Terrorists will not divide us, religious leaders pledge after London attack

05 June 2017

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Keeping watch: Police officers on duty next to floral tributes left on Southwark Street, London, near the scene of Saturday’s terrorist incident

Keeping watch: Police officers on duty next to floral tributes left on Southwark Street, London, near the scene of Saturday’s terrorist incident

IF THE terror attack in central London on Saturday night leads to a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment, the terrorists will have won, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

“Every time a Muslim is abused on a bus or a mosque is attacked, the terrorists have taken another step forward,” Archbishop Welby said on Monday morning.

“If we attack or persecute a particular group of people on the grounds of their faith alone, the terrorists will give three cheers and say: ‘Thank you, you have done our work for us.’”

Archbishop Welby gave his warning during an interview on BBC Radio 4. He also said, however, that it was impossible to deny the connection between Islam and the massacre on Saturday evening, when three men armed with knives had killed seven and injured 48 more on London Bridge and in Borough Market.

Stating that Islamist-inspired terrorism had nothing to do with Islam made as little sense as suggesting that the Srebrenica atrocity during the Balkan Wars had had nothing to do with Christianity, Archbishop Welby said.

“Throughout history, religious tradition and scriptures have been twisted and misused by people. If something is happening within our own faith tradition, we have to take responsibility for being very, very clear in countering it.”

But it was striking how quickly every major Muslim leader and organisation had spoken out in horror at the attack, Archbishop Welby also said. And while it was natural to be concerned about relations between faith groups after a terror attack, everyone could see London’s “extraordinary cohesion”.

“There isn’t a fundamental problem with cohesion. The vast majority of Muslims and everyone else have a single view about what kind of country they want to live in.”

The three attackers, who have been named as Khuram Shazad Butt, Youssef Zaghba, and Rachid Redouane by the police, are thought to have been inspired by Islamic State, which has released a statement claiming that they were its fighters. Mr Butt was known to the police and MI5 and had even featured in a Channel 4 documentary about British jihadists, it has been reported. 

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Early on Sunday, after the attack had been reported, Archbishop Welby released a statement urging Christians to use Pentecost to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit of “peace, healing, and hope” for those wounded and bereaved.

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, whose cathedral looks on to the bars and pubs where many of the victims were stabbed by the terrorists, was caught up in the aftermath and struggled to get through the police cordons to his home.

“It was unreal. It is hard to begin to imagine that this is on your doorstep. You feel as though you’re walking through a nightmare,” he said.

The cathedral and a number of streets around Borough Market and London Bridge have remained closed while the police continue their investigations. Dean Nunn also gave a bed for the night to a neighbour, Amir Eden, a Muslim who chairs the local residents’ association and was unable to get back to his own home.

“It was really emotional for both of us. We have all been working together in the area for social inclusion so [the attack] felt like a blow to everything we stand for.”

The police had told Dean Nunn that the cathedral could not be reopened for another four or five days, which was devastating news, he said.

“When you can’t access the place from which you minister. . . I know we can minister where people are, on the streets, but the cathedral is the home to which we invite people,” he said. “The hospitality of God is expressed in our buildings. We want to have it open for people to say their prayers and find peace, an oasis. It feels like ministering with one hand tied behind your back.”

Now, more than ever, Christians needed to ally with Muslims and work together, Dean Nunn also said. “The Muslim community have been quite strong in the face of all of this; we need to encourage one another. We all have good colleagues and neighbours who are Muslims, we know there are more good people around than bad.”

He had earlier told CNN that the actions of the three terrorists were not “in the name of God; this isn’t what the Muslim faith asks people to do.” “This is a complete aberration; this is evil.”

Dean Nunn has posted a prayer on the cathedral’s website: “Loving God, when terror came to our doorstep, and stalked our streets, you were there with us in the fear and agony,” it begins.

The Church of St George the Martyr sits on Borough High Street, a stone’s throw from the site of the attack. Its Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Jonathan Sedgwick, said on Monday that he had reworked his planned Pentecost service and sermon to respond to the incident.

“We felt it was right to go ahead with the eucharist celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit, and we used it to pray for the police and those hurting,” he said. “It was a more sombre service.” He kept the church open throughout the afternoon so that local residents could come and sit in silence and reflect or light a candle.

Later, Mr Sedgwick joined local rabbis and imams for a short interfaith walk through the neighbourhood. “We thought it was important to show our faces. We went to a few local parks and sat together; we thought it was a really important sign of our friendship and of sticking together.”

“This is an incredibly fast-changing, very welcoming, tolerant, and diverse community. We wanted to visible demonstrate our unity.

“These attacks are designed to undermine trust and destroy community. One is never complacent: it needs commitment and work, but I do believe we can ensure our communities stay strong in spite of these extremists.”

The closest church on the northern side of London Bridge, St Magnus the Martyr, held a procession across the bridge on Sunday, carrying aloft a wooden cross and praying for the victims and their families before their parish’s high mass.

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, gave the Thought for the Day on Radio 4 on Monday, quoting Psalm 13: “‘How long, O Lord, how long. . .’ How are we to respond to yet another act of cowardly violence, and the prospect of more to come?

“Borough Market runs alongside Southwark Cathedral — a place not just of prayer, but that attests to the reality of human life in all its colour.”

His words were echoed by the Revd Michaela Youngson, who chairs Churches Together in South London. “The area around Borough Market and London Bridge on a Saturday night is usually a place of festival — a vibrant place where people from all over the world gather to enjoy each other’s company. It is shocking to wake up to the news of the devastating attack that took place last night.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have died, those who are injured, and those who mourn.”

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The Church of England’s communications office also released a prayer on Twitter, which included a mention of “those who uphold law and justice”.

While election campaigning was suspended in the aftermath of the attack, a row has subsequently broken out over cuts to the numbers of police officers.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has demanded that the Prime Minister resign for having presided over falling police numbers as Home Secretary for six years. Mrs May has insisted that the police and intelligence agencies are still “well-resourced”.

The day after the latest London attack, the One Love Manchester charity concert in aid of the victims of last month’s suicide bombing was held. During the often emotional event, Ariana Grande, the singer whose concert was targeted by the bomber, returned to join other pop stars, and sang with a Manchester school choir.

Another performer, the Canadian singer Justin Bieber, told the crowd: “God is good is the midst of the evil. God is good in the midst of the darkness. He loves you.”

The proceeds from the concert are going towards the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund, set up by the City Council and the British Red Cross.

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