How can Christians be peace-builders?
In a world of global conflict, John Myhill shares his views on the need for Christians to work for peace.
Many Christians have been involved in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Israel-Palestine. Europeans travelling through military checkpoints with Palestinians claim that this has often made the Jewish guards more civil in their work.
Those returning from this work in the occupied territories often spoke of the need for the return of these territories to their Palestinian owners; so a number of Christian churches organised a boycott of goods produced in those territories. This in turn led some Zionists in this country to feel that Christians were taking sides with the Palestinians. There is now an ongoing dialogue nationally to improve Jewish-Christian understanding. Christian care for the plight of Muslims must never be seen as a sign of anti-Semitism.
Western governments, in contrast, have often seemed biased against Islamic countries. They have used military force to bring about regime change. Sometimes supporting one side with weapons and then later fighting the regimes they previously supported, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet our governments have been wary of becoming involved in wars where oil and other resources were not involved. It is not surprising that those governments have been portrayed as instigators and a main cause of terrorism, by those who see themselves as freedom fighters for Islam.
But, and it is a big BUT, there are Muslim terrorists all around the world: killing Hindus in India, Christians in Indonesia and Africa, Animists in Africa, and Buddhists in Thailand; and Sunni and Shia killing each other in many countries; none of which can be blamed on Western Imperialism.
Quakers and other Christian denominations have been involved in peace building wherever there is conflict around the world, but my experience suggests that we have more success where neither side in the conflict involves Islamic extremists.
In this country, Christians have excellent relations with “nice” Muslims: those who are rational, educated and Koran-sensitive, but we have little contact with militant or angry Muslims. When the BNP marched in Norwich, they were outnumbered 20 to one by Christians and Muslims standing together. It was the BNP who were the suppressed minority. Even in Leicester, where the BNP has been more active, the local inter-faith links have united Christians, Muslims and others in solidarity.
Active Christians are now a minority in this country, and minorities tend to support other minorities. But strident minorities are often resented by the silent majority. As a Trade Union Rep. I saw the decline of Unions within a decade, losing powers that took a century to gain, because the majority saw us as too strident. (Quakers survived after the Restoration in 1660 because they sought peace with the Monarchy, whilst other groups that had developed during the Revolution disappeared from History).
Muslim worship is very foreign to most Christians. Muslims may well see our slouching about in comfy chairs as evidence of an unimaginably informal relationship with the divine being, whilst Muslim obeisance on hands and knees may seem to some Christians as a lack of faith in the Love of God. Have you found reference to loving your enemies or forgiving your brother every time he hurts you, in the Koran?
We need to know the militant jihadists as well as the “nice” Muslims. We need to love them, because they are different, not like them because they are just like us. Of course we can like individuals, but we cannot “like” a category: that would be similar to liking all old people, or all farmers.
When charitable or public funds are raised to support people in poverty or local communities, we need to be very sure that those funds are not being diverted to extremists to buy arms. Being a soft touch” is as bad as picking a fight with those who regard you as the enemy.
Christians need also to be aware of the needs of poor working people who find themselves becoming a white minority in streets where the majority make them feel excluded. These people may feel as much of a minority as any Christian walking to church through the streets of Norwich, crowded with shoppers on a Sunday morning. A Muslim, worshiping in a Muslim majority area of our inner cities, may miss out on that experience.
In court, I found that solicitors, police and my fellow magistrates all gave those of a different faith or colour every advantage, to ensure that Justice was fair. Despite this our one million Muslims are over-represented in British prisons, creating a potential problem for prison officers, prison chaplains and Imams.
Great Britain can make matters worse by acting as if we were the world’s policeman; dropping bombs on those we judge to be the bad guys. We could use that money to sort out conflict in our own country, building bridges with those British Muslims who may regard us as their enemies.
John Myhill is a Norwich Quaker, retired magistrate and author. His blog is at http://johnmyhill.wordpress.com/
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