In the city of York, in North Yorkshire, England, a demonstration was planned by members of the far-right English Defence League (EDL) against a small local mosque in response to the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in London. But the EDL protestors were met with a rather different response than what they expected. The mosque offered their assailants teas, biscuits, a tour of their mosque and even a football match.
This is a rather different projection of Islamic behaviour than is often portrayed in the media. But I think it’s a brilliant demonstration of the fact that people of all faiths, whether its Christian, Muslim, Jewish, have good within them.
Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York described the mosque’s response as “fantastic”. He said:
“Tea, biscuits, and football are a great and typically Yorkshire combination when it comes to disarming hostile and extremist views.”
The mosque’s response brings into sight many things that I believe have gone unnoticed and unquestioned for too long.
The problem with labels
What labels do is ignore the fact that everyone has good in them. When we see people that have been characterised by the media negatively, it brings about anger and frustration for everyone. Not just for Muslims who have been given this false stigma, but for everyone else who now believe they have to “watch out” for themselves and are burdened with a growing sense of insecurity.
Labelling people is the first step towards ignorance. In fact, labelling IS ignorance in its purist form. There’s nothing more wrong than mindlessly assuming that someone will act in a certain way just because its the way their group has been depicted by someone else. Instead of believing what is written in the papers, get to know people who are different from you for real. Ask them about their beliefs. Too many of our newspapers and other news outlets are stuck in biased ways of presenting people.
Extremist views are the easiest to prove wrong
Another thing about this ‘protest-turned-picnic’ is that it proves just how easily that the most aggressive of activists can be wrong-footed with just a simple pouring of a cup of tea. Despite the protest being response to the terrible murder of Lee Rigby the assumption that all Muslims support terrorism soon fell flat after the Muslims “uncharacteristically” offered them a sign of peace and love. It was a brave thing for the mosque to do. They could have been met with a more hostile comeback, but they went with their idea and stood by their beliefs.
We equally have to be very careful about assumptions which go the other way – which label people as ‘racist’ without listening to what they are saying. When we do this we just sinking down to their level.
The best thing to do, for all of us, is to talk things out. Disagreements and conflicts can be very hard to deal with but we have to fight against the urge to bad-mouth people we disagree with and reroute that energy towards promoting understanding and tolerance.
Hate cannot drive out hate
I suppose, at the end of the day, that’s all we can do. It’s time that we all, everyone, simply calm down and talk things through, discuss and debate, weigh things up and hope that we can reach ways of living alongside each other that doesn’t result in hatred and death. We have to fight in a peaceful way against those who want to fight others aggressively. And that is what we must resist in ourselves. As for renewal, I hope and pray that everyone who has read this will seek to understand other cultures better. We can all learn from Martin Luther King’s Jr when he said:
‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’
Roidh Andrasan lives in Doha, Qatar and is currently doing his ‘A’ Levels at a Boarding School in Aberdeen. Visit his blog here.