The widespread prevalence of terrorist attacks carried out by individuals as well as by armed groups all over Europe but also in several extra European countries has created significant unsafety insecurity affecting also places of worship which have often been the target of terrorist attacks causing the death of dozens of people. Nowadays some people are afraid to attend places of worship for prayer and the SHIELD project aims at remedying this situation.
It is often believed that in order to increase safety it is sufficient to place security staff at the entrance of religious sites, a measure which, though useful and necessary, does not address the problem completely. The issue at hand is much wider as it involves the whole society which has accepted the current state of the affairs and does not respond adequately: the strategy should be to prevent the spread of terrorism and not to react after the event has occurred. This last one is the aim of the SHIELD project in order to give back to people the certainty that attending place of worship is not dangerous.
The primary objective of such a project which aims at making religious sites safe is to create a widespread mentality about the need to be safe in all aspects of life, starting from places of worship which are critical targets of terrorist attacks. The diffusion of this mentality will influence every single person even among those who do not attend places of worship: being vigilant to prevent terrorist attacks is a duty of all citizens. The safety of religious sites is crucial for the individual person but also for community as being aware that safety is necessary can have an impact on many aspects of people’s life at individual and collective level.
- The individual could pray at home, but most people prefer doing so in a public space seen as a place of prayer as it is possible to enjoy the holiness of the space equipped for such a purpose. The presence of a community of believers contributes to strengthen the religious and spiritual dimension thanks to the guide of a spiritual leader and the gathering of many people singing and praying together, who add greater strength to prayer which is transformed into something bigger that goes beyond the act itself. It is certainly right to attend a place of worship to participate to a social event, but it is necessary that the collective prayer is not disrupted as any nuisance caused by people attending for reasons different from praying would devalue the place of worship and the meaning of prayer.
- People need to access places where to meet and get inspired by its symbolic messages, not only to pray but also to talk about the issues they are most concerned about. No discussion can be productive if it does not happen in a situation of absolute safety. Dialogue between people would lose its spontaneity which is necessary to create an open communication between minds and souls. Safety, therefore, becomes a precondition so that what has been previously explained can take place and is not something that can be guaranteed only by the individuals responsible for ensuring it.
Each one of us is responsible to create safety and it is therefore necessary to be vigilant: when we enter a place of worship and when we leave it, we must check the area we have been in. In this respect, the SHIELD project includes the delivery of workshops to increase participants’ awareness of the dangers and how to face them in order to resolve them.
The project will have an impact that goes beyond the creation of safety within places of worship: it will develop the awareness that safety must be always guaranteed, and this depends on each of us. The massacres which have taken place in places of worship of different religions but also in public spaces such as schools and theaters, can be avoided if this awareness exists within each of us.
Rav Scialom Bahbout
Chairman of “Centro Internazionale di Ricerca Sistemica”