Where was the Government?

by - 1st February 2008

Not one single government member attended a Westminster event on 24 Jan to showcase a rather special reconciliation effort that could bring hope for Britain’s troubled Muslim enclaves, reports Tim Scott.

It’s been left to the Tories to back Dr Prem Sharma’s and his group.  He’s a Hindu campaigner on interfaith relations, who has led a nationwide series of peace conferences that culminated in a meeting in Portcullis House last week.

But where is the creative spark in this dull Brown regime?  Despite invitations going out to all MPs, it  was the Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve and two Tory Peers who turned up.  Muslim Forum Chairman Lord Mohammed Sheikh and Dominic Grieve were full of praise.   ‘I certainly believe it merits some funding.  I think it would be very useful’.

Tory Leader David Cameron, MP and the Archbishop of Canterbury both sent messages of support.

Dr Prem Sharma who chairs the South Asian Development Partnership (SADP) presented approaches and resources that could be used to build bridges between local communities post 7/7. These included a DVD discussion resource called Friends, Strangers, Citizens? Life in Britain post 7/7 in which community leaders, young people and people on the street give their views on issues such as the threat of terror, the role of religion, multiculturalism and freedom of speech. Clips are available to view on YouTube.

The DVD and innovative mentoring initiative to take the resource into schools has already been commended by several schools, councils and community groups. The Archbishop of Canterbury believes that this is precisely the kind of initiative that needs to be undertaken widely. The SADP appealed for more Government funding to continue its work. It would like to be able to distribute the DVD to all British secondary schools free of charge.

Conferences held in Leeds, Birmingham, Reading and London have encouraged teenagers from different ethnic and faith communities to discuss their worries in the current political climate. A significant aspect of these conferences was the contribution of young people, who met separately to discuss these issues (aided by an experienced facilitator) and then presented them back to the adult group. The two groups then continued discussions together.

Dr Sharma said ‘Our goal is quite simple – to help people from different backgrounds to meet, talk and relate to each other with a particular focus on young people. There is nothing new in this but it clearly needs facilitation, as it isn’t happening enough.’

He urges the Government to provide access to a network of mentors and community role models to help link people together.

Other models for helping to stop extremism from taking root in our communities include encouraging workshops as part of Citizenship and RE classes and creating more opportunities for young people to engage with key decision makers. Many Muslims had highlighted the Government’s foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and the binge drinking culture as being contributing factors to feelings of isolation and anger that can fuel extremism.

Tory Leaders David Cameron MP sent a message to the conference commending SADP’s initiatives around the country.  He said they had been ‘an important initiative to facilitate community cohesion in Britain’.
The Government should offer more support to the work that SADP have taken forward in this country since 7/7. It has shown that engaging young people in such a creative and positive way can encourage those from different faith and ethnic groups to meet, talk, listen and work together. This is a key step in promoting understanding between people and building bridges – part of the long term solution for damaged community relations.

Friends, Strangers Citizens is available for £11.50 incl. p&p from office@southasian.org.uk.  Cheques should be made out to South Asian Development Partnership.