BLOGS

‘Dispatches’ documentary on East London Mosque

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Last week, Dispatches and the Sunday Telegraph claimed East London Mosque was the headquarters of a secretive, fundamentalist political network.  The Revd Angus Ritchie, Director of the Contextual Theology Centre blogs on local Christians’ experience of the Mosque:

Whether you read the papers, surf the net, or watch the TV, the media seems full of allegations against East London Mosque. Martin Bright claims it “plays a central role in promoting a sectarian Islam”. The Independent notes the Detroit bomber worshipped there. (On closer investigation, it turns out he attended three times – in a mosque that has six thousand at Friday prayers.) Last week’s Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 alleged the mosque and its allies were building ‘Britain’s Islamic republic’ here in Tower Hamlets– a shadowy conspiracy to place extreme Muslims in positions of power.

A frequent theme of such attacks is that the many dignitaries who visit and praise the mosque are naive – descending on Tower Hamlets in search of feel-good photo opportunities, while those who live ‘on the ground’ know the mosque to be a more sinister operation.

The truth is very different.

All too often, it is the journalists who descend on Tower Hamlets – in search of alarmist headlines. By contrast, those ‘on the ground’ know the vital role East London Mosque has played in promoting Muslim engagement with the wider community.

Broad-based community organising is now flavour of the month – through the good offices of politicians as diverse as James Purnell, Boris Johnson and of course Barack Obama. Fifteen years ago it was a very different story. East London Mosque was a crucial foundation-stone in London Citizens, the capital’s community organising alliance. It joined what was then an embryonic movement. Without the Mosque’s involvement and support, it would not have burgeoned into an alliance of 150 religious and civic groups – winning £25 million for low-paid workers in the capital, and influencing all three parties in their response to the credit crunch.

Not so quick, I hear the conspiracy theorists reply. Perhaps an alliance like London Citizens gives the mosque the cover it needs to advance a more sinister agenda? If East London Mosque was now climbing on the bandwagon of community organising, that claim might seem less ludicrous. But the mosque has been a loyal and constructive ally from the start – a crucial catalyst for the growth in relationships and in trust across the faiths and cultures of Tower Hamlets.

Neil Jameson, London Citizens’ lead organiser, says this of the East London Mosque: “They regularly send their leaders on our training. They work amicably and respectfully with Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus and with Trade Unionists of faith and of no faith. I have visited, trained and worked alongside their key leaders for more than twenty years and can testify that they have been outstanding and loyal members of the alliance.” When an alliance which embracing atheist trade unionists and leading evangelical churches speaks of the mosque in such glowing terms, it’s time for the scare-mongers to listen up.

The depressing tide of suspicion and vitriol places Muslims – here in Tower Hamlets and across the country – in an impossible position. If they do engage in politics, they are damned as sinister conspirators. If they don’t, they are damned as isolationist.

It is time the rest of us accepted our Muslim colleagues for what they are: people who share the same streets and neighbourhoods, and many of the same hopes and fears as any other citizen. Christians who have lived ‘on the ground’ in East London for many years know them as colleagues and as friends. There are preachers of hate and violence in every community. We know that the best antidote to this is face-to-face contact and action together on issues of common concern. We are proud to count East London Mosque among our greatest allies in that work.

Successes in London and Oxford

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A new crop of Jellicoe interns is emerging from the Crunch Time week in Oxford University. Past and present interns and clergy from their placement congregations spoke to over 800 students about the work – and in a couple of weeks, we will be holding interviews for the summer internship programme.

Our current interns (pictured above) are making important progress…
Ian Vijay Bhullar is helping E1 Community Church move towards membership of London Citizens, in partnership with St Mary’s Anglican Church, Cable Street.
Megan Dilhoff and Theodore Wold are beginning a year of partnership between Jellicoe interns and the Roman Catholic Parish of SS Mary and Michael, Limehouse – as the priest and congregation explore membership of London Citizens
Amma Asante is working with other students at the University of East London to sign up local businesses to be ‘CitySafe Havens’ – and her work as a Jellicoe Intern has helped her secure a part-time job at St Peter’s C of E School in Wapping

We wish Rachel Coleman well in her new role working for the Archbishop of Sudan!  She leaves St John’s Anglican Church in Hackney now in active membership of London Citizens.  The parish has raised money for a Community Worker who will be taking this work forward – in particular on the CitySafe campaign.

Pictured (left to right):
Back row – Theodore, Amma, Adam Atkinson (CTC’s Senior Tutor) and Ian
Front Row – Beatrice Piloya (local parishioner), Sr Josephine Canny (Community Chaplain) and Megan

John Milbank on the Credit Crunch

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Prof John Milbank’s talk at the CTC-sponsored study day on Theology and the Credit Crunch is now online.  In the spring, the talk will be part of an essay collection the Centre is publishing – as a Christian contribution to the General Election debate.  It will include essays by Prof Vincent Rougeau and Dr Luke Bretherton on the significance of Christian teaching on usury for today’s economy, and Dr Maurice Glasman and Centre Director Angus Ritchie on London Citizens’ anti-usury campaign.

This term’s Jellicoe Seminar – Election Special

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On May 6th, Dr Rob Gilbert (Fellow of Magdalen) and Ian Vijay Bhullar (PPE, Keble, 2006-2009) will speak about the impact of community organising on the General Election.

Rob’s placement with the Contextual Theology Centre followed Citizens UK’s response to the credit crunch through the autumn – and as he speaks, the alliance has secured commitments from all three main parties on these issues.

Ian is currently a year-round Jellicoe intern, and his work on the Sanctuary Pledge will also be part of Citizens UK’s agenda at its forthcoming General Election Assembly in Westminster.

Book your place with the co-ordinator, Revd Angus Ritchie (firstname.secondname@magd.ox.ac.uk) and join us at 9pm in the New Rooms, Magdalen College – for free-flowing wine and discussion… After the seminar, there will be an opportunity to go to a nearby room and watch the results of the election as they begin to come in.

Happy New Year

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2010 is shaping up to be an eventful year for the Jellicoe Community.  As we head towards the General Election, London Citizens’ anti-usury campaign will reach a new level – and our Centre will be playing a key role in this work.  In Oxford, we are planning an exciting week of events on Christian faith and community organising – including the launch of a short film on the Jellicoe Community at an event at Keble College with the Bishop of Oxford.  You can follow this on our ‘Crunch Time’ blog.

Later in the year, we will be marking the 75th anniversary of the death of Fr Basil Jellicoe – about which more details will follow soon.

Police quiz Santa Claus…

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This YouTube video shows the police quizzing two senior Anglican clerics – one a Canon of Westminster Abbey, the other a world authority on St Nicholas.  Their offence?  To try and deliver presents to refugees detained at Yarl’s Wood, on behalf of Citizens for Sanctuary (the campaign on which Jellicoe Intern Ian Vijay Bhullar blogged earlier this month).

This will be the last Jellicoe blogpost until after Christmas… so it comes with our good wishes to you all!

John Milbank to give CITIZENS lecture

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Leading Anglican theologian Prof John Milbank is to give the 2010 CITIZENS UK Lecture on Catholic social teaching and the new politics – an event co-sponsored by the Contextual Theology Centre and its academic partners.

The event will be on Tuesday 23rd March  at 6.30pm, and will be followed by the launch of Faithful Citizens, a guide to community organising and Catholic social teaching by CTC Fellow Dr Austin Ivereigh. Full details will follow in the New Year.

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