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Friday, 24 May 2013

Woolwich - the failure of the 'War on Terror'

The sight of an off duty soldier being butchered on the streets of London is almost too horrific to comprehend. Yet it is a predictable consequence of the failures of recent foreign policy. This is not in any way to diffuse the responsibility of this act from the hands of the callous murderers who were prepared to bring terror to the streets of London. Their twisted ideology is an insult to the God of love, and for them to dare to use God's name for such barbarity is sickening indeed.

It must be admitted though that it is has been our failed occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq that has helped create this kind of warped extremism. Bush and Blair's so-called War on Terror did not prevent such evil, but simply enabled it to spread. It is the years of horror created in Afghanistan and the continued use of drone attacks in only Muslim countries that fuels this madness. Britain is not seen as a nation that pursues peace, but one that perpetuates war. It is this strange truth which must change if we are to avoid further acts of terrorism on the streets of Woolwich or Boston.

Our 'acts of terror' (though we don't like to call them that) has allowed the fanatics to thrive. On the one hand, Political Islamic fundamentalists are able to use our foreign policy to radicalise a minority of marginal young people from within some Muslim communities. Perhaps a far deeper problem is the emergence of far right fanatics such as the EDL, who have also crawled up out of the evil and hate created by the last two wars. The strength of 'Islamophobia' is potentially a greater threat to our national security than the rare acts of terrorism by deranged individuals. A society with such hatred bubbling up all over the place is a terrifying place to be.

Our response? We need to pray for victims of terrorism every where, from London to Kabul. We need to resist people of violence where ever they appear; arms dealers; our own governments; fanatics from the far right; fanatics from Political Islamic Sects.

We need to build up a culture of peace in our communities and cities, and make sure that our foreign policy is never again hijacked by a US agenda fuelled by revenge and militarism.

Against our initial instincts, we will begin to see that peace is a much stronger force than that of violence. This will only happen when a far greater number of us become active peacemakers within our society. We cannot let the agenda be set by those armed with machetes and drone technology.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Interfaith Walk of Friendship

I've never had a good idea of my own, but I've nicked a few in my time. My new home of Sunderland seems to be a place crying out for a few more good ideas, especially around interfaith relationships, so it felt right to pinch a beautiful one from my old city of Bradford - a simple idea, a walk of friendship.

The proposed building of a Mosque in Sunderland has caused a ridiculous amount of concern here, and the far right have used it as an excuse to cause trouble around the region. Their monthly protests in Millhill, opposite the site of the new mosque, have increased racial and faith tensions in the city. So I have began to seek out those who are wanting to create some positive stories of interfaith harmony and respect, and to build up a group of people committed to strong relationships between different communities.

So here was the idea - a walk from the Minster, to a Buddhist Temple, to a Gurdwara, to a Methodist Church, then on to the only official Mosque (Masjid) in the city. This would mean that people would get a chance to visit places of worship they would not normally have a chance to see, step over the threshold into unknown territory, and during the walk, have a chance to meet others who share their interest in building up the common good.

Just over 40 people took part at different stages of the walk. Most people had never even realised that there was a Buddhist Temple in the city, and the Burmese monk, Lee, welcomed us warmly. At the Gurdwara, there was an excellent talk about the Sikh tradition and wonderful music and food. The Methodists showed off the magnificent Victorian building and stained glass at Burn Park Church, and finally we enjoyed the peace of the simple mosque on Chester Road.

At each location, we stopped for a minute to pray in silence for world peace. Here is the hope; that this is the first of many such events, drawing good people together to share our hopes for a more tolerant and respectful future. The English Defence League want to tell a different story about Sunderland, one of hate for our neighbours. But our walk of faith takes us down a more beautiful route, one of love and friendship for those who may at first appear different to us. On closer inspection, we discover that those who at first looked strange to us, are in fact are our brothers and sisters.