by LAUREN CODLING
LEADING figures from business, faith and culture have called for a “decade of reconnection” to heal divisions in society in an open letter published to mark the new year.
Released last Wednesday (1), it encourages people to leave behind the past “decade of division” and “start rebuilding connections between neighbours and fellow citizens”.
“If we are not happy with the state of our society, it falls to us all to do something about it,” the letter read, urging others to join in making the same resolution for the new decade. “The power of reconnection will depend on how many of us, as citizens, step up together,” it said. “Every institution, too – not just government but education, business, sport, civic society and faith – should play its part in helping bridge social divides.”
It concluded: “Today is about a small first step that we can all take – to leave behind a decade of division and begin our decade of reconnection.”
Signatories include 28 prominent activists and leaders such as Dame Carolyn Fairburn of the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI); Sir Hugh Robertson of the British Olympic Association; Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah and Sunder Katwala, director of thinktank British Future, which co-ordinated the letter.
Katwala, who founded the identity thinktank in 2012, said society must not ignore each other’s differences, but “focus on the things that do bring us together”. “Look beyond our angry politics at people’s everyday lives and there is so much that we all share,” he said.
Leaders from the Sikh, Hindu, Christian and Jewish faiths also signed the letter, including Imam Qari Asim, chair of the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board; Jasvir Singh, chair of City Sikhs and Maurice Ostro, vice-chair of the Council of Christians and Jews.
Asim, a government advisor on Islamophobia, said those who signed the letter felt it was time to act upon the divisions within society. “This is the start of a new decade and we want to make the 2020s a ‘decade of reconnection’ – one where we start to heal the fractures from the ‘decade of division’ that has gone before,” he told Eastern Eye.
Although he acknowledged that Brexit may have triggered divisions in the UK, he did not believe that the EU referendum was entirely responsible. “Disconnection in our society dates back much further than the EU referendum,” he said.
Singh, who was honoured with an OBE in 2016 for services to faith, interfaith communities and social cohesion in the UK, echoed those sentiments. The last few years have seen the country deeply divided along various lines, and there was an overwhelming sense of unease about the things that set people apart from one another, he said. “However, just as families can overcome differences in views and opinions, we should also be able to do that collectively to reaffirm our identity as a United Kingdom in both form and name,” he told Eastern Eye.
Fellow signatory Sabir Zazai, chief executive for the Scottish Refugee Council (SRC), said he believed the new decade was an opportunity to reach out across divides in society. Through his work with the SRC, Zazai said he had learnt that increased social contact helped the process of integration for those looking to build new lives in communities. “We’re asking everyone to make one additional new year’s resolution to reach out to someone else and
make a connection,” he said, noting it could be anything from helping out in your local community or greeting someone in the street.
“The important thing is that we all decide to do something to help make us feel more connected as a society.”