INTER-FAITH VIGIL FOR ALAN JOHNSTON

By Mike Wooldridge
BBC World Affairs Correspondent

An inter-faith vigil has taken place at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London’s Trafalgar Square, marking six weeks since the abduction of the BBC correspondent in Gaza Alan Johnston.

A rabbi and an imam joined the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields in appealing for the release of the journalist, who was seized by unknown kidnappers as he drove between his office and his home in Gaza City.

Rabbi Mark Winer, senior rabbi at the West London synagogue, drew attention to the significance of this event, bringing together representatives of the three major faiths in the Middle East.

He said: “Despite the different narratives and interpretations we may have for what is going on in our common Holy Land, we are united in our resolve that the kidnapping of a journalist, the kidnapping of Alan Johnston, is outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour regardless of the truth or justice of anyone’s cause.”

“We ask for God’s sake, for Allah’s sake, for humanity’s sake please let Alan go free”
Dr Abduljalil Sajid

All three faiths had their extremists, Rabbi Winer said, and those taking part in this vigil wanted to associate themselves with peacemakers who stood for mutual respect for differences.

Damaged causes

Dr Abduljalil Sajid, imam and chairman of the UK Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, spoke of vigils that had been taking place in British mosques.

“We ask for God’s sake, for Allah’s sake, for humanity’s sake please let Alan go free,” he said.
And he delivered this direct challenge to the correspondent’s captors: “It is not right to keep a person against his will and it is not right that you should damage the good cause of the Palestinians.”

The vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Rev Nicholas Holtam, prayed for all in captivity “and in whose heart the lamp of hope burns low”.

Each person attending the vigil – many of them journalist colleagues of Alan Johnston’s – followed the example of the three clerics in lighting a candle and placing it at the foot of a large placard bearing Alan Johnston’s picture.

Then, on the portico of one of Britain’s most famous churches overlooking Trafalgar Square, the BBC’s deputy director-general, Mark Byford, led the gathering in a silent reflection.

He said: “For the last 75 years, the BBC has relied on an extraordinary group of people who go into the world’s trouble spots, often just as everyone else is getting out – remarkable, courageous journalists who brave hardship and face danger because they believe the story needs to be told and who are driven by truth and integrity.

“No-one is braver – or faced more hardship – than Alan Johnston.”

Mr Byford said the BBC was continuing to do all it could to ensure his safe release.

But with this and other vigils elsewhere, another week begins with no verified news of the journalist’s condition or whereabouts.

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