The Power of Good in Hand of Friendship

By Home, Colette Douglas | Daily Mail (London), December 28, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Power of Good in Hand of Friendship


Home, Colette Douglas, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: COLETTE DOUGLAS HOME

IT was standing room only in St Giles Cathedral when we arrived for the midnight service. Attending was a last-minute decision, my daughter winkling me out from a Christmas Eve torpor. The shopping was finally finished, the preparations for the morning complete.

I would have curled up in front of a movie or under a duvet but once it was mentioned I realised that I had ducked out of church last year, maybe even the year before too - so I threw on my coat and set off. The urge was infectious - as our taxi driver dropped us by the door he decided he should come too. The minister, the Very Rev Gilleasbuig Macmillan, preached about the power of the individual, about reaching out to one another.

The atmosphere was relaxed. American voices mingled with Scots, strangers shared hymnals, the choir soared through O Come All Ye Faithful and, like all first class performances, the service erred on the side of brevity.

Outside, the minister shook as many hands as he could reach as we streamed down the steps.

We walked back down through the still, chill, beautiful city in the first hour of Christmas morning buoyed up by a renewed sense not just of what Christmas is all about but what life is all about, and I thought about those American voices at prayer a long way from home.

I thought about how we treat religion like a neglected friend. Yet in China, where it was outlawed under communism, churches in Beijing have to hold a series of services to fit everyone in on Christmas Day.

In New York, too, there is a fresh appreciation of religion, a realisation there's more to life than merchandise.

But whoever said that the Bible can be quoted by the devil for his own ends could have added the Koran and the Talmud for good measure.

For although religion is said to be at the heart of many conflicts - from the Middle East to the Balkans and from Northern Ireland to the terrorist attacks on America - it's not a love of God that calls people to arms. It wasn't faith in Islam that persuaded Richard Reid, the would-be Bromley Bomber to pack his shoes with plastic explosive and set off on a suicide mission, it was the finding of a cause.

This Mr Bean of terrorism would have changed the course of world events if he had used a lighter to ignite his shoe instead of a box of matches. As we recovered the remains of his fellow passengers from the ocean, we might have thought him a terrorist mastermind.

BUT we should be more frightened to have been brought so close to disaster by such a loser.

For as the chairman o f Brixton mosque says, there are hundreds of disaffected young men like him in South London alone.

There is an army of Reids amongst us, an army of our own creation. Just as the affluent West is being made to realise that in future it will ignore a starving Third World at its peril, so affluent Britain needs to waken up to the need to involve and incorporate all its citizens - or fear them.

What did life in London offer Reid? He was of mixed race, poor and unsuccessful even at mugging. His past was empty, his future bleak.

His conversion to Islam offered him a sense of meaning.

It gave him a community.

Within its embrace Richard Reid, the archetypal nobody, felt like somebody. …

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