Judy Terry is a marketing professional who stood down as a councillor in May 2014.
It was brave of the 20 Muslim communities which recently opened their mosques to the public.
These sensitive times demand a greater understanding of their religion and its strong family values. Religions are supposed to bring people together, not to be divisive.
Yet atrocities – in Paris, the Middle East, Africa – mean that peaceful religions and peaceful people: Muslims, Jews, in particular, are now suffering the consequences of such violence, and – in turn – are beginning to feel unsafe in Europe. It has just been reported that there were nearly 1200 anti-Semitic ‘incidents’ last year, whilst Muslims are also suffering abuse.
After World War Two, we in Britain welcomed those from across the globe who wanted to work in our NHS and public transport, especially those fleeing victimisation in Europe or the African continent. They not only enriched our culture but set up businesses, created jobs, wrote books, contributed to art and architecture, carried out world-beating medical research and embraced charities. They also served, and continue to serve and die in our Armed Forces. Some have also found their way into politics, both local and national.
Across recent centuries, there has been a policy of ‘live and let live’ for British nationals and immigrants. Ours is a very tolerant country, promoting mutual respect, and most of us just want to be left alone to get on with our lives without nosey interventions by officialdom. Provided people observe the law, and pay their taxes, they should be left alone, allowing the public sector to assist when it is actually needed, such as the emergency services or the judicial system.
The problem is that this basic message is now failing to engage with many immigrant communities, where, increasingly, younger generations are becoming seriously disaffected. It doesn’t help when local authorities such as Rotherham are seen to fail in their responsibilities (in this case protecting children from abuse) over decades, leading to local society disintegrating.
In turn, barriers have emerged in some areas, preventing communication, leading to isolation and, dare I say, perceived neglect; this is particularly evident where education attainment is poor, meaning a lack of aspiration.
So is it time for a more direct approach?
To accept that the more we all understand each other and have a shared sense of purpose – before the growing anger in some communities spills over into targeted violence, as it did in Paris. Having driven in and around Paris on many occasions over the years, I was shocked at the gradual decline of the barren estates of tower blocks where most immigrants lived. It was intimidating. You could almost feel the tensions – which appear to have been ignored by politicians, despite an expanding police presence.
Such tensions are also becoming evident in parts of our own country, despite efforts to manage it. Consequently, local authorities have a greater responsibility than ever before to engage.
The first priority could be to appoint an experienced senior Cabinet member for immigrant communities. Someone with real authority, to be the principal point of contact, willing to listen, learn and be able to make things happen through liaison with the public, charitable and private sectors.
It doesn’t matter where immigrants come from, nor how long they have been in Britain, there can be times when they need advice and support to help further integration, and to recognise that they, in turn, have responsibilities.
It would be easy for the Cabinet member to hold monthly public meetings around the county, district or borough, working with different community leaders and providing quarterly updates to council on the outcomes. This doesn’t mean endless reports and ‘reviews’; it simply means someone being accountable and not allowing problems to fester.
Nostradamus believed that the third world war would start in the Middle East. Given the current abuses (including by corrupt governments) it’s hardly surprising if some people are beginning to fear that war has started.
We can only counter the violence by making a genuine commitment to proving that there is a better way. Instead of spending billions of pounds on destroying society, reducing it to rubble and medieval conditions, those who are so disaffected by Western values have to be convinced that human life should be prized and peace is beneficial to all. Council leaders should take note before it’s too late.