There has been a dramatic rise in religious tragedies in recent weeks. Following the Christchurch attack, Notre-Dame fire, Sri Lanka attacks, are our religious sites safe in this new dangerous world? What does this sharp rise mean? I asked a local religious leader, Reverend Alan Bayes some questions.

Hussain; Following the attacks in Christchurch and Sri Lanka, and the fire in Notre Dame, do you believe that our religious buildings are safe in this dangerous modern world?

Revd. Bayes; Ahh, That’s a very interesting question. I think that there is certainly more evidence of religious communities being under attack, which is worrying, and I think we need to look at how we secure our buildings but it is always difficult because you want to encourage people to be able to come to worship, and you don’t want to have to create a barrier that is going to be difficult because many of our Churches are open during the day for people to go and say a prayer, and I imagine that Mosques and other religious buildings would be the same, and I think that’s important. I’d hate It to have to be the case where we have to lock our religious buildings and only have them open with very tight security so its getting that balance right; we want to protect worshipers and we want to make sure their safe but equally the accessibility of buildings needs to be ensured as well, as much as possible, but I think that there is a lot of anxiety following the attacks amongst faith communities that they are being targeted, whether it’s the Muslim community as it was in the case of Christchurch, or the Christian community as it was in Sri Lanka.

What do you think that Churches and other religious communities can do to prevent these tragedies from taking place?

Ooh that’s a very interesting question. I think a lot of it is to do with education, actually, I don’t know if you were there when I said a few words about religious communities being able to emphasise that the people who carry out these attacks have nothing to do with religion, and if anything, they represent the opposite of what religion teaches, and to a show solidarity. I’ve been very impressed by examples I have seen of how members of another faith’s community have rallied round when people of another faith have been attacked; for example, I know that in the middle east, when one of the Mosques was attacked, the Christian community came around, and I think there have been similar examples when Churches have been attacked and Muslims have come around and offered their space of worship. There was an attack in America on a Jewish synagogue and the local mosque immediately stepped in and said “how can we help?”. That ability of religious communities to come together, to support each other, and to send that very powerful message to people saying that 2this is nothing to od with our religion, and you blaspheme our religion; people who do this are blasphemers.” They do not represent any of the religions. People who claim to be Muslims who carryout attacks are blasphemers, not Muslims. People who claim to be Christians who carry out attacks are not Christians; they are the opposite and are not acting in the name of nay religion. So, Education, communities coming together and preventing that kind of radicalism from emerging through support from the community.

So, do you believe that integration between different communities is key?

Absolutely, it is vital to have proper integration because e I think some communities have felt isolated, and therefore that’s kind of led to extremism emerging from within some of those communities; So, integration and people feeling part of society and fully involved prevents this kind of extremism. Also, I think there’s a danger of linking events that happened in other parts of the world to events that happen elsewhere; for example, people link events that happened in the middle east and the Israel/Palestine conflict, and they try to use these to justify acts of violence against innocent people in other countries, which is completely wrong. Of course, should be seeking solutions to these problems, but there should be solutions that other politicians and other elected people are doing, but taking the law into your own hands, particularly down the route of violence never solves anything, ever.

So, what would you say to people who may be tempted to turn to violence or terrorism in the future?

Don’t! (Its) very clear. However, I think it’s important to emphasise some of the people who spread these radical ideas; some of radical preachers and some of the other people who spread these ideas and influence people. Often, some of these people who get influenced are maybe people who are feeling a bit venerable, so we need to stop them feeling like that. The communities need to take a stance. For example, in Sri Lanka, one of the people involved was a known radical preacher, and some of the people from the community he came from are deeply ashamed him coming from their community, because their a peaceful community in Sri Lanka, and virtually all the other Imams have said that this is wrong, and they didn’t have anything to do with this, and I think similarly with extremists in other religions. Religious communities need to identify these radicals as early as possible, and don’t give them a platform or airtime. Don’t give them a voice. I think the media doesn’t help. The media should not focus on these negative images because that just stokes up violence. I think the media need to act more responsibly, and there needs to be a more responsible code of conduct around the coverage of some things, and they should not whip up extremism on either side.

So, do you think reporting on terrorism excessively can cause more terrorism in the future?

I think it doesn’t help. I think it can lead to people becoming radicalised, and it could lead to revenge attacks. I think the media have to be more responsible in how they report on these events. I think the language they use is important, because sometimes they use inflammatory language that does not help the situation; for example, in the case of Muslim communities, they connect Islam and terrorism, which unfortunately has led to people stigmatising the Muslim community. These people are criminals and terrorists; don’t use any other label for them. Whatever religion they say they are from, they are criminals and are not religious people; they pretend to be but they’re not.

Do you now believe that it is inevitable that future attacks will take place?

Well, sadly were in a very unstable world. I fear that this is the case. I hope that they won’t, but I fear that future attacks will take place, because sadly, some people still believe in the way of violence. As in the case of IS, you still have this problem where you have these people coming back to these countries, who have already been radicalised, who are stoking up more violence as they fight battles elsewhere in the world, even though they have lost the battles in Syria and in Iraq. There’s also a danger from right wing group. Sadly, people are becoming polarised, and I think we have to be very careful to counter these radical narratives by positive narratives, and I think social media, as well as the mainstream media, have a lot to do to shut down these extremist websites. I think there needs to be a concentrated effort across governments and organisations to shut them down at an early stage. I think that intelligence gathering is important; fortunately, many attacks have been prevented. It’s very sad that unfortunately, in the case of Sri Lanka, there was information that was not acted on, and we don’t know why. The gathering of intelligence is really important. It’s a real tragedy.

There could be an argument that shutting down extremists, even though it’s a great thing to do, could be a removal of free speech.

That’s a tricky one. I am a great advocate of free speech, but then, free speech can become hate speech, and I think that rightfully there is a law against hate speech. There is an important difference to be made between allowing free speech ( I think that this absolutely vital in any democracy), and being prepared to listen to the views of people you may disagree with, and allowing them to express their views, but when that speech that their giving becomes hate speech and becomes either a vilification of someone else or a denial of someone else, then they should not be given a platform. Yes, they may have a point of view we may regard as extreme, but as long as it is put across in a way that is to reason, but there is a difference between that and someone who wants to whip up violence and vilify someone else. I think that’s where the division is.

So, what do you think about the case of Julian Assange?

I think he did a good job and I admire people like him who do this. There is an argument that we should know the truth. It’s interesting that the climate change protestors who have been in the news recently have a slogan about having a space to tell the truth, and I think. That there is a lot to be said for that. Definitely, raising awareness.

Finally, what would you say to innocent families affected by these recent tragedies?

My heart goes out to them. I would like to offer them my support, my prayers, and I hope and pray that they won’t seek revenge, because the way of revenge never works. Actually, if you become a person that seeks revenge, it has more of an effect on you; it makes you bitter and it makes you almost as bad as the person you seek revenge for. The path of revenge is never a good path. It creates a chain of destruction. Create a desire to make a positive change; I know some people who have been motivated by tragedy to want to change things. Revenge never achieves anything constructive. It’s a bad emotion, and it’s not good. I can understand why people feel it, but somehow we need to help to channel that right anger into positive actions and positive change.