Post Paris thoughts

We couldn’t meet together so soon after the Paris attacks without reflecting on their impact on local communities in London.  I asked Steve Miller and Malik Gul, trustees of LBFN, to offer their thoughts at the start of our meeting last week.  These are reproduced below.

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Steve Miller

Like everyone I’ve scanned a lot of comments, blogs and some much longer pieces in the press and online. I’m not sure that I have anything near a definitive response or reached conclusions that are much more than ‘on the one hand’ and ‘on the other hand’. 

What is clear is that these events have been painful and distressing to large numbers of people, and at the same time appear – as often happens with traumatic events – to have opened doors for positive engagement, activism and conversations that might not have happened otherwise.

Some of these conversations have been around ideas of freedom and the nature of a free society. Obviously there are associated ideas. Some people have linked ideas of freedom to ideas of obligations and responsibilities. Some have explored the nature of freedom itself. In the Jewish cycle of readings from the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) we are just beginning to read the story of the Exodus fro Egypt and a number of recent sermons have explored the distinction between freedom from oppression, and freedom to create a fair society.

When exploring ideas of freedom – especially if you are linking it to liberation and freedom from oppression – then notions of power inevitably come into the conversation. Who is powerful and who is not. In some contexts this equation is very clear but in many others the balance and perceptions of power are more ambiguous or confusing or constantly changing. In this context perceptions of Muslims and perceptions by Muslims are certainly mixed. Who is powerful, how do they use that power, and over who?

There has also been something in the air about victimhood. I think we are all repelled by the idea that there is some kind of mental ladder of victimhood with some victims being ‘more’ than others. But I have been struck at how quickly sections of the public and media responded to the notion of a rise of antisemitism. This is a more easily understood notion than understanding the meaning of the victims in the Charlie Hebdo building, let alone the Muslim victims of hatred around the world. With so many acres of space on the mass media front pages covering the rise of antisemitism, people may not be aware that this is being hotly contested within the Jewish community. The majority view seems to be that not only in the UK but also in France, experiences and perceptions of antisemitism are not quite as dramatic as some would suggest.

And there has been an aspect of these conversations that have, predictably, been subject to political and populist opportunism. At one level the obvious soundbites are important. It is important that Prime Ministers and Presidents stand up against violence and terror, prejudice and discrimination. But we also expect more from our political leaders. We expect a level of understanding that goes beyond simplistic polarisations. We are right to expect governments to think and act in ways that reflect the complex nature of the society we live in. Cohesion, participation, integration, inclusion and empowerment are interesting and useful policy slogans but they also act as proxy shorthand for a range of patterns of behaviour which need to be unpacked and understood. Understanding the detail is essential; looking at the big picture is useful, but getting to grips with people’s lived experience is what makes the difference.

And for ourselves around the table, where does this leave us? We can also be guilty of generalisations, platitudes and truisms. We need to take our eternal values and principles and look to how we can apply them at a local, regional and national level. By sitting around the table we are already taking the first step. We need work together in solidarity – not to compare my suffering to your suffering – but to see an attack on anyone as an attack on us all. A society based on solidarity is a society in which all of our diverse identities can exist together, flourishing and without fear.    Steve Miller, Faith-based Regeneration Network

malik at peace conference

Malik Gul

Catriona asked me to share some thoughts from a personal perspective, and I am happy to do so, as I feel that in all the noise and commentary following the events in Paris, the voices, hopes and fears of everyday and ordinary Muslim members of our community have been ignored and marginalised.

I am a Muslim. I was born in Birmingham. I was there a few days ago with my Mum and members of my family, and Birmingham has, as many of you will know, a large and settled multicultural community with a significant Muslim population. A recent Fox News commentator even went so far as to say that Birmingham has now become a No Go Area for Non Muslims, which is an example of some of the hysteria that is now circulating and the fear that this has produced.

My Mum, as with many of our Muslim communities came to the UK over 50 years ago, and others from much longer before then. The 1950s and 1960s saw the greatest influx of people from the former British colonies of Pakistan and India, with very many of them of the Muslim faith. Growing up, I can recall us sharing neighbours and friendships with people of all faith and none… Christians, Jews, Hindus and Sikhs, many of whom were also immigrants and newcomers, so there was a common bond between us. Of exchanging gifts at each others festivals, putting up trees and streamers and bulbs at Christmas, being welcoming towards each other, colours, and laughter and fellowship. Of course there was also an ugly side. Racism, ‘Paki bashing’, discrimination of all sorts, but nevertheless there was solidarity, across all faiths, across trade unions, across neighbourhoods, a determination to continue to work hard, to contribute, to be a part of our shared community.

