From Bubble-Bursting to Bridge-Building: How to Heal Britain’s Divisions22 Jan 2021
Growing up in the tight-knit Welsh-speaking community of Cardiff, I never had much interaction with the more diverse sectors of UK society until I was 15 – when for the first time ever, I got to know a Muslim properly.
This one interaction led to an exposure to the communities around me who I had seen but not understood. The interaction also led to me learning about the issues that matter to them. However, this immersion also made me realise that the world wasn’t quite the happy, united place I thought it was. While part of me misses that bliss ignorance and rainbow-lens of society that I had, I knew that I couldn’t be someone who truly understands British society and its many layers if I had stayed in that bubble. This was something I needed to become a bridge-builder.
Having found this passion and interest in social issues, as well as my curiosity with other cultures and understanding why people think the way they do; I needed to find platforms to put it into practice. While University opened many doors for this, Solutions Not Sides’ (SNS) Student Leadership Programme (SLP)* provided for my craving to expose myself more to British society’s various mindsets and gain the tools to become a bridge-builder.
The SLP was a 4-day journey in London during Summer 2019 where I got to hear the stories and visions of an Israeli peace activist and a Palestinian peace activist. It also allowed me to listen to the ideas and messages of community leaders and bridge-builders in the UK. Through this, I learnt the need for actively finding solutions to the issues we see, instead of just complaining as us Brits love to do!
The most powerful part of all of this was how I shared the experience with 25 other young people from many different ethnicities, faiths and political backgrounds – all of whom came with the set expectations to speak their mind honestly, to ask rather than assume, and to challenge each other without fear. This was the environment that I thrive in and always needed in a world where too often, we prefer the comfort and security of being in an echo chamber and don’t have our long-held views challenged by others (which I learnt is incredibly difficult but also essential). We realised that it can be okay to disagree and still be friends at the end of the day and that we could always find common interests and have fun together in the evenings.
To me, Solutions Not Sides is a group that understands the complexities of both Israel-Palestine and of British society in that there is so much below the surface that we might not see from the engrained way of thinking and realities we grew up in. I learned that neither zero-sum solutions nor endlessly shouting slogans at each other would solve anything. We need leaders who are unafraid to face those tough conversations and think critically beyond their lens on the world.
I believe that British society is overall a broken one, and I worry a lot about the future. I worry about how divided we are by our backgrounds. I worry about how toxic we are online, how hate crimes are rising year-on-year, how much-unchallenged misinformation I see shared on social media, and how so many within society will grow up without interacting with people from other sections. These all result in people living in bubbles, entirely out of touch with the broader society and unable to understand why others vote or think in certain ways. It results in many individuals taking the easier route of ‘blocking others out’ or hoping certain people or ideas will ‘disappear’ unchallenged.
I do not believe that this route of non-engagement will solve anything. To overcome division in British society, we need to take the initiative to step out of our comfort zones and listen to others. We should be able to articulate our disagreements without hostility and understand that the middle ground is essential in a world where people live by their realities (though there is a line drawn when it comes to outright hatred and discrimination). This might seem a pessimistic outlook on British society, but I know that there is good within us. Being a bridge-builder also means championing those making positive impacts in our society, and transforming these into broader change.
*Bridge Builders is an online student leadership programme for 16-19 year olds, it will take participants through a journey of finding our common ground, learning to disagree better respectfully and working towards our common good. There will be workshops on leadership, interfaith, islamophobia, antisemitism, peacebuilding, global conflict, Northern Ireland, the Balkan, Israel-Palestine, conflict resolution, non-violent communication and student activism.
The deadline for applications is 31st January
Solutions Not Sides is an organisation which focuses on creating humanising encounters and safe spaces to talk about the Israeli – Palestinian conflicts, without feeding Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, as they are both forms of hate speech and discrimination. The organisation does so by bringing Palestinian and Israeli voices into the same room to discuss the conflict, the realities of violence, the power dynamics, personal experiences, and use these discussions to see how peace can be reached.
** Disclaimer: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the individuals and organisations involved and do not necessarily represent those of Urban Muslimz and its employees.