Christian MP tells Norwich audience of knife attack
A Christian Labour MP has told an audience at UEA in Norwich of the moment he was stabbed by a Muslim constituent in 2010 and of how he believes that the shared values of all faith groups are important in politics and society. Keith Morris reports.
Newham MP Stephen Timms was in Norwich as part of the Keswick Hall lecture series on faith and politics on March 23 and was interviewed by former Labour Party colleague Prof Charles Clarke.
On the day after a terrorist attack and fatal knifing of Policeman PC Keith Palmer outside Parliament, Stephen spoke of the day, seven years ago, when 21-year-old Muslim student Roshonara Choudhry stabbed him twice in the stomach at a constituency surgery at Beckton Library in Newham.
Stephen had just secured the biggest majority in the country in the May 2010 General Election and his assailant said she wanted to punish Stephen for supporting the Iraq War.
Stephen told his Norwich audience: “I was at a surgery in Beckton library when a woman came round the side of the desk in heavy Islamic dress. I thought she wanted to shake my hand but she stabbed me twice. It felt like I had been punched. My assistant restrained her and when I went to the bathroom and pulled my jumper up, there was rather a lot of blood."
Stephen ended up in hospital where they feared for his life at one point, and the assailant was later imprisoned for attempted murder.
“I was inundated with messages of good will,” he said. “A lot of Muslims contacted me afterwards and said they were praying for me, as did a lot of Christians – and it meant a lot to me. My reflection looking back was that one person acted in one way but a lot of Muslims supported me.”
Stephen told the audience that his interest in politics came before any religious faith. “I was not from a faith family - my parents were cynical, particularly my father,” he said. “As a teenager I went along to a Crusader class and there I heard about the claims of the Christian faith and decided I wanted to sign up. It was a big commitment. I joined the Christian Union at Cambridge University – and it became by far the biggest commitment at college besides my studies.”
Stephen took an IT job in London after graduating and went to live in Newham, where he had enjoyed a two-week CU mission while at university. He joined the Labour Party, becoming a local councillor and then leader of Newham Council and was selected as a parliamentary candidate, ahead of Charles Clarke.
“In Newham I felt I might be seen as a Holy Joe,” said Stephen. “But it was not a problem and in fact the reverse. The chair of Newham Muslim Association was first person to tell me to run as a candidate for MP.”
Stephen said that his thinking about faith and politics were closely linked: “In the end it is all about fairness – how can we build a society which is fair.”
He also spoke about the previous day’s terrorist attack in Westminster which he was caught up in: “It happened as we were voting in the House and the sitting was suspended. Around 1000 of us ended up in Westminster Abbey for four hours - the Dean was very hospitable. I think the Police thought somebody else might be on the loose.”
Stephen chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society which publishes a Faith Covenant – a basis for faith groups and local councils to work together.
“Local councils are looking for groups to work with and often faith groups are the only ones there -with Foodbanks for example which are remarkable. The churches uniquely have the capacity and motivation for taking on food poverty and doing something about it. There is nothing comparable to what churches are doing on this issue.”
Asked about different faith groups working together, Stephen said: “The beliefs of various faith groups are clearly different but the shared values are held in common and enable people to work together. There is a high level of faith commitment in Newham and of belonging to a church or synagogue or temple and therefore feeling part of the community. Faith groups provide an opportunity to belong - which many people in this country do not have – which itself brings cohesion.”
Videos of all three lectures in the Keswick Hall series will be available online.
Pictured above, Stephen Timms, right, is interviewed y Prof Charles Clarke at UEA in Norwich. Picture courtesy of UEA.