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Choosing Peace

Responding to terrorism

by Claire Law

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To reflect upon the recent terrorist attack in London and to consider how choosing peace can be a positive response.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Choosing Peace) and the means to display them.

  • Optional: you may wish to use reflective music as the students enter and leave.

Assembly

  1. Show Slide 1.

    Today, we are going to reflect upon the recent terrorist attack in London.

  2. Show Slide 2.

    On Wednesday 22 March, a man drove a vehicle along the pavement of Westminster Bridge before crashing it outside Parliament and attempting to gain entry. In the course of the incident, four people (including the attacker) died and many others were injured, some of them seriously. An unarmed policeman was stabbed during the incident. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, described the attack as ‘sick and depraved’, but stated that the incident would not undermine our values of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.
  3. For many people, the question that is being asked is, ‘Why?’ Why would anyone seek to cause such destruction, hurt and fear? Why would they target ordinary people walking across a London bridge?

    The newspapers, news bulletins and social media are full of reports covering the attack. Many people turn to these to help them make sense of what has happened in the hope that they can begin to answer some of the ‘why questions.

    Unfortunately, however, the ‘why’ questions are complex and difficult to answer. Immediately after an attack such as this, it is important to reflect not only on the ‘why’ questions, but also on the ‘what next’ questions. What is the correct response to such an event? What are we to do? Think? Feel?

  4. Show Slide 3.

    By definition, terrorism is an act that is designed to make people feel terror, to feel scared. A terrorist act uses violence or force to bring this about.

    It may feel that we have no choice after such a terrible event other than feeling afraid and worried. But we do, we always have a choice! We can choose not to allow fear and terror to define us or our responses. We can choose to work towards a society where we act with tolerance, compassion and love for others. Such a choice requires great courage. However, it is vital that we consider whether we might choose to respond in this way and how we can practically achieve this.

  5. Show Slide 4.

    In November 2015, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, people of many different races, religions and backgrounds queued together to donate blood to help the victims who were wounded in the attack. This might seem like a small act, but, by coming together and chatting to others as they queued, these people showed that community was stronger than terror.

    The day after the Paris attacks, the Catholic Archbishop of Paris, André Vingt-Trois, prayed for ‘the grace of a firm heart, without hatred.’ In a simple way, he was calling for people to choose a path other than hatred. In doing so, he urged people to choose love, peace and tolerance.

  6. Show Slide 5.

    Another response to the Paris attacks came from Quakers in Britain, a Christian group who support peace and non-violence in our world. They said, ‘The courageous response of ordinary people who refuse to give up their way of life and refuse to be driven by fear is one that politicians could learn from.’ Again, this quotation speaks of a choice, a choice to respond with hope and courage rather than fear and hatred.

  7. The Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has also spoken of the importance of choosing peace as a response to terror. In a statement after the French attacks, he said, ‘Let us work for peace within our families and society.’

Time for reflection

So what does all this mean for us? What practical things can we choose to do as a response? How can we choose to work towards a society where we act with tolerance, compassion and love for others?

Here are some practical suggestions and pointers to help us in our reflections today. We will pause after each point to give ourselves space and time to reflect and consider how we might put each point into practice.

- Today, when we feel anger or hatred towards another person, let’s stop and mentally count to ten. By giving ourselves this brief space and time, we have the chance to reflect upon whether acting on our anger will help or hinder peace. We are giving ourselves space to choose how we react.

What difference might that make for us? 

Pause to allow time for thought.

- When we wake up each morning, maybe we could get into the habit of saying a simple statement or mantra that shows our intention to work courageously towards peace, rather than hatred. For example, we could say - silently or out loud - Today, I choose peace.’

What difference might that make for us?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- We often fear the unknown. We may feel threatened by people who are different from us or whose way of life or culture we don’t understand. Can we commit to making a special effort to choose to speak to someone today whom we have never spoken to before? Or could we choose to find out something about a country, culture or religion that is different from our own? With knowledge comes an understanding that although humans may be different, they share much in common.

What difference might this information or contact with another person make for us?

Pause to allow time for thought.

- Watching the news reports, reading the headlines and following media coverage after a terrorist attack can feed our ‘need to know’. But there is also a danger that repeated viewing of headlines can lead to increased fear and panic. Panicky stories spur the release of the hormone, cortisol, in our brain. Our bodies find themselves in a state of stress and fear, with the possible side effects of anger and aggression. We can choose to turn off the news headlines when we have sufficient information. Instead, we can choose to read, think or connect with stories of hope, love, compassion and tolerance.

What difference might it make for us to choose to limit our exposure to news stories about terror? What or who can we choose to listen to instead?

Pause to allow time for thought.

Show Slide 6 as the following prayer is being read.

Prayer
Dear God,
Please be with those who have been injured and hurt by the recent terrorist attack.
Please be close to the families and friends of those who have been killed or hurt.
Upsetting events, hurt and destruction in our world cause us to ask, ‘Why?’
We pray today that we have the courage to ask ourselves, ‘What next?’
We ask that you guide us with wisdom, compassion and tolerance to work for a world in which peace reigns.
Peace among nations, peace among people and peace within our own hearts and communities.
Give us the strength to choose practical actions and ways of thinking that help us to act in a loving way.
Help us to shun the path of fear, anger and aggression. Lead us towards love, hope and solidarity.
Amen.

Publication date: March 2017   (Vol.19 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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