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The Journey Since 9/11
Reflections on Peace
Many organisations and individuals have written on ‘ten years since 9/11’. Like them I would like to express heartfelt sadness and sympathy for the victims and their families, as well as shock and incredulity at such a large scale atrocity involving the deaths of nearly 3000 people. Common to much of what has been written is the world-changing nature of 11 September 2001 which ushered in:
- The ‘war against terror’ and the war in Afghanistan
- Greater focus on ‘The Clash of Civilisations’
- A new sense of suspicion and hostility towards Muslims
- A massive increase in sales of the Qur’an
These are road signs on the 10 year journey since 9/11, and there are many more, in particular the horrific attacks and loss of lives in London, Madrid and elsewhere. This journey began with a massive terrorist attack and continues with war and other acts of terrorism. It is accompanied by suspicion, hostility, other unrest and changes to the legal fabric of societies. Our journey should, however, be one of peace, many people have been on a peace journey over the last ten years, it can be seen in various initiatives, today’s 9/11 statements and greater collaboration between groups. Violence seeks to challenge and stop other violence, but ultimately violence breeds more violence and war contains the seeds of the next war.
The Christian Muslim Forum is one of those peace initiatives, as Director my job is to mention it as often as possible, but I do so now to illustrate, not to advertise. Of course, we are an organisation committed to peace but that description is more to the fore since 2009 when a Quaker Peaceworker was assigned to us. The Christian Muslim Forum is built on friendship first of all, a demonstration of what friendship looks like between people of different faiths, two faiths with many similarities but some strong differences which distinguish us from each other. It was not 9/11 which gave the impetus for the creation of the Christian Muslim Forum. Inevitably, I have been asked this many times but I always say ‘No’, nor was it 7/7 (7 July 2005) or the riots in Northern English towns in 2001. Christians were meeting in 2000, and before, to ask themselves how could they reach out in friendship and understanding to the English Muslim communities. 9/11 gave this task renewed urgency, the invasion of Iraq in early 2003 increased it further as it was on the very day that we began a three day tour of East London to meet with Christians and Muslims and explore the idea of a Christian Muslim Forum. It gave the opportunity for the late Bishop John Austin (a man of peace and much missed) to talk to the lunchtime congregation at Brick Lane Mosque about the Church and peace.
When 7/7 happened the preparatory work was still underway (we were launched by Archbishop Rowan Williams and former Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2006). In fact on the day of 7/7, although I had returned from secondment to the Archbishop’s Christian-Muslim Initiative to my job at HM Revenue and Customs, I was attending a Christian conference on the Challenge of Islam. Negative feelings towards Islam were strong at this event anyway, after the news of the suicide bombings and the terrible deaths some people were even more convinced that Islam was threatening and warlike. In conversation with a fellow-Christian, and while I was challenging misperceptions and prejudices, he clenched his fist and prepared to strike me, pulling back when I asked him what he was doing. Some of us are attached to violence, but we all need to break the cycle and pull back from violence.
In the early years of the Forum I attended many post 7/7 events where Muslim speakers would say ‘Islam is Peace’. I do not recall objections to this claim at the events, however I was well aware that outside these peaceful gatherings (sadly) Christians, amongst others, were promoting an alternative message of ‘Islam is an evil, warlike religion’. I agree that it is not enough simply to make a peace claim, however we all have responsibility here. We (those who are still not convinced) need to take more notice of the numbers of Muslims who have objected, and continue to do so, to the link between acts of terrorism and Islam. We should ask ourselves, for example, were the actions of the IRA in Northern Ireland, with their campaign of bombings and murders religiously motivated? This is often pointed to as a religious conflict and religion is blamed for many wars. We must remember that politics, power struggles, imbalances and misguided visions lead to violence, terrorism and acts of war. But did people clash over the role and status of the church, or because the Pope ordered a war — No.
In fact Muslims have been at the forefront of inter faith peace initiatives in the UK since the 1980s, encouraged by pluralist injunctions in the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad. These Muslims have seen their religion hijacked by plane hijackers who sought to link Islam to acts of terror rather than submission to God, by the terrorist agenda of one man in particular (now dead) rather than the Qur’anic injunction to do good. There are many examples of peaceful initiatives from Muslims in response to times of heightened unrest and hostility, this is one of them and this 9/11 statement has been produced by an impressive collection of UK Muslim organisations
Peace is the challenge for us all. Next time someone says ‘peace’ to you, or ‘salaam alaikum’, don’t respond suspiciously, take them at their word, grasp their hand firmly and send the peace back!
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