“Integration, Inclusion and Identity Part II”
15th July 2008
Houses of Parliament – Committee Room 15
In the absence of Shahid Malik MP, Lord King of West Bromwich stepped in to start the meeting and give the opening remarks. It was interesting for Lord King, being a person from West Bromwich, to speak about the importance of Community Cohesion in multi faith Birmingham. He also welcomed the former Lord Mayor of Birmingham Cllr. Mahmood Hussain, the respected Sikh leader, Mr. Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh, and Cllr Idriss from Birmingham.
Mr David Anderson MP was the next speaker who emphasised the importance of local communities, like the mining community he came from, for community building. He also emphasised the global aspect of Community Cohesion and he gave the example of how we could work together in Britain to improve things in Iraq. Iraq is an area where he is keenly interested in promoting better understanding between our two countries.
Tim Miller, Vice President of Universal Peace Federation – Europe, explained briefly about the work of the Community Cohesion working Group (CCWG).
He emphasised the importance of various groups and communities working together. Through his experience in the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) he found out how much we are inter-related, as he saw how political unrest in the Middle East does affect community strife at home.
HRH Prince Frederick von Saxe-Lauenberg greeted all present and congratulated the group for its efforts to improve Community Cohesion in our neighbourhoods.
Many of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) Community Cohesion Working Group (CCWG) members made their reports on the accomplishments of the year’s activities, working with the joint-chairs Saleha Jaffer and Cllr. Margaret Ali.
Among these CCWG members was also Former Mayor of Waltham Forest Cllr. Liaquat Ali, who said it was important to promote understanding by distributing information and knowledge about one another. He observed throughout the series of CCWG meetings how young and old, religious and civic leaders and community members including the Police were very interested in Community Cohesion. He said it takes all parties to work together to achieve the required result, he then added that he was proud to host the first UPF Community Cohesion event of this year.
The former Speaker of Hackney Council Cllr. Faizullah Khan said we are here because we have a problem of not loving each other. He spoke passionately about the fact that we have lost the value of a caring society. Unless we bring the human aspect of loving our neighbour, Community Cohesion will not be possible. Saleha Jaffer emphasized a point made by Cllr. Khan and added that a community has to work together to educate our youth today.
The former Lord Mayor of Birmingham Cllr. Mahmood Hussain is the first Muslim Lord Mayor in Birmingham’s history of 200 years or so. Although he was proud of this fact, there were many people who had been skeptical about the outcome of this appointment. He said Birmingham is an amazing city with a multi faith population of 1 million – the largest local authority in Europe.
The former Lord Mayor said that what makes Birmingham a most amazing city is the fact that its people, mainly a population of immigrants, had chosen to stay in Birmingham because they simply loved the city! This makes a good recipe for Community Cohesion, because people are willing to break down barriers or at least they are not against doing so. Breaking down barriers is one job UPF does very well indeed so it will be a good thing to hold a Community Cohesion event in Birmingham.
Ms. H. Bhattia explained about the existing community problems in Hastings, mainly due to the asylum seeker population. She also outlined ways to overcome these challenges. She expressed concern in terms of the rise of the British National Party candidates that are targeting Hastings. In developing Community Cohesion, Ms. Bhattia expressed that a greater effort should be made to include the Host community in the programs, so real cohesion can take place. She also shared the positive news of the upcoming launch of the Hastings Interfaith Forum in October which will be followed by a Community Cohesion event in Hastings.
Rev. D. Palmer explained passionately about the Community Cohesion event in Bristol. UPF- CCWG was invited to organize an event there. She said: “Representing all the councilors, NGO’s, youth and faith leaders, I can say that we had a most amazing start of this work in May. Everyone was appreciative of the UPF model of CC which is based on universal principles of peace building, emphasizing the importance of ’one family of mankind’. They carry on the good work and are planning to invite a group of youth from Bristol to come to CC event in September, to encourage greater give and take.
There were three contributions from distinguished faith leaders:
The respected Sikh leader from Birmingham Soho Road Guduwara, Bhai Sahib Ji, felt that the main role of faith leaders in building CC was to teach their followers, especially the young, to practice their faith in action. That will turn them into good citizens and responsible people – and if they could learn that all faiths teach these things, they will learn to respect and understand one another. He also suggested that faith leaders can assist local Government, Police and other departments, who often lack information that faith and community leaders can provide.
A great interfaith giant Imam Dr Abduljallil Sajid, agreed with most of the sentiments expressed by Ba Ba Ji. He also added that through his vast experience in the interfaith world, he could see a lot of people of diverse backgrounds coming together. This togetherness is the first step in building community cohesion. The next step would then be WORKING together for a higher cause, as is encouraged by UPF.
The Most Rev Father Dr Abiola emphasized the importance of faith leaders in taking care of their own people. They should teach them to share information about themselves with others and learn from others about themselves. In this way communities will not be shy or scared of one another and will avoid pockets of isolation, hence the communities will reach out to each other. This is our aim and this is what we can learn from this meeting.
There were a few Police officers who gave us words of encouragement and offered us their services when needed. Inspector Melanie Roulston of Waltham Forest is working on a pilot scheme in CC work along with 2 Sergeants. At present there are five of these projects in the country.
Carl Wonfor of the National Security Tension Team (ACPO) explained how important it is to have such gatherings of people. He talked about programmes that have borne fruit. He said we should all try to do things like this and develop our focus groups.
Matthew Huish, UCL Interfaith Society Chair, talked about FAITHLINK, a youth organization that brings youth of all backgrounds together. They discuss topics of interest with students and thus get to know one another. One exciting project they have: young people of different faiths go to Israel and Palestine. They participate in service projects and thus become acquainted with the situation in the Middle East. Most importantly they learn the points of view at both sides of the conflict. This is an ongoing project and so far they made four trips to the Middle East.
They are also planning summer service projects in the UK. It is the best way for people to get to know one another, Mathew Huish said.
Most exciting was to hear from a 16 year old called Liam Wilkinson, who was introduced to us by David Walker, a mentor training youth in Southwark. They both spoke about youth mediation programme that had successfully taught Liam and others resolve tensions. It was extremely exciting to hear from a 16 year old, speaking so candidly and with deep confidence about the value of the mediation work that he is doing.
The evening was brought to a conclusion by Cllr Margaret Ali, joint chair of CCWG, emphasizing the point made by Saleha Jaffer, the other joint chair of CCWG, regarding how the group would like to help the policy makers and officers with the difficult task of keeping in touch with the people on the grass roots level.