Dear America: A letter to the US about the London attack

Dear America,

First, thank you for caring about the latest terrorist attack in London. There’s been a outpouring of love and support that’s been really heartening, and we’re grateful. You’ll understand if I exempt your President from that. Misrepresenting our (Muslim) London mayor and making strange remarks about gun control don’t do him any favours over here, I’m afraid. On the other hand, thank you so much for Ariana Grande, who at only 23 years old has shown grace, courage and a maturity way beyond her years. Her concert on Sunday was just what Manchester needed. She’s a credit to your nation and you should be proud of her.

Police shot dead all three assailants within 8 minutes of receiving the first emergency call. | Reuters

But I’m writing this because I want to stress a couple of things.

First: what happened in London on Saturday night, and in Manchester before that, and on Westminster Bridge before that, was horrible and disgusting. And yes, people are a bit nervous. They tend to think a bit more about where the exits are on trains and are more watchful in public places. But with all due respect to the New York Times, we aren’t ‘reeling’, or anything like it. We’re sad and shocked, but calm and resolute. Check out the #ThingsThatLeaveBritainReeling hashtag if you want to know how we really feel.

Why? I’d like to think Brits are just tougher and less excitable than less favoured nations, but I don’t think that’s really true. It may be that we’re more used to it – we had three decades of Irish republican terrorism to contend with, after all. But there’s also a simple numerical calculation. It sounds heartless, but it isn’t – we do genuinely grieve for the dead and injured. But around 9 million people live in London. Seven died on Saturday. It takes more than that to make a city that’s gone through the Blitz and 30 years of the IRA ‘reel’.

Second, though, and more importantly. Your President used Saturday’s attack to reiterate his call for a travel ban on people from Muslim countries. That probably wasn’t very wise, as one of the reasons why the courts struck it down because it was religious discrimination – banned under your constitution – and those tweets just reinforce that.

Another well-known conservative, Franklin Graham, has returned to the charge as well. He said on Facebook: ‘Since 9/11, I have been warning America about the dangers of the teachings of Islam. Followers of Islam are taught very troubling passages that encourage them to murder and maim those they refer to infidels, or nonbelievers.’

He goes on to warn about the dangers of radicalisation, which is fair enough. But he goes on to talk about the ‘threat of Islam’, to implictly back Trump’s travel ban, and to pray that the US – and the UK – will ‘wake up before it’s too late’.

I suspect Graham speaks for many on the right of American religion and politics (the tweet above was liked 27,000 times and retweeted 7,400 times). As far as the travel ban goes – that, of course, is up to your courts, though it’s worth saying that the terrorist attacks on the UK have come from people born and bred here. A travel ban wouldn’t have helped at all.

However, what I’d really like to get across is that for most Christians in the UK – and for most citizens, with the exception of a small and deeply unpleasant far-right grouping – Islam is not a threat. Muslims are not the enemy. We live alongside them. They are our colleagues and our friends. We vote for them to be London’s mayor or to represent us in parliament or on our local council. We share the same concerns about the secularisation of our young people and the influence of a godless society. We note that Islam is growing in the UK. But converting Muslims, or stopping them converting other people, is not our main priority. We’re only too aware that there are millions of native Brits who’ve turned their backs on the Church. If a few of them decide to go to mosques instead that’s hardly a thing, when you think of how many are left.

We are deeply, deeply aware of the dangers of extremism. Of course that’s more of a danger in the Muslim community and they need help dealing with it. But we don’t believe you can blame a whole religion for the actions of a few people who pervert it. The Lord’s Resistance Army doesn’t represent Christians, after all, and neither does the KKK. Nor did the IRA.

We know there are parts of the Quran that seem to sanction violence against non-believers. But assuming that means Islam is fundamentally violent is, with respect, to misunderstand how religions work. There are texts approving violence in the Bible, too – that one about people who knock out children’s brains being blessed in Psalm 138 is pretty unequivocal, for instance. But most religious people understand how to read these texts in context and interpret them in ways that let them live in love and charity with their neighbours. It’s the ones who don’t that are the problem. And talking about ‘Islam’ as ‘dangerous’ and a ‘threat’ ignores the fact that a religion does not stab people or explode bombs. People do that. Some Muslims are bad, just like some Christians or Hindus. Most are good. Here in the UK, we treasure that knowledge and we won’t let people divide us.

So we urge you to, yes, ‘wake up before it’s too late’. Don’t fall for people who tell you Muslims are the enemy just because they’re Muslims. Trying getting to know one of them instead; they’re just folks. And US Christians should perhaps note that demonising someone because of their faith is not a very good foundation for witnessing to them.

Oh, and don’t fall for people who tell you Britain is beaten, either. We aren’t.

Originally written for Christian Today by Managing Editor Mark Woods. Follow Mark on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods