Good evening. My name is Anya – I am a mentor at Newcastle College, I am branch secretary of University and College Union at Newcastle College and I sit on its National Executive.
I’m here this evening speaking for Peace & Unity.
Thank you for this warm welcome here tonight.
The last time I enjoyed the hospitality of a Gurdwara was in Birmingham in 1996 on an educational visit, not long before I graduated.
My degree is in Study of Religions and 25 years ago I was writing about multi faith and interfaith – and then we were looking at the work that had been going on in Bradford to heal the issues around community conflict and riots back in the 1980s.
And the solutions then came from the community – not the government, not the police – but from community leaders who stood together, worked together, for harmony in Bradford.
That was more than 25 years ago.
I find this interesting.
Two weeks ago I was at a superb event at Newcastle University on challenging Islamophobia by researchers currently working in the field.
The most poignant part of that lecture was the key causes of the increase in Islamophobic incidents and they called this the ‘5 Pillars of Islamophobia’.
Pillar 2, the second biggest cause of Islamophobic incidents in the UK was though, unsurprising, the rise of the far right.
Pillar 1. The First Pillar, the greatest cause of a Islamophobic incidents the researchers found to be, was UK policy and legislation and this includes the Prevent Strategy, not platforming speakers – and we don’t need to discuss the events of the last couple of weeks with Shamima Begum.
So what we are being told is that the strategies we need to make our country safer, are proving to be the biggest cause of disharmony.
I appreciate that that research is into specifically anti-muslim incidents – but an assault against one minority is an assault against all.
Disharmony against one section of our community is disharmony for all of us.
Like Bradford all those years ago – we need to pull our community together and this starts with us, working within our communities – this has to start with a groundswell.
So. Peace & Unity.
Peace & Unity isn’t a group as such. We are non-hierarchical, what you might call a ‘loose arrangement of individuals’ – some of faith, some of no faith.
We are not bound by rules, we are not bound by race or religion, we are not bound by gender or sexuality.
What binds us is a common interest in working for peace and for unity across faiths, across communities, in our community.
Between us we organise a number of events throughout the year, sometimes as individuals, sometimes as a collective, sometimes in partnership.
One of our biggest and most successful events is the now annual Peace & Unity Iftar during Ramadan – one year it was at the Synagogue, last year it was in St Nicholas’ Cathedral. It was a real community celebration, open to everyone with political, religious and other community leaders together, people of various backgrounds and various faiths or none.
And like this evening, the food was great.
The breaking of bread, the sharing of what we have is at the heart of all our major traditions – it’s a common thread, hospitality, sharing. The giving of food, the sharing of what we have is the first step in giving kindness to our neighbours.
Our second Unity Festival is taking place 22 June. It’s a celebration of community and communities, a celebration of people.
It begins with a walk from the West End and ends at The Monument in music, art, dance, costume in a spirit of celebration, a spirit of solidarity, a spirit of Unity.
You are all welcome. And if you would like to be updated or to become involved in whatever way, then please leave your name on the contact sheet that’s going around.
And I will close with a quote from Publilius Syrus, a Roman slave who won his freedom from his master with his wit:
“Where there is unity there is always victory”.
In peace. Thank you.