Then only very recently, things started to become very dark and confusing, with events outside the control and influence of these communities casting a large shadow over them. The rise of a theocracy in Iran with a narrative that named ‘The West’ as perpetrators of past injustices, particularly around its imperial past and present, the accommodation between the Afghanistan government and the former Soviet Union, which the USA didn’t take too kindly to, and started to build and arm networks of fighters in Pakistan to fight a proxy war on its behalf, the fallout from this which led in part to the attack on the twin towers in New York. We were all spectators to this. No one in our communities had heard of the Mujahedeen, Al Qaida, Taliban, and then within a relative short space of time, we were becoming labelled as being in league with them and asked to become apologists for their behaviours.

This turn of events has left many of us in the Muslim community, confused, isolated, dazed and fearful. Old certainties of trust and neighbourliness are becoming fractured. As the US and the UK started to gear itself up for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with again all of us on the outside of this, only being allowed to spectate, with many hundreds and thousands of us walking side by side against these actions, and all of us being ignored by our political leaders. Then as the fall out of these conflicts started to spill out all over the world, again, our communities have become labelled and picked out as somehow having a responsibility for these crimes.

Younger members of the community, much more able to access knowledge and information, much more aware of globally connected events, bear witness to the hypocrisies of the political classes. And it angers and upsets them. Just a few days ago in Paris, the Charlie Hebdo march had a representative of the Saudi Royal Family standing arm in arm with these who seek to defend free speech, yet the Saudi regime crushes free speech at every opportunity. When they point out these hypocrisies, they are told that they are being radicalised; and their parents encouraged to close down debate and inform on them. Muslims, far from being the perpetrators of violence and hate, have been the biggest victims of it, and have been and are on the forefront of the war on terror. A few weeks ago, 165 school children were murdered in their classroom in Peshawar, a few days ago over 2000 people were slaughtered by terrorists in Nigeria. Pakistan is also caring for the greatest displaced population in the world running into several millions. To be the biggest victims of terrorism and then, at the same time, being signalled out as sympathisers and apologists for it, is a growing and felt injustice.

What has kept the community resilient is our faith. The Prophet has said, that “he who serves his neighbour is the best of men”. There is a famous Hadith (sayings of The Prophet) that tells the story of a local woman who didn’t much like the Prophet, and would always curse and swear at him. It was a daily occurrence and she lived above the route that he would pass every day. On one day, as the Prophet approached the woman’s house, expecting his daily haranguing, he noticed that the woman was not there. When he got back to his home, he asked his companions to check on her. When notified that she had fallen ill, he sent physicians to her house, and himself visited to make sure that she was OK. This example of the Prophet has been uppermost in the minds of my community. That in spite of the attacks against us, the best example we can set is our love for all. This faith, along with the outpouring of support and solidarity from people right across the board, demonstrates that we are not alone, and that through unity and solidarity we can all endure and survive the terrible events that now engulf us all.   Malik Gul, Wandsworth Community Empowerment Network.

Unity after Paris attacks

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Muslim, Jewish and multifaith leaders after the unity event at Regent’s Park.

LBFN helped to organise an event at London Central Mosque last Friday to demonstrate unity in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain took the initiative, inviting senior figures including Vivian Wineman (President, Board of Deputies of British Jews),  Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner (Senior Rabbi, Movement for Reform Judaism), Commander Mak Chishty (MPS), Jehangir Sarosh (Religions for Peace), Dr Harriet Crabtree (Inter Faith Network for the UK) and Mehri Niknam (Joseph Interfaith Foundation).

Cate Tuitt

Cate Tuitt

Several LBFN members attended, including Bessie White (Hounslow Friends of Faith), John Woodhouse (Westminster Cathedral Interfaith Group) & Cate Tuitt, Justice & Peace Commissioner for the RC Archdiocese of Westminster, who shares her reflections here.

“Expressions of unity and hope were delivered in a meeting called by Dr Shafi & attended by Vivian Wineman, President of the Board of Deputies.

Commitments and dedications were expressed by all faith leaders and community advocates. A calling to be more motivated and engaged following the tragedy in Paris were made by the assembled dignitaries.

Shalom Salaam was the offered greeting to reflect the Jewish and Muslim days of worship, united in their grief for the loss of life of Jewish, Muslim and secular brothers and sisters.

Catriona of LBFN recalled visiting the Jewish Museum in Brussels after the shootings last summer, saying how important it is for Jews to be able to be Jews, for Muslims to be Muslims and for everyone to be who they are. She reflected on the passage from the Qur’an chosen by Sheikh Khalifa (49:13) on living well together while remaining different. She welcomed strong leadership as well as essential grassroots work.

Sorrow was balanced with the courage and dignity to continue to work tirelessly in support of one another, our faith communities and beyond to overcome those who try to divide our unity and peace.

Dr Shafi said this was a time for unity and engagement. He expressed sadness at the recent backlashes against Muslims.

