Some of the biggest challenges facing our societies today are along the fault lines of religion and ethnicity. The continued suspicion towards migrants fleeing war-torn countries, the rise in hate crime across Britain since the EU referendum, and the tensions that have emerged during and after the US presidential election are just a few.
The 2016 Interfaith Summit, hosted by 3FF and the ParliaMentors Alumni Committee, was created to provide opportunities for people of different faiths and beliefs to come together and tackle these issues. Each session at the summit represents a particular tension within society, often rooted in fear and suspicion of those who are different in some way. Creating spaces for people to come together to explore and act on these issues is of paramount importance: Interfaith and intercultural dialogue is now not a luxury, but a necessity.
In an increasingly interconnected world, the opportunities for increased understanding between different groups are many, but so are the risks of new tensions and conflicts emerging. The need to challenge those who seek to instil suspicion, fear and hatred towards ‘the other’ is greater than ever.
The EU referendum result led some people to feel that more extreme views are now acceptable in public discourse. This situation has been echoed across the Atlantic after the result of the presidential election, with divisive and hateful comments and actions worryingly entering the mainstream.
Respectful, yet meaningful and at times challenging dialogue between communities, both locally, nationally and internationally, is central to addressing the divisions that have surfaced this year.
In the words of Amy Longland, ParliaMentors alumni: “There’s a lot of people that don’t feel as though they’re being listened to, they don’t feel as though their opinions matter, or their voice matters. That’s why we’re seeing a lot of far-right resurgence and people gripping onto an identity they perhaps feel has been taken from them. The idea of creating a safe space for dialogue and for talking and working together is really, really important”.
We are reminded and emboldened by our late co-founder, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, who emphasised the importance of interfaith work in “contributing to the spread of understanding and social action across a globe which desperately needs to engage in dialogue and reject confrontation”. Over 400 people came to the Interfaith Summit because they, too, believe that we can achieve more together when we unite across our differences.
At the Summit, people had opportunities to engage with everything from Brexit and the refugee crisis, to the relationship between food and faith. But perhaps most importantly, it was an opportunity for people to connect, be inspired to act and begin sowing the seeds of change that will take root in months and years to come. With all the challenges to interfaith unity facing us, that’s something the world surely needs more of right now.