Gaza war: Preston should channel peace in its own communities, faith leaders say
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That was the message from faith leaders as all sections of the city gathered for a service at which to pause and ponder upon the horror that has been unfolding half a world away - and which has so far claimed the lives of around 1,400 Israelis and more than 6,000 Palestinians.
Representatives of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hundu and Bahá'í faiths were amongst around 100 people who attended the event - facilitated by Preston City Council - in the foyer of the Guild Hall on Tuesday evening.
Speaking to the Lancashire Post, some of those who contributed what was described as “service of peace and reflection”, said that in the face of what might feel like a painful powerlessness, Prestonians at least had the power to affect the situation in their own city.
Jewish community representative Jeremey Dable said that in answer to the inevitable question, “What can we do ourselves?”, the answer, in relation to the situation in the Middle East itself, was “very little”.
“But what we can do is to make sure it doesn't spill over onto the streets of Preston - we can be careful [that] we don't make things worse.
“Those of us who have got a stake in this [have] physical, passionate feelings.
"But every time we want to turn those thoughts into words or actions, we should take a breath, pause and ask ourselves, ‘Does this help? How will this help? Is this a good thing that I'm now about to do?’ And if we’re not sure, [we should] hold back and not do it.
“What we don't want is conflict here,” Mr. Dable added.
Adil Tagari, Mulana from Al Salam mosque, said that the service was a “show of solidarity” - and one that should be extended into day-to-day community relations. That was something that he expected would actually be “very simple” to achieve because of the positive base from which Preston can build.
“I've lived in Preston my entire life and where I live, around Broadway, is the most pluralistic and diverse faith community I think I've ever been to. We all get along extremely well and cordially, with a lot of friendliness as well. A lot of [the public] are already sharing sentiments of solidarity with one another.
“Peace [is] the oppositional force to injustice. As human beings, we are irreversibly engineered and inclined towards justice. So it's just a matter of harnessing your inner humanity.
“We have, unfortunately, lost our humanity [when we] dehumanise ourselves to dehumanise others. So I think it's very easy - just reinstate humanity and we'll be on our way to repairing and mending ourselves,” Mr. Tagari explained.
The service was led by the Right Reverend Philip North, the Anglican Bishop of Blackburn, who told the Post that it was important for people to gather together and “stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the name of peace, praying together for peace in Israel and Gaza in the midst of crisis”.
He added: “But [we must also] also remember that peace begins in our own hearts, in our own communities and in our own relationships with each other.
“Part of the awfulness of what's happening in the Middle East is the local impact [in the UK] - a terrible increase in Islamophobic, and antisemitic attacks in this country.
“So we're trying to model something different in terms of relationships and our shared commitment to peace in our communities and in our world.
“I think the temptation is always to express an opinion or to campaign - and I'm not saying there isn't a place for that.
“But what we're trying to do is to witness to the dignity of human life and to the importance of relationships and the common good,” Bishop North said.