With the rise of ‘Jihad Tourism’ in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, we are told in the UK that the majority of the resources of MI5 is now spent on tracking British Jihadists. Whilst it is alarming to see masked young men with British accents calling for others to join them, I haven’t seen many intelligent reflections on what is attracting them. What are the underlying causes? Sadly sectarian hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims is out of our hands. However close behind is a hatred of ‘the West’. Some of the disillusionment is justified, most of it isn’t. Perhaps our culture excludes more that it includes – with a jaded consumerism, a morally bankrupt celebrity culture and a pornography addled internet with an increasingly toxic and angry social media. Secularists seem to be in denial of all of this and the public debate about faith becomes shriller, with religion being marginalised and often portrayed as being problematic.
As well as some mosques there seem to be three places were radicalisation often occurs, prisons, the internet and universities. A brief look at the history of university education in this country may be in order at this point. Up until the middle ages the universities in these isles were places of theological formation – often run by monastic orders. Of the seven ancient universities (founded before 1600), three of them were founded by papal bulls (Glasgow, St Andrews, Aberdeen) the rest by royal charters (Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Dublin). After Henry VIII’s schism, Catholics were banned from attending many of these universities, and they became exclusive to Anglican students. In the 19th Century, the new generation of ‘redbrick’ universities, based in the growing industrial cities saw it as their civic duty to accept any students without reference to religious belief, and so were proudly secular.
The universities in Manchester fall into this category and because of this secular background they have an uneasy relationship with religion and its presence on campus. It is time for them to rethink this. It maybe that things are changing as they realise how chaplaincy services provide valuable student support and can be at a basic level be a useful addition to student welfare provision. Generally in universities with huge populations of students, (In Manchester 40,000+) – this support for students welfare is inadequate. More importantly universities need to realise that their most effective weapon against radicalisation is well-funded and supported chaplaincy provision. Most young people who are serious about faith will adopt a more conservative/traditional religious identity in order to distinguish themselves in a secular and sometimes hostile culture. A good chaplain can bring experience and wisdom to smooth of some of the harder edges…. universities don’s seem to realise that, students unions often put chaplains in backwaters in freshers week, or their offices in out-of-the-way, hard to find places. Chaplains often complain of institutional apathy, or obstruction and tokenism from the institutions. This needs to change.
2 of our students with a representative of the myriad foundation
One of the beautiful things to see emerging the last few months is how students of different faiths are helping us with the foodbank. Every few weeks or so a couple of Muslim lads drop by with a car full of food that they have collected from various mosques. The same day when they paid their last visit we received a cheque for £250 from the local synagogue. Neither donations had been solicited from either faith community and they were gladly received. The Muslims run an excellent charity called the Myriad Foundation which aims ‘ To make a positive impact on society and a significant contribution to the community’.
Another story which was heart-warming was when two young ladies turned up with two boxes of cakes. I gratefully received them and asked them what had motivated them to donate them. It turned out that their mother had recently used the foodbank. She was so grateful that now that she had got out of her temporary crisis, she had held a cake sale to raise money for our foodbank, and so the next week a cheque arrived for a few hundred pounds.
At the recent National Conference of the Trussel Trust – I attended a workshop on how to receive the stories of our clients. At first we were reluctant to ‘pry’ into the reasons why people were coming for the foodbank. However we have since learnt that we actually have a duty to give people the option to tell their stories. It seems that about 80% of the users are all to keen to tell their stories (we have had been able to help over 1,300 people so far). The Trussel Trust are keen to get their stories’out there’ in order to challenge the negative stereotypes and myths of ‘scroungers’ that seems to poison the public debate about poverty in this country. The stories initially are taken anonymously and will be posted up on our blog (link), and then the majority of clients give permission to use them with media outlets / or journalists who get in touch – this time with some independent verification.