AR 2017 UK Peace Tour #2: Blog after the Manchester Bombing by Dr Anna Less

Blog London 5/22/17 After the Manchester Bombing

It is May 22 and the horrifying news comes in from Manchester.

There has been a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert attended by mostly young teenage girls and their families.

Police release pictures from a security camera of Salman Abedi the 22 year old suicide bomber sauntering into the concert in his £150 Nike trainers and trendy jacket on the night of the attack. A short time later Abedi killed 22 people and injured 119 when he detonated a bomb after the concert.

Isil calls on followers to rise up in ‘war’ on infidels in the West and
eight men are in custody “on suspicion of offences contrary to the Terrorism Act”

A few days have passed and the terror threat has been downgraded to severe and police say the investigation is ‘making good progress’ as they appeal for more information from the public.

We stay in Sheperd’s Bush, a diverse, but predominately Muslim neighborhood. It has many Muslim restaurants, Arabic writing on the shop signs, and a Mosque within walking distance of our apartment. It is common to see women in full niqab and men in kaftans shopping in the markets.

We talk to the Muslims we meet in our neighborhood, and in the shops and in the restaurants and in the trains. We talk to our Muslim Uber drivers, our Muslim landlord, we talk to the Muslims foundation leaders we meet. We talk to Muslims from Somolia, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

They have different theories, “Perhaps he wanted to kill himself, but he did not want to die alone”, “Perhaps someone planned it who is against Muslims” “People are under so much stress they are just crazy”

It is clear the Muslims we talk to are as baffled as we are, and even more frightened. Some of them are so afraid they do not even want to talk about it. They also do not regard themselves as safe.

We ask the ones who have teenagers what the mosques are doing to protect them and to teach them.

Ghassan admits that he was worried about going to the mosque for Jummah prayers after the attack. He doesn’t know what to expect. His history of attacks from radicals makes these events come even closer.

Is the mosque safe? Will the public attack the mosque? Could some one bomb the mosque? Will there be radicals in the mosque? Ramadan is coming the next day.

He decides not to go to our local neighborhood mosque, but instead goes to the large Central Mosque.

The police are there. The London police carry guns now. Amanda reminds me that until recently the London police didn’t even carry guns.

When we meet up with Ghassan in a coffee shop later, we sit and talk over coffee and lemonade, and he is palpably relieved after going to the mosque. He said that when he first entered the mosque a number of the congregants were dressed as strict orthodox Salafis, which generally indicates they uphold a very fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, but after the prayers, when the Imam spoke, Ghassan came to understand that the Imam was advocating a very moderate perspective. The Imam told the congregation that they are members of the UK society and need to protect their home and their fellow countrymen and come forward if they knew any thing. He explained that the people who are most damaged by these types of acts are the Muslim community itself and he prepared them to enter the sacred month of Ramadan, which is a time of deep inner reflection for all Muslims.

After we talk we prepare to enter the train for our next meeting. It is rush hour and I realize I feel nervous about getting on the train, there is no security or metal scanners, features that I have come to expect in public places in much of the world, and as we squeeze on board our bodies are pressed against our fellow passengers. My heart begins to pound as I anxiously scan people with backpacks and look into the faces of young men, as the train carrying thousands of passengers zooms beneath metropolitan London, I wonder why choose a venue with young teenage girls as a target. Why? I close my eyes and pray for those children and their families and I remember words of the Sura al Fatiha and send it out as a prayer to all.

SURAH AL-FATIHA

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.


Sheikh Ghassan Manasra, Dr Anna Less and David Less made presentations across London

In October 2016, Sheikh Ghassan Manasra, Dr Anna Less and David Less made presentations across London (including for students of Kings College, London) and at Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge Universities. They spoke to over four hundred pupils at the prestigious the Camden School For Girls’ sixth formers, hosted two interfaith Sukkot events (one with old friend of the AR, Rabbi Mordechai Zeller, recently moved to the UK), and held a beautiful interfaith evening at St Ethelburga’s Centre For Peace & Reconciliation.

Photos by Jonathan Tait of Tait Films

Interfaith Sukkot Celebration in Cambridge, UK, with Rabbi Mordechai Zeller

Interfaith Sukkot Celebration in London


2016 UK Meetings with Syrian Refugees: Blogs from Dr. Anna Less

Blog Dinner in Alaa’s Home

Last night we were invited to Alaa’s home for an Iftar dinner.

Alaa and his family are Syrian refugees from Aleppo that we met at Rabbi Wittenberg’s party.

Before we leave for Alaa’s home we go to the Syrian market around the corner and Ghassan helps me pick out the special sweets that are made for Ramadan and we prepare a gift to bring. We call an Uber and take off for the Finchley district of London. Along the way we see traditionally dressed Jewish families walking to shul for Shavuot services.

