recent events in Woolwich, I want to write down my thoughts about the greatest religious divide of our time.
Just a week ago a British serviceman was brutally murdered by two men who justified the act by saying that British forces were killing Muslims.
The great divide - So what is that divide? You might pick something different, but for me the greatest religious divide is between violent fundamentalists on the one hand and everyone else on the other. Seen in that way, the great majority of Muslims are on the same side as the great majority of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and the rest.
Violent fundamentalists of any faith are a small minority, they always were and always will be. Most people are caring, kind, and want nothing more than to live peacefully and in safety. Fundamentalists are zealous and uncompromising about their beliefs, but only a few would say that violence is justifiable or necessary. And of those that say violence is justifiable, only a few would actually commit a murder. So the men who murdered the soldier are a minority of a minority of a minority. Islam has no monopoly on violent fundamentalism. We see it amongst Christians, Hindus, Jews, and even Buddhists.
Standing together - The vast majority of people in this world of any faith and of none must stand together. We must continue to declare peace to one another, to bless one another, and to recognise that all violence is wrong. We must make it clear that we do not accept violence as a way of solving problems and we oppose any person or organisation that does.
It's also important to remember that there may be many reasons for committing a violent act, not all of them are based on strongly held religious views. There are also political reasons, personal reasons, mental illness reasons and many more. Perhaps political reasons are the most common.
The brutal murder of an off-duty British soldier by driving a car into him and then hacking him to death causes fear amongst ordinary people. On the one hand the fear of Islamic fundamentalism is ramped up, and on the other hand the fear of reprisals against Muslims is also ramped up. It's a double whammy. It's likely that the motive, at least in part, was to raise tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. We must make sure those tensions are quickly calmed.
Peace and vision - To any Muslim in the UK reading this I say 'Assalamu alaikum', 'Peace to you'. I understand that you may be afraid of retaliation, under the circumstances that is natural. It's up to all of us to draw closer to one another, not just within our communities but between them too. Talk to your neighbours of other faiths and of none, understand that they may be just as anxious as you are.
I condemn all violence and threat of violence, regardless of who is responsible for it, who it may be aimed at, and whatever reason may be given for it. There can be no justification for one human being injuring or murdering another. Nor can there be any justification for damage to property, for threats, or for any kind of intimidation. Violence and destruction simply cannot be right.
Instead we need a vision for cooperation, peace and love. Here's a great, international demonstration of peaceful cooperation, the song 'We don't need no more trouble'. This wonderful video will give you a better sense of the spirit of cooperation and fun that is available to us if only we will accept one another - not as black or white, male or female, wealthy or poor, Muslim or Christian or Hindu, but as people. How hard can that be?
Yes, but - Oh - I should have mentioned something else.
There is a cost to the goal of accepting one another in love. There is always a cost. The cost is that we (I, you) must make the first move. No matter the injustice or issue between us, we must forgive and move forward - for all our sakes.
Let's remember, whatever our differences we are one people, all of us are related, one family, living on one Earth. Nothing should cause us to destroy one another. Nothing.
- In what ways can you, personally, reach across a divide in your own, local community?
- Have you been unjustly treated, hurt, ignored, overlooked, or picked upon?
- Why do you think it's so hard to make the first move in reconciliation?
- What will happen if nobody makes the first move?