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29 May 2012
*TORONTO REFLECTION: Choosing hope*
by Peter Haresnape
“The entire history of man is war,” the speaker told us, “conflict
driven by racial, religious and territorial ambition.”
He sounded regretful, as if he wished it could be otherwise, but knew it was
foolish and negligent to trust any force other than violence for the common
good. As he went on, outlining the dangers of Islamic immigration to Western
countries, he branded those who disagreed with his analysis as “naïve,”
even “traitors.” I saw that most of the crowd agreed.
The speaker was the leader of a right-wing fringe party in Britain that is
critical of Islam and multiculturalism. Those attending his Toronto event
were warned against permitting large-scale migration of Muslims into Canada.
Muslim immigration, he said, was a deliberate ploy by liberal elites to
destroy Western culture. The “indigenous” population was at risk of
becoming a minority in its own land. Muslims were a dangerous “other”
that wanted to do “us” harm, and “we” had to use violence to protect
He drew on population growth predictions and tabloid accounts of violence and
fear as support for his narrative. The implication was clear – there could
be no hope for positive cooperation between communities, and any efforts at
coexistence were doomed to failure. The blame for this lay with Islam, a
religion he deemed inherently hostile to civilisation.
Following the event, I felt a heaviness of heart from the absence of hope in
the crowd. Their willingness to believe the worst of their neighbours seemed
to be foundational to their world view, and an impediment to the possibility
of dialogue. If they ever heard a different message, would they be able to
/Waging Peace/ is one example of telling a different story. This film, which
I watched at another event exploring Muslim presence in North America, shows
diverse communities in North America reaching outside their comfort zones
with joint programmes of learning, peace-building and fun. The film examines
projects as varied as quilting, summer camps and Christian Peacemaker Teams
as places to confront the idea that Christianity and Islam are bitter,
implacable enemies, and crafts an alternative.
The screening featured speakers from both Muslim and Christian communities,
promoting respect instead of hostility as a starting point. Participants came
prepared to listen and learn without any one voice needing to be in control
of the dialogue. At the first event, the message was exclusion, and
anticipation of a bleak future of violence and suspicion towards anything
‘different.’ By contrast, the vision that rose out of /Waging Peace/
and subsequent discussion opened up possibilities of peaceful coexistence and
celebration of difference.
Following the film and discussion, I found my conviction to build peace
through partnerships strengthened. It was not a ‘light’ feeling, like
optimism, but a realisation that this work was hard, necessary, and part of
God’s plan for creation. In response to those who put their faith in
systems of exclusion and division, I will remember CPT’s vision statement:
Building Partnerships to Transform Violence and Oppression, and commit to
MISSION: Christian Peacemaker Teams: Building partnerships to transform
violence and oppression.
VISION: A world of communities that together embrace the diversity of the
human family and live justly and peaceably with all creation.
VALUES: Christian Peacemaker Teams is committed to work and relationships
* Honor and reflect the presence of faith and spirituality
* Strengthen grassroots initiatives
* Transform structures of domination and oppression
* Embody creative non-violence and liberating love
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