One of the terrible features of our world is how globalisation can bring the worst of international conflict to our doorsteps. Lee Rigby, a British soldier wearing a 'Help for Heroes' shirt, was murdered by a man who claimed to be acting in retaliation for attacks on women and children in 'Muslim countries' (though people have religion, not countries).
An innocent man died in a peaceful part of London. A religion - which explicitly tells its followers not to start wars or attack the innocent - was wrongly implicated in this attack. This connection between religion and murder was comprehensively condemned by numerous Muslim organisations, some of them represented in Woolwich a week later. It took very little time for these organisations to respond, mourn for the victim, show solidarity with his family and the local community, call for peace and show us what Islam should really look like.
Nevertheless, almost immediately there was a backlash against British Muslims and mosques around the country. We know that the Woolwich attackers had not come from the local mosques - they were not welcome there. The Muslim community and the mosques were not connected with the murder of Lee Rigby. Yet individuals and extreme Right organisations began to target Muslims, mirroring the inhumane actions of those who have hijacked Islam for violent purposes: violence against women, hate-filled messages, fire bombing places of worship and burning down an Islamic centre in Muswell Hill, north London. We have seen similar attacks against Christians in Nigeria and Egypt. We reiterate that violent attacks are neither Christian nor Muslim.
These attackers claimed to be responding to a threat from those who are 'not like us', who 'threaten our way of life', who 'oppress their women'. Yet what do they do? Target the innocent (throwing firebombs at a mosque while people are inside praying), abuse women, mobilise against aggressors while making victims of those who are unconnected. They talk of British values but don't live by them. Revealingly, it was British Muslims at a small mosque in York who invited the far-right English Defence League into their mosque for tea and biscuits; others have placed flowers at memorials, called for peace, challenged violence and hostility.
We know 'British' when we see it. It is no coincidence that 'Britain' is in the name of Muslim organisations - the Islamic Society of Britain, the Muslim Council of Britain - rooted in this country, unashamed to be part of it. On the other hand the name 'English Defence League' is confusing: it is not for all English people and what might 'we' be defending? If it is murders on the street then that is what the police are for. If it is better relations in the community then that is a task for all of us working together, not creating division. Many community workers, inter faith activists are Muslims; peace and anti-hatred organisations are staffed by Muslims, as well as other people of faith.
We need alternatives. People need to meet instead of fear each other, exchange dialogue rather than hurl insults or fire bombs, build a peaceful society united by common values, rather than one divided by hatred. This is a message that we promoted in our #StGeorge4All campaign in April, which the 'Tea Defence League' is advocating on Facebook and which One Britain One Nation is calling on everyone to share in July.
The Christian Muslim Forum is pleased to work with Muslim organisations, to be committed to their aim of living out Islam peacefully, and in solidarity with Christians in places where they are threatened and attacked for their faith. Our Co-Chair, Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, is also Assistant Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain. Another of our members, Sughra Ahmed, is a leading activist within the Islamic Society of Britain. We are privileged to work together, whether it is to spread the message of 'Love' or 'The things we have in common' at the launch of Islam Awareness Week in 2012 and 2013. We are also able to mourn together and support each other when either faith community is on the receiving end of violence.
The Christian Muslim Forum has shared a platform with spokespeople from the Muslim Council of Britain and its partners, including the Jewish director of a national inter faith organisation, to mourn with the family of Lee Rigby. We are committed to achieving something better: less anti-Muslim hatred, fewer misguided responses to atrocities, better relationships between Christians and Muslims and to showing that we must defend what we have in common from those whose message and medium is violence.