London smiles as the Olympic Truce flag flies in Westminster

The Olympic Truce flag flies from St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, during London’s Olympic Games.

The Olympic Truce flag has been flying in the heart of London, between the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

A surge of goodwill during London 2012 and the forging of a renewed British identity has been recognised: more relaxed, at ease with its pluralism and “where people were full of ideas and worked for the common good” (Sarah Crompton, Daily Telegraph).

British gold medalists have come from a wide range of backgrounds.  After stunning performances from Mo Farah, Jess Ennis and Greg Rutherford last weekend, the Twitter joke ran, “A Muslim, a mixed race lass & a ginger bloke walk into a bar.  Everyone gets them a drink.”  Sneering and bullying suddenly dropped right out of fashion.

The prominence of female athletes has been noted.  Commentators have been surprised to recognise, in non-Olympic times, women’s relative absence from public life as hard-working and successful members of society.

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian,

We got a glimpse of another kind of Britain.

A place which succeeds brilliantly, not least by drawing equally on all its talents, black and white, male and female.

A place where money and profit are not the only values, exemplified by the 70,000 volunteers who made the Games work and showed the world a smiling face while they were at it.

A place that reveres not achievement-free celebrity, but astonishing skill, granite determination and good grace.

Religious and community groups have been working together before and during the Games – offering hospitality, training on non-violent responses to conflict, inter faith walks, breaking the Ramadan fast with visitors, creating City Safe Havens, ringing bells for the Olympic Truce, arts festivals, fighting hate crime, questioning the narratives surrounding armed conflict, twinned projects exploring  minorities and majorities in Pakistan and in the UK – and more.  Much of this has been seen on the pages of the London Peace Network blog.

The 70,000 volunteer Gamesmakers have won plaudits from the President of the International Olympic Committee who praised “the kindness of the volunteers“.  The Telegraph writes, “For the duration of the Olympics, London has put a smile on its face.”

For many local communities – which are often at the sharp end of violence both here in the UK and overseas – generosity of spirit, fair play, understanding and negotiating difference, living peacefully together and a smile are all highly valued.  This is what the members of the London Peace Network are engaged in, day in, day out, and what they will be promoting as part of the Olympic Truce all summer.  Watch this space for news of a significant burst of activities on 21 September.

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