by Phil Groves – Co-author of Living Reconciliation
Listen to two people who have lived on the front line:
Canon Francis Omondi – All Saints Cathedral Diocese, Nairobi:
Terrorism is never an accident. It is deliberate, calculated, systematic and precisely executed.
It has to be to succeed.
But it needs soil in which to grow.
That soil is a community that is prepared, consciously or unconsciously, to permit it, collude with it.
Canon Mark Russell – Church Army:
In Northern Ireland we learnt you can’t fight hatred with violence.
You defeat terrorists when you build inclusive tolerant communities.
These two great people are telling us something very important.
Here is the story of my failure. It is also the story of how you can make a difference.
The bombs that went off in Belgium this week remind me of those that exploded in London on 7 July 2005. They devastated lives and created a culture of fear and incomprehension that pervades life to this day.
Three of the five bombers were brought up in Beeston Hill, Leeds.
In the late 1980s I was a curate in Beeston Hill. It was in a sad state. There were few jobs and the area was used by the council to dump people with mental illnesses and addictions to drink and drugs. All indicators of depravation were through the roof. Young people turned to drugs, but could not afford marijuana or cocaine and so every day the parks were littered with plastic bags with a dollop of glue in one corner. Glue sniffing gave a cheap and dangerous high.
As a curate, fresh from a middle class Sevenoaks the whole thing was a shock. I came into contact with people who had chaotic lives, little hope and low self-esteem. In the midst of this was the church. It was active and vibrant and the people were remarkable. Amazing things were happening.
On any given Sunday we had more children in church than adults. Many members had suffered domestic abuse and crime, but the community found ways to help one another. I learnt from all of them. On the measures put in place for the Church of England we were successful.
But the Church was almost exclusively white. We did not have a single Asian person in our pews. It never even entered our minds that this could be different.
In contrast the streets were alive with the vibrant colours of the saris of the women and the smells of the spices emerging from the corner shops. The predominant religion was Islam. The demographics were changing and they were changing fast.
As a church we just ignored the reality. We had enough to deal with among the white people. We had an employment programme (all white), a cohort of young teenagers who needed a youth fellowship, and we were running evangelism courses discussion groups. All our initiatives were by white people, for white people.
In Beeston we lived segregated lives. We did not want to offend, we did not want to interfere and we kept our distance. We rarely felt that the Asian community was reaching out to us, but then why should they? They were the newcomers. We were the established community.
We could have lived differently.
At that time the three bombers were just regular children attending local schools.
I did not think of myself as racist. Quite the opposite; I actively confronted racism by challenging racist words and actions, even if it made me unpopular. I shouted at young people daubing racist symbols outside my door and was threatened. I organised racism awareness for our people. I was not a racist.
I could have made a difference.
Every day I walked past Hillside Primary School on my way to church, but I never went in. ‘Our School’ – the church school – was half a mile away. I went there. ‘Our School’ was 90 per cent white. Hillside was 90 per cent Asian. I walked past. Every day I walked past – Father forgive me.
The lead bomber of the 7/7 atrocity was Mohammad Sidique Khan and he had connections to Hillside Primary. With hindsight it seems obvious what I could have done; there were choices we made as a church that could have changed history.
However, still today people say that they cannot understand what motivated Mohammad Sidique Khan. He was a respected youth leader in his community, helping young people to avoid drugs and objecting to the way the local government allowed Beeston to become a place for prostitution and decline. People are puzzled about what led him to recruit a team to execute such a deadly attack. It is a mystery to us why young families flee the security of the UK to head for Syria to join ISIS.
But Francis Omondi says terrorism is deliberate, calculated, systematic and precisely executed. It is rational. This means there are answers. It appears to be an incomprehensible movement of evil because the causes are complex and multifaceted. But this does not mean it is impossible to respond to, it just means that the answers are complex and difficult.
Mark Russell is an agent of reconciliation in Northern Ireland. He knows that this terror can be defeated, but not by violence. It can only be defeated if you and I step inside the safe place of those we regard as strangers. It is by going to ‘them’ that we break down the barriers.
Francis Omondi lives among Muslims and Christians in Kenya and he reminds me constantly that very few people have really understood the scale of change that is being demanded of us if we are to counter the vicious cycles of violence that blight our world. The change has to come both locally and globally. Injustice needs soil in which to grow. That soil is a community that is prepared, consciously or unconsciously, to permit it, collude with it.
He reminds us that we must move from a culture of fear to one of acceptance and potential. We must address the real issues of poverty, exclusion from power, denial of education and other issues of justice in the face of oppression. We must do this together, not Christians blaming Muslims, nor white blaming black, and definitely not the powerful blaming the poor. We must do this locally right in our own communities. It must be done globally in every community around the world.
We will not instantly defeat this round of terror by just being nice to people. We still need the protection from a radicalised generation. But we will only defeat terror in the long term if we create communities of justice and form relationships across barriers.
You can make a difference right where you are.
- The good news is that we are all able to make a difference right where we are.
- The good news is that we can also cross barriers and work with people around the world.
- The Good news is that Christ went before us and sends his Holy Spirit to us.
Together we can stop terrorism.
Canon Phil Groves is Director of Continuing Indaba