AbstractThe focus of this study is faith and peacebuilding in UK community cohesion since 2001. The central feature is a presentation of action research findings set in a collaborative relationship between the researcher and an inter-faith community dialogue project established to address divisive right wing extremism in the fieldwork locality of South Yorkshire.
A decade of New Labour governance has seen community cohesion policy evolve from initial concerns regarding urban unrest to mainstream strategies targeted on violent religious extremism. Dialogue between ethnically diverse and white mono-cultural communities has been seen as the best way of helping people to get on better with each other. However community cohesion policy can be criticised for a significant failure to address issues of inequality and exclusion that are relevant to inter-community tensions.
Since 2001, faith has been an increasingly prominent, albeit ambivalent, presence in UK society. Protagonists, arguing faith should have little or no role in public life, contest bitter disputes with those who perceive that an encroaching tide of secularism is attacking their faith beliefs and identity. Against this background right wing extremists have made astute use of faith identity, embedding their presence in some communities by utilising extremist discourses of Islamophobia that frame Muslims as a threat to the indigenous culture and resources of white communities. However some writers have identified the positive contribution that faith can make to public life. A commitment to social justice and addressing exclusion are examples of the resources faith can bring to addressing societal issues. Peacebuilding methodologies are similarly concerned with such issues. Processes for addressing protracted4 social conflict provide a framework within which faith and secular perspectives can cooperate to address these complex issues.
The study’s action research found a strong relationship in the field work locality between electoral support of the extreme right wing BNP party and high levels of deprivation in white mono-cultural communities. Anger and resentment arising from industrial conflict and decline, and perceptions of being ignored by mainstream political parties, have been exploited by the BNP, opening a portal to hostile discourses of racism and Islamophobia. However the study’s research found that faith and faith values can bring rich and positive resources to inter-faith activity that aims to challenge divisive extremism that targets ethnic minority communities in general and Muslims in particular. In such circumstances it is usual practice to reduce hostile perceptions by arranging programmes of community interaction. However this study found that in communities where this strategy is not feasible, implementation of an intra-community dialogue framework may be effective in reducing hostile prejudice and stereotyping on which extremism feeds.
|Date of Award