One Vision – Working Together for Peace

One Vision – Working Together for Peace

BUC Communications

On Sunday, 3 December 2023, faith leaders, politicians, and the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire met at the British Union Conference (BUC) office in Watford. The meeting was an initiative of One Vision, a charity supported by the BUC, which works with different communities, faiths, ethnic groups, charities, non–profits and government institutions to create strong community leadership and bring about real change.

The agenda for the day, 'Working Together for Peace', was put together in response to religious tensions which have arisen in the UK following the recent conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Spokespeople from the Jewish and Islamic communities expressed their concerns and real fears about antisemitism and Islamophobia, which have seen a significant rise since the events of 7 October 2023. Personal reports of hate-filled messages on social media, as well as verbal abuse and graffiti, underlined the genuine threats currently being faced by both Jews and Muslims here in the UK.

Representatives from the Jewish community spoke of their history, with some sharing experiences of their parents during the holocaust. They also spoke of the pain caused by recent antisemitic abuse and the concerns of young people, some of whom are fearful of attending their schools or wearing clothing which could identify them as Jewish.

Representatives from the Islamic community gave their own experiences of Islamophobia and of the personal suffering experienced by Palestinians here in the UK. One spoke of a doctor who had lost ten members of his family in one air strike.

One Muslim leader emphasised the fragility of peace and the need for compassion and understanding. On hearing of the 7 October attacks, he immediately contacted a Rabbi friend to express his condolences and offer his support. "We must stand together against hatred," he said.

Those who spoke agreed that lasting peace will never come through military conflict; a different approach is needed.

Civic leaders praised the work of OneVision and the excellent community relations which exist in the county. "Community cohesion is what we aim for while at the same time protecting freedom of speech," said one. "This can be a difficult balance to achieve."

Many expressed their personal concerns about the recent rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia. Still, there was a general recognition that community and interfaith leaders have a crucial role in reducing religious tensions.

A common concern raised by most speakers was the role of social media and some elements of the press in polarising communities and inflaming existing prejudices. The relatively unregulated field of social media, and increasingly the 'chat' function within many games, provides fertile ground for those wishing to spread hatred. This is particularly worrying in our schools and among those with mental health issues.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church was represented at the event by Dr Patrick Johnson from the Trans-European Division and Pastor John Surridge, BUC Executive Secretary. In his closing prayer, Pastor Surridge underlined the fact that all members of God's family have been created in God's image, and His desire is for us to live together as one. In our fractured and dysfunctional world, this can only be possible when we allow our hearts to be permeated by the peace of God.

Although there were no specific action points from the meeting, many lessons were learned, and many friendships strengthened. As one of the Rabbis present said, quoting from Psalm 133, "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!"