Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Son of Babylon - The Forgotten Horror of Iraq's Missing

I have just returned from the Greenbelt Festival at Cheltenham. As usual it was nice to bump into folk and meet old friends. However, I was not greatly inspired by this years theological talks line up, but plenty of others obviously were, as 100's packed in to see this years headliners - many again from the USA - including Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren and Rob Bell.

Hundreds of people also attended the different events associated with the Just Peace Campaign on Israel/Palestine highlighted by Greenbelt over the last 3 years - with many workshops and installations around the site sharing the Palestinian experience of the conflict.

Being free of the urge to attend the theological talks allowed me to enjoy the music this year and I spent more time listening to some passionate and beautiful music by singer songwriters both the well known and not so well known than ever before.

But the highlight of the festival for me was going to see the film Son of Babylon by the Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji, tucked away in a small venue and attended by only 30 or so folk.  The film tells the story of a boy and his grandmother looking for her missing son of 12 years - the boy's father- in post invasion Iraq. The compelling story highlights the forgotten reality of the thousands upon thousands (some say the numbers go over 1 million) of Iraq's missing who disappeared during the regime of Saddam Hussein and others since. The film took me right back to my own journey into Iraq in 2004. I was reminded of the amazing people I met then, the hospitality I received from people who often had very little and the stories I was told of lost relatives and their longing for information about where they were and what had happened to them.

At the end of the film the producer Isabelle Stead talked to the 15 of us who remained in the theatre about the film and the campaign that it has initiated into Iraq's Missing. I remember that at the time of the fall of Saddam there was a similar campaign to put resources into excavating the mass graves and finding the disappeared initiated by the Iraqi community in the UK.  That campaign was met with a total lack of enthusiasm from the then Blair government and from the occupation forces whose priorities appeared to be elsewhere!

The Iraq's Missing Campaign is having similar problems in  convincing both the present Iraqi authorities and the international community of the central importance of this endeavor to the healing of the peoples of Iraq. Check out the campaigns website, sign the petition and support it in any way you can. Also watch out for the screening of Son of Babylon on BBC 4 in the near future. Below are two interviews one with Mohamed Al-Daradji the film's Director and the other with Isabelle Stead the film's Producer  -who also talks about the Iraq's Missing Campaign

Monday, 22 August 2011

'A steady stream of gentle people...' Reflections on a Funeral in the Park

I was away on holiday in Wales during the riots. I was glad  to have been back just in time to be able to attend the funeral of Haroon Jahan, Shazad Ali and his brother Abdul Musavir in Summerfield Park. This was a very moving and dignified occasion. The following post is a reflection on the event by Ramona Kauth who is the Chair of Birmingham Council of Faiths, a Buddhist, an Associate Tutor on my Inter Faith module at Queens and a local resident in the area where the 3 men lived:

It is hard to find words adequate to describe what happened today in the Park. I got there at about 2 pm. Lots of people were there earlier, and there had been prayers said earlier on the loud-speaker system. I could hear it from my house, as I was preparing to go.

When I got there I realised there was an area to one side that had been set aside for women. This was very comfortable for me, relieving me of feeling that I might be intruding.

As people were speaking from the stage, more and more people were arriving in streams, like a river flowing into the Park. At first I thought that this event might be smaller than the one on Sunday, but in the end there were many, many more people. On the news they have said there were 20,000 people.

There was such a strong feeling of quiet, of gentle presence and total focus on the purpose of the gathering. They were very still and moved carefully, with respect and regard for everyone around them. It was as if this area of the park had indeed become a mosque, an open-air mosque. We were there to honour these three young men as martyrs: martyrs for the peace and safety of the community, they are assured a place in history and in heaven.

Of all the speeches the words I remember most are the ones said by the Imam when he said that this day, this event, would be remembered in history. He said it marked a change, a turning point, a change in the perception of Muslims because it was such a clear commitment to the Islamic way of life, the peacefulness and dedication to community and following the teaching, praying five times a day and putting that into practice in ones daily life. And we will always remember this amazing gathering of Muslims to pray together at this event, to support the family and give respect to Haroon, Shazad and Musavir.

It would be very wonderful if some kind of memorial stone may be put up here in the park, to remember these young men, with the words of Tariq Jahan that he spoke so soon after his son's death: that no one should think to respond with violence but on the contrary because only more anger and violence comes from hatred and violence, that the only way to respond is with care and coming together. This was such a timely and powerful response. I think he must be a kind of saint, certainly someone worthy of our respect.

After the final prayers and the sight of the three hearses covered in flowers, everyone left in the way they had arrived, a steady stream of gentle people walking simply and peacefully on their way.

It was all very moving, very thought provoking. I am so glad I was able to be there.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011


I'm off on holiday from the end of today. We are going in the camper van to Wales for a couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to the space -  I get to walk and chill out in lovely countryside -  but I can't stop reading and I can't stop reading theology, sad person that I am. This holiday I'm packing some exciting stuff . I'm concentrating on the work of three North American theologians - Catherine Keller, Laurel C Schneider and Beverly Lanzetta. I dipped into some of Keller's and Schneider's work earlier today and it looks wonderfully promising:

In recent years a discernable movement within theology has emerged around a triune intuition: the daunting differences of multiplicity, the evolutionary uncertainty it unfolds, and the relationality that it implies are not problems to be overcome in religious thought. They are starting points for it. Divinity understood in terms of multiplicity, open - endedness, and relationality now forms a matrix of revelation rather than a distortion, or evidence of its lack. The challenges and passions of theological creativity blossoming at the edges of tradition and at the margins of power have shown themselves, far from being distractions from doctrinal or doxological integrity, to be indispensible to its life. And this vitality belies at once the dreary prophecies of pure secularism and the hard grip of credulous certainty.

Really, given the venerable pronouncements of the death of God, theology at the start of this millenium should be worse off than it is. The undeniable atrophy of those denominations that still support educated clergy limit the resources for even discerning just which God it is that is presumed dead. The hard questions remain hard; the institutional fragilities remain unsparing. And so the buoyancy we see in theology right now is all the more remarkable. Its life and movement, which in this volume we are nicknaming "polydoxy", has multiple sources. Indeed multiplicity itself has become theology's resource. What had always seemed a liability for Christian theology - multiplicitous differences contending from within and competing from without - has miraculously turned into theology's friend. Indeed emergent commitment to the manifold of creation as it enfolds a multiplicity of wisdoms may be functioning as a baseline requirement for theological soundness. A responsible pluralism of interdependance and uncertainty now seems to facilitate deeper attention to ancient religious traditions as well as more robust engagement with serious critiques of religion. This is an approach that no longer needs to hide the internal fissures and complexities that riddle every Christian text or that wound and bless every theological legacy.

These intuitions and starting points find grounding in the Christian tradition not only because of the rich history of texts and practices therein that support doctrinal and ethical formulations of multiplicity, evolutionary openness, and relationality. But also, like other global religions, "Christianity" was never merely One to begin with. Internally multiple and complex, it has always required an agile and spirited approach to theological reflection. We sense that the current resilience of theology in its becoming multiplicity of relations is a sign and a gift of that Spirit.

Catherine Keller and Laurel C Schneider (Eds) Polydoxy : Theology of Multiplicity and Relation (Routledge 2011) p1

Hopefully, I'll be back posting towards the end of August with an interesting book review from Andi Smith Minister at Saltley Methodist Church in Birmingham who has been enjoying reading Allah : A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf