Ewan Aitken: Judge us by how we treat enemies

A vigil outside Finsbury Park Mosque following this week's attack. Picture: AFP/Getty
A vigil outside Finsbury Park Mosque following this week's attack. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Recent events in London and Manchester where innocent people have died at the hands of terrorist extremists have caused us all to ask some deeply human questions about the capacity of some people to do evil things to their neighbours in the name of their understanding of truth, be that religious, political or social.

The danger in our anger is we react in revenge. The best response to evil is never revenge. We need justice and we need healing. We need wisdom and we need hope. What we don’t need is the flames of prejudice being fanned by the kind of responses we saw from some (so-called) commentators after London Bridge. The defensiveness of those who spent the EU referendum and the general election equating immigration with danger and societal destruction when challenged about their contribution to the radicalisation of Darren Osborne, who drove a hired van at Muslim worshippers assisting a friend in need, is very telling. They are either deluded, in denial or as mendacious as many of us have already assumed.

Cyrenians CEO Ewan Aitken

Cyrenians CEO Ewan Aitken

Compare their reaction to the actions of the Imam who protected Osborne from revenge so that justice could be brought. Consider his willingness to stand by his enemy in his moment of need with public figures who create fear by demonising difference. The mark of our humanness lies in how we treat those who are strangers and those who would see us as their enemy.

Cyrenians is a values-led, relationship-based organisation. We know for our values of compassion, respect, integrity and innovation to be real, we need to live them with whoever we are in relationship with, no matter how differently they see the world and especially no matter their past choices. We journey at times with people who have made choices that were harmful for others. It’s hard at times to get past that but we know we must or change will never happen. Instead, we will ourselves be another barrier to transformation.

We apply a way of thinking called “unconditional positive regard” based on the work of Carl Rogers. No matter what we know of someone’s choices, we still try to see the person, the human being before us and connect with them in that space. In that human connection, change and healing is possible.

We don’t get it right every time. It is really hard to do. But the outcome is much better than a response built on rejection of difference, prejudice or the anger that another human being could act in harmful way towards their neighbours. It was modelled by the Finsbury Park Imam. It is his leadership that shows us a way through the struggles of the last few weeks.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians