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UK survivor of massacre in Tunisia backs interfaith work

01 January 2016

Survivor: Colin Bidwell and imam Hafiz Hashmi, in Woking, last month

Survivor: Colin Bidwell and imam Hafiz Hashmi, in Woking, last month

A MAN who survived the terrorist attack in Tunisia last June has joined the diocese of Guildford on a series of interfaith initiatives to help combat prejudice against Muslims and Islam.

Colin Bidwell, from Windlesham, in Surrey, was staying with his wife at the Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel, in the resort of Sousse, in June, when masked gunmen opened fire on tourists on the beach (News, 3 July 2015). Thirty-eight people were killed, 30 of whom were from the UK. The Islamic State (IS), or Daesh, later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr Bidwell has since taken part in an interfaith event run by the diocese of Guildford to address the challenges of integration in multicultural society. He joined in the discussion with Baroness Warsi, and the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, who were offering a “roots-down, walls-down” method of sharing faith to an audience of 200, last month.

Bishop Watson said that the goal was to “affirm openness, learning, and adventure from the basis of strong roots in one’s own faith”. This would, he said, help people of faith to be “stronger and less defensive” of their beliefs.

Mr Bidwell will be contributing to discussions at a debate, “Why do people become terrorists?”, on 9 January, and has been interviewed for BBC TV’s Songs of Praise. The programme is expected to be broadcast later this month.

Mr Bidwell, who was raised as a Christian, spoke of his ordeal in Tunisia to the diocesan magazine The Wey last month. “I don’t know if God saved us,” he said, “but . . . I can’t ignore the possibility.” He had hidden under a sun-lounger, behind a boat, and eventually in the sea to avoid the approaching gunman. He sustained two gunshot wounds, and was later reunited with his wife, who had taken refuge in the hotel.

On his return to the UK, Mr Bidwell became concerned about stereotypes surrounding Muslims and Islam, and sought to address some questions with the Muslim community in Guildford. “Understanding more about people’s faiths might help to stop something like this happening again,” he said. “Even if I can change just one person’s negative stereotype, then it has been worth it.”

Mr Bidwell approached the Shah Jahan Mosque, in Woking, to address his concerns, and was welcomed by the imam, Hafiz Hashmi. Mr Hashmi told The Wey: “I would like to show them the true side of Islam — not the one they experienced on the beach that day.”

Last March, in Tunisia, a policeman and 21 tourists were killed when gunmen attacked the Bardo National Museum in Tunis (News, 27 March 2015). On 24 November, a suicide bomber killed 12 members of a presidential security team in the capital. In July, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) warned British people to abandon holidays there, and not return, to avoid further acts of terrorism. The country has since suffered a sharp decline in tourism.

The FCO has updated its travel advice for Tunisia. The curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. in Greater Tunis has been lifted, but the official advice to avoid “all but essential travel” there is still in place.

Tourists are also advised to avoid particular areas, including the area within 5km of the Libya border, militarised zones, the Chaambi Mountain National Park, and the Tunisia-Algeria border-crossing points at Ghardimaou, Hazoua, and Sakiet Sidi Youssef.

 

For more information and travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/tunisia.

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