Almost every day breaks to news of another act of violence under the headline of ‘terrorism’. The murder of a French priest in the midst of celebrating Mass raises the level of anxiety in Europe to another level. In the UK the police have sent an email to churches with advice on security during services.
These incidents are not directly related to the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK, but are part of a flurry of events that are changing the UK, and Europe, in ways we cannot yet grasp.
The divisive Referendum campaign ended with a narrow margin of the population voting in favour of leaving the EU. However narrow the vote, the decision has been made and the will of the majority is ‘Brexit’.
Hot on the heals of this event, the long-awaited Chilcot Report was presented, with its damning critique of the way the nation was led into the Iraq War, and the ongoing violence which has seen over 250,00 deaths, civilians and military, on all sides. Virtually at the very time the report was being read, Daesh suicide bombers unleashed death in Istanbul and Baghdad, with indiscriminate slaughter of whole families whose only crime was enjoying their preparations to celebrate Eid. Similar carnage was visited on Nice during French national celebrations. The list of terrorist targets now extends to Germany, too.
Closer to home, the fruit of the anti-immigration rhetoric of the referendum campaign is a 40% increase in hate-crimes in the UK. Racists have been emboldened to confront people on public transport, on the streets, and with graffiti on the walls of their homes and work-places, telling them to ‘go back where they came from’—even second and third generation citizens.
Political leaders at all levels are clearly at a loss as to how to address these crises, and seem to have lost credibility with their own constituencies.
Thus, we face a two-sided crisis: on the one hand there is fear created by acts of extreme violence that are intended to create just such an atmosphere of fear (the reason we call it ‘terrorism’); on the other hand there are the low-level acts of violence in verbal abuse and vandalism directed towards immigrant and non-white communities.
We at MCSCI wish to make explicit our rejection of the rhetoric of division that is fuelling abuse and hatred across the country, and call on political leaders of all parties to take seriously their responsibility for the whole of their communities when speaking publicly.
At the same time we would encourage leaders of faith communities—church and mosque and synagogue—to reach out to the others in their communities to give common voice against fear and against violence. We would specifically encourage Christian community leaders to make the effort to affirm to other faith groups their value to the community, and the readiness to stand with them against hate crime directed against them.
In the light of the inability of political leaders to find a way forward in these fraught times, it seems the answers to the great issues of our day must come from within the very communities that are most affected by these events, if they are to be found at all. Religion is blamed for much of the ills; whether this is an accurate portrayal or not, it is therefore people of faith who must lead the way out of the cycle of violence and hatred.
The way to lead is to reach out, and not to give in to fear.