I think it was with some trepidation that myself and fellow members of Medway Inter Faith Action (MIFA), a local interfaith group associated the The Inter Faith Network for the UK, set out for our Walk for Peace on July 2nd. Although this walk, a procession to promote peace between people of all faiths and no faiths in Medway, had been carefully planned for many months, we still had many concerns. Would anyone turn up? What if it rained? What if some kind of accident happened on the way? And what if we got attacked by racists?
In the wake of the June 23rd referendum in which the majority of the UK voted to leave the European Union, there have been some worrying and shocking reports of a sudden increase in race-related hate crimes throughout the country. Apparently the usually cowardly racists have been emboldened by the Leave vote to attack and abuse migrants and ethnic minorities – perhaps because they stupidly think the majority of the country agrees with their hateful views.
So here we were, a group representing a great diversity of races and religions, about to parade proudly though the streets of Medway to promote the idea that everyone regardless of race or religion can get along. There were Christians carrying signs representing their various churches and groups. There were members of the Baha’i faith with banners promoting the message of “One planet, one people.” There were Muslim Imams dressed in traditional fashion and holding placards with quotes from the Quran about the importance of peace. There were Pagans like myself, who you could quite easily identify from the multiple pendants with pentagrams and other such symbols. There were atheists, agnostics and people who just consider themselves “spiritual.” And in addition to plenty of Brits, there were also people from other European countries, India, Nigeria, New Zealand, Iran, and America, to name but a few.
If there was ever a group that could be considered a target for some of the hostility that we’d been reading about in the press, it was us.
But rather than keeping people indoors and away from any potential threats, I think the Walk for Peace actually brought out those who felt that now more than ever, we need to express this idea of the importance of peace and unity, which is perhaps one reason why we had such an unexpectedly large turnout in the end – about 60 people at a rough estimate.
The walk began in the middle of Gillingham High Street, opening with singing, prayers and representatives of Kent Muslim Welfare Association, Ahmadiyya Muslim Organisation and the local evangelical St Marks Church. With our various banners, we then proceeded through the Great Lines Heritage Park towards one of Medway’s most significant monuments, the Chatham Naval Memorial. The Memorial provided a good point for a rest stop, and it seemed particularly suitable to pause for a moment of contemplation of the meaning of our Peace Walk – especially considering that the UK had commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme the day before.