Shavuot is a major Jewish holiday celebrated fifty days after the second day of Passover for two reasons. 1. It marks the all-important wheat harvest in the Land of Israel and 2. It commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai.

In other words Shavout for the Jews correlates to Ramadan for the Muslims.

It is interesting to me that the British government has chosen this neighbourhood as a place to settle Syrian refugees. I make a mental note to ask Alaa about this later in the evening.

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Blog #1 &2 from Peace Trip to Israel by David Less

BLOG #1 – Sept 8th, 2016

David and Anna Less, and Ghassan Manasra, are traveling through Israel and Palestine meeting with all the Abrahamic Reunion peacemakers and coordinators. We will be posting blog entries from their travels and meetings. 

Yesterday we had the privilege to visit with the elder statesman of the peace movement in Israel. Elias Jabbour is a seventh generation practitioner of “sulha”, the traditional peacemaking formula of the Middle East. He is in his eighties and has been a friend and advisor for the last sixteen years. Elias is a Melkite Christian Arab with a deep love for humanity and a keen insight into the problems of the day in Israel and Palestine. He does not blame or accuse, does not speak negatively or allow any personal suffering to color his views.

As we ate a delicious lunch prepared by his elegant wife Hayam, he began to expound on the need of the day. As I write this it sounds so banal but the experience of hearing his words was both deeply moving and a reminder as to the purpose of our work. He said the obvious in a manner that caused it to go deeper than the mind. What is lacking in Israel and the world is love. Our work is primarily creating arenas where the love inherent in every human being can be rekindled and emerge with its natural power. Love, he said, is more powerful than the atomic bomb. It is the most powerful and valuable of our natural resources.

Then he spoke on the two fundamental principles of a peacemaker. Firstly, a peacemaker must never get angry. Anger clouds the natural wisdom and compassion in a human being. In anger we lose the clear inspiration that is the key to making peace. Secondly, the peacemaker must never give up. He shared the story of a village feud that took thirty years to be settled and it was settled due to the perseverance of the peacemaker. We must never give up hope.

The lessons seem so simple and yet how many days do we live where nothing angers us? Can we, like Elias, control our thoughts and speech to remove negativity in the midst of a situation that so entices the negative? Can we truly not give up but plod ahead through the mud of doubt, fear, exhaustion and trauma around us and find the primal ground of inner and outer peace and share that with our fellow human family? These are the challenges we must confront and overcome. This is not an easy discipline. Peace is precious and cannot come without the discipline and the desire to make it a reality.

Today the peacemaker must be both an individual and part of a greater whole. We need each other to create the vision and model of a peaceful society. Our work is often lonely when we forget this but so healing when we are part of a team making peace. I am grateful for the support, love and prayers I feel from so many around the world at this time. I’m deeply thankful for this and feel I represent so many in my journey here.

BLOG #2 – Sept 9th, 2016

Yesterday we spent the whole day in the northern part of Palestine meeting with two of the coordinators of the Abrahamic Reunion. The feeling in Palestine is both very different than Israel but also very similar. As we drove through I was reminded once again of the beauty of both of these powerful lands and the depth of history, ancient and modern to be felt in the Holy Land. My mind says of course there is this history but feeling it in my cells and heart is a very different experience.

I was thinking this Palestine is the land of Goliath and the Palestinians, (the Philistines), have been getting bad press ever since David hit his mark. Over and over, every Palestinian I spoke to urged me quite strongly to tell the world, “we are not terrorists, we are not murderers. Don’t judge six million people based on the actions of a few”. I was surprised at the consistency of one other message from so many.”our land is under occupation and it is amazing there is not more frustration”. From the Israeli point of view any act of violence is not acceptable and certainly I understand and agree with this point of view also. So the separation continues. How can there be peace when the model is separation. Jewish Israelis are not allowed to go into Palestine. Palestinians have great difficulty entering Israel. Its not just the physical wall that separates it’s the psychological one that is even more powerful.

I am living in a house in Israel now with a family that has been stabbed, shot at, their dwelling destroyed and still live in fear that this could be repeated at any moment and the reality is that it could happen. As I write this I can imagine the reader asking who did the violence so we can understand or even subconsciously blame. That thinking creates more confusion and hurt. The whole situation is to blame. There must be a real process begun not a political charade on all sides. With all due respect I’m not sure the politicians want peace. The peacemakers must make peace in themselves and then one person at a time. The peacemaker is confronting deep and confused energy and she or he must learn the art of inner peace as well as the conceptual outer so the process can begin. Finding the chink in the armor of confrontation and separateness. This is our work.