Stephen Shashoua, Director, 3FF
It was a great summer for multicultural Britain. The Olympics and Paralympics celebrated cultural diversity in many ways, from the opening and closing ceremonies to the way the public rallied behind the diverse Team GB. It was as if, for a few weeks, we tried on an attitude towards difference which was inclusive and welcoming – and found that we liked it. The Games gave us a glimpse of a Britain more comfortable with its own diversity.
However, events outside the UK soon reminded us that when it comes to building good intercultural relations, there are still many challenges to overcome. The film “Innocence of Muslims” and the backlash against it were both ugly: An intolerant, ignorant film being met with outrage and violence. Extreme actions begetting extreme reactions.
It cannot be stated clearly enough that the extremes do not represent the majority of any community, who abhor intolerance and are often keen to create closer relations with their neighbours – when given the opportunity. However, the extreme fringes will often use events like these to stoke conflict between communities.
There are also many everyday frictions and tensions to address. The Extremis Project and YouGov poll suggests that more people would support a political party that pledged to stop all immigration or promised to reduce the number of Muslims than one that encouraged multiculturalism.
Moreover, researchers behind a report of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life state that the US and UK are among countries showing a worrying rise in religious discrimination.
Recent events serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for more understanding and solid, positive channels of communication between communities.
They remind us that we need to continue to build more resilient communities through interfaith work that better resist the influence of extremes seeking to divide them. People sorely need better confidence and skills to deal with controversial or inflammatory issues when they come up.
So it is the majority whom we must equip with these skills, primarily through education, engagement and social action. As another academic year starts for 3FF, we are doing our bit to engage the majority. We hope you will join us and give some of your time, effort or resources to this very important work of creating a better, more united society.