With 2015 now upon us, we cross our fingers hoping this year is a fresh start for us all. Using this optimism, we make New Year's resolutions vowing to stick to them, in the hope of bettering ourselves for the coming year: from being more punctual and keeping deadlines to embracing a new diet and healthier lifestyle. New Year's resolutions will be made across the country, the annual tradition presenting the opportunity for self-improvement, not only for ourselves, but also those around us who make up our direct circle of life.
Whilst individual reflection is vital to personal development, we can also utilise New Year's resolutions on a national scale to eradicate the "us" and "them" mentality towards Muslims in the UK and the discrimination Muslims receive. Could 2015 see a return of British values and unity in the face of groups like UKIP?
As the adage goes, "When someone is told something often enough, they begin to believe it". There are few places where is this more apparent than the 'War on Terror' or, more recently framed, 'Fight against Islamic radicalisation' that David Cameron never fails to speak so fervidly about. The words "Muslim", "Islamist", "jihadist" and "terrorist" are now interchangeable within the media sphere despite being worlds apart. As a consequence, the inevitable changes in the attitudes of the public towards Muslims have been extensive with the direct effects being reverberated within the whole of the British Muslim community. The past 18 months have seen rises in anti-Muslim hate crime by up to 10%, reflecting this moulded impression within the minds of much of the general population. It also unravels a deeper issue where recent government policies appear to be contributing to the demonisation of British Muslims rather than countering extremism, for example forcing nursery staff to report toddlers who are 'at risk of becoming terrorists'.
Growing hostility towards Muslims from the general public is frankly worrying for British society-this must be changed. In order to create the unity we all so desperately need for Britain's future, teamwork is crucial: both Muslims and the rest of society must rally to resolve issues in the 21st century. Government and society must both echo a strong desire for unification for the resolution to work.
Engagement, both with Muslims on a personal level and also with large Muslim representative bodies is vital. Communicating with Muslims with an open mind will show that everyone is infact very alike, with similar hobbies, lives and aspirations for our country. The government needs to incorporate large Muslim representative bodies, for example FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies) which represents all Muslim students within the UK, to discuss topics which have a large impact on Muslims such as the controversial counter terrorism bill-a bill which Toni Pearce, NUS president, commented was "very dangerous for education" at the recent FOSIS Winter Conference. Both of these steps will ensure inclusion of Muslims, both at local and national level with involvement in important decisions. Furthermore, evidence shows the media has a substantial part to play in views constructed by the public regarding Muslims. Collective blame of Muslims for the actions of an extremely small minority cannot continue: responsibility must be placed on media in constructing a fair representation of Muslims. It's about time the media was held accountable for its actions.
Muslims also have a major role to play in this vision for a truly United Kingdom. A combination of constant collective blame on Muslims by media and the government has caused demonisation and alienation of Muslims within the country, in turn, creating cynicism from many.
It is unfortunate that a great proportion of the public use the media as their main source of information about Islam. This exemplifies that education of the public through "Meet Your Muslim neighbour" events, mosque open days and increased Muslim involvement with the media is extremely important. The use of other vices is paramount to broaden public knowledge. Further Muslim engagement within local communities will eliminate stigmas by showing Islam, like any other faith, is a religion of peace, love and compassion. Feeding the homeless, volunteering at nursing homes or getting involved with the local council and youth groups are a few of many examples of potential community involvement to combat this disapprobation. Muslims possess a diverse range of extensive knowledge and skills. Simple initiative and desire to serve humanity as a whole can lead the way in improving the world in whichever field of study or work individuals are involved in.
It is crucial for us to find common ground to solve the issues across all sections of the population. In turn, this will create positive change towards a more tolerant and understanding nation and aid in restoring balance within British society.
So, as we make our New Year's resolutions this year, let's also strive to accept all members of society, even if on the outset they seem a little different.