TORONTO REFLECTION: Choosing hope

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CPTnet
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 ourselves.

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 listen?

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 this process.

For more information on Waging Peace, visit these websites: 

https://www.mennonitechurch.ca/resourcecentre/ResourceView/18/13903 

https://www.thirdway.com/peace/?Topic=360_Waging+Peace

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