The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, recently returned from a visit to Armenia, Syria, and Lebanon. While there, he met with politicians, Christian and Muslim leaders, and visited with Palestinian and Iraqi refugees.

In an interview with BBC radio, Williams shared some of the observations he gathered, particularly in Iraq and Iran. He spoke movingly about the Iraqi refugees he met, saying, “the stories we heard were, I have to say, really hair-raising.” He went on:

We heard of the firebombing of houses and shops, we heard of abductions, and of murders, and we heard stories – for example, one about a young woman who was travelling in a car with her father (a Christian family). Her father had been shot and killed in the car, she had been left for dead because she was covered with his blood, and when she got back to her home afterwards she had further threats – ‘next time we’ll finish the job …’ – and so she had to leave. When you add those stories up by the hundred and by the thousand you see something of the fantastic human cost of what’s going on in Iraq at the moment.

When the questions shifted to the war in Iraq as the cause of this situation (which Williams clearly thinks it is), he then had this to say about Iran:

When people talk about further destabilizing the region, when you read about some American political advisers speaking about action against Syria and Iran, I can only say that I regard that as criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly. … I mean that we do hear in some quarters about action against Syria or against Iran. I can’t really understand what planet such persons are living on when you see the conditions that are already there. The region is still a tinderbox.

Strong, but true words. The region is still a tinderbox, and a U.S. attack on another country would be throwing gasoline on the fire. Williams is an exemplary church leader, a deeply respected theologian and scholar, a poet, and, I would say, genuine contemplative—all rare these days. He has never been prone to overstatement, and clearly his recent experience in the Middle East affected him deeply. What one hears in his strong words is, indeed, the authentic voice of prophetic criticism (again rare among church leaders these days). Bless you, Rowan Williams, and may our leaders in Washington take notice of your warnings.

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