Different paths, same aim

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Earlier in the week, my wife and I took a trip to St Mungos Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow. It was chock full of religious imagery, artefacts and ritualistic objects from all kinds of faiths and from all over the world. They ranged from the painting above (“Crucifixion” by Peter Howson – 2010) and similar images depicting familiar views of Christianity to a bronze statue of the Hindu deity Shiva,

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a painting of the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak

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and a depiction of the holiest site in Islam, the Ka’aba in Mecca.

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The museum was a very still, quiet and moving place, full of the reverence which each of these and many more artefacts bring with them. They served as a reminder of the search that the human race has had for a higher power ever since we first climbed out of the trees (*dons tin helmet at the mention of evolution*).

Many of these religions and faiths grew totally independently of each other throughout the world. Some no longer exist, such as the ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, while others, like Islam and Christianity, continue to grow and thrive. All, however, centre around an innate need within all of us to find meaning in our existence; some kind of order, purpose and aim in life. The fact that so many civilisations have focused on this idea of a god or gods speaks volumes to me. Where did the idea come from? Why the concept of a god or a group of deities? I could understand this being a purely human construct if it all came from one origin, but it appears that people have worshipped a god of some sort in every part of the world without any outside influence. It is a natural, divine urge to connect with the higher power who created the heavens and the earth.

I’m a Christian, so central to my belief is this one verse from John’s Gospel,

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John‬ ‭14‬:‭6‬ NIVUK)

I believe that Jesus is the way to God. However, the fact is that billions around the world, both today and through the ages, have sought and are seeking God. I feel that this need to connect with God is the most powerful thing a person can experience and that, however we chose to do so, we must learn about and from other faiths and learn to respect and understand their beliefs. Our aim is the same, after all, to know and grow close to our creator. The one who made and knows each of us and left a desire to know him buried in our very being.

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Britain Equal. Racists last.

First off, I have a qualifying statement. I do not live in East London. In fact, I don’t live anywhere with a high Muslim population at all. I live in an overwhelmingly white area in central Scotland which does have a fair amount of eastern European immigrants (who are a normal part of the community), but very few Muslims. As such, I have never experienced Muslim extremism in my area or in my life. I don’t know what it’s like to see “Muslim patrols” on my streets or feel unsafe on certain streets in my area. I hear from others that there are parts of the country where this is the case, but I don’t have any first hand evidence of whether this happens or, if so, how bad it actually is. My view of Muslim communities is that they appear, in the main, to just be a bunch of people wanting to get on with their lives in peace. Just like the rest of us. Some folk, however, do seem interested in some sort of Islamic cultural and religious revolution in the UK, but they are a very small minority

Regardless of all of this, when I see far-right groups demonising Islam and Muslims because of their religion and the actions of the few it angers me. None more so than this video by Britain First, a political body which has fielded candidates in recent elections and has an increasing presence on social media, particularly Facebook.  In this video the group have announced that they are combating “Muslim Patrols” in what they call “Muslim East London”, by sending out self-styled “Christian Patrols” designed to “take our streets back”.

They start off by showing us evidence of the Muslim Patrols, roaming the street telling people not to drink alcohol as this is a “Muslim area”.

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Now, if this is happening then it clearly needs to stop. Note something, though. The whole way through this section that logo fills the whole left hand side of the screen. This means that you never actually see the faces of the patrol members, just those they approach, like the guy in this shot. We hear the words of the patrol members, but, as far as evidence goes, never seeing them seems a tad suspect. How genuine is this clip? Are we seeing what is actually being presented to us? It’s difficult to tell.

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So, “enough is enough”. What looks like no more than 2 or 3 guys going round telling people not to drink (if that’s what is actually happening) is such a threat that Britain First needs to do something. They need to launch “Christian Patrols”.

Now, to my mind, we already have Christian Patrols. People going out in the name of Jesus helping those on the streets in vulnerable positions to stay as safe as they can. They’re called Street Pastors and they go out in peace, love and compassion on the streets of many of our towns and cities every week.

Britain First has a very different view of what a Christian Patrol should be.

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Here we see the chairman of Britain First, Paul Golding, explaining what they are doing. They will patrol East London with about 10-15 activists (considerably more than the Muslim Patrols seem to have) handing out leaflets, going into pubs and warning people of the scourge of the Muslim Patrol. They will, of course, be peaceful and loving as a group of Christians should be as they patrol London in…

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…an armoured Land Rover! In fact, two armoured Land Rovers. Because nothing says “we come in peace” like vehicles altered to give the appearance of a military convoy in a war zone. Anybody would think they were trying to intimidate people, but that can’t be right. Can it?

