Recently there was a segment on the 7.30 Report – images of a dozen police standing between two mobs – one Aboriginal and one of Pacific Islanders, many more than the two families reported to be having a spat on the streets of suburban Brisbane.

Damage had been done to a car – so now bush justice is to be meted out on those considered the obvious perpetrators. Obvious because the communities represented by these two opposing families seem to have been at each other for years.

Neighbours? How does the ditty go? “…everybody needs good neighbours…”?

I am reminded of images of Belfast. I was staying in the home of a seasoned Government mediator, before the famous declaration of peace – any incident a reason for an outpouring of pent-up hatred, fuelled by a truck of prejudice and suspicion.

I saw the same glint in the eye of the ball-of-Pacific-Island-muscle being interviewed on the TV –  a testosterone-fuelled ‘I’m up for it’ bravado! In Northern Ireland they call it ‘recreational rioting’ – unemployed young adults gaining the approval of their clan by a vicious showing off!

Police, mediators and elders stand in the middle between the two groups. Separation. A truce of sorts.

There’s an obvious time and place for separation. But separation isn’t peace.

I recall Diana Eck’s statement that tolerance is  too thin a foundation for a religiously diverse and complex society. Just recognising diversity is not enough. Diana Eck is the Director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University.

What we need, she says, is pluralism – the active engagement with each other across differences.

I was heartened to read of a book launch coming up in Brisbane in late February.

Dave Andrews, Christian social development worker, decided to pray with his Muslim friends during Ramadan and write a reflection each day. They have published the result.

Rachael Kohn picked up on it:

Dave Andrews has pointed me to another example:

In Cairo a Christian leader invited his friend, an Imam, to his Christmas Day service. He is shown to a seat in the front row. But no – the Christian minister invites him to the raised sanctuary, embraces him, hands him the microphone and steps back to allow him to speak. What an act of hospitality!

The Imam begins. The congregation applaud. Then others wander in. Soon the church is filled – the whole mosque seems to have come to join the congregation for Christmas!

What an inspiration!

This is what pluralism looks like – friendship blind to the labels we give each other.

It begins with courage – to knock on the door of a neighbour, to invite someone else into your home, to resist the voice that says ‘risk’, to empower the other, as that Christian leader did on Christmas Day.