Art aims to heal London wounds

As the first anniversary of the July 7 bombings in London approaches, inter-community groups hope to create a new level of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims through cultural events.

    A series of events will seek to promote cultural understanding

    At least four festivals and exhibitions highlighting Muslim culture will be held during the first anniversary of the bombings in which four British Muslim extremists killed 52 people and injured hundreds.
    The anniversary will undoubtedly draw significant attention to the events, something organisers have mixed feelings about.

    Margaret O'Brien, season programmer of Middle East Now at the British Museum, hopes that debates about art can bring two sides together at least culturally, if not politically.

    "It's political in the sense that we're giving space to artists and filmmakers and writers to reflect on culture in the Middle East," O'Brien said.

    "That's not to say that we're outside of politics, but quite often we're concerned with how people express themselves about politics."

    Cultural balm

    Prakash Daswani, head of cultural co-operation and director of this year's Salaam Music Festival expressed similar views, saying: "We are making a political statement with a small 'p'."

    "Culture isn't outside of all that. Culture is very much a part of everything"

    Prakash Daswani,
    Director Salaam Music Festival

    Daswani said that although the festival is primarily a musical event, he could not "ignore the great sensitivities and also the increasing politicisation of Islam and the way that this whole issue is such a hot political potato".

    "Culture isn't outside of all that," he said. "Culture is very much a part of everything."

    Other event organisers are avoiding political associations.

    Isabel Carlisle, director of the year-long Festival of Muslim Culture, said: "We don't want to get caught up in the political fallout or to be seen to be riding on any kind of emotional bandwagon … We are very carefully steering away from politics, ideology and sectarianism."

    Chris Meikan, director of Continental Drifts, says his series of world music performances this summer – including the high-profile Crescent Stage of music from the Muslim world – is "purely about culture. No one's got any faith in the political system in England".

    Divided opinion

    There is strong support from across the political and cultural spectrum for events such as this. Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, called the city's anti-racist Rise Festival "a powerful way of getting our anti-racist message into media that often do not cover politics at all".

    This year's Celebrating Sanctuary festival – held in June to counter prejudices against refugees and asylum seekers - was the first to be endorsed by all three main political parties.

    But some find the timing questionable. 

    The far-right British National Party (BNP) has posted a statement on its website condemning the Islam Expo – a celebration of the culture and religion of Islam which runs from July 6 to 9 – as "the lowest depths of insensitivity" for coinciding with the bombing anniversary.

    "Instead of putting on concerts to coincide with this, what they should be doing is warning people"

    Phil Edwards,
    British National Party

    Phil Edwards, BNP's national press officer, said: "The fact that there are these festivals doesn't mean that the British population want them. They don't really want them. They're given no choice.

    "Instead of putting on concerts to coincide with this, what they should be doing is warning people."


    This backlash has event organisers concerned.

    Daswani felt that the anniversary might re-invigorate a wave of Islamophobia, saying: "We've got the anniversary of the London bombings about to come up. At that time, we're sure that there're going to be all kinds of extremist views being put forward."

    Perhaps the most significant challenge is simply getting the message of multiculturalism across.

    Some do get influenced. Some don't.

    When asked how successful he thought the event was, a visitor to this year's Celebrating Sanctuary Festival said: "It's preaching to the converted."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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