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 for whom killing is their message, messaging with a long history. 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 safe? Is war good for anything? No!
We need to remember all those who are killed - people like Lee Rigby, and innocent victims of conflict, of drone attacks and suicide bombings. Each life has the same value, we need to remember them all. It will us away from waging war, towards peace. Our traditions urge this. The famous line from Talmud and Qur'an - 'whoever kills a soul ... it is as if he had slain humankind entirely' (Surah 5.32). This message is near 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's 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 messaging 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 camera about his motivation, dragging in religion and culture-clash.
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 on the platform, having mourned, I must be honest again and admit - we are implicated. Lee's killer was originally Christian, he converted to Islam, both religions which I represent officially in the Christian Muslim Forum are part of the story, and have been since for years. Coincidentally, I attended a Christian event on the 'Challenge of Islam' on 7/7. Imagine the temperature rising while I was there, it was not 'Islam-friendly' from the beginning. I reiterate that terrorism and atrocities are not Christianity or Islam, see more in our statement here. Yet, since the Forum's launch we have issued statements responding to attacks on Christians and Muslims, some conflicts and tragedies involved 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, it could be a full-time job. We are implicated, due to the actions of extremists, terrorists, who have hijacked religion, who claim its name, while acting against it, saying 'Allahu Akbar' (a sacred statement, not a war cry) or 'God told me to'. It is 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. Women at the scene of Lee Rigby's murder turned around. One reasoned with the killer calmly, we can't imagine her courage, but it was 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 up 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 those who are alienated and who have hearts full of hatred.