The Taxi Bomber – who is at risk?

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It has been widely reported that Emad al –Swealmeen (32-year-old), who died in an attempted terrorist attack outside Liverpool’s Women’s hospital on Remembrance Sunday (14th November) at about 11.00, was a convert to Christianity. While the investigation into this explosion in a taxi, where the driver escaped, virtually unhurt, is continuing and no doubt further revelations will emerge, it raises a number of important issues, especially for all involved in working with asylum seekers and refugees. 

Talking with Muslim friends, their immediate concern was over the difference in reporting the incident, compared with other incidents where Muslims were involved, which were described as Islamic terrorism. In this case it was never described as ‘Christian’ terrorism, but rather the emphasis was given to his mental health, which I shall discuss a little later. Their frustration was that the media gives an impression that the problem is Islam, even if the perpetrator has serious mental health issues. So all Muslims are tarred with the same brush. In this incident, although Emad al-Swealmeen’s religion is noted, the religion was not blamed for the attack.

Other issues seem to emerge:

He was baptised in 2015 and confirmed in the Church of England in 2017 at Liverpool Cathedral. He spent some time living with Christians in Liverpool who took him into their home and shared their lives with him. Questions are being asked concerning the genuineness of his ‘conversion’, and whether the Christians involved with him, including senior clergy in Liverpool diocese, were naive in accepting his profession of faith. For many of us involved in ministry in the urban context, working with asylum seekers is a common practice. We are told that some solicitors even recommend that asylum seekers go to churches to strengthen their claim. In my experience church leaders have developed significant skills in discerning the genuineness of the application for baptism or of ‘conversions’, and while there is still room for error, it seems to me that this was probably a genuine profession of faith.  Perhaps the issue to be considered is how contact was lost with him, in subsequent years, and what happened to his mental state in those years.

The second issue, and one that concerns all asylum seekers in this country, is the system that allows many to live with complete uncertainty and insecurity for years and years, and the inevitable psychiatric problems which will develop. I know of one man now in his late 30’s who has spent 12 years waiting for a decision on his application for refugee status. During this time, he has been unable to work legally, or pursue his education or to develop any sense of belonging. A church in Manchester has faithfully supported him, but for many asylum seekers it is no wonder that their mental health suffers. The Boaz Trust, in Manchester, supports asylum seekers with housing and provides trained staff to monitor and assist clients (destitute asylum seekers) as they navigate issues of destitution, rejection and severe insecurity.  In the blame culture prevalent in the UK, it is inevitable that questions will be asked of Christians supporting asylum seekers. However, the UK government should ask itself questions as to whether its policies are putting very vulnerable people into intolerable positions where their mental health is at serious risk.

As the investigation into this bomb in Liverpool continues, further understanding will emerge and hopefully lessons will be learnt. However, it is important that Christians continue to love and care for our neighbours and especially for the weakest and most vulnerable. For Jesus said, ’whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40).

Phil Rawlings   24th November 2021

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