciless" terrorist enemy is poisoning national life with mistrust and fear, Dr Rowan Williams said in his New Year message yesterday.

In an apparent rebuff to senior bishops who have criticised the Government's war on terrorism, the Archbishop of Canterbury appeared to defend the curtailment of civil liberties implemented since the 11 September attacks.

His comments follow an interview in The Independent with the Right Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, who said that Tony Blair and George Bush had acted like "white vigilantes going into Brixton to stop drug dealing" in their invasion of Iraq.

Dr Williams said: "We don't know where the enemy is and it is an enemy who is skilful and merciless and willing to risk everything. We may grumble at the constraints and checks but part of us knows just why we move in this atmosphere of suspicion. Once you see the dreadful results of terrorism at close quarters, you can begin to appreciate why everyone comes to be viewed with a degree of mistrust."

The Archbishop spoke last month of his shock and grief over the death of the British consul general Roger Short in the bombing of the British consulate in Istanbul.

Days before the attack, Dr Williams had been entertained by Mr Short and his wife, Victoria, during a three-day visit to the city.

The tone of Dr Williams's speech contrasted with comments from the Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Rev Jonathan Gledhill, yesterday playing down the threat from terror.

The bishop said: "The real danger to our freedoms comes not from terrorism but from the crumbling apart of family and community life. In our own country we appear to have abandoned one of the corner-stones of our liberty - habeas corpus.

"It is good that our security services are vigilant and trying to keep one step ahead of violent crime but the danger is always that we become the evil we deplore."

Dr Williams criticised the detention of terror suspects without trial in a speech at the start of December. He said their incarceration in British high-security jails and a US military base in Cuba risked alienating moderate Muslims.

But the Archbishop, speaking on the theme of trust, stressed a less critical line yesterday. In a light-hearted reference to his turbulent first year as the Archbishop of Canterbury, in which the Anglican Communion has come close to schism over gay priests, he spoke about the need to take a "lot" on trust when facing a "new challenge".

He said: "When you find yourself facing a new challenge, there's quite a lot you have to take on trust. For example, that despite initial evidence to the contrary, it isn't impossible.

"Also, that the person who claims to be trying to help you isn't just having a joke at your expense ... Trust too that however difficult at the outset, you will sooner or later be gliding along with the rest of them."