Today has been Armistice Day. Along with many I stopped work at 11.00am and stood silently in contemplation of the sacrifice of others. I don't like war, in fact I abhor it. I am a peacemaker, and war violates everything I believe in. Yet I am not actually a pacifist, but prefer to see my calling to actively wage peace rather than war. It doesn't help me in my work to be idealistic about this broken world, rather I find it better by far to be a realist. I hate war, and I believe God does, but my Christian theology I find to be grounded in the reality of the sinful capability of human beings, which amongst other things leads to conflict. For all intents and purposes however I come close to being a pacifist; I could not go to war myself, but would rather actively work for peace, and without the freedom to do that I guess I would have to face the consequences. Moreover I would gently encourage others to do the same.
But all that said, I respect those who have chosen a different path and who are willing to serve in the forces and to fight. And I will do all I can to support them.
While I stood at the war memorial in front of Luton Town Hall, throughout the nation many did the same. In London it was the 90th year that a crowd had gathered on this day at the Cenotaph. Yet about two miles away, just far enough away from Parliament to be able to protest without special permission, two groups of people had a different intent.
Muslims Against the Crusades (MAC) chose to burn poppies and chant throughout the silence as a symbol of their opposition to Britains wars in traditionally Muslim lands. There were just 30 or so of them apparently, but their action has reverberated around the nation tonight. MAC seem to be related to al-Muhajiroun and their associated groups that protested a Royal Anglian Homecoming Parade in Luton in March 2010.
A slightly larger group, about 50 in all, mainly members of the English Defence League (EDL), kept quiet in respect of those who have died in action, and then tried to attack the MAC. There were a number of arrests from the EDL group, including two of their national leadership group, both from Luton.
The stand off is described in the media: Lest we forget: The nation falls silent as millions pay tribute in Armistice Day commemorations across Britain is in the Daily Mail, while Millions fall silent to remember war dead is in the Independent.
Yet this small pair of event, that involved less than 100 people, has had enormous impact. I had followed the story during the day, and when I went out at 6.00pm there was anger among the EDL at the way yet again MAC had been able to mock them and their nation, but it was the same old people posting messages on the main EDL Facebook group and forum. When I got home at 10.30pm it was to find at least two groups set up on Facebook to protest the poppy burning protests. One -- "Let's show these poppy burning bastards how many people want them deported" -- in about 6hours has achieved a sign up of 235,000 people. Another -- "I hate the Muslims scum who burned the poppies on Remembrance Day" has made 160,000 members.
[update: both facebook groups have been removed, presumably due to the abusive and hate-filled language that was on their walls.]
Now, its very easy to sign a facebook group, and a lot more work to join a protest, and yet those people have begun down that road. At the same the main EDL Facebook group has risen from about 42,000 people this morning to 46,500 this evening. This event has raised a huge amount of anger and hatred to be released.
In opposition to the anger at Muslims there has been a smaller friendlier group. 30 extremists, not 2.5 million Muslims that has grown to about 5,000. The voice of reason trying to get this thing in proportion is never popular.
There have been other moments this past two and half years that I have been following this stuff when I have felt profoundly disturbed by EDL growth and emotion. As I have grasped hold of this winter growth in my mind this past two hours I am challenged, and troubled. We are due to have the EDL come to Luton in February. More on that another time. Yet for now we are faced with a growth of these groups, of their response to a message of hatred, and their own response of hatred.
Hatred breeds hatred. Like Nick Lowles at Hope not Hate, ( A plague on both their houses ) I am convinced neither has answers. Their methods lead to hatred. The cycle of hatred and anger grows. The anger thermometer has gone up today.
As I head for bed its with a desire for hope to fill my mind once again!