This is how we can bring each other together

May 05, 2016 14:05

Over the past few decades, attitudes on race and diversity have progressed significantly in Britain. We are proud to represent organisations that have played a role in that improvement, but are also deeply aware that challenges remain.

These challenges concern not only attitudes between the majority and various minorities, but also attitudes between different minorities. As JC readers are aware, one such relationship concerns British Muslims and British Jews.

How, then, should we not only understand attitudes between Muslims and Jews in Britain, but also move forward practically to build a better understanding of each other and wider society?

First, we need to remind ourselves that antisemitism and indeed racism comes from all sections of British society. If integration is to be successful, it must be viewed as a two-way street, and address prejudice and regressive social attitudes that impact negatively on other communities.

We must explore attitudes in society generally, as well as in both Muslim and Jewish communities. This will inevitably reveal negative as well as positive feelings but we need to understand that reality so that we can take immediate measures to alter attitudes.

There are so many concerns that we share

Second, we have to look more imaginatively at dialogue as a whole and see where we can expand our understanding so that more can be done on a practical level. Much work can and needs to be done by Muslims and Jews working very closely together to tackle many of the social problems facing Britain today. In short, both of our communities need to adapt so they can be more outward looking.

There are of course many examples of Muslims and Jews already doing this, for example in organising night shelters for the homeless, supporting refugees, or protecting each other's places of worship. A common feature of these initiatives may seem trivial but is nevertheless vital: a focus on what unites people rather than what divides.

Government, or the state, is less effective at bringing people together in this way locally, and it seems unlikely that a more activist form of state intervention on how people relate to one another will lead to positive results.

In the UK and globally, civil society actors are much better placed to engage successfully across community boundaries.

But we know that such initiatives involve only a small minority from each of our communities and that many of us remain relatively ignorant of "the other" and form some of our attitudes on the basis of stereotypes held by society at large.

If we are absolutely honest, how many Jews know Muslims and how many Muslims know Jewish people?

Finally, however, issues of racism are not only limited to how Muslims and Jews, or Muslims and the rest of society, interact with one another. Internationally, the best evidence suggests that what works best on integration policy is increased opportunities for excluded communities.

Her, the British government is still not doing enough to tackle discrimination, including against Muslims, and particularly in the labour market.

There is still a very large employment gap of over 11 per cent between ethnic minorities and the white British population, and Bangladeshi and Pakistani households have the highest child poverty rates, in-work poverty rates, and people earning below the minimum wage. Furthermore, racist harassment is increasing against Muslims while policies such as stop-and-search continue to affect black people in Britain disproportionately.

Developing policy to address these matters will not only be more effective in encouraging integration for British Muslims, but it will do so for all of the groups in Britain still affected by prejudice and disadvantage. It is also a fundamental priority for a democratic, accountable government.

Research certainly has a role to uncover social attitudes and outcomes however negative those might be. And policymakers should re-focus their energies on integration.

But those actions on their own won't necessarily lead to better understanding or improved attitudes and outcomes. We are certainly under no illusions about the huge challenges we face for ensuring better attitudes and better relations between Muslims and Jews, or in combating antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism generally in British society.

However, the evidence shows that government leadership and policy leadership on tackling discrimination is still a first necessary step, supplemented by communities - including both Muslims and Jews - working locally and nationally on the many areas where they share interests and concerns.

May 05, 2016 14:05

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