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

09 June 2017


Remembered: faith leaders at a vigil called by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on Tuesday outside City Hall to pay tribute to the victims. Left to right: Harun Rashid Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain; the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun; the Archbishop of Canterbury; and the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis

Remembered: faith leaders at a vigil called by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on Tuesday outside City Hall to pay tribute to the victims. Left to ri...

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,” the Archbishop 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 eight 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 “significant” Muslim leader and organisation had condemned the attack, Archbishop Welby 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.”

paDefiant: some in the crowds at Potters Field, a small patch of grass next to City Hall in central London, held up signs during the vigil

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 featured in a Channel 4 documentary about British jihadists.

Early on Sunday, 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 who were wounded and bereaved.

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, whose cathedral looks on to the bars and pubs outside which many of the victims were stabbed by the terrorists, was involved in the immediate aftermath.

“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 this week.

The cathedral and streets around Borough Market and London Bridge remained closed while the police continued 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 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.”

paTribute: Miley Cyrus (left) and Ariana Grande (right) performing during the One Love Manchester benefit concert on Sunday for the victims of the Manchester Arena suicide bombing

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 people could come and sit in silence and reflect or light a candle.

Later, Mr Sedgwick joined 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 visibly 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, praying for the victims and their families before the parish’s high mass.

Their parish clerk, Michael Cooper, said that they also held a minute’s silence before the service, and throughout the week the church acted as a base for response pastors from the Ascension Trust, who came to offer pastoral support to local residents and emergency workers at the scene.

“It is important after these kinds of event to have unity between the faiths,” he said. “It is absolutely a risk that there will be a backlash against Islam, but hopefully people can see that the Church of England is working closely with Muslim representatives.”

CATRIONA ROBERTSONUnited: Dozens of imams were among the faith leaders who gathered at London Bridge on Wednesday to condemn terrorism

The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, spoke at a press conference organised by East London Mosque to re-emphasise the Church’s commitment to interfaith relations.

“An attack on our community is an attack on all of us, including — and let me be explicit about this — including our Muslim brothers and sisters. Our community was not attacked by Islam. Any tendency to scapegoat Islam, or our Muslim neighbours, should be unequivocally rejected.”

A truly Christian response to the tragedy would be to offer compassion to the victims and their families, and to pray, he said.

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.”

paJoyful: concert-goers take selfies next to armed police as they leave the One Love Manchester concert on Sunday

At a vigil outside City Hall on the South Bank on Tuesday, Archbishop Welby joined other religious leaders and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to remember those who had been injured or killed.

“Moving vigil led superbly by [the] Mayor of London, London united in calm dignified memory. Great civic leadership, let’s pray on & persist in hope,” Archbishop Welby tweeted afterwards.

Mr Khan told those who supported the terrorists: “As a proud and patriotic British Muslim, I say this: you do not commit these disgusting acts in my name.

“Your perverse ideology has nothing to do with the true values of Islam. You will never succeed in dividing our city.”

Two separate Muslim umbrella organisations, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the British Muslim Forum, have collected the names of more than 600 imams who have publicly declared that they will not perform funeral prayers for the three attackers or any other terrorists. “[Their] indefensible actions are completely at odds with the lofty teachings of Islam,” the MCB statement says.

While election campaigning was suspended in the aftermath of the attack, a dispute broke out over cuts to the numbers of police officers.

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

The day after the 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 went towards the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund, set up by the City Council and the British Red Cross.

paBrought home: a piper leads the funeral procession of Eilidh MacLeod, a 14-year-old Hebridean girl killed in the Manchester bombing, past Kisimul Castle on the island of Barra





Malcolm Guite

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