Protest and Prophecy

On Monday I read the story of Mexican migrant children being separated from parents when they were picked up by US border patrol. There is even an account of a 6 year old blind boy torn from his mother's arms. Inhuman behaviour by government agencies that should shock us. Lest anyone think I'm singling out the USA its only weeks since Windrush Generation scandal put stories in the news of the shameful deportations of fully legal Caribbean migrants to the UK. Government policy dictating that illegal immigrants face a hostile environment soon meant that even legal migrants faced the same hostility.

 Joan Baez on Monday evening

Joan Baez on Monday evening

That evening, still brooding on the news, I enjoyed  a concert in London by legendary singer Joan Baez. A first for me, despite being inspired by her songs since my teens in the seventies, and she was as superb as her reputation. Her superlative ranking however has to be because of her consistent attention over 60 years to social justice, civil rights, the environment, condemning war, and generally echoing the call of a suffering world. Remembering the story I'd read earlier, as she sang "Deportee (Plane wreck at Los Gatos)" I  broke. The song tells 1948 story of Mexican migrants working on the Californian fruit  farms deported to Mexico by plane.  The plane crashed. The media stories named the crew, but then spoke of "deportees," unnamed.  This travesty was memorialised in a poem by Woody Guthrie and recorded by Baez's fellow folk musician activist Pete Seegar. Yet despite the attention, the Mexicans have only recently been named,

"Deportee" is a simple yet profound metaphor of the value ascribed to those we choose to devalue, dehumanise, to other.  A story from 1948 highlighted the horrible inhumanities still being done by our governments today.

bee11.jpg

Another story stayed with me that evening. It was about the creation by US Christian Liberty University students of a movie "The Trump Prophecy" to show in selected US cinemas in the lead up to the November elections. It tells the story of a man in 2011 who apparently received a prophecy on how Trump would win the Presidential election and of how that led to a movement of prayer.   The movie website claims to be  "an inspirational message of Hope, highlighting the vast beauty and greatness of The United States, its electoral process and concludes by asking ... What does it mean to “make America great again?” 

This provokes me to anger at many levels. I personally believe in the place of contemporary prophecy in the church. For all the abuse of the form that clearly takes place under that banner, it is entirely appropriate to believe that a God who spoke in the past can still speak now. Yet the Bible calls us to judge prophecy. `At the heart of that must surely be the question, does this sit with Biblical values and truth, surely an obvious question when the Bible is packed full of calls for us to live righteous and just lives.

"Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream."  Amos 5.24

While not all prophecy need emulate the form or content of the the Old Testament prophets, surely that testimony must provide a plumbline for Christian living and the focused word of prophecy that sometimes empowers that? However I find very little of it in much so-contemporary so-called prophecy, and rather more political expediency. The Trump presidency makes a mockery of Biblical calls to seek the welfare of the poor and needy, to give home to the refugee, to protect the vulnerable and the young, to oppose injustice. And the Trump Prophecy must surely be an absolute travesty of Christian prophecy?

In contrast i find the protest songs and the singer activists of the 1960's and today, of which Joan Baez is an exemplar, to be packed full of a biblically inspired or at least endorsed call to peace, justice, truth and mercy. I don't even pretend Baez is a Christian, but her causes are surely deeply rooted in the historical Christian social justice agenda than those endorsed in The Trump Prophecy?

Baez's (first) encore was "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try."  The song famously protests the evils of wars fought in the name of religion, of greed and injustice, of people caught up investing in eternity rather than the here and now. I protest those things too, and I believe that many experiencing the US Presidents policies being endorsed by so called prophecy will do so too. 

There is another voice, a voice I believe would be recognised as one belonging to orthodox Christian faith. Reclaiming Jesus, a statement by 24 US Church leaders led by Jim Wallis and Bishop Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the  US Episcopal Church (he of the Royal Wedding   sermon fame!) is very clear: “We believe two things are at stake: the soul of the nation, and the integrity of faith,”  It continues:

"We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness ... Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership. ...
We believe we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class ... Therefore, we reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God"

Its a great statement, and it did make the news when 2000 attended a service last week and lit candles opposite the White House. However we need such statements in resounding in the soul of the nation, and song does that.

Joan Baez's and other topical songs and causes rooted in this tradition that date back millenia to the Old Testament prophets are not just protest songs, they are prophetic songs. May others rise to fill the huge space that Baez and others of that generation have occupied for six decades. Some like Pete Seegar have already sadly been lost to us, Baez at 77 seems determined to carry on, despite the Fare Thee Well Tour title, and clearly has the voice for it! 

And wouldn't it be nice if some contemporary hymns and songs were in prophetic - and protest - tradition? 

 

 

 

 

Successfully engaging with extremism means properly engaging with faith

Yesterday the UK government announced Sara Khan would be be leading its work on countering extremism. A corner of social media has been buzzing since. It was always going to be a difficult appointment to get right, one that would challenge the wisdom of Solomon, and the person chosen was never going to be popular with, or more importantly have the confidence of, everyone. Popularity is good but confidence is essential,

After the widespread criticism of government counter terrorism strategy,  Prevent, designed to support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities, it was really important they get this right.  While intended to look at all forms of extremism it is vital that the Muslim community felt it could engage with confidence with the commission process. The response from that community suggests Sara will not be able to effectively engage widely enough.  The Muslim Council of Britain were clear that it was unhappy with Sara's appointment: "one of the tasks of the commission would be to define already contested notions of extremism. ... this appointment indicates that the task will continue to be elusive and divisive at a time when the fight against terrorism requires common purpose and partnership."

On Prevent, calls for an independent review have been loud and consistent, not least from the Luton mosques. As a result of this a large number of Christian leaders in Luton wrote to address the policy from the church's perspective.  

While Prevent was initially focused towards Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE),  in its most recent forms the Prevent strategy has become focused on the pathway to terror. Meanwhile over the last three years the government widened its efforts to address all extremism. A Counter Extremism Strategy was released in October 2015, with  a core thesis being an escalator between religious conservatism and jihadism / terror.  The understanding of religious extremism proposed has been widely criticised, not least by Christian groups, who claim it fails to understand the nature of conservative approaches to faith, confusing conservatism with extremism. Muslims reject it for exactly the same reason.  The extremism policy was closely followed in late November 2015 by a government consultation on “Out  of School Educational Settings”, that would require registration and inspection of all out of school educational contexts over a certain time threshold.  This was designed to regulate Madrassas but would also impact Sunday Schools, church holiday clubs etc. This was again criticised widely, as were following attempts to progress their agenda.  Finally in the midst of a  summer in which we saw four terror attacks they announced in the June 2017 Queens Speech a Counter Extremism Policy, with its major task setting up a Commission.

I am not against a Counter Extremism commission. I want it to succeed. But we need an informed and measured view of extremism.  It must be applicable to all forms of extremism. It must seek multi-factorial models of radicalisation, and recognise a one size fits all response model will not work. And it must engage intelligently with faith. If it is to understand what drives people of faith to extremism and terror it must understand faith. 

Speaking of this at the time the government strategy came out the Archbishop of Canterbury was fairly forthright

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said the Government has "no grip" on what it is to be religious and "can't see really the difference" between Muslim extremist groups and those from the conservative evangelical wing of the Church of England.  …. He said that he had once told a senior minister that he would himself count as a religious "extremist" under the definition being applied because he believed that faith could outweigh the rule of law in some circumstances. …. Our Government generally, is desperately trying to catch up, to understand a world in which they have no grip on what it is to be religious at all; where religious illiteracy is prevalent and extremely destructive of understanding and where they can't see really the difference between an extremist Muslim group like the Muslim Brotherhood and a sort of conservative evangelical group in a Church of England church," he said. "They assume they're a bit bonkers." He added: "It's fine to reject and condemn many of the things done in the name of religion but you still need to understand what it is that can so catch hold of someone that they think life itself is not worth living if that contradicts what they believe."

The Evangelical Alliance (EA) has consistently challenged the governments approach to extremism since autumn 2015. It made a strong response to proposals on extremism announced in the May 2016 Queens Speech:  

"It's extreme to try and tell religious groups what they can and can't teach under the guise of fundamental British values. It's extreme to threaten to send Ofsted inspectors into churches if they don't teach British values. This government's trying to fight extremism with extremism and the main casualty will be our fundamental freedoms."

The EA have really been looking at this issue. They conducted research following the June 2017 Queens Speech on the public's views of extremism:  What Makes Someone Extreme.

Over half over the public (54 per cent) said 'extreme' is not a helpful term to use in social and political discussions, throwing into doubt the viability of the government's plans to create a Commission on Extremism.  .... Extreme has become a way of labelling ideas and people that we don't agree with and don't think should be able to articulate their opinions with the same freedom as others. In conflating violent action, and speech which incites that, with opinions we disagree with, we risk ending up with an overly sanitised and ultimately unhealthy society.

In a further article they suggested Four things that would be more helpful than a commission for countering extremism. Two of their suggestions are of importance here: Promoting Religious Literacy, and Fostering Good Disagreement. If we are to have a commission perhaps its chair could note these two factors in their selection of other commission members, their selection of those to give evidence. their process as a commission, and their final report.  It is critical that the commission include, hear from and give place in their final report to religious conservatives - Christian, Muslim and other faiths.

I have chosen not to focus here on Sara Khan as chair, but the Commission she leads. It can still be successful though she has a lot of work to do to build the confidence necessary for that. It would have been easier with a different lead commissioner  but I suspect we are now where we are.

Walking with the Cross: An open letter from Luton to Paul Golding, Jayda Fransen and members of Britain First

Dear Paul and Jayda,

We wanted to give you an update in how things are in Luton since you've always expressed concern at the state of the church here. Since you can't come to Luton just now after your own venture here in January 2016, Holy Week seemed a good time to write.

I'm writing over a coffee after returning from our Luton churches' Good Friday walks of witness through different parts of Luton. It was my privilege to to join the churches in Bury Park in carrying the cross along the main shopping street there. Five other similar walks took place around the town, including that through the town centre ending up at my own church, St Mary's. Hundreds of local Christians took part in the various walks.

  Approaching Central Mosque.  

Approaching Central Mosque.  

We know you're interested in Bury Park so let me tell you more of that walk. We visited five churches, and members of several other churches took part. As we walked along the main street we were greeted by lots of local shop keepers and shoppers, Muslim in the majority. It was a quieter walk than last year when after your own visit, local Muslims were especially keen to greet us.  In fact they organised to meet en route to distribute  candles dedicated to peace. It was deeply moving. I wrote about it last year, you may have read my account here. .