Vivian Wineman reminded us of the wonderful religions of peace and love, the common bonds they hold and of the need to protect both Islam and Judaism as minorities in Europe.

The overall consensus was that we must not fall prey to what terrorism wants by reacting in a hostile manner to those of different traditions.

We must reinvigorate our efforts, build confidence and raise trust in renewed covenants for peace.”

theresamayThe Home Secretary spoke today on government measures to end anti-Semitism.

The Metropolitan Police will be holding a joint meeting with LBFN’s crime and security social lab soon.  Mosques, synagogues and others wanting to work together to improve safety are welcome – please get in touch if you are interested.

The Peace Café (continuing discussions from the London Peace Conference) meets six-weekly – contact LBFN for details.

The next LBFN meeting on Tuesday 20 January will include local reflections on the Paris attacks.

Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris

Trafalgar Square last night.  Photo @LPJLondres

Trafalgar Square last night. Photo @LPJLondres

Several people have been in touch after yesterday’s shocking attack on journalists and police in Paris.

For safety advice, please see Staying safe in troubled times.

Statements of condemnation include those by the European Council of Religious Leaders, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.  The Houses of Parliament and the Metropolitan Police both held a minute’s silence this morning.

There were many vigils last night, including a large gathering in Trafalgar Square and the placing of flowers and condolences at the French Embassy by a group of young Muslims.

LBFN supports the excellent local relationships which exist between Londoners from different religious and philosophical traditions.  The Peace Café meets on Monday 12 January, with opportunities for concerns for all our communities to be shared.

Responses from local groups are very welcome.

Mayor’s police & crime roadshows

Stephen Greenhalgh, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, is revisiting every London borough with senior Metropolitan Police officers.  Sixteen boroughs were visited early in 2014.

They will be talking about local policing, telling us how they’ve been putting the Police and Crime Plan into practice and answering our questions.

Following our recent meeting at New Scotland Yard with Commander Mak Chishty, the roadshow may provide another opportunity to contact our Borough Commanders to talk about their engagement plans with local faith forums.

The next 16 events are scheduled from September to December.  Attendance is on a first come, first serve basis. They are asking people to register now and to let them know of any access needs.

Staying safe in troubled times | action for peace

hate-crimeWith reports that hate crime on the grounds of religion or belief is on the rise in London, here are some useful contacts & sources of information and support which we can pass on to our networks.

Any hate crime, whether against a person or a place of worship, should immediately be reported to the police, calling 999 in an emergency.  Police contacts in each borough are listed here.  Third party reporting services (for those who prefer to report via a specialist organisation) are listed here.  Hate Crime Forums are active in many boroughs.

Two specialist organisations monitor anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish incidents.  They also offer support, advice and information for protecting individuals and religious buildings.  They are the Community Security Trust (for synagogues and Jewish communities) and Tell Mama (for Islamic centres and Muslim communities).  Both organisations offer security updates.

peace_bird_webThe violent conflicts in the Middle East are rightly causing a great deal of concern and distress across all communities in London.  Whilst speaking out privately and publicly, there is also a strong desire – especially where there are disagreements – to sustain the excellent local relationships which exist between Londoners from different religious traditions.

The widespread goodwill and friendship between local churches, synagogues, Islamic centres, temples and gurdwaras was demonstrated recently by open iftars during Ramadan in many boroughs, as well as interfaith walks, peace pilgrimages and visits across the capital.  Where there are differences of opinion, we aim to redouble our efforts to listen, to learn, to “disagree well” and to support those seeking peaceful solutions.  In a global city such as ours, we have opportunities not only to speak out but to come together in finding common ground to pursue just and non-violent ways forward.

Several statements on the Middle East conflicts have been issued, including two by the Archbishop of Canterbury here and here, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Muslim Council of Britain & the Women’s Interfaith Network.

Opportunities for people from different religious and belief traditions to come together in London for justice and peace include

  • Prayers for Peace in the Middle East Tuesday 5 August 4 – 5.30pm led by the Christian Muslim Forum and St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.  “We watch the news in great distress as we see our Jewish, Christian and Muslim sisters and brothers being killed and on the receiving end of atrocities in Syria, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt. We aim, through various inter faith and peace initiatives, to model the way of peaceful dialogue while petitioning our leaders and politicians to use their influence and intervene constructively. However, clicking on internet petitions and speaking out can seem like small actions or that our voices are not being heard. What can we do?”  Register here.

Lord Michael Bates, patron of the London Peace Network, sets off on his Walk for Peace to Berlin on Tuesday 5 August from City Hall at 11am, following the Westminster Abbey commemoration of the start of WWI the previous evening.  Last year he walked for the children of Syria, this year he is walking for the child victims of conflict and war.  Join us on Tuesday to give him a good send-off.

