Bridges not Barriers

By Simon Bennett 31 Oct, 2016
Unlike here in the West, people in the Middle East do not have the choice of saying they are atheist, that they have no religion. To do so would bring shame on them and their families. People here are defined by their religion. They attend schools depending on it, socialise with people of similar faiths, often live in towns and villages according to it. Jobs, contracts, business deals can all be won and lost by it. To have no faith would be to have no status, to be an outcast.

At its best this builds strong supportive communities. At worst, it polarises people's views of each other, fosters suspicion and distrust.
Sam is 17. He was in his final year of school and looking forward to university when he and his family were forced to leave their home in Mosul because they are Christian. His life has been violently shattered by others in the name of Islam but he says this has strengthened, not diminished, his faith.

I ask him where he sees his future.

'How can I ever go back to my home country? We were betrayed, they took our home, our car, our possessions and also ur money. They took our dignity.'

I ask him where he would like to live, would he want to move to the UK to continue his education? He folds his arms and his deep brown eyes are filled with bewilderment.

'You don't understand what you have done in your country. You welcome Muslims but they are wicked, they murder, they steal, they will take over your country and yet you allow them too. This we do not understand.' A move to the UK of his imagining is as unthinkable as a return home.

I explain that 99% of Muslims are peaceful, gentle people, that they have nothing in common with the people in Iraq who have displaced him and that in most of British society people of different faiths and no faith live alongside each other happily, more often than not unaware of each other's religion. This does little to allay his bewilderment. His experience of Islam is not a positive one, his experience of secularism and faithlessness non existent. I am talking of somewhere he cannot comprehend.

It's easy for us to imagine that moving to the West is a dream ticket for people like Sam but the reality can be very different - our culture and the nature of our society are entirely alien to him - the sights, sounds and tastes, the way we live, our climate. But even these pale in comparison to what leaving to settle in another country might entail. He will leave a lot more than the place he calls home, the food he has grown up with, the culture he has shared with his friends. He may find himself compromising, even sacrificing, the very thing that defines him above all else, his deeply held religious identity. On the other hand, immigrants like Sam and his family can bring new strength to British communities struggling to keep the flame of their faith burning in an increasingly secular society.

People on both sides of this crisis need a better understanding of each other.

By Simon Bennett 29 Sep, 2016
What do you see in the picture? Who do you see? A young man just like you, with hopes, dreams and aspirations just like you? Or do you see a terrorist with eyes full of hate, fixed on violence? 

The truth is you cannot see the person at all. His eyes are in shadow and the rest of his face is covered. We judge based on what we can't see - a collection of preconceptions our brains might have put together based entirely on our perspective. If you are a Jordanian you will see a fellow countryman wrapped up against the cold and think there is no more to the picture than that.

If you are a Westerner you might well see a jumble of messages based on symbolism you don't fully understand. What is that on his head? Why does he wear it? Is he hiding? Who is he? Suspicion may be the first thing to fill your head.

He is, in fact... a young man who works in the Jordanian tourism industry. His job is to escort tour groups to ensure they stay safe and to promote the beauty of his country's sights and cultural heritage. 
By Simon Bennett 30 Jul, 2016
We can all learn something from Walid. He lives in Gaza and works tirelessly for those less fortunate than himself. Life in Gaza is tough, many people are still homeless or living in temporary shelters after years of conflict but still they can spare a thought for others.

This is Walid...!blank/uiinv
And these are his own words...

I'm not a super man, and I am not a political figure, I am a human, like any human being on this planet, I can not change my situation,
but my Fate to go into a daily struggle with crises which I live, in Gaza City,
I am human and I have my own feelings as others human being,

during the recent aggression on Gaza Summer 2014 , i have experienced the meaning of The "Refugee" word , and what does it means to live in a shelter, The place is not your place nor your address, it is a place when that you are trying to find for yourself and for your safety, so I decided today that to visit the owners of Destroyed house during the recent aggression on My village, I'm sure that these photos will not change anything a usual pictures , but, I invite you to stand for a minute and live this conflict with yourself, put yourself in this place , replace that you are this child who has lost his home, imagine that you are lives in place ,That No one accept to live in .
while we are sit in our homes and we following the media, listening to the rain and Enjoying the snow,
This campaign I've made Day in Solidarity with Syrian Refugees To show them that Gaza people lives the same Suffers, Also because we have the same pain and suffering the same Cloud made it the same suffering here , When no body seems To care ,
These clouds and rain made us share the same suffering,
We all stand in solidarity With Refugees heart emoticon
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