by Fiyaz Mughal, Founder and Director – Faith Matters
Paris has been another shock to the system – another earthquake to our senses that causes us to feel revulsion, pain and anger.
Anger that a group of 8 individuals can try and fracture relations between communities and take the lives of young people so brutally cut short by the force of arms.
Anger that there are groups of young men who believe that their future and their role is to damage, break and fracture the empathy and care that we have towards each other as people and as communities and citizens of Europe.
We simply cannot allow them to do this to us and to change our way of life through fear and intimidation.
Yet, in all of this, it would be naïve to think that such horrific incidents do not test community relations and through the work that we conduct in Tell MAMA, it is clear that there are blowbacks that take place which involve the stereotyping and abuse of Muslims, arson and in some cases, assaults.
Thankfully, there have been no major incidents and even after the murders of over 200 people less than 200 miles from our capital, the British people have remained steadfast and resolute not to hold all Muslims to account for the actions of a deadly few.
This shows the courage of our communities, though we should not take it for granted. Community relations are being tested and the huge rise in anti-Muslim hate incidents post the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in 2013 is testament to that.
Furthermore, time and time again, the response from activists in the interfaith world is to line up for photoshoots showing people who are visibly from different faiths. They will line up in the vain hope that it will influence communities not to target each other.
The reality is that people who are moved by such photographs are people who are not the problem.
The basic assumption in interfaith work is that if you manage to get people together from different faiths, they will come together and at some point, see that joint working, partnerships and understanding are the only way.
Once again, the work speaks in a majority of occasions to the ‘converted’ and to those who do not ask extremely challenging questions or who take a vocally antagonistic position to the activities of those involved within interfaith work. It is also the same activists who do the rounds and whilst interfaith is essential to integration and cohesion work, it is becoming irrelevant when major incidents take place and pictures of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs do the rounds.
Additionally, the work is not actively challenging perceptions that are becoming ingrained about some communities and has become more of an ego boost for some, willing to turn up to any event so that they are seen to be active and that, (in their eyes), may build some political capital either with the Government or with other agencies. This merry go-round of internalised social action has got to change.
The murder of Lee Rigby on our streets in our country was certainly a wake-up call regarding extremism that was inspired by groups like Al Qaeda and Al Muhajiroun. It was also a wake-up call in the way that far right groups like the English Defence League mobilised.
Paris is another wake-up call and the response from interfaith activists has been the same. Pictures of people from different faiths and smiles of re-assurance, yet they fail to realise that these staid methods of trying to show cohesion are wearing thin and having less and less impact. Unless interfaith activists include a range of other models in their ‘tool-box’ as a way of providing community re-assurance after such major incidents, both the work and their presence at times of crisis will become irrelevant; what worked for the 1980’s and 1990’s, cannot be rehashed out again and again.
The pessimism that is creeping in is not from a position of weakness. I have been actively involved in this work for over 15 years now, yet many have failed to realise that Britain has changed.
People are looking for answers from other sources, rather than the feel good symbolism of faiths together.
Whether the time has come for a radical overhaul of community engagement models in the field of interfaith only time will tell.
All I know is that the pool of people who are starting to switch off when they see ‘kumbaya’ pictures of people of different faiths together is getting wider and nobody is reaching out to them.