(courtesty of Wikipedia.org)
The news that last night a car bomb was found in Luton and that the station was closed off, as were one or two University campuses, is one I found rather sad.
I went to Luton University and graduated there in 1998, having studied 'Media Practices'. I lived in the town, albeit away from the centre and in the Bury Park area, which has a high muslim population. (I also lived a street away from the football ground, and whilst I am a Leicester City fan I would keep an eye on Luton's progress as my 'fav Second Division team'). The University also had a lot of muslim students and right now I am thinking of two of them.
I did not know them well enough by name, although I should have made the effort with hindsight, but the contrast between the two was marked.
The first one was from the Middle East and I met him during an evangelistic drive the the University Christian Union did (This involved going around the main sites, asking people questions about what they thought about 'Life, the Universe, and Everything' with the aid of a questionare). He was difficult, agressive, and seemed to conform to all the unpleasant sterotypes of middle east muslims. He spoke of dealing with Homosexuals by throwing them off cliffs and ranting about the decadent corruption of the West and the weakness of Christians in accepting other faiths, and whilst this was going on I remember thinking that I had only seen people like him in books, in films, and on the TV and never face to face.
This happened in the University cafeteria in the main building and whilst I was there with someone else, about five or six of his friends came over and joined in and eventually I had a theological headache.
I do wonder what has become of this man. If I bumped into him in the street I would make a point of smiling and saying hello and he would say hi but look at me as if I was someone beneath him (although to be fair I did attend a talk given to the Muslim Society, and in my ignorance went and sat down on the first available chair before realising I was on the 'women's side'. The look he gave me was understandably one of disgust).
Perhaps he is the Luton student that ended up going into Afghanistan and got killed fighting for the Taliban, or perhaps he has calmed down over the years and works as a moderate businessman, politican, or diplomat. Who knows!
Then there was the other student, a couple of decades older, who frequently went to the Chaplaincy Centre to pray upstairs. He frequently came in the main room to ask if he could use the upper rooms, was always smiling, polite, courteous, charming. I remember late one evening exchanging pleasanteries in the IT Suite, as we found ourselves sitting next to each other working on our respective essays, and yet I never got to find out his name or really anything about him. It is one of those times when the phrase 'Youth is wasted on the young!' springs to mind.
They are saying that the radical hotheads amongst the community are the young and that is understandable. They rightly attack the West for being decadent but in their anger they fail to spot the subtle distinctions in society and the need for forgiveness, as well as the need to be careful on being judgemental for fear of making yourself as bad as your enemy, albeit perhaps in different ways.
So I am saddened this has come about, saddened that this has happened in a town I grew fond of in the three years I was there, but nontheless hopeful for the future!
Apologies for the unflattering picture by the way. Luton looks a lot better in sunshine.