An edited version of an unscripted speech at ‘One Brent’ on 31 May, commemorating Lee Rigby and sharing in solidarity with his family
The first thing I want to mention is death. When we hear of tragedies and murders our first response should be to mourn. There is a risk that we begin by condemning extremism and terrorism. We need to sit with the victim first – the immediate response of one woman. Having mourned, we can reflect on the callousness of those for whom killing is their message. Killing, while very human, is also inhumane. Politicians wage war hastily – do they ponder loss of life? Do they disregard peace campaigners? How keen are they to send soldiers to far away lands, knowing that they are completely unsafe? Is war good for anything? No.
We need to remember all those who are killed – people like Lee Rigby and innocent victims of conflict including drone attacks and suicide bombings. Each life has the same value, we need to remember them all. It will take us away from waging war, towards peace. Our traditions urge this, such as the famous line from Talmud and Qur’an: ‘Whoever kills a soul… it is as if he had slain humankind entirely’ (5:32). This message appears towards the beginning of the Qur’an. The Bible doesn’t have this saying, however, the Christian poet John Donne wrote, ‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind… No man is an island… every man is a piece of the continent.’
It is ironic to say this while speaking publicly, and I must be honest enough to say that a key part of my job is to maintain and raise the profile of my organisation. We shouldn’t seek publicity through the deaths of others, nor exploit, or let our own message drown out tragedy and the names of those who have lost their lives. This event is about Lee Rigby. We began in his honour with a minute of silence. Lee’s killer made callous use of publicity, talking to the camera about his motivation, dragging in religion and culture.
The messages that peace organisations share are the ones that we work on all the time. We must not miss out on identifying with the victim when death or atrocity hands us a platform. So, while I am on the platform, having mourned, I must be honest again and admit that we are implicated. Lee’s killer was originally Christian and he converted to Islam, so both religions which I represent officially in the Christian Muslim Forum are part of the story and have been for years. Coincidentally, I attended a Christian event on the ‘Challenge of Islam’ commemorating 7/7. Imagine the temperature rising while I was there, as it was not an ‘Islam-friendly’ event from the beginning. I reiterate that terrorism and atrocities are not based on Christianity or Islam. Yet, since the Forum’s launch we have issued statements responding to attacks, some tragedies involving fighting and loss between those calling themselves ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’ or identified as such. We have deliberately not responded to every incident, which is why we produced a statement that we could refer to each time. We are implicated due to the actions of extremists and terrorists who have hijacked religion, who claim its name while acting against it, saying “Allahu Akbar” (a sacred statement iterating God’s greatness, not a war cry) or “God told me to”. These acts are not in God’s name. We see the far right attempting to hijack religion, brushing aside humanity, linking the English flag of St George, or Britain’s Christian heritage, to hatred and anti-Muslim campaigning.
Peace and Transformation
We need to look deep into our hearts, speak peace and work for peace. It is easy to spend billions on a war being waged for over 10 years. We need to turn around and be transformed, just as the women at the scene of Lee Rigby’s murder turned around. One woman proceeded to reason with the killer calmly and, although we can’t imagine her courage, we can identify this as a human reaction contrasting with the killer’s actions. Another woman, seeing Lee dead or dying on the ground, sat next to his body so that he would not be alone. Peace brings us together and builds society. We must remember this when we wage war or export military technology.
Friendship and love is at the heart of this. With more of it, we do have a chance of reducing the numbers of both those who are alienated and those who have hearts full of hatred.
Image from: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/live-updates-soldier-lee-rigby-4010161
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