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Sunday, 23 November 2008

A Day in the Life

I’m glad the Roman Catholic Church has found it in their hearts to forgive John Lennon for his remark, made over 40 years ago, that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ. No doubt Lennon had had a word or two in St Peter’s shell like since he joined the heavenly hosts in December 1980.

Of course, if you were rather too worldly for your own good you might just link the Church’s conversion to the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles “White Album” on 22nd November 1968: A hip, relevant Church commemorates more than just High Days and Holidays. And it’s uplifting to read the semi-official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano praising The Beatles for what it called their "unique and strange alchemy of sounds and words".

Less edifying is the unholy row brewing between two of the Christian groups who are custodians of one of the most sacred places in Christianity - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The row’s between the Greek and Armenian Orthodox Churches about who has the right to fix the roof of the church. These two groups have form: in April this year the police had to break up scuffles between the two and they’ve been quarrelling over the site since the 11th century.

And then there’s the report that Jewish settlers protesting against an official Israeli eviction order have desecrated Muslim buildings in the flashpoint West Bank town of Hebron. Apparently they sprayed "Death to Arabs" and an insult to the Prophet Muhammad on a mosque wall and vandalised a cemetery. Or in Iraq where Christian Iraqis have been threatened, kidnapped and murdered by their Muslim neighbours.

It is dangerous to generalise these specific cases. Certainly, this disunity, hatred and blind prejudice is frightening to behold – but step back, take in the wider picture and you’ll see much that is worthy, good and encouraging. The Jewish Voice for Peace takes a stand against anti- Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry. This body is made up of American Jews and it seeks, amongst other things, an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem consistent with international law and equity and an end to all violence against civilians. Not a bad set of objectives.

The Palestine-Israel Journal is a non-profit organization, founded in 1994 by a Palestinian and Israeli journalist whose aim was to encourage dialogue between civil societies on both sides and broaden the base of support for the peace process. It seeks to promote rapprochement and better understanding between the two peoples; to raise awareness, inform and clarify to a wider public within both communities about the issues at the crux of the conflict and how they impact on the lives of both peoples, from the perspective of each side and; to foster, in a climate of constructive criticism and mutual respect, active dialogue and exchanges within and between the two civil societies.

I have mentioned just two organisations seeking to engender a process of peace, understanding and reconciliation between the peoples of Israel, Palestine and their Arab neighbours. There are many, many more. More widely there are groups of Muslims and Christians working together, sharing their religions, beliefs and concerns.

In Walthamstow, we possibly need more than a little of peace, love and understanding.When the Encyclopaedia Britannia has a photograph of Muslims in Walthamstow under a headline “Britain: The Radical Stronghold of European Muslims”, or similar headlines that erupt from time to time you feel that we might be rather too stereotyped. Take September’s Sunday Express; under the headline “Police Target Likely “Recruits” for 2012 Bombers”, we learn that...”To coincide with the seventh anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks in New York, more than 100 young Muslims in Walthamstow, east London, last week listened to an onslaught against Britain and America from exiled preacher Sheikh Omar Bakri.” Well, Sunday Express thanks for that informative piece of journalism.

I don’t usually have much to say which is nice about our beloved Council but I applaud their recent Islamic Awareness Week. Not so the Waltham Forest Guardian which carried a piece by Jonathan Moyes reporting a meeting of the Waltham Forest Community Safety Board (WFCSB). Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a more uninteresting occasion to report upon. But Mr Moyes, either through deliberate misunderstanding or lack of attention, managed to turn it into an inter-faith struggle.

According to the Guardian, the election of a representative of a Christian charity to the WFCSB was opposed by two members of the Board because of “fears that selecting an overtly Christian organisation (Worth Unlimited) to speak on behalf of young people could alienate residents of other faiths”. Having reported the alleged fears Mr Moyes goes on to imply that Worth Unlimited is an evangelising organisation. Now I suspect Mr Moyes in writing this piece was well aware of the concern in Waltham Forest of the alleged special treatment given to Islamic groups in the borough. And in a neat reversal the Christian group is given a proselytising role which some people see as a worrying feature of Islam.

Sure enough the comments flood in about how the Council bends over backwards to throw money as anything Islamic; what’s wrong with Christians anyway – that sort of thing. The unfortunate Councillor had to clarify what he was reported to have said by Mr Moyes – the reported comment being nonsensical.

To quote another Beatle song “We Can Work it Out”; but no thanks to the “Paperback Writer”.

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