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Opinion: As communities we must unite against anyone sowing the seed of hate and division in our communities

Posted on - 29th January, 2016 - 8:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Politics
Ali Amla, right, at the Holocaust Memorial Day service

Ali Amla, right, at the Holocaust Memorial Day service

This is the text from a speech by Ali Amla, given at the Holocaust Memorial Day memorial service in Preston Minster on Wednesday 27 January.

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Bismillah hir Rahma nir Rahim

I begin in the name of God, the all merciful & compassionate

I greet you with the Islamic greeting of

Asalaamu alaykum warah matul Lahi Wa barakatuhu

I meet you in peace, may God grant mercy and blessing

Good morning Ladies & Gentlemen

In preparing for today I have been reflecting on the prayer of Moses found in the Quran.

O my Lord! Open for me my chest (grant me self-confidence, contentment, and boldness).

“And ease my task for me;

“And make loose the knot from my tongue,

“That they understand my speech,”

Al-Qur’an, 20.025-28 (Ta Ha [Ta Ha])

The Prophet Muhammad, advised Muslims Afshus Salaam Spread peace

This Hadith, saying of the Prophet states ‘O people! Spread peace, feed the poor, keep ties of relations and pray at night whilst others sleep, you shall enter Paradise in peace.’

This saying is a reminder for us, particularly during this time of austerity, we the people of faith and none, must invest in spreading peace. In building bridges of understanding and challenging myths about one another.

A key component of our faith is servitude particularly of the poor. The gospel teaches us that we must feed the poor, give water to the thirsty, visit the sick and clothe the naked. This is not so different to the teaching of the prophet Muhammad.

I feel honoured to have been invited again to speak by Father Timothy, five years ago I spoke on how austerity is often used as a convenient excuse to foster division and polarise communities. I reflected then that as diverse communities we need to unite as Prestonians, to understand our common ground and respect our differences.

The far right in Lancashire has grown since then and splintered into many different directions. We must understand the broad spectrum of views if we are to effectively counter. Far right populist movements are becoming stronger across Europe, you can map how in some countries they have remained racist & anti-Semitic, whilst in some countries they have shed their historical racist roots and focused on becoming anti-Muslim. In Feb we will be facing another EDL demonstration in Preston and we see the re-launch of Pegida in Britain, an anti-Muslim movement imported from Germany.

Over the last 18 months I have been working with the Tim Parry Jonathan Ball Foundation for Peace on a Women Building Peace Project. This has been a wonderful experience, as a Muslim man to support and learn from my sisters of all faiths and none. I’m fondly known as “Chota Bhai”, young brother by all. We learned together, laughed together and we shared many tears together. These women have inspired me to do more. As we walked together on this journey the women opened up to me, shared their experiences and what they have endured.

I would like to reflect on the hidden victims of Islamophobia, mostly women. One of our participants spoke about being attacked in Lancashire for no other reason than being a Muslim female wearing the Niqab, the veil. A group of young people followed this lady and sprayed aerosol into her eyes. Another told me about how her hijab and jalabiyah were slashed with a box cutter.

I’ve been very fortunate as the worst I’ve only had to face are taunts of Bin Laden, casual racism and the occasional threat on social media. These are our hidden victims of hate, we must do more to empower communities and build trust with the police to report these crimes. We must empower communities with the skills, knowledge and confidence that we “Don’t Stand By”.

I am saddened that the conflict between Palestine and Israel, this has had a significant impact upon communities in the UK. I briefly tasted war and conflict in 2006 when I volunteered to teach drama in Nablus. I don’t have enough time now to reflect upon my experiences and how it has changed my life. The experience made me realise that in Britain we do not value the peace that we live in and we need to invest in fostering good relations within our communities.

It saddens and angers me that this conflict is a cause for Anti-semitism to rise within a minority of those who claim to share the religion I follow & profess to be Muslim. We must openly acknowledge this and continue to challenge.

I will not and do not stand by the increase in anti-semitism.

Don’t stand by is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016.

Related: Is this the best response to the EDL’s claim about Deepdale being a ‘no go’ area?

The Holocaust and subsequent genocides took place because the local populations allowed insidious persecution to take root. Whilst some actively supported or facilitated state policies of persecution, the vast majority stood by silently – at best, afraid to speak out; at worst, indifferent. Bystanders enabled the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and subsequent genocides.

There are many lessons that we can learn from history which are relevant to the challenges that we face today.

I want to use this opportunity to briefly reflect on history, Jews, Christians & Muslims lived together and coexisted during the Convivencia. The medieval Iberian Peninsula is a wonderful example of our faiths living side by side.

The Spanish Inquisition drove out Jews and Muslims who had been
living in Spain and Portugal for hundreds of years. The ultimatum was given, convert or die. Many fled to Morocco and it was the Caliph who offered the Jews protection and refuge. This is not an isolated incident and I believe that Muslim rulers have protected Jewish and Christian minorities. It is heart breaking to see what is happening in the Middle East. I refuse to stand by and watch in silence.

Closer to home and more recently we saw the massacre and genocide in Srebrenica, less than 25 years ago on European soil. This history is etched into the memories of Muslim communities living in Europe. I was a young man and remember the anger and frustration of communities on the inaction of the international communities.

During the Balkans conflict of 1992-1995, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica was declared a UN Safe Area in 1993, under the watch of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).

In July 1995, Serbian paramilitary units overran and captured the town, despite its designation as an area “free from any armed attack or any other hostile act”.

In the days following Srebrenica’s fall, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were systematically massacred and buried in mass graves. Thousands of women, children and elderly people were forcibly deported and a large number of women were raped. It was the greatest atrocity on European soil since the Second World War.

Academics and commentators have stated that far right rhetoric was one of the factors at play prior to this genocide.

As communities we must unite against anyone sowing the seed of hate and division in our communities.

As an interfaith activist I have been saying for many years that Jews & Muslims need to stand united against Anti-semitism & Islamophobia. We cannot allow the ongoing Palestine-Israel conflict to polarise our communities and sow seeds of hatred. We need to create safe spaces for communities to speak about conflict & peace. If we can learn to co-exist, live together and respect each other then we may have the opportunity to export peace around the world.

Preston is facing another far right demonstration, please “Don’t stand by” let us unite now to be radical peace makers!

Thank you very much
God Bless.

Ali Amla is founder of Global Village and a freelance project manager, trainer, researcher and consultant. He lives in Preston.

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