‘Quiet citizens’ and faith groups respond better than the government to challenges, says new report

The Woolf Institute report also calls on governments to take firmer action to stop online abuse of minority groups


Faith groups are helping to create social solidarity and new forms of citizenship in Europe despite the tensions of austerity, terror attacks and the influx of refugees, according to a new report.

The positive impact of grassroots community initiatives carried out by “quiet citizens” deserves greater recognition, says the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute.

“Faith-based groups are becoming more energetic and engaged in public life,” the institute says in its report Trust in Crisis, “whether as providers of emergency services such as foodbanks, drop-in centres and credit lending, or as voices speaking out against policies deemed unfair and unjust.”

Community organisations are often better at responding to challenges on the ground than central government, it argues.

They are also doing more to foster “productive citizenship” than “more vocal forms of political protest”, even though they receive less attention.

“Recognition of the increasingly important role that faith groups or identities can play in a modern society facing critical challenges would be a simple yet positive action that any government could undertake,” it says.

One of the organisations cited in the report is Saalam Schalom, a Muslim-Jewish group in Berlin which lobbies for greater religious freedom.

But the institute also calls on governments to take firmer action to stop online abuse of minority groups, which is creating greater insecurity.

Dr Samuel Everett, junior research fellow at the Woolf Insitute said the report “shows a new kind of citizenship emerging across Europe, including within the Jewish communities of Britain.

These ‘quiet citizens’ are those individuals positively contributing to their neighbourhood or community without recognition or attention. They work on a grassroots level, actively supporting and bringing their community together.

“We’ve seen this, for example, following the horror of the Grenfell fire – with Holland Park Synagogue mobilising to help victims – and after the murder and maiming of observant Muslims in Finsbury Park.

“And after the Charlie Hebdo and the kosher store murders in Paris, we saw the city's diverse Jewish communities undertake more serious dialogue with Muslim neighbours, with growing numbers feeling that levels of misunderstanding and intolerance between communities had become unbearable.  

“So many Jewish leaders have stood in visible solidarity in this way, with such efforts often coinciding with a realisation that reaching out to other communities is necessary in a complex and fast paced political landscape.

“Promoting this type of citizenship shows that actions trump religious and social boundaries and enable minority groups, whether faith-based or secular, to add to public life.”

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