H is for Hate

On the whole the town I live in is relatively harmonious. It has a a very diverse community with people from many racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds, who mostly get along without more than the usual tensions between neighbours.


However, I have been hearing recently of attempts to distribute leaflets outside mosques in the wake to the Brussels attacks. Responsible people at the mosques who deemed the leaflets inappropriate asked the leaflet distributors to leave and reported the incident to the police. So the incidents did not escalate, but it causes concern that they happened at all.

I have also heard of inappropriate leaflets being seen in local shops in the wake of the killing of the Glasgow shopkeeper. Again the incidents were handled calmly and promptly and the leaflets were removed by the shopkeepers without the need to call the police. But it makes the Ahmadiyya Muslims feel vulnerable. I have also heard reports of the shock they feel that such an attack could have happened in the United Kingdom, where so many of them have sought a safe haven.

As a group of faith leaders hearing these concerns we resolved to make a public statement in the local paper denouncing such attacks and supporting the Ahmadiyya. We are also going to explore the possibility of regular multi-faith prayer meetings as a way of supporting one another and encouraging wider participation.


We all need to stand up and speak out against any incitements to hatred, to work with the police (our local hate crime officer seems to be well respected), to act ourselves if we see or hear something inappropriate and to take longer term actions to increase understanding between all the different groups that make up our wonderful diverse community.

G is for Growing Points

As I said in my last post (F is for Fear), I heard Advices & queries 33 read in meeting for worship recently, and another part that particularly struck me was:

Try to discern new growing points in social and economic life. …

It seems to me that there are many growing points in these areas – the ones I want to discern are those that, if nurtured, will move us all closer to a realisation of what might be termed ‘the Kingdom of God’ here and now.


And then the next question is ‘how can I help to nurture this growing point, this seedling?’

I’m a ‘little bit here and a little bit there’ kind of person, rather than a totally dedicated to one project type. So my allotment is sown with a little bit each of a lot of different crops. This approach tends to avoid gluts, but sometimes doesn’t produce enough of one crop or another. It usually does produce something. One crop fails but another is an unexpected success.

Back to social and economic life. Where are the growing points I might help to nurture?


One recent development was a household decision early last year that the time had come to make a commitment to a political party, not just talk a lot (however loudly) at home. So we all signed up with the Green Party, having realised that that was the party with policies closest to what we wanted to see happen. I think it would be fair to say that I saw this as a ‘growing point’ (along with many others in the run-up to the 2015 general election). Joining and paying a regular subscription was one small way I could nurture this growth.

Then came the call for potential candidates, both for the general and local elections. Long discussions ensued in our household. If need be, could or would any of us be prepared to stand? We wouldn’t expect to be elected, but there needs to be a name on the ballot paper for people to be able to register at least a protest vote. Was it another way we could help? In the end one of us did stand for the local council in our ward, picking up over 100 votes, and we all learnt a lot about the practicalities of how elections work. This year is an all-out election in our borough, so we are all standing, in order to help fill all the spaces on the ballot papers. One small action has led to another. And reminds me of Advices and queries 34:

Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national, and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand.


Another growing point that I’ve noticed and wanted to encourage is the interest in Basic Income. At present I’m only observing and occasionally commenting in social media – a very low level of nurturing, but something.

Yet another growing point that I’m watching is the Transition Town movement, especially as it has now come to our town. I don’t see a role for me at present, and I really must not take on too much …


I see all these as growing points that relate to commitments Quakers have made in recent years towards being a ‘low-carbon, sustainable community’ and working for greater economic equality and justice. I’m sure there are many more.

The growth in Islamophobia, on the other hand, is something I want to help weed out not to nurture. Again though it is by small steps, not necessarily very direct steps. My involvement with our local Interfaith Association is one way to be taking action. It’s more like planting trees than growing annuals. More on this may follow when I get to ‘I is for …’

F is for Fear

I heard Advices & queries 33 read in meeting for worship recently:

Are you alert to practices here and throughout the world which discriminate against people on the basis of who or what they are or because of their beliefs? Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society’s conventions or its laws. Try to discern new growing points in social and economic life. Seek to understand the causes of injustice, social unrest and fear. Are you working to bring about a just and compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacities and fosters the desire to serve?

There is so much to do here that I went back to the introduction to Advices and queries, part of which reads:

Advices and queries are not a call to increased activity by each individual Friend but a reminder of the insights of the Society. Within the community there is a diversity of gifts. We are all therefore asked to consider how far the advices and queries affect us personally and where our own service lies.

Something that spoke to me personally was ‘Seek to understand the causes of … fear.’

In particular I have been thinking recently about Islamophobia, terrorism and fear. I attended a course ‘Understanding Islam, Challenging Islamophobia’.

I don’t watch television news, it is too graphic for me, and I increasingly don’t listen to the radio. I used to listen while I washed up, cooked and cleaned, but I have been working on just doing what I’m doing. Being aware that I am preparing vegetables, washing up, sweeping – whatever it may be. The downside of this generally helpful spiritual practice is that I am somewhat isolated from what many people are hearing and seeing in the media reports.

The course made me look at recent newspaper headlines, gave me opportunities to meet some people directly affected by islamophobic attitudes and helped me to think about government policies.

Terrorists seek to influence the world by creating a climate of fear – so that is one cause of fear.

Many of our newspapers report events (terrorist attacks and other totally unconnected events) in a way that increases fear – another cause. Other media especially radio and television behave similarly. Social media are clearly a factor – my feeling is that they can work both ways especially as different people use them in very different ways.

Many government policies and announcements also increase fear, while apparently seeking to reduce it. I was amazed to hear last autumn a government pronouncement that Russian bombing in Syria would increase fear and lead to increased radicalisation and violence, only to be told a few days later that American bombing in Syria (supported by Britain) would reassure the Syrians and reduce those wanting to join ISIS or similar organisations.

The PREVENT strategy, as currently implemented in at least some parts of the UK, is increasing fear levels especially among minority groups.

So is there anything I can do to help reduce these levels of fear? In the specific context of islamophobia another factor is fear of the unknown. People who have no contact with Muslims are more likely to be affected by media images. I live and work in a multi-ethnic, culturally and religiously rich part of a town with a population that mostly gets along well together. It seems really important to help more people to a better understanding of Islam, and to just meeting Muslims socially and in normal daily interactions at work and in the shops to build understanding that we are all just people with largely the same concerns. My Muslim colleagues report that they are subject to nasty looks and some unpleasant verbal insults, but don’t, in this town, fear physical assault. They are, however, worried about others in their families who need to travel into, for instance, central London, for work. Most parents from all backgrounds would have a similar concern, although it doesn’t lead any of us to avoid such travel, despite some recent terrorist attacks on public transport venues.

So I’ll talk to people, circulate reports of the course, and, particularly important I feel, continue the work I’m doing with others in the Watford Interfaith Association. No drama, but some positive action that is within my present capabilities.