Back to this year - at each stop a part of the gospel account of Jesus' journey to his death was read. On a couple of occasions we prayed for those suffering for the sake of their faith. And it was very moving outside the church in the heart of busy Bury Park to hear the Gospel message clearly spoken out. At the last church, inside in this case, we heard a challenge to hope in the face of death, knowing that it's the Christian message that Good Friday always leads to Easter Sunday.

  The Cross in Bury Park.  

The Cross in Bury Park.  

You see, it's our experience that we can live, work, and importantly worship and preach as Christians here. I'm not pretending it's always easy. To claim that would help no one. But we are with talking about the challenges with our Muslim friends, and the authorities, and they are slowly being sorted. But when it comes to Good Friday we can carry the cross through the town as we have always done.

(And just so we are being really honest, we are not sweeping last Sunday's story of Luton Islamic Centre under the carpet. We are looking at it along with our Muslim colleagues..)

 

  Town Centre Walk of Witness passes luton Crown Court.

Town Centre Walk of Witness passes luton Crown Court.

guess the difference is we carry the cross a bit differently to you. I've been watching the way you've been working in Sparkboook Birmingham this week, and remembering your own so called "Christian Patrol" here last year. Your actions seem to provoke people's angry response. I'll not try to tell you why, but I would ask you to think about it.

I still remember Jayda's words in a video recorded after you met with us early June 2015 which went something like this: "The Christian leaders in Luton told us they tried to live at peace with their neighbours, even when they were Muslims. How can you live at peace with people who want to kill you?"  I know many many Muslims, some very well, and none have expressed a desire to kill me. (The closest they come to it is by overfeeding me with their hospitality.  Call it 'food jihad' I guess.)  The reason I mention that is that it seems to me we have very different views of what we can expect from Muslims. And that leads to very different experiences as we meet them. And very different styles of engagement with them.

   Worship outside St Marys Church, Luton town centre.  

 Worship outside St Marys Church, Luton town centre.  

The cross to me is not to be thrust in people's face, to be used agressively and divisively. Yes, it has been used in the past as a symbol of conquest, and become associated with violence, destruction and death. But those things are far removed from its true meaning of sacricial love, of forgiveness and of life.  Yes, it is a point of division from our Muslim neighbours. But when they're prepared to greet us as we carry a cross past their mosque it shows those differences can be overcome for the sake of good neighbourly relations.

Tempted as I am to continue I am not here to preach to you, but to let you know how things are. So I'll stop here. I will finish by reminding you of what churches across the U.K. had to say to you after your Luton visit last year.  Britain First Denounced By Every Major Christian Denomination In The UK.

Let me ask you to  reconsider this Easter how you represent the cross, especially in Birmingham.  We are praying for you.

Who deserves first place in the persecution stakes?

The Atlantic recently had an article titled "The Evangelical Perecution Complex: The theological and cultural roots of a damaging attitude in the Christian community." I think it had a point in  suggesting Christians view of opposition is rather too shaped from their long history of being the powerful in society, and the world.

 "Believers can come to see victimhood as part of their identity."

IMG_1454.JPG

It's an important subject for Christians today of all days. So I was interested when this morning I was greeted with two stories on Facebook, posted by several friends. Some were posting Lord Carey's article in the Telegraph where he argues that as Christians are “disproportionately” persecuted in the Middle East they should be given priority for help from the British Government.

Government is 'institutionally biased' against Christian refugees from Syria, claims former Archbishop of Canterbury

there were similar sentiments expressed on the floor of the Canadian Parliament. Candice Bergman MP noted that we don't often hear of Hollywood stars speaking out for Christians at the Oscars, and that in fact "many of the elite readily join in the mockery and disdain shown to Christians."

I'm wary for several reasons of the rush to join the ranks of the most persecuted group on earth. First it may be true. Or It may not be. So many are dying at this time. So much intra-faith persecution and slaughter goes on in the Middle East at present I'm really unwilling to say who gets the worst deal. Certainly Christians are having a very hard time. So too are Sunni Muslims. So too Shia. So too Yezidi. And many many more.

Second, I fear a mindset of "I'm more victimised than you." And the resulting victim mentality. It's debilitating for those who fall into it.

But thirdly on today of all days it seems to ignore the attitude of Jesus in the face of abuse, a prejudicial trial, and facing a violent death.

"When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him." Luke 22.49-51

Peter, probably recalling this incident and the whole period from arrest leading up to Jesus trial - and aware of the way he'd completely messed up what it meant to be a disciplined follower of Christ - later wrote:

"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." 1 Peter 2.23

i can't speak personally for those suffering. I pray for them, for grace and strength whatever they face. For myself though I seek to cultivate an attitude of solidarity with all around me - Christian, Muslims and all. I think that's part of being a global citizen.and it's a lesson from the story of the good Samaritan.

I'm convinced Jesus gives me the grace to seek the good of all.

Who will you be having coffee with tomorrow?

The last time I saw Marwan was as I opened the door to help him as he struggled with rather too many bags. Picking one up I followed him to the car waiting nearby.  I exchanged a few friendly words with the driver,  his friend, who I'd seen several times before.  I hugged my friend. As they drove off I waved. I was sad. Over the following weeks I often thought of him.

Marwan had been my neighbour for 8 months; we'd chatted in the corridor, drunk coffee and played pool, and I was enjoying getting to know him better. Just a week before he left he'd begun to tell me about his early life,  growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp.  It'd all come out as I made a rather thoughtless remark about Israel.  He stood up from preparing to pot a ball, put down his cue and gently started to speak.  His response was gracious considering how offensive my question must have been to him. We'd never really finished the conversation, he had to go and my role as duty manager of the international student hostel called me away. Now he’d left at short notice,  it seemed I'd never learn more from him.

I couldn't have been more wrong. I did learn more of Marwan. It happened about six weeks later as I answered questions about him to a police officer. The next day I discovered more as I read the front page of the newspaper, illustrated by a picture of Marwan and his friend in the same car he'd left in. They'd been arrested for the attempted assassination of Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador in London. It was 3rd June 1982.

The day after their failed attempt to kill Argov, the first shots rang out as Israel invaded southern Lebanon.  They pushed north to Beirut in order to deal with the perceived threat from among the many Palestinian refugees in the nation.  Israel would effectively occupy the southern part of Lebanon for the next eighteen years, and the impact of that would profoundly impact the nation and region.

Marwan it turned out was Marwan al-Banna, and he was a member of Abu Nidal, one of the major terror groups active in  the 1970-80s, run by his cousin Sabri al-Banna. Marwan was a signed up member, his life committed to fighting for the Palestinian cause.

I'd drunk coffee, played pool, and lived right next door to a terrorist.

For several weeks I had a lot of thinking to do. In the end I decided thinking about it didn't really help. I pushed it to the back of my mind. To be honest it was actually twenty years before I made sense of this, and came after time spent in a refugee camp in Gaza. My conclusion then was different. I'd drunk coffee, played pool, lived next door to Marwan, a friend, my neighbour.

It's very easy to totally “other” the terrorist. To categorise them  in a way that is so different to us, where their evil actions bear no relationship to our own lives and choices. To dehumanise them. To demonise them. They are evil and that's it. It's a very understandable process, but I’m not sure it helps us move forward.

How many terrorists have you known, or simply crossed paths with? You'll probably never know, because most of the time they're ordinary folk doing ordinary things like you and me. Until last Friday I thought that in the ordinary run of every day life I'd known one terrorist. Now I know I came close to another a few years before I met Marwan. Khalid Masood, the Westminster terrorist, grew up in my home town went to school near me, very possibly went to my church. He was called Adrian Elms, or Adrian Ajao back then.  I told that story here. (A violent man. Just that.)

I said I've known one and come close to one in every day life – growing up, doing  the ordinary things people do.  Actually I've met more, but that's because doing the work I do I've intentionally put myself in the place where I meet extremists. But in this piece I’ll leave that aside and focus on the ordinary. One I likely crossed paths with as a teenager. One was my neighbour in my early 20’s.

My response to learning about Marwan was to dwell in his awful actions. And wonder how close I'd come to danger. Did they plan the attack sitting in the flat next door? Did he keep a gun in his flat? What if I'd upset him? What if ….?

There is another sort of “What if …” question I could have asked. What if I'd befriended him earlier? What if I'd had a meal with him? What if I'd been able to sit and listen more fully to his painful stories, maybe wept with him, expressed deep regret? What if my friendship had been the thing that gradually began to break down years of anger that led to his terrorist act?

What if I'd crossed paths with Adrian? Reached out to him when he'd received a discriminatory remark? Challenged the bullies who made his life hell? Walked with him through town on his way home? Been able to be a big brother to him in his need?

I'm convinced that terrorists are not just a result of reading and embracing extremist ideology. In many cases their life has prepared them for their action. Their story is one of personal, family, group or national pain and anger.  That pain then finds an ideology that explains it, gives it meaning and purpose. Their story set in the context of a bigger story is what empowers their actions.

When you make the choice to have a casual chat with an acquaintance over coffee, help someone when they're struggling or simply say Hi! or smile as they pass, what are your actions saying them? I'd suggest that very simply you are sending out a message that human beings are ok, that the day might be worth living, that their life is valuable. Your action might not be remembered past the next bend in the road, but you are reinforcing self worth and civility.

By contrast when you pass those opportunities by and merely grunt when greeted, you could well be reinforcing the idea that English people are not interested, that white “Christians” are hypocrites, that human beings are overrated, and that life sucks.

You never know who the person you have coffee with tomorrow might go on to be. 

A violent man. Just that.

"Khalid Masood was a violent Christian [known as Adrian Elms or Adrian Ajao] long before he was a violent Muslim." Those were Baroness Sayeeda Warsi's words on the Andrew Marr show on BBC this am. 

In other words he was a violent person.  He may have used religion to justify violence, but so have many Christians. What lay at the root of his violent nature? 

It wasn't long after the identity of Khalid Masood became known that the early years of Adrian Elms or Adrian Ajao were uncovered. The account in the Telegraph is as good as any..  Details are unclear and vary somewhat between news stories, but what is clear is that it was a deeply disturbed man who became a Muslim while in prison.  He had at least two periods in prison in the early 2000's for violent assault. It was suggested by his defence barrister that one of these assaults was provoked by racism: "There were racial overtones in the argument between himself and the victim. He let that get to him - unusually, because in the past he has been able to shrug off that sort of abuse."  The judge's words in sentencing him are important: "While [the racial abuse] doesn't afford any excuse for your behaviour it may afford some degree of explanation."

