Catriona Robertson

journeys at home and abroad

Peshawar and Nairobi | Iraq, Syria and Egypt

I was invited to speak at the Iman Khoei Islamic Centre in West London on Thursday.

alkhoei eventThis was my contribution.

“The news from Peshawar and Nairobi, and the continuing violence in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, is dreadful.  TV and radio reports do not, and cannot, reveal the true extent of the grief, the tearing apart of families and communities.  This continues into the weeks and months ahead, and down the generations.

We know that it is ordinary people, local communities, civilians – women, men & children – who are usually the victims of this kind of attack.

We also know that there is a context to these terrible acts of violence.  They are not random: there are reasons, there are patterns.  What brings young people – and they are almost always young people – to risk and to take their own lives in order to commit these atrocities?

I have a 20 year old son myself, Gabriel – Jibril to some of his friends – full of idealism and energy, a committed Christian.  And I wonder, what would it take?  It would take a lot for Gabriel to get involved in something like this.  So what is this ‘lot’, the powerful influences which are brought to bear on these young people?  What are the reasons, the patterns?  What is the context – historical, geopolitical, religious?  And what is our place, our responsibility – yours and mine – here, in London, in all this?

Last weekend, like many of you, I was closely involved in the United Nations International Day of Peace.  The London Peace Network, which I convene and of which the Al-Khoei Foundation is a founding member, came together last year to support the Olympic Truce.  Lord Bates is our patron and it also includes MINAB, the Christian Muslim Forum, the Muslim Council of Britain & others.  We were awarded the Truce Inspire mark by London 2012 and last year an estimated million people took part in simple acts of peace-building.  This year, we extended it to synagogues and churches.  So,

  • last Friday I was at an Islamic school in Newham along with a Greek Orthodox priest
  • on Saturday morning I attended a Shabbat service at North London Reform Synagogue with a Shi’a cleric and a Sikh friend
  • on Sunday I was flying across the Thames with people from many different religious and humanist traditions

These things never reach the news, but ordinary people are doing extraordinary things in this great international city of ours: building relationships across difficult divides, having conversations which would be almost impossible in other parts of the world.  At this very moment, a peace ceremony is being held on the street outside Tooting Broadway tube station with Sadiq Khan MP and local religious leaders.  There is an energy for peace.  We need to harness it.

I have been lucky enough to travel to Pakistan on a number of occasions, most recently with Rana Khan and others as part of the London Peace Network’s Minority-Majority project supported by the Foreign Office. 

I know that ordinary people in Pakistan – Muslims and Christians, Hindus and Sikhs – don’t want war and violence.  They are interested in the same things as we are: they want to support their families, raise their children, play their part in society.  They don’t want bombs; they want schools, roads, hospitals, electricity.  I’ve spent time in Syria and in Egypt and I expect the same is true of people in Iraq.  As is often said, the vast majority of Muslims and Christians (and others) worldwide don’t want to fight; we want to share our world in a just and equitable way.

We have great opportunities as religious communities in London, in spite of – and because of – our colonial history.  All of us here belong to extensive and significant global religious networks.  We must grasp these opportunities

  • to be a force for good – to be part of the solution
  • to facilitate difficult conversations
  • to break down the barriers to peace and justice

The purposeful events here at the Imam Khoei Islamic Centre are part of this important work.  But we need lots more:

  • we need to build on our combined civil society potential
  • we need to work in partnership with each other and with governmental bodies & academics
  • we need to be smart and strategic about it

As we grieve with the people of All Saints Peshawar and the other bereaved and devastated communities across the continents, members of the London Peace Network stand in solidarity with all those, of whatever religion or none, who are examining the context and who are finding peaceful, sustained and non-violent ways to pursue justice and to settle conflicts.”

People gathered to show solidarity with the Christian community in Peshawar, Pakistan, the victims of the attack on the Westgate Centre in Nairobi and those suffering from the continuing violent conflicts in the Middle East.

Speakers included Dr Shuja Shafi of the Muslim Council of Britain (one of our peace network team), Ayatolah Fazel Milani, Fr Nadeem Nassar, Sayed Ali Raza Rizvi (whom I’ve known since Clapham & Stockwell Faith Forum days), Revd Toby Howarth of Lambeth Palace, Dr Harriet Crabtree of the Inter Faith Network, Revd Rana Khan, Maulana Shahed Raza of the British Muslim Forum and Sayed Yousif Al-Khoei, who organised the event and who is also part of our peace network.

Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, a young Shi’a scholar and cleric who had joined me in a visit to a synagogue for a Shabbat service on the International Day of Peace, chaired the event.

UPDATE: Here is the video of the event


This entry was posted on 2 October 2013 by in Egypt, Pakistan, Syria and tagged , , .
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