On the evening of Monday 9th March we held our first regional Forgiveness Conversation in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh Chaplaincy. This multi-faith public conversation asked the question Can Radical Compassion Win the War on Violent Extremism – a discussion title that one audience member challenged, stating that it was terminology used to perpetuate national panic, Islamaphobia and racism. Speaker Yasmin Mulbocus who had formerly been radicalised by a “cult” Islamic group agreed that terminology is key, and that she did not like the term ‘war on violent extremism’ either.
This lively debate was our first Forgiveness Conversation outside London and several people in the audience commented that it was high time The Forgiveness Project had come up North!
The discussion centred on the three speakers’ personal experience of violence. Yasmin Mulbocus who between 1996-2000 was actively recruiting members to a now banned Islamic group; Bjorn Ihler – a survivor of the Utoya island massacre in Norway; and Jo Berry whose father was murdered in the 1984 Brighton Bomb and who has since met and dialogued with Patrick Magee, the IRA ex combatant responsible, over 150 times.
All spoke with the clarity and passion of people who had suffered from violence or violent rhetoric and didn’t want to perpetuate the cycle. With the threat of Islamic State attracting young women from the UK to support Jihadists in Syria, Yasmin warned ‘this kind of ideology breaks the monotony of life and is an adventure for young people but we need to bring them back to reality and empower them with critical thinking so that they come to realise the reason to exist is to be a benefit to society.”
Bjorn spoke chillingly about his encounter with Anders Breivik on the island of Utoya as the killer took aim and missed his target. Bjorn said that in that moment he had been certain he would die and that ‘everything I’ve done since then has been about trying to stitch my soul back together again.’ He spoke up for radical compassion saying that we have to recognize Breivik’s humanity and not simply label him as an “evil monster” in order to understand why evil happens. ‘I find people’s efforts to dehumanize him really scary because that’s what he tried to do to us,’ he said drawing a parallel between his fellow Norwegians not wanting to mention Breivik’s name to a scenario in Harry Potter where Lord Voldemort is so feared his name is not spoken: ‘A name should never have that kind of power.’
Jo Berry spoke about radical compassion being much more than feeling compassionate, but rather about taking action to make the world a safer place. She also acknowledged when questioned from the audience about the limits and conditions of forgiveness that this was a word she now seldom used as it was too loaded with assumption and preconception.
After the event ended one student came up to tell us it had been of one the most meaningful debates she had ever attended and could we be sure to organise some more.
We plan to continue with our regional Forgiveness Conversations later in the year. If you haven’t already, do sign up for our newsletter to be kept up-to-date.