We wanted Dr Stone’s contribution to be remembered and a new generation of activists to learn that prejudice is best tackled when we work together, across boundaries of community, religion and ethnicity.
Twenty years ago the Runneymede Trust published a report – the first of its kind in the UK – entitled Islamophobia, a challenge for us all. Just last week, the Trust’s latest report showed that the issue is ‘still’ a challenge. But what has this got to do with anything remotely Jewish? Well, what not many people know is that a retired Jewish doctor was one of the key people behind the 1997 publication!
Dr Richard Stone contributed to the Runneymede Trust’s original study, and his family foundation even helped to pay for it (as well as the second report in 2004). He also played an important role in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Now in his 80’s, he continues to champion causes of racial justice. We interviewed him recently and his reflections on that time was fascinating.
We wanted Dr Stone’s contribution to be remembered and a new generation of activists to learn that prejudice is best tackled when we work together, across boundaries of community, religion and ethnicity. This is an important message at a time when some try to pit Jewish and Muslim communities against each other, as though there were some sort of competition for a sense of victimhood. We need to stand together, that’s when we are strongest and how we can best defeat anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim prejudice.
The 1997 report on ‘Islamophobia’ followed in the footsteps of a similar study into Anti-Semitism (A Very Light Sleeper, 1994). Dr Stone was asked to support the new investigation. He went up and down the country meeting British Muslims, finding out what the experiences of this demographic was like. “What I took away from that was the low level anti Muslim prejudices (they faced). They’d spit on them. Call them names. Just nasty. People were saying this to us at almost every centre we went to.”
Dr Stone’s incredible thirst for justice is striking. When I asked him why he took part and how his friends and family reacted to him taking on this work, he simply said, “there was plenty of people already prepared to do voluntary work within the Jewish community.” He wanted to help where he felt there was an urgent need. Fittingly, he used a medical analogy to explain this. He said that everyone deserves a first class service, like when you go to the doctors for example. If someone isn’t getting that service, then we all have to work together so they do. It was these values of equality, justice and fairness that motivated Dr Stone all those years ago.
Today, and two decades since his original work, he believes that anti-Muslim prejudice is still an important challenge. What’s the solution? Well, apart from taking on more of the recommendations as published in the various report, it’s a simple answer really – meet people. Dr Stone believes that if everyone did something as simple as meeting others, whether that be gay people, people of other faith groups, people from different countries etc., then we’d all be a lot more understanding.
So go out and meet people! Get to know them, make friends. Not because I said so, but because the good doctor prescribed it!
- Dilwar Hussain is Chair of New Horizons in British Islam and Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University.