22 January 2015
Working together to tackle extremism
On the wet, blustery evening of Sunday 11 January, over 1,000 people gathered in front of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay with 'Je suis Charlie' signs, supporting the principle of freedom of speech and to remember those who died in the tragic events in France on 7 and 8 January. The event was organised by a French student with the support of the French consul in Wales and brought people from many sections of Welsh society together, including many from Wales' faith communities.
The Paris attacks were the latest in a long list of atrocities that have been committed by Islamic terrorists in recent months in places far afield such as Nigeria and the Middle East, but with increasing fears of attacks occurring closer to home.
The problems of extremism and radicalisation are ones that are being taken seriously in Wales, not least of all by many within the Muslim community and by the Prevent counter-terrorism groups. It would seem also that there is a growing role for Christians to play as well, with much involvement stemming from the biblical injunction to be peacemakers and to work for religious freedom for all. An initiative last summer that brought Muslim leaders together to produce a pamphlet for their young people, encouraging a peaceful expression of Islam, had Christian involvement at a strategic level. Evangelical Alliance Wales has also become a member of the Cardiff Prevent Stakeholder Group.
While much evangelical engagement in this area is still at an embryonic stage in what is a fast-moving issue, it is hoped that the Christian-Muslim relationship dynamics will develop in a way so as to maximise the Christian contribution. That engagement will involve bridge-building, friendship and support as well as bringing faith perspectives into discussions. Some Christians, aware of persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries and issues surrounding conversion from Islam, may want to be able to talk about these issues as well at the earliest given opportunity. Trust needs to be built however if such discussions are going to be fruitful but the ideal scenario is where relationships develop between Christians and Muslims in Wales so that we are indeed able to discuss all of the issues.
The landscape is quickly moving with discussions on freedom of speech in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings being one such example. On one hand, Christians can empathise with the Muslim community over the offence caused to them by the cartoons. In recent decades we have had films such as The Life of Brian and The Last Temptation of Christ made to ridicule Christianity as well as Jerry Springer: The Opera, which was greatly offensive to many Christians. On the other hand, our support for freedom of speech includes an acceptance that such films and plays can be produced.