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Oxford Peace Forum

Wednesday 10 June 2009

The Oxford Branch of British Friends of NSWaS organised a ’Peace Is Possible’ Forum at the Quaker Meeting House on Sunday 17th May; one of several fundraising events scheduled for 2009 which they hope will enable some children from the NSWaS Primary School to visit their Partnership Link School in Woodstock.

Bruce Kent, perhaps Britain’s best known and life-long peace activist, and now Vice President of the ’Movement for the Abolition of War’ (MAW) chaired the panel of speakers and was the first to speak.
He reminded us that, in spite of media concentration on wars and violence, peace is the norm for most communities, most of the time. There are people everywhere working for justice and cooperation, but often using military language to describe their activities. One can live peacefully with one’s neighbours without necessarily being close friends!

Chair of the Gandhi Foundation, Susan Denton-Brown, is herself trained as a facilitator in conflict transformation at the School for Peace (SFP) and facilitates workshops for teachers that British Friends has been organising over the past two years. She has seen how people living in uncertainty often deal with their fears by using aggression in language and/or action. An experienced teacher of RE and Citizenship, she has seen the need to teach skills to reduce prejudice, bigotry and unreality by making interchange, dialogue and listening a key part of the curriculum.

Lisa Slater, Head of Woodstock Primary School, has seen her school embrace these methods. At all levels children can learn that they are part of a global community. The link to the Primary School in NSWaS allows children to write letters, learn about each other, use computer skills and bring geography alive. Two 9 year-old pupils gave their own video presentation showing children in the two schools, in their own village and town and finding images of Israel and Woodstock from the web.

Imam Monawar Hussain spoke of his involvement in bringing together young and old of different faiths: as Muslim Chaplain at Eton College he works with boys of other faiths as well as the 15 Muslim pupils there this school year; in Oxford he encourages Muslim boys on a special programme within their own school context to engage with the whole school community; he was asked by government to set up a similar project in Birmingham which is already running well; at the Oxford Central Mosque he holds a silent meditation group after Friday Prayers which is also open to Christians and Jews ; and he encourages these ideas within his own family.

"Secular schools have their own ethos and values but it is important to engage in dialogue to recognise both difference and shared values.
Monawar told the story of a young couple, one Jewish, the other Muslim, who wanted to marry and contemplated secrecy, He encouraged openness and patient waiting. Two years later they did get married, in Jerusalem, with both families present and happy with the situation. The key is education, dialogue between faiths with space to engage with others and learn to value the richness of diversity."

Benita Hide

British Friends of Neve Shalom Wahat al Salam |
Premier House |
112 Station Road |
Edgware |
Middx HA8 7BJ |
T: 020 8952 4717 |

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