Interfaith work is losing relevance in a complex social environment

The interfaith world of work has become so over-populated with organisations and so easy to slip off the tongue as a solution to reducing community tensions, that even successive Governments have wholly bought into the narrative that interfaith work should be conducted on a mass scale as a solution to community issues and in supporting the integration of communities.

So good has been the spin of this industry that the Government’s Integration strategy has relied significantly on interfaith solution sellers who come up with new ideas which are wholly based on rehashed ideas, long past their sell by date.

Over the last 5 years and since the dawn of social media, the interfaith world has been left behind in its impact. Material that is sensational and inflammatory and which acts as clickbait gets a wider audience and this includes news and text promoting material which shows communities in conflict.

Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate is circulated widely and there is no pushback from those promoting their interfaith models and even when it is, it involves a handful of people standing together from different faiths and peering into an iPhone picture.

That is then sold back to funding agencies as a means of creating positive social change. This model of ‘kumbaya’ interfaith work is still being palmed off at a time when people want answers and real tangible solutions to complex intra-faith, inter-cultural and post conflict situations.

Gaza, the Paris terrorist attacks, Charlie Hebdo and many such global incidents cause a ‘blowback’ impact here in the UK on Jewish and Muslim communities and the sheer scale of impacts fuel extremist far right and Islamist groups, both of whom continue to be active in some parts of our country.

To tackle such divisions and negative changes in perception, what do these interfaith groups provide? Their usual diet of solutions are pictures of a few faith leaders that have no real connection to young people who are consuming vast amounts of online material.

In other words, interfaith input and impact is barely even measurable.

It is therefore time that our Government’s Integration strategy look for new solutions to these issues and those promoting interfaith solutions are no longer of significant relevance.

In fact, they have become an aberration as they create the smoke and mirror fog of solutions which divert key resources away from frontline challenging work which creates spaces for difficult discussions and where communication strategies are based on a 24 hour cycle.

This is where the world of work is today, constantly feeding populations and providing real and exciting opportunities to debate and inform.

If we continue to believe that interfaith work is a solution to deeply problematic integration issues, then we are going back round the loop of being sold a dud.

We can ill afford to risk our future security on such a mirage of hope.

About the Author
Fiyaz is the Founder and Director of Faith Matters, which works on countering extremism, community integration and monitoring hate crime work. He is also the Founder of the national Islamophobia Monitoring Group, Tell MAMA, and was it's Director from 2011-2016. He has worked on supporting better Muslim and Jewish relations for over 17 years.
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