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No more important time to break down barriers

I have a reminder in my diary to write a piece for Big Life staff every other Friday. But this Friday I woke up to the horrific news from Christchurch, New Zealand, and found it hard to know what to say.

Over the weekend there were lots of little acts of good faith that come after an event like this. The response from all sections of the community in Christchurch was to pull together. There was also the lone man in Manchester who stood outside a mosque with a plaque that said “you are my friends, I will keep watch while you pray”.

Friday’s news was the terrible end to a miserable couple of weeks. The UK government seems to have lost all ability to resolve how to exit the European Union. Parliament has become a farce and communities seem even more divided.

Some people would have you believe all Brexit voters are racist and stupid. Others, that Remainers are subverting the will of the people. What is sad is that the Brexit debate is not helping us to challenge discrimination. Rather it has just created another group of people to blame – the people who didn’t vote like you.

And while we are arguing about whether to be in or out of the EU, or how to be in or out, we are not challenging the discriminatory beliefs that led to Friday’s horrific violence against a Muslim community. Nor are we defending hard-won rights and the progress we have made towards a better society.

  • People who challenge discriminatory language are derided as ‘politically correct’ or from the ‘snowflake’ generation.
  • Police freedom to ‘Stop and Search’ is being lauded as the answer to increasing knife crime.
  • People and families who have lived and contributed to this country are being told they can have a second-class ‘settled’ status; probably with little confidence given the recent treatment of the Windrush generation.
  • A girl who was groomed at the age of fifteen to become a child bride is stripped of her citizenship, and her three-week old baby died.
  • A school in the Midlands agreed to stop teaching pupils about same-sex relationships.

It seems that while we are fighting over who is right or wrong about whether we should be in or out of Europe, we are missing the main battles.

There has never been a more important time for us to defend everyone’s rights. To challenge the ‘othering’ that separates us and leads to stereotyping and discrimination or, worse, to the appalling killing of people as they pray.

I am proud to be Chief Executive of an organisation that celebrates our differences. There has never been a more important time to break down barriers and to build stronger communities. Let’s make sure that we use every opportunity to do this.