Crawley InterFaith Network Meeting 27th March 2010

This important meeting of Crawley InterFaith Network (CIFN) took place in Crawley Town Hall and was attended by about 40 people, including representatives of Crawley Borough Council.

After a few preliminaries, Mohinder Galowalia used a PowerPoint presentation to talk about Community Cohesion and how CIFN could contribute towards this.

He began with various definitions of community cohesion (there are several; some people think the term is unhelpful) and then outlined his ideas on how to achieve this.

The first and most important of these was the concept of inclusion; there can be no community cohesion if one group is excluded. This is the view of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and why we have been campaigning to be included in national and local government consultations and activities that involve religious organisations.

Mohinder announced that local schools/colleges have invited Crawley InterFaith to give talks to their students over the past few years. I was not invited to Central Sussex College during their Equality and Diversity week this year, which shows how much work is needed to raise awareness of Humanism and non-religious beliefs locally.

Of particular interest is Mohinder's invitation to give a talk on community cohesion and InterFaith at the next meeting of West Sussex County Council's (WSCC) Religious Education advisory body (SACRE). This council has refused Humanist membership for the past 4 years, excluding the voice of the non-religious 43% of the population; so it will be interesting to see how they tackle community cohesion.

The next few slides of the PowerPoint presentation described the proposed stages of development for CIFN, moving towards community cohesion. The first stage has already been achieved, i.e. the creation of CIFN and the bringing together of various religious organisations. The aim of the next two stages is to agree on shared human values, starting with the easy ones and then progressing towards more controversial areas.

The last stage is involvement with the community at large, including the non-religious. Later in the meeting, Mohinder said that he did not know how long this would take, perhaps 10 years. My heart sank at this point, as I realised that there would be no Humanist involvement in the discussion of the shared human values necessary for community cohesion, which is at the centre of the Humanist movement and enshrined in Human Rights.

During a brief question time at the end of the presentation, I asked Mohinder if Humanism would be part of Crawley InterFaith, bearing in mind his emphasis on the inclusive nature of community cohesion. He read from the CIFN constitution one of their aims: "To create dialogue to support bridge building amongst faith and secular communities in Crawley." and pledged that Humanists and the non-religious would become involved eventually.

Later in the meeting someone asked if Humanism was perhaps the ideal way forward. We had a chat after the meeting. I said that secularism was the only way community cohesion could succeed in the UK. There can be no religion or belief bias in government at either a national or local level.

Mohinder then presented a detailed introduction to Sikhism, which began with the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469. He explained how Sikhism welcomes all religions, and that a truly religious person will have no conflict with another.

At the end of the meeting, one of the founding members of CIFN suggested that they discuss a controversial issue at each meeting; Mohinder agreed. He had also suggested earlier that each month a common shared value could be celebrated on their proposed new website. I was reminded of a recent parliamentary report where Rodney Green, the Chief Executive of Leicester City Council, said there was a need for honest dialogue within communities about cultural differences:

"I think a cohesive community is a community that has naturally many cross-links, where people from different race, age, background, feel free and happy to mix together in housing, in education, in leisure facilities. One test of that in my experience in Leicester is the willingness and ability to talk frankly and openly face-to-face about quite sensitive issues. If your language in a community is very politically correct, if you are treading on thin ice all the time and always being polite, that is not a cohesive community; it is a careful community."

I had hoped that Humanism was going to be formally included by CIFN. Currently, the national InterFaith movement (started in 1987), only includes 9 religions: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Baha’i, Jain and Zoroastrian. However, some local InterFaith forums have welcomed all religions and beliefs, including Horsham InterFaith Forum, where I recently gave a talk. They are pressing the national InterFaith network (created before the Human Rights Act and Equality Act) to promote equality and community cohesion by including all religion and belief communities. The BHA has criticised the government for concentrating on InterFaith, thereby excluding the non-religious.

The plans unveiled at this meeting are a big step in the right direction but there needs to be full inclusion from the outset if community cohesion is to be achieved in the near future.

Update

22nd April 2010

A few weeks ago I formally requested that Crawley Inter Faith include a Humanist representative, in view of the public funding from Crawley Borough Council. I am awaiting a reply.

 

 

Last Updated (Thursday, 22 April 2010 12:12)

 

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