Racism typically penetrates to the core of our psyche over a long period. It's impact is on physical health as well as mental health, where it "creates intense and constant stress which boosts the risk of depression, anxiety and anger" and can lead to psychotic episodes. (Racism Harmful to Mental and Physical Health)   In "Racism's Psychological Toll", an article in 2015 at the height of incidents that led to the Black Lives Matter campaign, looks at how it is now finally being researched and is now being categorised in terms of race-based Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The author notes how "In a 2013 Psychology Today article, Williams wrote that “much research has been conducted on the social, economic and political effects of racism, but little research recognizes the psychological effects of racism on people of color.”

There was the inevitable questions on Friday about what Masood did during his year or do in Luton. For me a different question was at the fore, relating to life four decades earlier. 

Masood grew up in Tunbridge Wells, a very respectable town, and very white, even today.  I know. I grew up there too. My extended family lived in villages on the Kent Sussex border where he lived. I went to a school just up the road from him.  I had cousins at his school at the same time as him. There were a handful of black families in the town then, I knew children of two of them. I remember the abuse as I walked occasionally with one, a friend from church. And I remember my shock at the correspondence in the local paper when two East African Asian families arrived in town as refugees in the early 1970s.

It's very sobering to reflect on how the threads of my life have come close to Masood's and may even have crossed his. As one Muslim friend said to me on Friday, "Maybe you went to the same church?"  In the circumstances that question is a fair mirror of the guilt by association that is so often clear if you happen to have prayed at the same mosque as a terrorist.

If racism was a cause of Khalid Masood's angry outbursts it's unlikely to have had its impact overnight. I want to at least ask the question, how much was the foundation of it laid in his experiences as a teenager?  Of course there were likely to be other causes. Life is seldom simple. And of course, I'll say again, as the judge said, none of this excuses his outbursts of anger.  

What makes this all so troubling is that on Thursday we were already hearing of reactions to the terror attacks.  Hate mail received at Mosques just hours after the attack. Abuse of Muslim mums taking children to and from school. Here in Luton and around the nation.  My question is this. What will the impact of that hatred and discrimination be one of two decades on? If the response to this atrocity is the cause of the cycle of vengeance turning again, then we must do all we can to stop that cycle. 

And as I reflect on the proximity of my life to Masood four decades ago i am prompted to ask two questions.  Is there anything I could have done differently if I'd had the benefit of a time machine?  And with that in mind, what can I do now to negate hate and discrimination? 

When terror calls ...

Once again terror has visited our nation. Four were killed in Westminster yesterday, one of them a policeman, and one the terrorist.  Many were injured, from many nations, several are in a critical condition. Eight have already been arrested, and the killer, now named as Khalid Masood seems to be known to the police. Much more will become known for sure. The police are treating it as "Islamic related terror." Isis are now claiming responsibility. What Khalid Masood's relation if any to them is we don't yet know. 

Let's be clear, it is arguably possible to say the terror is "Islamic related", but it is not Islamic.  Major bodies of Muslims have condemned what happened - the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Society of Britain among them. Luton's two council of Mosques have a statement out as I knew they would.

IMG_1430.JPG

I have heard nothing but grief, anger at what has happened, solidarity with the police, and total condemnation from Muslims. 

(I'll try to write on my approach to this theme of the relationship of terrorism to Islam another time.)

Such moments as this bring out the best in people.  Brendan Cox, whose MP wife Jo was killed by by a far right activist last year, has repeatedly led the nation by his example in his calm and thoughtful response to terror:

"What the terrorist would like to happen is for us to fall apart and start blaming groups of people, to say that in some way this is Muslim or Islam as a whole."

In refusing to respond to hate with more hate, but calling consistently for people to come together, he denies terror it's impetus to turn the wheel of vengeance one more time, so ramping up the conflict. 

Sadly, we are also encountering the worst of people.  Blame for the terror incident yesterday is already clear for many, and it lies with a religion, not a person.  Yesterday several Luton Mosques were saying they'd already received hate mail.  This morning there were reports of abuse to women taking children to school. More poison in the system.

A lot of that is as always now on social media. Stephen Lennon, aka "Tommy Robinson", founder of the English Defence League (EDL) and now freelance stirrer, managed to get to the scene of the atrocity in double quick time yesterday - just as he did after the killing of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013. Online video and twitter outpourings from him as well as many on social media have sought to stir the divisions, repeating their narrative of a clash between Islam and the Christian West. Nigel Farage, former UKIP leader was clear where he placed the blame: "Frankly, if you open your door to uncontrolled immigration from Middle Eastern countries, you are inviting in terrorism."  The US president managed to restrain himself from much comment though he did lay into London Mayor Sadiq Kahn. 

At one point last evening it was rumoured the terrorist was Abu Izzadeen, well known member of al-Muhajiroun and associate of extremist preacher Anjem Choudary. (Rumours on social media then seemed to solidify on Channel 4 news, though by the end of the broadcast they were retreating on learning he was in prison.) Lennon has extensive form with both Choudary and especially his Luton group, led by Sayful Islam, so he was quick to cotton on to this and talk up how well known he was to the authorities, and his links in the Muslim community. When Izzadeen was removed from the frame he barely stopped. Guilt by association. 

I can really only adequately speak for Luton on this, but for the past eight years, since EDL formed in response to protest by al-Muhajiroun against an army regiment's homecoming parade, the Luton Muslim community have done all they could to marginalise their influence. I have been participant and observer to that activity. The fact that is was only 2016 they were brought to trial  and imprisoned for recruitment for ISIS lies with the police and Home Officer.  

The Archbishop of Canterbury in the House of Lords this morning helped us frame the conflict differently. (Link). He called us to British values that come from a narrative that has been within our society for almost 2000 years.

“That speaks of – at this time of year as we look forward to Holy Week and Easter – of a God who stands with the suffering, and brings justice, and whose resurrection has given to believer and unbeliever the sense that where we do what is right; where we behave properly; where that generosity and extraordinary sense of duty that leads people to treat a terrorist is shown; where that bravery of someone like PC Keith Palmer is demonstrated, that there is a victory for what is right and good; over what is evil, despairing and bad. "

i trust we can resist the push to frame the conflict as between Islam and Christianity, but rather a peaceful vision for society supported by all of good will, Christian, Muslim, other faith or no faith, versus that of the terrorist, described by the Archbishop as a "perverted, nihilistic, despairing view of objectives of what life is about, of what society is about, that could only be fulfilled by death and destruction." 

 

What can we learn from this allegation of abuse?

Over recent years as I've heard the claim by the far right that child sexual exploitation is “a Muslim thing”, that it should be be attributed to their faith,  I’ve reflected many times on child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Christian contexts. We set up FACES (Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation) in Luton to stand together as Muslims and Christian leaders to oppose all sexual exploitation of children and young people, to address its presence in the midst of communities of faith,  and by doing so together to confront the idea that CSE is a religiously inspired problem.

Over the past few days I've been following the developing story involving extreme physical abuse (with some sexual dimensions) of numerous young boys by John Smythe, a barrister and the one-time leader of Iwerne Christian summer camps, during the 70s and early 80’s. Allegations  also involve pupils at Winchester School. There are currently 22 victims identified and it's possibly the biggest church related case for many years, and its impact is widespread. Iwerne  played a significant part in shaping conservative evangelical culture during the 20th century, with many senior leaders attending its camps. A number of Christian leaders are now speaking out about their abuse, or apparent innocent involvement in Iwerne .  There would seem to be  significant lessons for us as we try to understand how abuse can exist and flourish in a faith community, how it's propagators can distort religious teaching, why abused people don't easily speak up, and what happens when they do.

I won't retell the story. The original Channel 4 account does that perfectly adequately, and was followed by an account of similar problems in Zimbabwe after Smythe was asked by Iwerne trustees to leave  the UK. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a junior officer at Iwerne camps in the 70’s, knew Smythe, but says he was not involved.  There has been much comment, and other dimensions including by a number of survivors, including for example this published anonymously.  There is an account of Smythe persuading one of his victims to join in the abuse. On Monday Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford, said he'd been abused once by Smythe.  At least one boy committed suicide, and at least one other attempted suicide. The Telegraph have published a copy of a letter sent by Smythe to parents of campers.

It's important to say, the abuse as we currently understand it was primarily physical, not sexual. However there do appear to have been sexual dimensions: ‘pretty boys’ were chosen; beatings were conducted in the nude; the Iwerne culture included late evening nude bathing; Smythe showered nude with the boys; boys were questioned about masturbation and beaten accordingly. Nothing particular is known yet of African victims. Yet even though it is not primarily sexual, many aspects are the same, and the degree of detail known in this case  allows much to be learned.

Let me first say, I've thought much about this as I’m personally impacted, though not as a victim. As a grammar school boy I wasn't immediately in the Iwerne circle, but on arriving at Oxford in 1976 as a deeply committed Christian with potential to lead I quickly discovered one was likely to go a lot further if one had that card to play. For a while it felt like I was being groomed into a role, but I didn't like the grooming, it wasn't charismatic Christian faith as I knew it, and it was way too posh for tenant farmers son. I eventually identified myself as the charismatic I was, opted out of the evangelical in-group, and I never went any further up the Oxford Christian ladder.

This brings me to my first point, understanding how abuse can exist and flourish in a faith community. I should be clear, my ‘distant’ experience of Iwerne and its brand of conservative Christian faith never had a hint of anything like the physical or sexual abuse we are now reading about.  Yet I choose to use the word grooming very intentionally, for it is essentially a word about relationships. It's about the creation of a particular style of relationship that easily leads to  an offer of reward if you continue in the relationship, an emotional dependence, a commitment to a brand or indeed a cult, and an unhealthy in-group atmosphere. And I could see how it could be easy to abuse as clearly Smythe did. When a faith community,  Christian or any other, creates that sort of in group environment it can quickly be turned to nurturing unhealthy, abusive practices. The abuse can either be focussed internally to group members, as in Smythe’s case, or might be focused outward as the in-group develop and justify abusive relations with outsiders.

