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Message from IFN Co-Chairs to member bodies 18 Feb 2015

18 February 2015


Dear IFN member bodies,

As you will be aware, IFN’s Co-Chairs and Vice-Chairs issued a statement at the end of last month: Safety, security and living well together. This was in the context of the UK impact of the recent murders in Paris, as well as reported rises in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments and attacks in the UK and more widely in Europe, and of concern for safety of those and all communities.  Many of the points in that Statement are very relevant to the UK impact of the further, appalling, attacks in Europe, in Copenhagen, this weekend as well as events elsewhere in the world.

At a meeting of the Faith Communities Forum of IFN at the end of January there was a special Agenda Item, Reflections on impact on inter faith relations in the UK of recent events in Germany and France’. The paper for this noted that individual faith communities and inter faith bodies had issued a number of statements and held vigils and discussions; and that IFN’s website carried a list of a number of these which had been kept updated following a Circular to member bodies of 15 January about their responses. It was also noted that as well as concerns relating to the Jewish and Muslim communities in the wake of the events in France, there have been safety concerns expressed from within the Sikh community, particularly in the UK in the light of a serious attack on a Sikh in Mold, Wales. There was a strong emphasis in the FCF’s discussion on the value of a united response to concerns.

In the wake of continuing atrocities in the Middle East in recent weeks, most recently for example in Libya,  it may be timely also to look back to two messages from  the Co-Chairs and Vice-Chairs to member bodies of last August: Overseas events and inter faith bonds of friendship and trust in the UK (4 August 2014) and UK inter faith relations and impact of overseas events, particularly in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East (August 12 2014). The general observations in these about the impact of overseas events have wider relevance.

In case helpful, the present message is accompanied by a short compilation of some of the most widely applicable observations, from messages and statements by IFN’s Co-Chairs and Vice-Chairs, on IFN and responding to impact on inter faith relations of overseas events in recent times. [Click here to download attachment]

Europe is one context for UK inter faith engagement, and where there are serious developments in the countries of fellow member states of the EU there can be very direct impacts on inter faith relations in the UK. Likewise, the Middle East, to which a number of communities in the UK have strong historic and continuing links.  However, it is, of course, the case that the faith communities in the UK linked by IFN, and sometimes their relationships with each other as well as wider society, are all affected at different times by developments in Europe and in countries on other continents to which their members have strong ties.

Statements by IFN’s Co-Chairs and Vice-Chairs are, as member bodies are aware, issued sparingly and at times when there is agreement among them that the time is appropriate.

Absence of a statement on any given occasion does not indicate absence of concern about the UK impact of particular developments overseas; it reflects, rather, an awareness of IFN’s policy on the making of statements which restricts their use in ways which member bodies have re-affirmed over the years. It can also reflect an awareness that while statements may be important there are – at other times – more appropriate or helpful forms of response and these may, at any given time, come more appropriately from IFN or from other bodies with a particular locus for engagement with a particular issue or region of the world.  This, of course includes the work of member bodies. We noted in our new year message your work to foster understanding and cooperation and to dispel misunderstanding, combat prejudice and develop ways to work together to tackle areas of difference peaceably and effectively in ways which respect the integrity of our different faith traditions.  Continuing troubled times make this work all the more vital.

Best wishes,

Bishop Richard Atkinson and Vivian Wineman

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