He also discusses how, if they come across a Muslim Patrol (something which, pointedly, doesn’t happen in this video) they will confront them and tell them to “sod off”. In a reasoned, polite manner, I assume.

Note the crusader style cross on the leaflets, too. Let there be no doubt that this is nothing to do with stopping fear and intimidation, this is all about trying to assert domination over Muslims by using fear and intimidation.

We then see the Christian Patrol handing out leaflets, harassing people on the streets and telling a bunch of Muslim looking young men that “this is our country and if you want to live here you need to follow our laws”. No context is given at all about these young Muslims who may, as far as we know, be peaceful, law-abiding men. They may not even be immigrants themselves. However, the message is clear. If you’re not white, you’re a target for Britain First’s self-righteous, racist ire.

The next move is for activists to try to bait these Muslim Patrols out by standing outside the East London Mosque drinking and smoking. The hope is that some sort of confrontation will happen in order to “do something”. What, I don’t know.

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Oh! Hold on! That’s a little more than drinking and smoking, isn’t it? That’s outright provocation by means of aggressive language. If a group of young Muslims approached a man about drinking and smoking near a mosque then I could understand the discontent. This, however, is clearly designed to provoke pretty much any passing Muslim into action. If this was turned on its head and a group of young Muslims stood outside my church with a banner saying “We are the Muslim resistsnce” then I think I’d be asking them what they think they’re doing too.

Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to happen. Maybe the attendees at this Mosque just can’t be bothered with this group of idiots.  If so, fair play to them.

They finish with this,

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If this doesn’t anger you, then it should do. Lee Rigby’s family have consistently distanced themselves from Britain First’s use of the murdered soldier in their propaganda. This culminated in their anger over Britain First’s use of Lee Rigby’s name on ballot papers.

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His mother is absolutely clear that they have no support for Britain First’s views and that Lee would not have done either.

This group are nothing but far-right, racist, intimidating thugs. They have, through some rather clever manipulation, built up a decent following for their bile on Facebook. Many who follow and share their material are reasonable people who are being emotionally manipulated by people who claim the moniker of Christian. Please do not fall for it.

“Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you,  for God will judge you in the same way as you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others.  Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the log in your own eye?  How dare you say to your brother, ‘Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye?  You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 GNBDC)

Yes, there are extremists out there. Yes, we need to fight back against extremism. But that’s the point. It’s not Islam which is the enemy, but those things which distract us from love and turn us into people who hate. You can’t fight extremism with more extremism. You can’t look at Muslim extremists and hate Muslims any more than you can look at Christian extremists and hate Christians. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Atheists and those of all other beliefs (or lack of beliefs) need to work together to combat this through education and understanding of each other. We can’t do it through propagating fear and hatred.

Please, if you follow Britain First on Facebook or Twitter, stop. They are not “patriots”, they are not “Christians”, they are right-wing extremists. They are fascists. They are racist.

They need calling out for this and being ignored for it.

No to extremism

(Please excuse some of the language used in this post. Anything offensive is a direct quote from others.)

So, back to Halal meat.

It turns out that, on top of Subway’s recent announcement,  Pizza Express put Halal meat into all of their restaurants without telling anyone!!! (Despite the fact that they actually did tell everyone!)

The media reporting of this has, of course, been totally fair and balanced. I wouldn’t normally link to a story in the Sun, but that is worth reading due to its brilliantly brief deconstructing of their bile.

As part of the ongoing debate,  Premier Christianity on Facebook posed the question “is it ok for us [as Christians] to eat Halal meat?”. A fair question, really. As food which has been ritually slaughtered according to the laws of another religion, is this something we should eat? (The answer, by the way, is why not?)

I have no problem with this sort of debate from a religious perspective. It’s a pretty healthy and understandable debate to have.

Or, at least, it should be…

” I do not want halal meat  there taking away all out rights and trying to control is.  B ger  off and leave us alone this is our country bet they would not let it happen on there’s”

” England is still a christain country … just! unless we soon get some  politicians with the will to  to keep it christain then it will be lost forever, you  try going  to an Islamic country and telling them Halal meat offends you and will they change it … no chance,”

” yes it does matter if they dont like way we live fuck off were they came from.”

” would i eat a muslim,,,,,,only if i had red meat with,but i would have to slit the muslims throat first no problem”

Seriously! And this is just a snapshot!

Of course there were reasonable posts on both sides of the argument, but these were not a small minority of comments. On a Christian Facebook page.

This is what happens when we allow extremists to grab the mainstream political and media agenda. This is what happens when we allow extremist views to creep into Christian broadcasting around the world (not a pop at Premier, whose work I love and respect). This is what happens when we lose sight of Christ and focus on our own prejudices and the World’s selfish wants.

It goes without saying that I disagree with Islam as a religion. I believe that Jesus is the way to God and all other paths are false. I do not, however, believe it or its adherents are evil, just wrong. I love them as God’s creations and I respect their rights to hold the beliefs they hold. If businesses are willing to help them adhere to their beliefs,  without harming others, then fair enough.

But for people to profess faith in Christ on one hand, but then to spout hate and bigotry,  is wrong. It is unChristlike and goes against his teachings,

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’     “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’     “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” (Matthew 25:41-45 NIV)

Treat people with love and respect, regardless of background. As Christians it is our responsibility to rid the Church and society of hatred and replace it with love. If we listen to the extremists and say or do nothing then we are as guilty. We must stand up to it and beat it in all its forms; Christian or Muslim, left or right,  black or white. That is where evil lives.

No more.

Give Subway a break

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There is a bit of a media storm going on at the moment regarding food.  This isn’t about food hygiene or finding horse meat in a lasagne. No, this storm is about the decision of Subway to convert 185 stores to ones which only serve Halal food, which conform to Islamic laws about the purity of food.

Subway have done this in areas with high Muslim populations after what it calls “requests from local communities”, with a spokesman saying,

“The diverse multicultural population across the UK and Ireland means we have to balance the values of many religious communities with the overall aim of improving the health and welfare standards of animals,”

This seems, to me, to be fair enough. There are areas of the UK where there are very high concentrations of Muslims, higher than non-Muslims in some, so to ensure they are catered for seems fair, as well as being good business sense on a local level. After all, if a high proportion of your local population are forbidden from eating what you serve then you are automatically reducing your own customer base, so doing something about that would appear to be sensible.

Of course, some of the concerns are centered around animal welfare, as the Subway spokesman alludes to in that statement. Subway have said that, before any animals are slaughtered, they will be electronically stunned to ensure minimal suffering (ignoring the fact that Islamic law states that the animal should be killed quickly and not suffer). This, then, appears to be a very minor concern.

However, the picture at the top of this post draws attention to the main worry of most people; namely, the idea that Sharia Law is gradually creeping in.

If that is you, let me ask you a question; if Subway had announced Kosher stores to cater for Jewish customers, which also served no pork or non-Kosher products, how would you react?

The answer I’ve seen to that is “ah, but they haven’t,  have they?” Well, yes, they have. In the USA, Subway have had Kosher stores for many years. They have not been successful and their numbers are dwindling, but it was done. And where was the media storm? Nowhere. Why? Because one of the main “bad guys” in modern society’s narrative is Islam. Put any other religious group up there and there isn’t a problem, but the fear created due to the actions of a few extremists and a sensationalist media means that there is an immediate negative reaction to anything like this.

There really is no need. Islam is no more “taking over” the UK than afro-carribbeans were in the 50s and 60s or Jews or Irish were in the 1800s.  Like all ethnic groups they are adding to a rich diversity of an already diverse culture. When you visit areas of our country and walk down a street to hear 8 or 9 different languages and see people of several different races and cultures it is amazing. It’s like the world has come to us. To have part of these groups’ native culture take hold is a natural process. There is no one British culture,  just a collection of diverse ones which converge and diverge all over the place and we are richer for that.

If you go into a Subway wanting a ham sub and they no longer serve pork, get one elsewhere. There are plenty who do. However, don’t let this stop you eating there at all. If, as David Cameron argues, we are a Christian country then you are going against Christian teachings to do so. God declared all food clean, and made no exception for Halal (not that it existed then, of course).

This isn’t the thin end of the wedge. This isn’t a Muslim takeover. This isn’t another step down the road to Sharia Law. This is a company addressing the needs of communities and maximising their customer base.

And this is coming from a real bacon lover!