Please add to the above – helpful information, links, events – through the comments box below.

New Scotland Yard

MPS Engagement Tsar Cdr Mak Chishty

New MPS Engagement Tsar Cdr Mak Chishty

LBFN’s Crime, Community Safety and Security social lab had an excellent and wide-ranging exchange with the new Commander for Engagement in the Metropolitan Police Service, Mak Chishty, on Monday 7 July.

Contributions from Islington, Hounslow, Enfield, Lambeth, Kingston, Harrow, Tower Hamlets, Redbridge and Merton showed the range of good work undertaken by local faith forums in engaging with the police.  They also highlighted the challenges in sustaining relationships over time.

Commander Chishty shared with us his initial thoughts on engagement and the work already underway, which includes local mapping, a listening campaign, special summer events and borough engagement plans.  His SHINE approach encourages relaxed and informal relationships to develop between police officers and the public.

With the change from the Metropolitan Police Authority’s Community-Police Engagement Groups to the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime’s Safer Neighbourhood Boards, there is some uncertainty over structures to support engagement.  Progress seems to be uneven across London.

LBFN members were asked to contact their Borough Commanders (details for each borough here) to initiate conversations which will lead to the inclusion of religious communities in the new borough engagement plans.  The emphasis was on sustained relationships with multifaith groups, churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and gurdwaras, which all offer strong social networks, local knowledge, expertise and organisational memory.

LBFN's Crime, Community Safety and Security social lab at New Scotland Yard.

LBFN’s Crime, Community Safety and Security social lab at New Scotland Yard.

People from seven religious traditions took part.  We will organise a follow up meeting in due course.

Tour de France on 7 July

tour-de-france-700x350_rdax_400x200London is hosting the magnificent Tour de France on 7 July.

The cyclists will be zipping across Parliament Square to the Mall on the same afternoon as our meeting at New Scotland Yard.

St James’s Park and Victoria tube stations will be open, but be prepared for delays.  All the information and maps you need are on this this helpful pdf from Transport for London.

tdf-logoIf you can tear yourself away from the action, we’ll be meeting at 3pm – best to arrive at 2.45pm to clear security (remember your photo ID).

Thanks for all the replies – if you plan to join us but haven’t let me know, please do so by the end of the week.

New Scotland Yard | Monday 7 July 3pm

New_Scotland_YardCommander Mak Chishty has invited LBFN to New Scotland Yard, 8-10 Broadway, London SW1H 0BG, on Monday 7 July 3-5pm (St James’s Park tube).

We’ll be sharing our experience and expertise in engaging with the Metropolitan Police and we have an excellent line-up of contributors from across the boroughs.  Let me know in advance if you would like us to address a particular aspect.

If you have not already done so, please let LBFN know if you plan to attend so that your name can be added to the guest list for admittance.  Allow extra time to clear security and bring photo ID with you.

There will also be a briefing on our plans to mark the UN International Day of Peace in our boroughs on the weekend of 18-21 September.  Flyers will be available soon.  Please consult your faith forum or local network – if any of the Islamic centres, synagogues, churches or places of worship in your borough would like to invite neighbouring communities to visit that weekend, please contact LBFN for further information.

Your police, your say – borough roadshows

435_200_large_stripMOPAC (Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime) has announced the first 15 dates for this year’s borough roadshows.  The Deputy Mayor for Policing & Crime will be visiting each borough to update local communities on progress and to answer questions.  See the dates below and follow the links – places are on a first come, first served basis.  Roadshows in the remaining boroughs will take place this autumn.

Following the verdict on the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan in Haringey, the appointment of an ‘Engagement Tzar’ was announced by the Metropolitan Police at the Home Affairs Select Committee.  LBFN has been told that the name of the officer appointed won’t be released until a framework for this work is agreed.

Faith Forum for London’s conference last April on policing included several workshops on diversifying the police service in London and on improving local relationships.  A change in policy on borough-based community-police engagement groups has led to concerns that engagement and partnership work will become more difficult, both for the police and for local communities.  LBFN co-facilitated one of the conference workshops, many LBFN members attended and it remains a topic of interest.  London Churches Social Action Network is discussing engagement with the police at its next meeting – contact Canon Steven Saxby if you’d like to attend.

Emergency planning in London

Very short notice, but Faiths Forum for London is convening a table top exercise on emergency planning (eg major floods, attacks) on Monday 21 October 2-4pm at the Mayor’s office at City Hall.

Some of us have good links with our borough’s emergency planning team, others of us have not had this opportunity.  A strong and prepared network of religious and other local community groups is an essential aspect of good emergency planning.

If you would like to know more, get an overview of what plans are in place, or find out what role your faith forum or religious community can play, please let LBFN know asap so that we can put your name down for entry through security.