The second point I'd draw briefly from the case here is as to how abusers distort religious teaching, in this case to make abuse acceptable to its victims.  Bishop Andrew made a very helpful statement yesterday:

“ Abusers espouse all theologies and none; and absolutely nothing that happened in the Smyth shed was the natural fruit of any Christian theology that I've come across before or since. It was abuse perpetrated by a misguided, manipulative and dangerous man, tragically playing on the longing of his young victims to live godly lives.” (Statement)

I never had anything but admiration at the time  for the Christian self discipline exercised by the Iwerne people I knew, though retrospectively in some people it seemed very legalistic, and self righteous.  However I can see how some who were groomed would have been ripe for exploitation by the idea that physical discipline would bring victory over sin. Remember this was the 70’s when corporal punishment was still around in state as well as public schools. Indeed Smythe, light heartedly told parents of the two levels of discipline he would apply to  high spirited campers.

Religious passion exercised in an in-group (or cultish) environment by emotionally dependant people will allow behavioural excesses or abuse to take place unchecked. It clearly did in Smythe’s Iwerne circles.

My Muslim colleagues strong denunciation of sexual exploitation of children and young people has persuaded me that the abuse and disrespect of women has no part in a true practise of Islam. However the testimony in some trials suggest that ethnic, religious and moral superiority has played a significant part in creating an in-group, along with a dehumanisation of  victims. (Report of Oxford trial.)  They then cultivate emotional and often drug dependency among victims, though in this case religion would seem to play no part in that.

Thirdly the case shows us how hard abused people find it to  speak up. The men abused who have in recent days spoken out are to all outside observers well adjusted individuals.  Doubtless one will in retrospect see explanation for some actions in the past. They have clearly carried great pain for as much as forty years. Yet they have not disclosed their story. Others, like the Iwerne board members who saw a report on Smythe in 1982, have for various reasons stayed quiet.  Christian columnist, one time ‘agony aunt’ Anne Atkins wrote a piece in 2012 in the Daily Mail during the heart of the Jimmy Saville  story telling a story of child sexual exploitation that had been disclosed to her several years before.  Her central question was, why did she not tell, why did the system not tell, why did the victim not tell.

Why on earth didn’t I urge my friend to go to the police? The really shocking thing is, it simply never occurred to me. And, to be more honest than I am at  all comfortable with, it is still almost unthinkable. I come back to the question again. Why?

The first and only decent reason is because of my love for my friend. It never occurred to Chris to report the incidents. I was not told about them with this purpose in mind. So it would be an extreme violation of friendship and confidence to do so on my own initiative, and I will never do this without Chris’s permission.

But this still begs the question, why has Chris not done so? And what are the other reasons that prevented me from even thinking of it? Because of who Peter is. He is a member of a very highly regarded profession. Many people look up to him, and would acknowledge the benefit they derive from his work. To expose him would be devastating to an entire community.

I know, I know; this is no reason at all. I am not attempting to excuse myself, but merely explain. …

Anne Atkins gives on to unpack her reasons, her questions. Then, under a thin wrap, her own knowledge of Smythe – her family knew him – and of his abuse and exile. She concludes.

Power, influence and personality – whether on the national stage or within close communities – is daunting. How much more so must it seem to young people and children?

I don't excuse her, just as she doesn't excuse herself. But she helps us to understand why so much pain can remain unspoken of even when so many know. These are other wise good people, and they do so much good. They are well respected. Who would believe us? We know this doesn't represent the best of our faith. Why squander our good reputation because of one bad guy? The excuses roll off the tongue. And all around us others are thinking the same way.  And so the conspiracy of silence perpetuates.

There are many reasons for silence, and Christian communities must learn from them. As we do so, I have every confidence our Muslim friends will as well. Our Luton FACES group will be doing  all we can to ensure we can learn from each other rather than point the finger.

There is one final point I want to reflect on here from this story. What happens when people do talk up and speak of abuse? Anne Atkins wrote another article this weekend updating the story. She writes more of Iwerne, it's positives, and her own short relationship with it. She also writes of the fear of peer disapproval, the anxiety when a perpetrator tried to contact her, and living a sense of betrayal (my words). It's the in-group mentality again. Communities of people connected by faith are so vulnerable to that.

Yet for Christians speaking truth to power lies at the heart of our faith. We must be countercultural, it's a part of our inheritance. Jesus commands to take the log out of our own eye before we try to take the speck out of someone else’s - i.e. Look in the mirror before criticising another. There is more  virtue in talking about our weakness than in strutting around in our strength. And I venture to suggest that my Muslim friends would say the same. Our FACES community will continue to have that conversation, not least in the light of this emerging story and it's lessons.

There is much more that could be written of the Smythe story.  Many others have done do. And as I was writing last evening Channel 4 reported on more from Africa. It was shocking. Doubtless there will be more. And it will all roll round again as the story comes to court. Reputations will fall over it I would guess. But hopefully in it all we as Christians, and people of other faiths, will learn some lessons

 

© Peter G M Adams 2017.

A matter of trust

I wrote this piece in early 2014, based on new year thoughts. It was published on the Christian Muslim Forum website. A matter of trust.   I don't think I ever posted it on my old blog, which was in a state of disrepair. (Reminder to self. It still is!) 

In the light of the continuing questions in Prevent, the UK government's counter extremism and terror legislation, I think it's worth posting again and here. It's trust we need in our complex super diverse community. And if government legislation creates distrust in the very area we need the greatest trust, it is not fit for purpose. Read on. 

------ 

Like many I’m sure I spent New Year’s Eve reflecting on the year past, the year ahead, and the family, friends and colleagues that I am privileged to share my life with. Family were around me, but my Facebook post to those I couldn’t be with was this:

“Not sure what 2014 holds, and if I'm honest I'm inclined not to be positive about it, but I know one thing - I will continue to find great joy in standing with many of you in the task to see more love and less hatred, more friendship and less enmity, more peace and less conflict.”

This was not just empty New Year’s sentiments. I really meant it! As a church based interfaith worker in Luton, with a focus on community peace-building and reconciliation, and working mainly in Muslim – Christian relations, life has been busy these past few years, but in the midst of the challenges I have made some wonderful friends in all of our communities here, as well as around the nation as we have stood together against hatred. Messages of mutual appreciation quickly came back, and I went to sleep “feeling the love” as they say!

Waking on New Year’s Day I looked over more replies, but my attention was grabbed by a post on the Christian Muslim Forum’s Facebook page, “Muslim informants lauded for helping keep England safe from terrorists.” While there was nothing essentially new in the article it somehow upset the sense of wellbeing that I had been feeling at the beginning of a new year. More importantly I actually felt a little anger, that it once again exposed an issue that has been a matter of great concern among us, especially Muslim friends and colleagues. It underlined my sense of concern expressed in my post of the night before, and got me thinking. A few remarks on the post led to an invitation to write further, hence this piece. It is certainly not a subject I have all the answers on, but one that concerns me greatly, so I hope this will get a conversation going.

I want to set some thoughts on informing in a more positive context. Let me return to my thoughts on New Year’s Eve. The challenges we have faced in Luton since the emergence of the English Defence League (EDL) have meant we have worked very closely together, in the town and beyond, moving beyond courteous relations or the warm feelings felt on visiting a mosque, sharing a meal or spending time with Muslim or Christian friends, important as those things are. Seasons of intense engagement preceded the EDL as well; as a town and nation we have navigated our way past 9-11 and 7-7 as well as a dozen lesser events, by working together, and each time more closely. While attempts to divide the community were real, the effect of working closely together to build peace has drawn us much closer.  As a result we have been able to deal with the challenge of terror attacks and EDL demonstrations and more, but we have also been able to begin to work on challenging extremism across the community. It’s only a start, there is a lot more to do, many more people need to get involved, but I would suggest we are a stronger community for it. At the heart of that is something that is essential for a society to work well. Trust.

Trust is an invaluable commodity in a community. It emerges as people develop a shared history and work together for the common good. It is strengthened as they challenge and fight injustice together, oppose hatred (especially of one another), challenge evil, and look out for one another.  It is enriched as they come to understand how each other thinks, as they share experiences of pain and joy, as they become vulnerable to one another.  Gradually people’s lives become mutually dependent, intertwined, and they cannot imagine life without one another. Mutual respect, care for ones neighbour, and above all trust are the glue that hold a well-functioning community together.

Shared faith obviously strengthens common purpose, relationships and trust, but I suggest that people of different faiths can discover shared values and come to appreciate how each other’s faith makes them better citizens. CMF’s director Julian Bond has reminded us of that this week in his Premier Christian Radio Thought for the Day broadcasts: A New Language: Part 4 - Sharing the Love where he points to the way Muslim scholars have highlighted the importance of love of neighbour in their faith. That “love letter” as Julian calls it, and Christian responses to it, have been very important in our growth together in these past few years. Since Islam is used by some to justify separation, extremism and terror it is so important to have our eyes refocused to the values and ideas we share.

If trust is the glue in society, what happens when we are encouraged to inform on one another?  It might be argued that informing on people is the opposite, that it denies trust.  Recognising some truth in that, I think we have to see informing as a necessary thing where a greater evil is planned that is the absolute denial of trust.  People living in a healthy society that aspires to real integration of its various faith and ethnic communities will have a sense of responsibility for its safety that naturally leads to them passing on appropriately information of possible dangers. That should ideally be true of anyone in that society, whoever is threatened and wherever the danger is coming from. My Muslim friend or neighbour should be protected even if it’s my cousin threatening him. And it obviously goes the other way.  I suggest that is a key mark of common citizenship.

However, by contrast people living in a society that is not really integrated will find it much harder to inform on those from their own community. Loyalty to the immediate community is greater than to the whole; trust is held within that immediate community.

Consider the wider impact. Encouraging informing raises levels of suspicion within a community.  To outsiders looking on it exaggerate fears and suspicion towards them, and has the potential to tar everyone with the same brush.  All these can destroy trust.  And that in itself will slow down integration further.

That seems to me to pretty much sum up the impact of the early years of the PREVENT strategy, the government’s approach to preventing violent extremism in the Muslim community that emerged after the terrible events of “7-7”, the July 2005 London bombings. The evils of that day were widely condemned in the Muslim community as not representing them or Islam, and there was unity in calling for work to challenge extremism. Yet the policy that emerged caused deep resentment, and I suggest eroded trust.

