On 26th October 2016, Forward Thinking convened a parliamentary roundtable discussion on the theme: ‘The Opportunities and Challenges in Supporting Community Cohesion’ chaired by Yasmin Qureshi MP. The roundtable brought together diverse Muslim grassroots organisations, with charitable trusts and foundations, parliamentarians and policy makers from the Home Office and DCLG.
Keynote speakers shared their insights into the challenges facing communities and possible ways forward to support confidence and social cohesion and included: David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Yusuf Tai, Dr Siema Iqbal and Hawaa Budraa from Lotus Life, a women’s and youth empowerment group.
Whilst appreciating the challenges faced by communities because of the pervasive counter terrorism agenda, the focus was on highlighting the positive work that continues apace within diverse Muslim communities, practical solutions and approaches to ongoing challenges. Representatives of independent charitable foundations and trusts shared their perspectives on supporting community cohesion, empowerment, confidence and capacity building work within other marginalised and disaffected communities in the UK. It was noted that there is often less community cohesion in areas of greater deprivation and because the Muslim population experience some of the highest rates of deprivation in the UK, this creates additional challenges.
Despite differences in opinion, some common themes emerged. It was noted that ‘community cohesion’ and ‘integration’ are themselves contested terms, for example, the burden of integration is all too often put on the minority community, creating frictions with host communities. However, true integration should be part of a mutual effort rather than just one sided, or conflated with counter terrorism.
Discussions also examined the pressures and balance between policy and practice. It was said that the best initiatives supporting diverse communities are the ones in which support is demand driven and responsive, rather than proscribed. Top down solutions which treat diverse communities as a monolith often ignore the complex web of faith, political, socio-economic, cultural and historical contexts in which grassroots and community organisations are situated.
It was suggested that a starting point to creating a society more at ease with itself was ‘tolerance’, which if properly applied can act as a ‘staging post for higher objectives’ of trust, confidence, ‘integration’ and a better appreciation of how to live together.