Original article published on 18th March 2019
It was yet another senseless, horrific terrorist attack on a community who had simply come together in peaceful worship. In New Zealand’s most devastating mass shootings, 50 people died at two mosques in Christchurch and many others were seriously injured.
Just like the butchering of innocent worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the attack on the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park, these were innocent men, women and children mown down for simply being who they are. We have seen outpourings of comfort and love around the world. In London people attended vigils or visited their local mosques.
Today, in a welcome show of solidarity, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi were joining the Mayor of London at a multi-faith remembrance and prayer event for the victims at a London mosque, bringing together young people from all backgrounds.
These messages of support, comfort and love are powerful but they are not enough. We need, as Londoners, to be doing more to build stronger, safer, more inclusive communities where intolerance and hatred have less space and opportunity to fester. Religious hate crime has rocketed 40 per cent in a year in England and Wales, as the number of offences hits a record high. Home Office statistics showed over half of religiously motivated attacks in 2017/18 were directed at Muslims, with Jewish people the next most commonly targeted.
We know too that there is still intolerance towards women, black and ethnic minority people, LGBT+ people, the disabled, and even, shockingly, those who are simply older. As members of the Mayor’s new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group, and as Jew and Muslim in particular, we are urging every Londoner to consider how better to bridge divides. Everyone can play their part. We must all be architects of peace, compassion and understanding; in our homes, work and communities.
Faith-based groups have been fostering community cohesion and championing diversity and mutual respect for some time. Research from Mitzvah Day (a day of Jewish-led, inclusive social action) shows 74 per cent of people felt they were able to meet others they might not normally have met. Similarly, 64 per cent of young people who attended the Naz Legacy Foundation Iftars went on to bring others to interfaith events. Other activities include the Big Iftar, Visit My Mosque and Sadaqah Day. Organisations such as Faiths Forum for London, Nisa-Nashim and others are all working to bring people together.
Now is the time to explore how you can be an ally, how you can show those who are concerned for their safety that they are not alone. Standing up when someone is being verbally abused rather than studiously looking at our phones is one way. Visiting a faith institution and learning more about each other is another. There is no simple solution, but by working together, by building mutual trust, we can demonstrate terror will never divide us and unity and hope will always prevail over fear and hatred.