I don’t think it’s for me to describe the responses of many in the Muslim community to PREVENT, the sense that they were being spied on, and the fear generated. As a Christian I need to hear that and to understand how it felt. Perhaps we can understand this by looking at a recent issue in relation to the intelligence world.  2013 saw the US and UK among many other nations rocked by the revelations of Edward Snowden of the activity by the United States’ NSA along with UK’s GCHQ in widely monitoring internet traffic. How did we feel about people spying on us?  I heard many remarks that spoke of a sense of violation, of insecurity, of the loss of trust. Why do they need to look at me, I’m not a terrorist.  If I want to know how my Muslim brothers and sisters feel at the idea of people spying on them I need to look and contemplate how I feel when I’m being spied on. 

While I know the need for vigilance in all directions, I also deeply understand the concern at the creation of a culture of fear in a community by continually emphasising the responsibility of people to inform when they are concerned. However just as it is the very small minority of a community we have to look out for, we need to ensure that it’s a small portion of our efforts that focus on efforts to encourage informing. The majority effort should be towards increasing trust in every direction. That’s where Christian Muslim Forum comes in. Its invaluable work in building bridges is resulting in increased trust between our communities.

In summary, my concern when I read the article on people informing contrasted with the trust I was communicating and experiencing the night before.  I suggest there is a lesson for us there. We all want to live knowing that those around us honour us, trust us, care for us, will go out of their way to speak up for us.  Calling people to inform on their community may be an unfortunate necessity, but let’s make sure it is set in the context of a growing trust between us.

Let’s have a good and fruitful 2014, and do all we can to build increased trust between us!

And I'd say the same in 2017!  

The challenge of the Christmas story as we face an uncertain future.

Warm Greetings this Christmas, and Best Wishes for a Good New Year!

  Detail from Magnificat Window of St Marys Luton.  The Magnificat in Luke 1.46-55 records Mary, mother of Jesus song on hearing she would bear a son who would be the Saviour of the world. "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty." In her song Mary anticipates the heart of the Christmas story. 

Detail from Magnificat Window of St Marys Luton.  The Magnificat in Luke 1.46-55 records Mary, mother of Jesus song on hearing she would bear a son who would be the Saviour of the world. "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty." In her song Mary anticipates the heart of the Christmas story. 

Looking back over 2016 it's been a year of both challenges and steps forward locally, but also one where despite all our good work together, national and world events have had a big impact on our life as a town. Terrorist atrocities in Europe and beyond; extremists turning up either planned or without warning and spewing their hate on our streets; the continued erosion of so many services in the seemingly never ending austerity, and more lives messed with – these are things we've learned to deal with, much as we hate it. But the impact of the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump as US president has been a rise in hate crime and incidents, and to provoke fear of future policies that will discriminate against many. These originate way beyond our town, it's hard to know what we can do.

With so much going on, so many uncertainties, so much negative I have found great strength this year in the themes that stand out so strong in the midst of the Christmas narrative. The promise to the Prophet Isaiah of the birth of one named the Prince of Peace (1). Mary's beautiful yet subversive song on hearing she would bear a son, in which she proclaimed him as one who would bring down mighty rulers, lift up the humble and bring justice to earth (2).  The announcement by the angels of peace on earth and goodwill to men (3).  The arrival of wise men from the east who came to worship a true king born in poverty rather than the cruel Herod they greeted in Jerusalem (4).  And the birth of a child, born in humble & chaotic circumstances  who I worship as God, and many of you honour as a Prophet, whose life would change the world.

The narrative of so many in our world at this time, and especially the extremists who've so plagued our lives since the turn of the millennium, is that the Muslim world and the Christian/  liberal democracies of the  West are destined to a clash of cultures (5)  it's worrying to see so many in the new Trump Administration as card carrying believers in that as the big picture of 21st Century International Relations. We've seen extremists trying to make that the defining story of Luton. But it's a joy to stand with my Christian and Muslim friends at the end of 2016 and say together that with the strong support of friends of other faiths, our local government, police and our wider community we are showing there is another way. That's the Luton Story! And that's the story we have for the world!

I trust the Christmas narrative of peace, justice and hope lifts your heart and energises you in some way over this season, whether you are a Christian, follow another faith, or are a person of no faith. It's a pleasure to work with you all!

I leave you with the message again of the angels, which is our message to all in 2017:

Peace on Earth, and goodwill to all!

------- 

 (1) Isaiah 9.6

(2) Mary's Song, the Magnificat. Luke 1.46-55

(3) Luke 2. 8-14

(4) Matthew 2.1-12

(5) The heart of Samuel Huntingdons’s thesis of 2004 of a Clash of Civilisations.

Paul Golding of Britain First jailed for "deliberate and cynical defiance" of court order banning him from mosques

Eighteen months ago far right group Britain First planned a demonstration in Luton. It was surely a decision that they would come to regret.   Today former leader Paul Golding was sentenced to eight weeks in prison and £11,500 costs. A short sentence but a huge cost that may well break the organisation, a registered political party. It's a great development and the story deserves to be told. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

Former Britain First leader Paul Golding jailed for breaching court injunction on mosque invasions

The announcement in May 2015 of a demonstration a month later directly led to today's actions. Well practiced at community response to threats after five years of the English Defence League leadership being based in the town, the Luton community sprung into action. We took seriously their claim to be representing a Christian cause, and I joined Christian leaders in the town in writing to BF asking them not to come. (Letter here) We subsequently met with leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, but they persisted in their plans. Immediately after our meeting they went and stirred up people in Bury Park, and held a small, demo in front of a mosque. In the following weeks we continued to oppose their coming, and a community letter was signed by no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury when he was visiting the town. Archbishop of Canterbury urges Britain First to cancel Luton demonstration

 Yours truly with Rehana Faisal, Muslim community activist, ArchbishopmJustin, Luton Mayor Dave Taylor and Bishop Alan of St Albans. 

Yours truly with Rehana Faisal, Muslim community activist, ArchbishopmJustin, Luton Mayor Dave Taylor and Bishop Alan of St Albans. 

Over the weeks leading up to the demo on 27th June 2015 Bedfordshire Police held their own cards close to their chests. It was clear they were up to something but they did not say what, which was difficult. A few days before the demo we were thrilled when they served notice on BF leaders that they were seeking a High Court injunction to ban them from Luton for the demo day, and from mosques around the nation. An interim hearing the day before demo day turned down the ban from Luton but upheld the ban from mosques without invitation until a full hearing took place. The demo took place peacefully, BF went away and we wondered what next. 

BF held a highly publicised so called "Christian Patrol" without announcement in Bury Park on Saturday 23rd January this year. The story of the day is here in a personal piece I wrote for Hope Not Hate and there are videos etc of the church's response here. The ban on entering mosques was still in place, and the police announced they were still seeking a final hearing. In the interim they enforced bail terms that banned Paul and Jayda from the town. BF minus their leaders were in Luton town centre again two weeks later - Paul and Jayda claimed they controllled operations via Skype from their control room - a pub in S London!  Meanwhile our response as churches had received nationwide and international overage, and resulted in BF and their Christian Patrols being condemned by pretty well every major British church

The police began a series of moves that brought Paul to a hearing at the magistrates court in late July. He pleaded guilty to a charge of wearing political uniform. The story is told here. Street Movement, Political Party or ...   Jayda was here the following week and pleaded not guilty so was committed to a hearing in early November. Nothing exciting happened that day though they claimed they were chased out of luton by mobs of Muslims. I tell the story of what didn't happen here!

Then a week later, contrary to everything they'd been saying about fighting the High Court injunction, Paul and Jayda conceded and agreed to its terms out of court. This is Good News!  Details of the Injunction are linked there. 

They returned to Luton a last time in November for Jayda's hearing on wearing a political uniform and religiously aggravated abuse of a young woman and her family. (A Good Verdict in Luton  )   The sense of achievement was added to when at lunchtime on the first day of the trial Paul was served notice of today's hearing for breaking the terms of the injunction. 

It was brought on because just a few days after signing the injunction Paul drove a group of BF activists to Cardiff where they "invaded" a mosque, the Al- Manar centre. Golding himself didn't go in but it would be hard to argue he didn't play a part in what happened.  He was clearly testing the injunction about as far awZy as he could get from the High Court. I don't claim any particular part in today's conviction, but was coincidentally in Cardiff a month later speaking on our work challenging the far right in Luton. I met the Iman and members of the mosque, heard their distress at the incident and brought them sympathies from the whole community if Luton. So it was particularly pleasing to see the verdict. 

The judge today said:  "the breach was a "deliberate and cynical defiance" of the court's order as well as an affront to the Muslim community, not merely in Cardiff but throughout the country where Britain First might circulate its propaganda. Such an injunction is granted to prevent serious anti-social behaviour. This particular injunction was granted not merely to protect certain individuals but to preserve public order in the widest sense and throughout the country. The conduct restrained was by its nature of an extreme kind, calculated to increase tensions between different members of the community of this country, particularly to affront the Muslim community in relation to their religion.  Such conduct was plainly calculated to give rise to the risk of provocation and violence and further extremism and tension on all sides of the community. These are most serious matters at the present time."  (Mirror article)

 Let's just say this.  Britain First took on the Luton community and Bedfordshire Police at their peril. Having EDL based here over five years meant we didnt just deal with a couple of demos but with their consistent rabble rousing in our community. As a result we learnt some key lessons. So when BF announced a demo in June 2015 they weren't prepared for our response. We are proud of the Luton story. We still have a long way to go, but as Muslims and Christians, people of faith and none, community and police and council, we've learned to work together. We are not giving up. I's fair to say anyone else doing so will face the same opposition.

 

"Integration" .... or "Hospitality, Generosity and Welcome"

Louise Carey's Review of Opportunity and Integration has already stirred much discussion. I've read a couple of chapters, reviewed the action points, and read a few pro and anti reports. Ive certainly not given it enough time to write my own perspective with integrity (though I'll hazard a guess that has not stopped some). If I did I'm not sure what I'd add to the volumes that have been or will be written. I certainly owe the chapter on Hate and Extremism' a revisit, and that on 'Leadership.' 

What I'll boldly say is this. I'm not sure how useful it will be.  I have no doubt it'll be used to legitimise the government's next stages of their work in extremism. That might be useful to them but in the big scheme of things I don't hold out much hope for the much needed changes based on what I read. In the Casey Review. 

If I'm honest I think that more important things were said during a debate in the House of Lords last Friday on  "National Life: shared values and public policy priorities."  Introducing the debate the Archbishop of Canterbury set out a far more compelling vision of a shared future than I hear from our politicians. Cutting to the chase he said:

"The catalyst for attempting to codify our shared national values—what the Government have called “fundamental British values”—is the threat of violent extremism in our country and, to a lesser extent, questions about immigration and integration, inequality and our role in the world. But values built on feelings of threat and fear can lead us down a dangerous path. Practices and loyalties that are not grounded in values of hospitality, generosity and welcome lead to a turning inward that strangles the hope of the common good."

