I traveled to Edinburgh to accompany Interfaith Scotland’s Development Officer, Frances Hume, who was giving the Time for Reflection at the opening of Parliamentary business on Tuesday 15th November. She talked of the importance of mutual trust, respect and understanding in society and quoted Edmund Burke that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. She reflected on Scotland’s commendable successes in tackling hate crime and the interfaith work that is building through dialogue between communities. This is something many more might enjoy and could contribute to. She reflected that it had recently been Remembrance Sunday and warned us of the importance of not being complacent in our efforts so that we do not mindlessly repeat our mistakes and find ourselves back at war.
This Sunday in the safety of my warm country Church, the Order of Service for Remembrance Day contained an image of a group of young men and a dog in a trench during the WWI Battle of the Somme. With the awareness that these youths in the picture might not have survived and remembering my grandfather stories of the Somme too, I found myself welling up with emotion. My grandfather had been at the first day of the Somme when 57,470 died. He never really recovered from the events of that day and what he witnessed. I remember his sadness latterly that there was nearly no one left to remember the Somme and his being anxious and fearful of the danger implicit in forgetting the absolute tragedy of this war, if there was no longer anyone left alive to care.
On arriving in the parliament building for Frances’ reflection we were greeted by a display of photographs by Harry Benson CBE, a Scottish photographer. This exhibition was titled “Seeing America” and captures some iconic images that record key moments in America’s history. Benson provokes some challenging reflection. One of the photos was a mother and child portrait not dissimilar in format to the familiar “Madonna and child” genre of images. The mother glows with pride as she gazes adoringly at her beautiful baby. The photograph captures this tender moment of motherly love. It also captures the background of Ku Klux Klan members and the mother in her distinctive Klan member costume. The photograph reminded me of Kenneth Branagh’s film “Conspiracy” during which, over a lightly urbane dinner the Nazi party plan the execution of the Jewish people described as “The Final Solution”.
History repeatedly proves our easy and dangerous capacity to lose sight of the larger moral dimension. The consequence of forgetting this leaves a facility for the most unspeakable evil. This is in essence essential for us never to forget, yet exactly what history shows mankind has repeatedly forgotten! When Frances delivered her reflection she had an important message to relay for those in power and to us all.
Frances’s Reflection can be found on YouTube and the text appears below:
Time for Reflection: Frances Hume: 15th November 2016
“Presiding officer, members of the Scottish Parliament, thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I am particularly delighted to be able to address you during Scottish Interfaith Week when over 50 events have been organised by local people, faith communities, interfaith groups, educational bodies and organisations to promote and celebrate the multi-faith and multi-cultural nature of Scottish Society.
The theme of Scottish Interfaith Week this year is ‘Religion and the Media’. The media plays an increasingly important role in people’s lives and many people are influenced by what they read, see and hear. Media reporting can have a powerful effect on attitudes in our society through its portrayal of people of different faiths and ethnicities, both positive and negative. This year we are exploring how we can share the positive stories of faith and interfaith work and challenge some of the negative reporting and stereotypes about people of different faiths.
This is ever-more pertinent with some of the political rhetoric that has been heard in recent times on this island and overseas. While the people of Scotland can be heartened that Scotland had less hate crimes reported as a result of the BREXIT vote we cannot be complacent in our continuous effort to create a Scotland where mutual trust, respect and understanding form the basis for our lives and our relationships with others. I am reminded of the quote attributed to Edmund Burke that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing. We have just had Remembrance Sunday and as the collective living memory fades from the two world wars I am struck that if we don’t learn from our history we may mindlessly repeat it.
Last week the religious leaders of Scotland and members of Interfaith Scotland met with the First Minister at an interfaith summit. We discussed how faith and interfaith engagement with young people contributes to community cohesion. I have witnessed how bringing people of different faiths into schools can reduce the demonising of the ‘other’ and how that face to face contact and dialogue can turn potential enemies into friends. I first came involved in interfaith dialogue when I attended an interfaith youth retreat on Holy Isle off the coast of Arran. I found a group of enthusiastic young people from all faiths who had a passionate commitment to making a positive difference in the world. I found that we are all interconnected and share common values. In that spirit, may we all challenge fears and suspicion when we see them and become a positive and united force for change in society.”