My role within the Interfaith Contact Group (IFCG) recently switched from Secretary to Co-Chair, a position I share with Kate Williamson. Now Charlotte Gravestock, who was Secretary before, is Secretary again after eight years. It’s no exaggeration to say that both Kate and Charlotte are inspired.
Hove Methodist Church
The Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove is in itself an inspirational organisation, a microcosm of all that is best in the worldwide interfaith movement. It’s harmonious, peaceful and wise.
But being involved in an interfaith organisation is not all sweetness and light. One of the sorrows of belonging is being so very aware to the horrors of people of belief being killed, tortured or maimed for who they are and what they believe in. It is so very strange that within the human mind, another person’s beliefs are reckoned to be so bad and inferior to one’s own that one feels the need to kill them. Do those people who set out one sunny day to blow-up innocent men, women and children ever have any self-doubt? I wonder. This evening the IFCG will be holding a peace vigil in Hove Methodist Church at 6pm, honouring the people who died in Sri-Lanka, and next Wednesday, May 1st, we will hold our monthly Interfaith Peace Prayers at the Baha’i Centre in Stanford Avenue from 6pm to 7pm. Loving, sacred words, which draw people of all faiths and none are becoming increasingly important… and needed.
Here’s a prayer I produced for the vigil this evening:
When we lose spirits of faith
Caught up in a moment
Of sacred celebration
We lose so much of ourselves
And so, we feel abandoned
The departed pass on…
Holding belief in their hearts
Christian, Jew and Muslim
Buddhist, Atheist and Pagan
They continue their journey of mystery
But we, the survivors are left behind
It seems that energy, soul and belief
Life and love have gone for good
Because of the bad…
Known or unknown…
Companions go unheard and unseen
And so, we feel forsaken
And as we stand on the shore
Watching the tide shift gently
So very gently
We witness the change from being
And we feel adrift and abandoned
And some will want revenge
And others are too bereft to think
And the rest will seek to know
And there is sorrow and desolation
But the truth lies in all of us
Those that have departed
And those that remain
It is buried… so deep
That when we come to our moment
Of knowing why they left us
We realise that there was no staying or leaving
We were, and are and will be…
We were never alone, never abandoned
And never destroyed
For we are as one
And the story has no end
If you watch lots of television, whether it’s the news, or a drama series or a documentary film you may conclude that there is only one way to deal with terrorism: it’s to deploy a bunch of blokes in black clothes, bullet-proof vests, balaclavas and battering rams to break into the wrongdoers’ hideout. Then your crack-team will either blow up the terrorists, or hand-cuff them and take them off and incarcerate them. In other words, one deploys a similar response to the problem itself, one that does not differ much from the methods the perpetrators might favour themselves.
Or one can do something completely different… the problem is that our Government has no idea about what this may be, and that is one of the terrible problems of the moment. We are run by a Government with no imagination, no will and no intelligence… but there is another way, as I will reveal at the end of this bloggetty blog.
To appreciate the fact that our Government is clueless about violence, one needs only to go back to 2003 when Tony Blair declared war on Iraq. Those of us that marched on February 15th then, realised we would soon face relentless terrorist activities from people who had never been our enemies before. Why couldn’t Tony Blair see this? I have often wondered.
There are many causes of violence and governments, particularly ours seem incapable of understanding the root causes. People who invest in war and conflict is one cause. The other, and maybe even more terrible cause is poverty itself. In scenarios of poverty, where there is no hope, people resort to violence, either under the influence of extreme anger, alcohol, oppression, or frustration. I have a friend who has done a lot of filming for charities in Afghanistan. She tells me that if the (oxymoronic) Ministry of Defence had deployed the kind of money it spent on arms and killing people, on acts of friendship instead, like building schools, new homes, health and agricultural initiatives, the story about Afghanistan and what happened there would have been completely different. The cost financially would have been a great deal less, and we wouldn’t have seen so many innocents killed and maimed.
The UK has a history of war and waging war, and we have learnt nothing.
Here’s a terrible statistic that I found in Google: Over 14 million people, about one in five of the UK population are in poverty, according to the Joseph Rountree Foundation. Of them 8.2 million are working-age adults, 4.1 million are children and 1.9 million are pensioners. Eight million people live in poverty in families where at least one person is working. This is a terrible recipe for violence and disaster; it’s a recipe for domestic violence; it’s a recipe for terrorism, it’s a recipe for people to hate and hate again – to hate people with more money than one has oneself — to hate people of different ethnicity — to hate people of different ages, genders, looks and sexual inclination. It’s the anger behind Brexit and perhaps something a great deal worse.
On the Third of October 2018 our Leader, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP announced that austerity was over. And six months later we see pigs flying about, or as the Italians say, we see donkeys flying, or according to the French, we now celebrate a week with four Thursdays on St Glinglin’s day, not to mention the Serbian suggestion that this is the moment when the willow bears grapes. So who dares to say that austerity is over?
But even in this awful moment, there is a way to tackle hatred. It’s to bring people together. To find common ground for ideas, conversations, creativity and interests. It’s to get people to eat and talk and share things together. This what that Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove does, without any money. If you want to see how we do it, please take a look at this brilliant 10-minute film made by Sarah West. I just wish that a few kids from the poorer places in our City could participate in this story, and maybe in time, this will happen… or better still, maybe the poverty in our City will be vanquished for good… one day.
The film can be viewed on the front page of our website: