"Rowan at his best" was the title of a recent post by Bosco Peters on Liturgy. Quite right, too, on the matter of spiritual wisdom shown by ++Rowan. But now we have Archbishop Rowan Williams commenting on the death of Osama bin Laden. Thinking Anglicans has the quote and a range of reports about the view expressed in the quote. Here's what he said:
"Lambeth Palace press release: Archbishop on Osama Bin Laden
…Q: Do you believe that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is justice for the 9/11 attacks and indeed other attacks? And was the US morally justified in shooting him even though he was unarmed as the White House now admits?
A: I think that the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done, in those circumstances. I think it is also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help here. I don’t know the full details anymore than anyone else does but I do believe that in such circumstance when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a ‘war criminal’ as you might say in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed. "
Why is this ++Rowan at less than his best?
(1) He is commenting on something which requires no comment from him as ABC (and, by contrast, I see that his English RC counterpart is refraining from comment).
(2) He sets himself up to be taken down by the press. His first sentence is fine as far as it goes, for example, if he were having a conversation at the water cooler. But it permits the most minor of media distortion to make it into a "++Rowan uncomfortable at Osama's death" seller of newspapers.
(3) The last sentence is just awful. If someone is manifestly a war criminal how is justice not being seen to be done if he is killed? ++Rowan is imprecise here: what he means is that he thinks "legal justice" should be seen to be done. But where is the case for the requirement that this happens? Start thinking too much along these lines and you will be arraigning soldiers all over the place for being a little hasty with the trigger in war situations. Legal justice for manifest war criminals is a "nice to have" not a "must have." Further, what is said by ++Rowan is naive about how justice would be seen to be done in this situation. Any trial would be either a celebrity trial (with all that could go wrong over the celebration of the criminal as some kind of victim and thus perpetuating the suffering of the victims of 9/11 and other atrocities) or a secret military trial (with all that could go wrong about people like ++Rowan banging on about justice being "seen" to be done). What kind of punishment would be "just" if this had continued through the normal legal processes? Where would the trial take place (the Hague, New York or Guantanamo)? There are a host of very difficult questions here about the simple desire for justice to be seen to be done.
(4) When ++Rowan has such obvious signs in many other speeches and writings of original thought, why when he commenting on political matters such as this do we get responses which more or less could have been composed by a left-leaning robot? Here is an opportunity for a creative, Romans 13 based supportive comment for the leadership shown by President Obama. It gets missed all over the shop by church leaders. How hard would it be for some church leader somewhere to actually endorse what Obama has done here? It's not as though he's a Republican or anything impossible like that!
Fortunately a commenter at TA, Edward of Baltimore expresses a great deal of wisdom on the matter:
"The U.S. justice system is based on presumed innocence and a fair trial: I don't think Osama bin Laben could have counted on either of those today. Is the world better off without him? No doubt. Is the world a safer place without him? Likely. Was "justice done"? Not so sure. Was there an alternative? Can't think of one."
UPDATE: Following up on an alert by Steve in a comment below, I have to agree with Steve that now we find +Tom Wright at less than his best. As cited in Steve's comment and (fuller) in Ruth Gledhill's blog, +Tom Wright tries to come up with a parallel hypothetical situation in which Britain sends helicopters into the USA to shoot-to-kill a couple of terrorists. I don't think so. We are talking about a situation in which there is no doubt that Osama bin Laden was guilty of a succession of horrific war crimes against humanity and against the USA. I cannot think how such a parallel would arise between Britain and the USA. Why can we not have Christian leaders simply say, "It is a good thing that this evil man is dead"?