Building Bridges in the Shadow of Afghanistan – Barbara Eggleston Memorial Lecture 2021

An interfaith event in Oxford’s Quaker House on 20 November looked at the ways in which teachings of Peace and Nonviolence in Faith’s sacred writings can build bridges between different faiths and cultures. Organised by the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CCND) on the theme, ‘Building Bridges for Peace’, it is an annual event to remember Barbara Eggleston, CCND’s first coordinator. 

Steve Hucklesby, of the Joint Public Issues Team, chaired the ‘Campaigning for Peace’ part of the day. He explained that JPIT brings together policy and parliamentary work of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church into one place. He posed the question, “How can we better work together across faiths to bring about learning or change?” And he gave examples where churches have been influential in such issues as banning cluster munitions and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. A multifaith initiative has surveyed the policies of the major UK banks and financial institutions regarding the funding of companies involved in nuclear weapons. There were calls for peace education programmes and divestment from companies producing weapons of war. 

Dr Maria Power, a Fellow of Blackfriars Hall where she a Senior Research Fellow in Human Dignity at the Las Casas Institute for Social Justice, examined the causes of structural violence from a Christian perspective. She highlighted Poverty, Injustice and Racism as among underlying causes of conflict and how Catholic Social Teaching suggests ways to build bridges for peace and read the “signs of the times”.

Muslim scholar Dr Kamel Ait Tahar, who memorised the Quran at the age of 17 and is Muslim chaplain to the High Sheriff of Oxford, told the gathering that the word ‘Islam’ means ‘peace’. “The Quran recognises the vital need for society to live in peace and security,” he said, and pointed out that more than 250 verses highlight peace. “Peace needs to be aligned with justice,” he added. In his conclusion he said: “Peace in a society is a need not a luxury. In the holy Quran, as in previous sacred texts, the importance of peace within a community and between communities is paramount. To achieve peace and harmony, communities are encouraged to reach out to each other, learn from each other and enrich each other.”

Vijay Mehta, a Hindu Peace activist and Chair of ‘Uniting for Peace’, whose notable books include ‘The Economics of Killing’, ‘Peace Beyond Borders’ and ‘How Not to Go to War’, voiced his belief that faiths must work together for peace. He felt religions “should be the first to raise a voice against nuclear weapons and the propaganda of deterrence”. He suggested that, “Departments for Peace and Peace Centres worldwide are steps in the right direction, which will spread non-violence and a culture of peace and this will ultimately put an end to a culture of militarism, violence, and war.”

Buddhist speaker Roslyn Cook spoke about being a member of Soka Gakkai International, a global community-based Buddhist organisation accredited to the United Nations and strongly anti-nuclear. She is also a CND Council member and has lobbied internationally for the abolition of nuclear weapons and for climate justice. At a macro level she has called for ecocide to be recognised as a crime in international law and, more personally, highlighted the need for an inner transformation which would bring enlightenment.

Around 25 people attended the day in person – among them members of Pax Christi – and a similar number online. The International Prayer for Peace concluded the event and organisers Patricia and Michael Pulham of CCND were warmly thanked.

Write up of event by Ellen Teague taken from Independent Catholic News

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