Hospitality, generosity, welcome. Roted in Jesus' teaching on loving your neighbour and demonstrated in the story of the Good Samaritan.

IMG_1313.JPG

 "It reinforces a Christian hope of our values: those of a generous and hospitable society rooted in history; committed to the common good and solidarity in the present; creative, entrepreneurial, courageous, sustainable in our internal and external relations; and values that are a resilient steward of the hopes and joys of future generations in our country and around the world — hopes that are not exclusive, but for all. That is what our values have been when they are at their best."

The Casey review gives one view of what might be going wrong. It has a long list of what "immigrants" need to do, what government might do.  They might be helpful.  But I very much doubt that they will sort the fundamental problem. 

I suggest the answer might be with us. All of us. 

Hospitality and welcome start with the one who is at home.  Or the one who has the upper hand. When I go to a new place the welcome I receive gives me an idea of what I can expect in that place. A good welcome makes me feel at home. Hospitality gives me the means to live as if I were a member of the family. It comes with privilege but also responsibility, just as being family does. My host wants to be generous. But I do have responsibilities. Being new means I don't know everything, I get things wrong.  It's then that generosity of spirit plays an especially important  part. 

To be honest listening to many peoples migration stories arrival in the UK was often not great. Welcome was often lacking. And the lack of generosity of spirit often continues.  

(I'm not going to go into whether people were invited to come to the UK. I take it as a given they were. Every government since the war has welcomed immigration, whatever party, and that means they've come with the majority of the nations consent. End of.) 

There's a fair bit of putting things right to do folks. But in my experience generosity of spirit and solidarity expressed now in the face of some of the racism and hatred we find in our world go a long way to putting things right. That's certainly our experience in the Luton story of facing down far right extremism over recent years. 

The Archbishop went on to question what the government calls "fundamental British values" - democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance. He suggested they are outworkings of those deeper values and loyalties.  They are not absolute, as for example when unjust laws are opposed as for example by Dr Martin Luther King, 

The Casey Review emerged as part of a series if measures to challenge extremism, and certainly returns to that theme consistently. Turning to that theme himself, Archbishop Justin said: 

 "Our response to those who seek to threaten and undermine our values cannot simply be grounded in a defensive or preventative mind set. To draw back into ourselves. To look after our own. As part of the counter-radicalisation policy, ‘Prevent’ may be important. But if we spend all of our energy preventing bad ideologies — whether religious or political — I fear that we will neglect the far more transformative response required to build a convincing vision for our national life. 

In short, we need a more beautiful and better common narrative that shapes and inspires us with a common purpose; a vaulting national ambition, not a sense of division and antagonism, both domestically and internationally.

We need a narrative that speaks to the world of bright hope and not mere optimism — let alone simple self-interest. That will enable us to play a powerful, hopeful and confident role in the world, resisting the turn inward that will leave us alone in the darkness, despairing and vulnerable."

Speaking directly to our theme he concluded:

 A vision of this kind will promote cohesion around the common good.

Integration then goes two ways. And instead of being tempted to point the finger, at this government or any other, or "immigrants" or "Muslims", I suggest we all seek to play our part. Our future together as a nation depends on it. 

An Open Letter to the American Evangelical Church (2)

I posted the first part of this letter yesterday, challenging the church to give a lead in challenging the rise of hatred towards various groups since the Presidential election concluded.  You can find it here.  I now want to focus on anti-Muslim hatred, one of its sources and my particular relationship to that, and my building strong working relationships with the Muslim community. 

--------

Most of my recent work has been in relation to the Muslim community, and I want to address and challenge one source of anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been fueling division in our nations. That was the reason I agreed to write for 30 Days. The voice, the ideas, the writings, the videos of significant numbers of Christian leaders, many in the USA but to be found everywhere, so often finds its way into the arguments of the far right and Islamophobes. I find it deeply upsetting to hear the name of Christ identified with those ugly words and evil actions. To see Christian leaders being quoted by leading voices on the far right, and even at times those same leaders endorsing far right activity, makes me very, very sad. To find the name of Jesus Christ, whose self-sacrificing love was poured out for all, associated with hatred is unfathomable. To see Christian leaders labelled islamophobes, extremist hate preachers, saddens me deeply. Yet I understand why it's done.

I'm not accusing you who are mainstream Evangelical Christian leaders of hatred. I know most of you speak from a passion for your faith, a deeply faithful view of the scripture, and a desire to see those who are not Christian discover the love of Christ.  I understand, admire and share that. Yet some of you allow that passion for your Christian faith to express itself in a view of Islam and Muslims that is deeply unloving. I won't go here into the intricacies of “Is the Biblical God the same as Allah?” or examine the way Muslims come to faith in Christ. All important but they don't actually matter when we are addressing hatred. In a nutshell, when Christians say we love Muslims it is surely reasonable to expect what we say sounds like love for Muslims, and perhaps more importantly for it to be associated with actions that show it. And that's the problem. It so often doesn't. And when people of evil intent pick up those Christian voices they have ready fuel for their fires of hateful bigoted words, and worse, their actions. The preaching of love somehow finds itself associated with hatred.

Some will say I'm being naïve in my approach to Christian leaders.  I know I’m not. Christian leaders may question my credentials for making these charges.  For a long time yours was my world.  Even many who work with me now will not know that for some 25 years, until 2007, I was a missionary, working with Youth with a Mission (YWAM). YWAM is an international evangelical and charismatic missionary organisation working in most places around the world, including the Muslim world.  For nearly a decade I gave international leadership to some areas of training, including language, culture and intercultural relations. I stepped down from that leadership role in 2002-3 to focus on peacemaking and reconciliation, a journey that led to my leaving the mission a few years later. There is much I could say of that journey, some for another time perhaps, but for now my focus is primarily the voice of Christian leaders towards Muslims. I know about it because it was my world. I know your love and commitment to sharing the love of Christ, but I know also how your voice can so easily sound very different.

I’ve always been sensitive to the mismatch that is evident too often between the intention of the messenger and the perception of the hearer. Voices in the Christian and missionary community often rang alarm bells in my head, but I sought to do all I could toward changing that from within. For a while I was convinced change could happen. For several years in the mid to late 1990’s I supported and occasionally participated in a project that sought to help Christians rethink their relationship with the Muslim World. Many YWAMers participated in the walk and it profoundly impacted some.

The Reconciliation Walk carried a message of apology for the crusades to the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle East over the 900th anniversary of the First Crusade, ending in Jerusalem in July 1999. Very simply in the crusades the cross of Christ was turned upside down and became a sword. The symbol of the love of Christ became a weapon of hatred and death. How that happened is one of the great tragedies of Church history, and has left a legacy to this day. Too many times Muslim leaders greeted our message with the words, “What's taken you so long? We knew love was the message of Jesus Christ, we just didn't understand what had become of Christians.” I remember one leader of a radical Islamic political party saying to me with tears in his eyes, “Truly you are a son of God.” I looked puzzled. He said it again. He then said, “The trouble with you Christians is you forgot the words of Jesus. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

That experience and others like it were a key part of my decision to refocus my work.  I saw the impact peacemaking could have in demonstrating Christian faith. The journey of reconciliation changed me. I saw a different way of relating to Muslims. That was true for many. I had hope that the way of reconciliation could change the approach many evangelical and charismatic Christians had to Muslims.

Sadly the attack on the Twin Towers on 9.11 changed all that. The image of those planes driving their way into the Twin Towers seared itself in the American psyche in the days after that fateful September day. It was not long before strident angry attitudes towards the Muslim world became more dominant. Yet personally my only desire the day after those horrible events was to go with friends for a meal in Bury Park, Luton, surrounded by Muslims, and treat them like the friends I knew them to be.

Those same attacks simply underlined for me, and friends on the journey with me, the need for making peace in the name of Christ. However I often felt very out of place.  Too often I found that the simple way of peace at the heart of the teaching of Jesus was lost in the clamour that was driven by fear and that so easily looked like and indeed became revenge. As my journey continued it opened up new tensions. By early 2003 with a new direction, as well as being increasingly uneasy at the views of those around me, I knew I had to step down from leadership which I did finally in early 2003. My decision was confirmed for me at my last leadership team meeting. I mentioned to a minibus full of leaders that I'd been on the million person “Stop the War” march in London against the Iraq war. The silence was deafening.

I sought to forge a path for peace and reconciliation in the mission, but it soon became clear it wouldn't work.  Put very simply, too often my colleagues were doing things, saying things I quite honestly felt I had to apologise for. I left YWAM positively in early 2007 to pursue that same call based at St Mary's Luton, the town centre church where we already worshipped. I've been there ever since, and that's where my work in Luton has developed from. It's been an amazing journey, and when it began I honestly had no idea what would happen!

I want to underline how in many ways it saddens me to write like this about this journey. Among those reading this will be YWAM leaders. As difficult as I found your voice to be on some matters, I had and still have dear friends among you, and I owe you much. I spent much of my working life with you. I grew up in Christian ministry with you. I was believed in, encouraged, and given a wealth of opportunity. There were challenges but that would be true anywhere. On leaving I made a commitment to myself and close friends not to speak ill of the mission or its leaders. That still stands and I believe I’ve been true to that commitment. Many who know me now won’t know of my past simplybecause I've often not spoken of it because I don’t want to be associated with criticism of you. I speak now because like so many other American evangelicals I want to ask you to be a voice for the vulnerable in your society at this time.

Many of you will tell me that what we are seeing is the predictable outworking of the clash of civilisations between the Islamic World and the Christian West that Samuel Huntingdon predicted. To be honest at times it has seemed to me that Huntingdon’s thesis was not a theory but rather the script.  I am very familiar with the idea. These past ten years I have worked in a town where two extremes have sought to make it the script to the drama they are enacting. On the one side a small group of al-Muhajiroun extremists from the Muslim community connected with extremist preacher Anjem Choudary. On the other the far right English Defence League, founded by Luton resident Tommy Robinson in 2009, who have taken their street movement with all its associated hatred and evil around the UK.

As Christian and Muslim community leaders in the face of the emerging conflict we committed in 2009 to not to allow ourselves to be pulled apart by the extremes but to hold the centre. We have defied the narrative of inevitable conflict and created our own story largely around being good neighbours and simple acts of kindness. The journey has deeply impacted the way I think about life and my faith. That is the basis for what I write in 30 Days. I've seen how working like that has broken down barriers, and I can be passionate about my faith, share it freely with Muslims, even long for them to know it themselves – and still be at the forefront of challenging hatred towards them!

