To mark the launch of his new book, Not in God’s Name, Rabbi Sacks was interviewed by The Daily Telegraph. This interview was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday 7th June 2015.
Jonathan Sacks begins our conversation by issuing a stark warning. The former Chief Rabbi says that Isil and other current manifestations of extremist religion around the globe now pose the “greatest challenge facing us in the 21st century”.
So he means not just his own community, or the countries of the Middle East, or even Western governments and armies. Unless both what he calls the “symptom” of Isil, and the factors that have caused its rise, are tackled and tackled effectively, he says, the murderous chaos seen from afar in Syria and Iraq will become an issue that impinges ever more on all our lives.
“Right now,” he urges, “Europe needs to join together to fight these extremists, not to talk of Jews and Christians, us and them. The challenge we all face is how to defend our hard-won freedoms and liberties. That is what’s at risk and why I am trying to widen the argument.”
To that end, next week he is publishing Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, his first book since standing down in 2013 as Chief Rabbi after 22 years in office. It is no use, he says, hoping the problem will go away, or relying on our political leaders in the West to sort it out.
“Their maximum length of concentration is until the next election, so there is a culture gap with these religious extremists. They are in a time system where the minimum unit of currency is a decade, and they are comfortable looking at things in centuries. Right now, a long-term problem is meeting short attention spans in the West.”