Thoughts on the Week 30 June 2016

PREJUDICE – WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? Religious prejudice and racial hatred must be learned emotions. They would have to be acquired at stages in a person’s emotional development because it just seems anathema to human nature to house such baseless, vile behaviour.

This thought was brought home during an Armed Forces Iftar Reception at the Ministry of Defense on Wednesday evening. Commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the WWI Battle of the Somme, the evening attended by the Rt. Hon Earl Howe, Minister of State for Defence, also paid tribute to the overlooked contribution of 400,000 Muslim soldiers during WWI.

After the speeches and presentations, a small group of soldiers and guests from the mixed audience attended to their evening prayers, and then we all joined as they broke their fast for the day. Among them were Muslim soldiers who had already served in Afghanistan.

From where do we get our views of the ‘other/ the outsider’, especially when they’re negative? The Torah often informs that the law for the resident is the same as the law for the stranger.

In many cases our values are acquired first from our homes, from friends and during our education.

Not to draw any parallels but growing up in a Jewish area and attending Jewish schools until finishing secondary education can leave our children with a set of values that may go against the pluralist norm. To what extent such schools succeed in teaching respect, tolerance and acceptance is a topic being debated in the USA of recent. (See this Times of Israel article by Yigal M Gross on the problems of Yeshiva Day Schools).

Here in the UK in the week since Brexit, racial violence and hate crimes have spiked considerably. It might just be useful to remind ourselves that people of ‘good will’ must do more to make our voices heard over and above the voices of hate. For those who haven’t seen the Guardian article on Faith Leaders speaking out against prejudice, here are some quotes.

Justin Welby, the leader of the Church of England, said people of “evil will” were using the referendum result as an excuse to vent their hatred.

“The privilege of democracy is to vote, to campaign vigorously, to have robust and firm discussion. It is not a privilege of democracy to express hatred, to use division as an excuse for prejudice and for hate-filled attacks,” the archbishop of Canterbury said at an iftar meal to break the Ramadan fast with the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on Monday.

A common stand against intolerance, discrimination and hatred was “absolutely crucial for the future of this country, and for rebuilding this country with a new vision of what it means to be outward-looking, generous, hospitable, powerful in doing good, strong in resisting evil”.

Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, said: “Sadly, we know only too well that when political and economic uncertainty strike, discord and hatred are often not far behind. We must heed this warning that even here in the UK, where we treasure diversity, we are not immune to the scourge of prejudice.”

It is our duty to convey these messages loud and clear within our own communities and to those who may be targets of such discrimination. It’s no longer enough to wait for others to act on our behalf.