In a day when the evils of hatred and bigotry are proving so destructive, it is time for Church leaders and leaders in mission to live and work in ways that bring peace to our conflicted communities. It is time for the voice of Christian leaders to clear up the ambiguity that is there in their statements about Islam and let love and grace look just like love and grace. Our testimony is the teaching of Jesus on peace works!

For us in the UK, for the sake of our nation, and in obedience to our faith, we must walk forward into an unknown future. It may be that we personally wouldn't choose to live along with people we profoundly disagree with. However whatever we think and whatever future policy around immigration it’s a reality we cannot change. We must confront the evils present on the fringes of the #Brexit campaign, and champion a truly just and fair inclusive multicultural society.  As we do so integration and all the anxieties we face will be dealt with.

My American friends, especially Christians, I challenge you most strongly to confront the evils of intolerance, hatred, bigotry that has emerged from the Trump presidential campaign, and which now threatens to settle as the norm in your nation. As Christians you have a faith that can disarm the fear that drives hatred. You must. Hatred, Fear and bigotry are not worthy of being associated with the Prince of Peace.

1 John tells us that perfect love casts out fear. I challenge you to walk in that, and allow enemies to become friends, however much you disagree with them.

In peace

Peter

An Open Letter to the American Evangelical Church (1)

I have taken the liberty of writing an open letter to my American evangelical Christian friends as well as the wider church. This letter will extend to two posts, the second will be published Monday.

 

Dear American Christian Friends,

This weekend as you draw breath after a week like no other many of you will be taking time to look forward to a hope-filled future. Others will be still in shock and mourning.  President-elect Trump and indeed President Obama have spoken of post-election healing and I pray that is a reality.  I offer no comment on your choice of President, and I certainly don’t intend to question the legitimacy of the decision. Nor do I wish to comment on who should have been chosen. The decision is done. I will join you as you seek to follow scripture by respecting and praying for your leader. 

I write especially to Christian leaders for your role in national healing is so key. I do so with the experience of working with the church to challenge hatred and division in the UK over the past ten years, most recently in the period around and since the Brexit referendum. However my call not only comes as a result of my own recent journey but as a result of my work a decade and more ago. More on that in my next post, which is the second part of this letter.

I am deeply saddened now as I read reports of attacks and abuse of those whose right to be in the USA was in some way questioned during the election campaign. News yesterday suggested it has risen the highest levels since 9.11. As I do so I am NOT questioning that you should have debate about new policy on immigration or the receiving of refugees. However whatever we think, I know I don’t need to remind you of our call as Christians to demonstrate God’s love to the alien and stranger in our land, and our love for neighbour even when he is “the enemy.”   

In the four months since the UK vote to leave the European Union (#Brexit) there has been a horrific unleashing of racist and Islamophobic attacks around the nation. I first wrote a version of this then just five days after the vote. The situation has sadly continued.) There have been numerous reports of racist abuse against Polish people and other Eastern Europeans, and in the four days after the vote alone the Muslim Council of Britain compiled a list of over one hundred attacks on Muslims. The vote to leave, which was widely promoted as the way to stem immigration, seems to have legitimised open expression of bigotry and hatred to anyone of “foreign” extraction. I am frankly horrified at the hatred that emerged since the vote confirmed #Brexit. In a word my work as a Christian seeking to build bridges in a conflicted town and challenge division and hatred got much harder in June.

The situation seems to be unfolding similarly in the USA. No doubt there will be a few faked attacks, but I have myself heard of two that credible third parties have witnessed. My experience is that the very large majority of reported hate crimes or hate incidents are real.

My encouragement here is to the church, and Christians, whatever your political stand, to ensure the church does what the church should be doing in calling out for justice. Again let me be clear, the issue is not whether support or endorsement of a candidate was right then, but doing the work of church now.  Can I venture to share from my own journey in this area?

My work was highlighted recently in a prominent Christian prayer guide for the Muslim World. 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World is published yearly to guide Christians in praying for Muslims over the month of the Ramadan fast. I said there:

“In a time where many are convinced that Islam and Christianity / western democracy will only ever clash, and images of modern day crusaders are called to mind, I’m determined to point to another way. Sadly, often Christian voices are quoted in support of a clash of civilisations. We must find another way? My Muslim friends know I am passionate about my faith, and respect me for it. They know I’d love to see them come to faith in Jesus Christ. But Christ will be the loser if Christians are known for hatred and fear.”

An example. A Muslim women’s organisation in our town has recently gathered reports of hate attacks on women there. They have not done it to foster victimhood, gain political capital, or send anyone on a guilt trip, but so that together we can be aware of the vulnerability of some in our society, and stand together for the good of all. They don’t have a wide reach as a group, but have received over 100 reports. I have been horrified as I read the stories. I am an evangelical Christian man, passionate about my faith, but I am determined to speak out for all made in God’s image who suffer. I have met some of these women and they deserve our support. As do all who suffer under the attacks of hatred.  It is common that victims of hate crime become more alienated from the wider society.  Yet as I and other Christians reach out these women are becoming activists for peace themselves.

My decision to write a piece for a prayer guide that unapologetically calls for prayer for conversion of Muslims was hard in the light of my approach to my work, but in the end clear. I wanted the work I do to challenge Christian attitudes to Muslims. How else to influence Christians than speak in a place they read and a language they understand, and in a topic they spend time on in prayer? As we now face such an outpouring of hatred I am sure that decision was right, even though some, I am sure, will misunderstand it.

Back to the UK’s #Brexit vote for a moment. We could not accuse the official Leave campaign of being essentially racist, just as we cannot say concern about immigration is necessarily racist. However it was very clear that the campaign drew to itself all the racist and Islamophobic sentiment in the nation, not least through the work of Nigel Farage and UKIP who mounted an alternative Leave campaign. The role of far right groups in the ferment of debate and trading of lies and accusations was clear. I know their voice, having been following it and challenging it for the past nine years, and I saw much of it in the campaign.

Official Leave may not have been responsible for this outburst of racism, but it was vital that they denounce it and separate themselves from it, and take action against anyone giving space to such views

Donald Trump said many things through his campaign about other races, nations and religions. He drew back from some. Now he is President in waiting many are saying we will not see them become policy. We can only see. However clearly a significant number of his followers feel empowered to take thing under their own control. Also of significance are the many nationalist, white supremacist and islamophobic groups who have associated themselves with him, not least the Ku Klux Klan. We now read reports of the Klan planning victory parades. And of black university students being added to online chat groups speaking of “nigger lynching”. Let me be clear, Trump may not agree with what his followers do or these groups do, but he is absolutely responsible for condemning it and their continued hate filled stance.

I challenge you as Christians, especially those of you Christian leaders who endorsed or openly supported Mr Trump, that you must lead the way in calling for condemnation of this outbreak of hatred. The people of God must be clear in their condemnation of any attack against men and women made in the image of God. We cannot allow ourselves to be compromised by hate filled agendas.  That will apply especially once a debate opens up about immigration, refugees, the Mexico wall, Muslims status in the USA, or the black community. All lives matter, and that includes black lives, Muslim lives, Hispanic lives. Debate in a free society is good. But let’s lead the way in challenging negativity and evil in the way a debate is carried out.

This post is long enough for now. I will return tomorrow with a focus on anti-Muslim hatred and extending peace to the Muslim community.  This is the specific area I have worked in for years now, building strong working relations with the Muslim community.

 

We are all the "protected species", Paul.

 "The fact of the matter is, it's one rule of law for Muslims, the protected species in this country, and another for British people."

These words, commonly heard from the far right, were spoken yesterday by Paul Golding, leader of Britain First after the conviction of his co- leader Jayda Fransen for religiously aggravated harassment. 

Golding and Fransen claim to speak with a Christian voice. Asked yesterday if she was acting Christianly while in Bury Park that day Fransen said yes.  

I've got news for you, Jayda and Paul. The Bible tells us that we all deserve justice.  And we all owe it to one another. God calls that good.

 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6.8)

in God's eyes we are all the protected species. Even the Muslim woman in a hijab. Even if she's wearing a burqa. No one deserves the abuse you were guilty if on that day. So please don't claim what you did was Christian.  

 

A good verdict in Luton

Whatever your political or religious beliefs it is totally unacceptable to go up to a young woman with her children and abuse her.  

A judge at Luton magistrates court just found Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of Britain First, guilty of religiously aggravated harassment and of wearing a Britain First uniform during a so called "Christian Patrol" in Luton on January 23rd this year. She was fined a total of £1920.00 including costs for both counts. The judge told Ms Fransen that her behaviour was not acceptable, and in recognising the trauma brought to that young woman and her children said there was little she could do to put things right other than impose a restraining order on harassment of the victim through further use of video footage of the event. She said that Sumayya Sharpe was a credible witness and showed great compassion for her and the way she was treated. Ms Sharpe had expressed in her evidence upset that she lost her cool towards the end of the encounter, but that it was a result of a long run in period during which she'd been targeted by BF. To be fair Ms Fransen also said in court that she got wound up during the incident, though this was not the way she has presented it in previous videos talking of the incident. 

I've written about the incident in several posts on this site and what we did in response. Paul,Golding pleaded guilty in Late July to the same charge of wearing political uniform. The judge spoke of the way several witnesses, including both the Roman Catholic priest and Anglican Vicar of Bury Park, identified it as a uniform. She said the effect of the uniform was to cause alarm on those seeing the 20 or do BF activists marching brandishing crosses through Bury Park. 

Well this might just be the last we hear of BF in Luton for a while. We will see. It's a good verdict! 

 

There was more good news news yesterday when Paul Golding was called in for breach of his High Court injunction (post above in August)  

 

more in the IBTimes.  

Fresh crisis for Britain First as police take leader Paul Golding to court over Cardiff mosque row

 

 

Launch of FACES - Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation

On July 20 a group of Christians and Muslims in Luton launched FACES - Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation.  It was the first milestone in a journey where a group of us had come together to engage with one of the great scourges of our society, the sexual abuse of children and young people by men, women, and sometimes their fellow youth. Somehow the story has got around that our faiths are soft on such evil. We'd discovered that we each share a passion to ensure that individually and together we oppose all assaults on the precious young ones in our community. 

