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     Volume 4 Issue 71 | November 18, 2005 |

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Our Common Identity
Citizens of the World

Shaheen Choudhury

THE rush hour train pulled out of my local station. I had managed to grab a seat. I looked round, there were people of every description. They were all ordinary people making their way to work or to their daily business.

The woman opposite wore a gypsy skirt and a pink sleeveless top. Her long silver earrings with strands of beads touched her shoulders as she looked down and took out an Avon catalogue from her embroidered handbag.

Someone brushed against me. I looked up. It was a young black man wearing jogging pants and trainers. I noticed the words on his white wrist band, Make Poverty History. He turned his baseball hat and I could see his earphones. He moved with the rhythm of the music that only he could hear. On the other side sat an impeccably dressed man in a dark suit. He carried a black case which probably contained a laptop. He looked like the IT whiz-kids of my office. The person sitting next to me was frantically pressing the numbers on his mobile telephone. He soon started a conversation in a language which I hardly recognised. He was probably from some East European country. I pulled the end of my sari and draped it round myself like a scarf. It was the 11th of July, only 4 days after 7/7.

I had ceased to be a commuter many years ago. I was on my way to Waterloo to catch a train to Dorset to visit my aunt who was in hospital. It was just before 9am. I could not help thinking of the outrageous events of the previous Thursday that had not only shocked the Londoners but the whole planet. The people on the ill-fated tube trains and bus were very much like the people around me. They were ordinary people, innocent victims of a tragedy that cannot be justified. I tried to think why this happened...and why this way....? What were those four young people trying to say by ending their own lives and the lives of so many others...? If it was the Iraq war, they had killed those very people who had marched on the streets of London with anti-war banners. I thought of my 70-year- old Jewish friend who had been on the march to register her protest. The conflicts and politics of this world are very complex.

I looked out, at a distance I could see a row of shops, a Chinese take away, a tandoori restaurant, a fish and chip shop followed by a large sign saying, Doner Kebab Sold Here. I thought of the fusion of cultures. I felt enriched by the diversity of the environment I lived in and appreciated multi-culturalism once again. We have many commonalities and numerous differences. This is what makes the world interesting.

I noticed a church spire. It reminded me that only a few blocks away was another church hall where we ran mother-tongue classes for Bangladeshi children. On many occasions, the Muslim children have celebrated religious events there. The non-Muslims had also joined in and the church welcomed us with open arms.

The train stopped at Lewisham. The smartly dressed office workers who were probably heading for the Canary Wharf area rushed out towards the Docklands Light Railway platform. A number of people stepped in through the open door.

A young woman wearing a hijab (headscarf) walked in. She carried with great difficulty, a bag that was loaded with heavy books. I could see the words Gray's Anatomy. She was probably heading for Guy's medical school. Behind her was an Asian man in his early twenties with a rucksack and a mobile telephone in his hand. I noticed the discomfort among the fellow passengers immediately. They all looked at him. I could read the thoughts that crossed everyone's mind. Someone next to me got up quickly and rushed towards the door. He jumped off at the next station. I wondered whether that was his real destination.

The train moved on. I had been pre-occupied with my thoughts. I could see the headlines of the tabloid newspaper that someone was reading. There were rows and rows of photographs of the victims of 7/7. The three words that caught my eye from the headlines were Bombs, Terrorists and Grief.

I thought of a project that I had set up in Waltham Forest, an East London borough, just before 9/11. Titled the All Faiths Project, it was a partnership developed in collaboration with the leaders of the faith groups in the area - the Borough Dean of the Church of England, the Rabbi, and the Mosque Imam, among others. The aim was to promote respect, communication and understanding between the various communities. The media had referred to the project as One Love.

I was engrossed in my thoughts again. I am a Bangladeshi Muslim by heritage but my childhood friends were of all denominations - Hindus, Christians and Buddhists. I was raised in a secular environment, we celebrated everyone's festivals. I am married to someone who is from a Methodist background. My adopted country Britain is the most diverse nation in the world.The permutations and combinations of cultures, nationalities, ethnicity, faiths and beliefs around me are endless. The words respecting one another, living in harmony and unity in diversity echoed through my mind. The train had stopped by then. I was miles away in my thoughts. My husband gently nudged me. I was still thinking about the several identities that each one of us have. I picked myself up and looked out of the window. Someone walked past. The slogan on his T-shirt said One World. Yes, we have one identity in common. We are all Citizens of the World.

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