Anglican Head warns of  social media’s role  in spreading extremism  
Published on: Sunday, October 06, 2019
By: David Thien
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KOTA KINABALU: The head of the world’s Anglicans warned that mobiles (phones) have become the biggest help to extremists today.

“Because we can communicate better, we can put things on Twitter more easily. We can set up groups and WhatsApp groups and it’s very difficult to discover what they are doing. 

“And we control people together. It ends up people talk to one another rather than with one another,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury, His Grace, Justin Portal Welby.

“In the United Kingdom and around the world, as the forces of extremism grow stronger, I think we have a lot to learn from Malaysia. And we are grateful for your example,” he said. There are some 85 million worldwide in the Anglican Communion and established Church of England. Sabah has some 90,000 Anglicans.

It was the Archbishop’s first to Sabah with his wife Caroline. He is accompanied by British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Charles Hay. The last visit of an Archbishop of Canterbury to Sabah was 26 years ago.

“There is much to learn from Malaysia where many people are passionate about their faiths, and yet are not extremists,” he said.

He said this admirable trend is an example to the world, “Because you know each other and meet each other, you demonstrate well how to relate to each other.” 

He cited his earlier visit to Penang’s Pitt Street where four difficult religious houses of worship are located in peace metres next to each other.

“Last week, the Bishops of the Church of England in a very rather rare occasion, agreed on one thing. Well, all except a few. There is no point in history, where all the Bishops of the Church of England had ever agreed on anything.

“They all agreed that the language being used in politics in the UK was absolutely unacceptable. The way we are treating each other was to talk to each other not with each other. And the point was illustrated when we issued an open letter to the politicians to be robust in their arguments but not to stir up hatred.

“And the letters I got, immediately afterwards, showed that people had not listened. They had not been listening at all. They just read the headlines or the Tweet, or the Facebook page of the people who hated the bishops any way, and they responded.

“Social media with its algorithms and the huge companies that controlled it, is predisposed to create echo chambers in which you join a group which simply reinforces your extreme opinion. So we have connections at our finger tips, but we do not have relationships.”

He noted that in many parts of Malaysia, people maintained relationships and praised locals who are tolerant. 

“You marry between faiths. You socialise between faiths. They share between faiths. They live next to each other. Which means the person who is different from you is not your enemy, it’s your next-door neighbour whose children your children play with, who you grown up with, who you meet at school and in consequence, you learn they are human beings. And when you do disagree, you learn to disagree well.”

“When you combine social media with religion, then it becomes very difficult. It is easy to use religion as a hook for enmity and when you combine that with social media, you have huge power.”

“And when you use religion as a hook, in the end it becomes a reality. We discovered that in Europe in the great wars of the Reformation. Which it took 200 years to recover from.”

Archbishop Welby thanked all, particularly Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Christina Liew and the Sabah Government for the hospitality extended to him and his entourage, praising the providence of God for the visible and invisible beauty of Malaysia and Malaysians. Sabah has some 90,000 Anglicans.

In her speech, Liew congratulated Anglican Bishop of Sabah Datuk Melter Jiki Tais as the Archbishop-elect of the Province of the Anglican Church in Southeast Asia to succeed Archbishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing, Chairman of CCEA.

She hopes that the Anglican visitors will return to visit Sabah as tourists in future. The Anglican Diocese of Sabah is hosting the Council of the Church in East Asia (CCEA) Full Assembly from Oct. 2 to 7 and it will be attended by Archbishop Welby and 150 delegates. 

The last CCEA meeting in Sabah was held 32 years ago in 1987.



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