The following is a presentation given by Tanvir Mounir, Secretary of Luton Central Mosque, and myself, Peter Adams, director of the St Marys Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. 

 ----

Tanvir

Hello, Assalamu Alaykum. 

Peter and I have been given the task of speaking to you all about how we respond to Child Sexual Exploitation -as people of Faith, specifically as Muslim and Christians. It is a difficult subject to speak about, and it's human nature to want to avoid talking about things which give us pain-but we must talk about it.

This past few months as well’ve been meeting to talk over this issue we have found we can talk honestly together, that we share one mind on this and that we are determined to stand together to oppose it. Our hope today is that you too will be able to join us in that, so that even the most horrible and divisive issues we face in our nation can be dealt with together. 

 Peter-

Child sexual exploitation – people doing horrible things to children and young people. Its not a Muslim thing. Not a Christian thing. Not a Hindu thing or a Jewish thing or a Sikh thing or a Buddhist thing.  It's not a secularist or humanist thing.

Let's be very clear. It's a human thing. Something done by men  - and women, and sometimes young people themselves - who've lost touch with their shared humanity, their responsibility as adults.  People who occasionally seek to hide behind their faith, to lurk in the shadows of places of worship and conspire, who use their faith to cloud and obscure and in seek to justify it from their faith. 

 Tanvir-

Peter is absolutely right, It's a human problem. A human problem that people of every nation, tribe, culture, faith can be drawn into. Sometimes those people use the traditions of their culture or the structures of their faith to promote it, or legitimise it. They are wrong. There is no honest interpretation of either of our faiths that endorses this behaviour.

Peter-

As a Christian I need to be clear in my denunciation of all forms of Child sexual exploitation as a Christian, even when it has found places to thrive in and around the  the church –through pastoral involvement with children, in the context of a choir, in church run children's homes and the like. I'm deeply saddened by the fact that this past week in the papers I read of two senior church leaders, bishops, who are convicted of, or strongly implicated in sexual exploitation of young people.

Tanvir-

As a Muslim, I too am unequivocal in my condemnation of Child Sexual Exploitation. It's sad that these things need to be said, it should be a given, but awful things have been done in our towns, from Rotherham and Rochdale to Oxford and Telford, by Muslim men. Like Peter, I too am disgusted and angry at their actions, and am determined to do something. I know that I'm not alone. And although their actions are in no way a reflection of the teachings of our faith, it is a sense of shame that has devastated my community. The behaviour of those men was grotesque and inhuman.

Peter-

Thank you Tanvir.  Thank you.

We are united in saying that true faith condemns CSE. It offers no refuge. It takes seriously the terrible impact on young lives whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever creed, ethnicity, gender, class they are from. I have seen tears in the eyes of my friends here as we have talked together over these months. We are determined that we will do all we can to highlight this evil that devastates lives. And that as people of faith we will reach out to the victims, the survivors, those whose lives have been violated by the horrors of it all, and speak hope and restoration. 

 Tanvir-

True faith also offers men and women a way out of sexual exploitation, to face up to what they have done, it gives them inner strength to resist the pull to abuse, and shows a different way of living.

As faith leaders we want to show that our beliefs can and should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We've brought you all here to today to ask you to support us in this work.

Peter-

Our name Faiths Against Child Sexual Exploitation says it.  We bring the persective of our faiths to this issue. But we realise that sometimes faith leaders can hide behind their faith. Our acronym FACES makes sure we never forget the faces of all the young lives devastated by this evil. (By the way we know the letters are not quite in the right order, but who is going to let go using an acronym that reminds us powerfully of the individuals whose lives are devastated by abuse?)

This event today is our stake in the ground. We hope we have made our intentions to do something about this clear.  But we cannot deal with this alone. We invite you today to join us in our opposition to any form of Child Sexual Exploitation that might become evident in our community.

We will continue to speak out together, to make known our united opposition to it.

We need to show that in Luton we are one in opposing this cancer in our society. So, whoever you are we would ask you to join us today in a pledge:

1) Support the work of FACEs to oppose child sexual exploitation

2) Work together as members of all faiths to stop abuse happening

3) Speak up and act on behalf of victims

In summary we want to ensure that Luton is  place of zero tolerance of CSE

Tanvir-

All who are leaders in the Christian or Muslim community -- Imans, mosque leaders, church leaders, lay or ordained, please join us. We have started this journey as Christian and Muslim leaders but we now invite other faiths to join us.  Members of community groups, public sector bodies, voluntary sector groups, individuals of faith or not, we need you too.

Thank you for being here today!

This is great news!

This is great news.  

Britain First Loses High Court Injunction Bid From Bedfordshire Police

More details soon, but it basically will ban Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, Britain First leadership, and anyone they encourage to be there, from Bury Park, Luton. Nor can they publish material about Bury Park. They can only come to Luton with permission from police, and then only once every eight weeks, and they can't enter mosques in England and Wales, except by invitation.  All for three years. 

I have no doubt that this will face a lot of analysis as it looks like it's a move against freedom if speech, but in reality it's a move to balance freedom of speech with freedom for people here to go about life without facing intimidation and abuse. They have had their opportunity to do freedom of speech in a civil way, on six occasions at least, and gave failed each time. 

In which nothing of note happened

I don't often write about nothing.  But on this occasion it seems appropriate. 

Yesterday afternoon I sat on a bench opposite Luton magistrates court as Britain First leaders Paul, Golding and Jayda Fransen left after Jayda had appeared and entered a plea of not guilty for three charges connected with a Britain First visit to Luton in January this year. I wrote about Pauls hearing and conviction last week. 

Paul and Jayda and a few followers left court and got into two cars that had recently pulled up in the layby outside the courts. There were very few people around the court. 

 Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen and followers leave Luton Magistates Court. 5th August 2016. Everyone on the far side of the road got in the cars.  The only others there were the two random people in the middle. 

Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen and followers leave Luton Magistates Court. 5th August 2016. Everyone on the far side of the road got in the cars.  The only others there were the two random people in the middle. 

They then drove off. There was a lot traffic passing, and for a while it was held back by the lights just down the road so it took them a while to enter the carriageway. When they did they went straight on, down to the roundabout (with a road off it leading in to Bury Park), and a few minutes later I noted their cars passing on my side as they left Luton. A breath of relief they were gone and I went to delete the pictures of the cars. I no longer needed them. However my phone battery died at that point. I left to go home, and get on with life, happy that BF were gone for another day. I forgot I still had the pics. 

As you can see there was really nothing to remark about.

imagine my surprise when my attention was drawn to Jaydas video posted last evening. You can find it here.  (I don't normally link to their or other similar material, as I don't like to draw attention to their views, but in this occasion it's central to the story.) in it Jayda Fransen makes the claim that they were unable to make a video outside court as they'd promised because: 

 " ...When we left the court there were mobs,  gangs of Muslims in cars that were driving towards the court, they were hurling abuse, they were acting in a really agressive manner, so I'm now updating you from the car ..."

Errmhh! Excuse me Jayda. Did I hear you right? Did I miss something?

imagine my joy this morning when I found my pictures. 

To be fair some of the cars you can see passing have Muslims in them. But with quite a few living here in the town that's to be expected. But I can't possibly interpret what you see in my video above as mobs or gangs.  Nor were they driving towards you. Well, I suppose they were driving in the same direction. But that's petty usual in my experience on a road. And you'll note in the picture above there was no onecaround who'd have opposed you making a video. 

Speaking directly to you both, Paul and Jayda. If people had tried to assault you yesterday I'd have been there to encourage them to stop. So would my Muslim friends. That's why I was around at that time. We don't want any more incidents like happened in Luton in January. I wasn't in court yesterday as I've way more important things to be getting on with. But I was there at the end to ensure Luton stays peaceful. 

So please don't make up stories about Muslims attacking you when they didn't.   I'd quite like to write more posts about nothing. 

 

Challenging the spread of evil with simple acts of kindness.

When Father Jaques Hamel was murdered on Monday in Rouen you could almost feel the hammer blow as the terrorists sought to drive the wedge between the people of our world further apart. In contrast what happened on Sunday in two Luton Churches stirred hope for many and showed that peace can win the day.

2016-08-02 09.53.38.jpg

Across France on Sunday Muslims attended church to expresstheir solidarity. But it didn't  stop there. A  large group from the Muslim community in Luton responded to the atrocity by visiting local churches in an act of solidarity, and to say that those who seek to divide us will not win.. The group of religious leaders from the across the town's mosques, men, women and children-including some who had personally felt the cruelty of anti-Muslim hatred visited Holy Ghost Church and St Mary's Church. The initiative was organised by Rehana Faisal and supported by the town's Council of Mosques. They were welcomed by Rev Mike Jones the vicar at St Mary's and Father Tony Harris at the Holy Ghost, and the congregations enthusiastically applauded them. As they gave away flowers, many warm conversations took place around the churches.

Addressing the congregation at the Holy Ghost, Tanvir Munir, from Luton Central Mosque, their neighbour just a hundred metres down the road, said "We share your pain and are committedto standing together in solidarity against such evil. We remain true to the covenant made by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in which he declared to Christians that "You are in my protection and my covenant and my security from any type of despised things."

At St Mary's, Ishaq Kazi from Noor Masjid added "We pray our communities are granted the strength to continue to respond to this falsehood with truth, to hatred with love, and words of division with solidarity."

 Ulrike Hunt, a member of St Mary's wrote afterwards: " I was moved to tears at their message that the Muslim community of Luton is committed to countering those hateful actions with love. This is what I love about Luton!"

Ulrike Hunt, a member of St Mary's wrote afterwards: " I was moved to tears at their message that the Muslim community of Luton is committed to countering those hateful actions with love. This is what I love about Luton!"

Sister Maire Hayes, interfaith advisor for the Catholic Diocese of Northampton was at the Holy Ghost Church when they  visited.  She enthused: "It was such a simple gesture but with real significance. Our Muslim friends response shows how on both sides of what is so often felt to be a divided community we want to work for peace, to learn to share our space, and to work for harmony in our diversity."

Rev Mike Jones said of the visit:  "In light of recent events we were greatly encouraged by the visit. It is my deeply held belief that we can remain true to our faiths while also being peaceable and hospitable people to those who are not like us. The antidote to the distrust and anger in contemporary society is not violence but attitudes and actions that cross boundaries and encourage people to listen to one another."

image.jpg
 Distributing flowers at Holy Ghost Catholic Church.  

Distributing flowers at Holy Ghost Catholic Church.  

image.jpg