May 16, 2021   5:22pm

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An effort in England to bring Muslims and Jews together

With the ongoing explosive situation in the Middle East, it’s hopeful to know that there are cooler heads promoting understanding between Muslims and Jews. Here’s an effort going on at universities across the U.K. …

Helping students understand how to confront Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism

We always take a special interest when we hear of efforts to unite Jewish and Muslim communities. This one in the U.K. is particularly hopeful because it’s helping to bring University students of different faiths together in an unprecedented way.

In one of the first ever cross-party initiatives, Lord Parry Mitchell and the Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion Baroness Sayeeda Warsi embarked upon the first “university roadshow,” holding discussion panels to open dialogue and promote understanding between Muslims and Jews. Sponsored through the Coexistence Trust — an organization founded in 2005 by Prince Hassan of Jordan and Britain’s Lord Greville Janner — the roadshow is traveling to respected U.K. universities such as the London School of Economics, Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Oxford and Cambridge where problems between the two religious groups still exist today.

The roadshow’s mission is “to explore the similar trajectories of the Muslim and Jewish communities in Britain through discussions with leading Jewish and Muslim figures from the Houses of Parliament,” and the focus is on domestic issues rather than the Middle East. According to MP Khalid Mahmood of the University of Birmingham, the panels are not designed to “brainwash somebody into thinking one thing is right. … This is about understanding overall, that all of us need to live together.” (See online video: part one; click here for part two).

The turnout surprised the organizers — every campus attracted more than expected — as did the intensity of the discussions between students. There were behind-the-scenes hospitality sessions before the panels and after, internships were offered. During the sessions, students were open, asking unexpected questions, and responses were genuine and passionate. Assimilation and being British were big issues. Some quotes:

“Where do you see the future of multiculturalism going?”

“I see the far right as a threat …”

“Loyalties need to be to country first …”

“Religious leaders needs to be inclusive in their own communities.”

“Go to different houses of faith — both are about meditation with G_d.”

“The law of the country is always supreme.”

“Go have coffee together …”

“Universities needs a common front for days of exams [and other occasions that need to be respectful of one anothers’ religions) …”

“I’m against faith schools” … “I’m for faith schools” …

“To those who think there is no hope, they are wrong …”

As some had not welcomed the tour, what happened in the breakout groups after each panel was impressive. Students reached out to one another for the first time. Overheard conversations:

“We have more similarities than differences …”

“Foreign affairs — things that happen far far away — shouldn’t stop British people from engaging …”

“Everything comes through misunderstanding …”

“… How powerful to see two groups using rational methods to solve disputes …”

According to Baroness Ruth Deech, Crossbencher and visiting professor of Gresham College London “It was better than I expected. In some ways, so much more unites us than divides us; and in other ways, there are problems that I thought had been overcome, but have not.”

Lord Mitchell said, “What was most exciting was that after the debate we generally had a dinner with members of the Jewish Society, the Islamic Society, the panelists and some of the university administrators. This gave people an opportunity to become much more involved and to talk about their fears and concerns. It was an overwhelming success. Members of the Jewish and Islamic societies who had never spoken to each other were exchanging mobile phone numbers and saying that they needed to get to know each other and understand each others’ religion better.”

By creating a dialogue where none had existed before, Lord Janner hopes that “a higher level of interaction and friendship and understanding” is forged by the traveling panel, so that students know how to better confront the Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism on their campuses and in their world — with a clearer understanding, greater urgency and, most of all, a stronger sense of unity.

“It all starts by talking to each other.”

For more information go to:

Samuel Klein
Coexistence Trust
PO Box 1234
United Kingdom
Tel (UK) 0207 976 8443
Tel (Intl.) +44 (0)207 976 8443

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