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Inter-Community Trust Building Is A Must, Not An Option

Cities across the globe stood proudly in solidarity with the UK after the horrific attacks in Manchester arena on 22nd May. Thousands of people from the Greater Manchester area with "I ❤ MCR" placards poured into the city centre in the following evening to show their respect to the victims as well express their resolve against terror as a united city. Manchester's newly elected Mayor Andy Burnham, along with other civic leaders, was at the forefront of this moral leadership and has worked tirelessly to build trust amongst people.

Twelve years ago, when terrorist attacks hit London and claimed 52 lives, a similar solidarity and resolve were shown by all sections of Londoners. The 2005 London bombings, one of which was near to the heart of East London's Muslim community in Aldgate, changed the fate of British Muslims in public life. Like the response to the recent carnage in Manchester, London then displayed an extraordinary unity in which its elected Mayor Ken Livingstone played a vital role in bringing Londoners together.

When people instantaneously take on a calamity it is natural human instinct and basic bonds that work. However, in a diverse pluralist society the most important glue that unites people is the trust between people. Intra- and inter-community trust at every step of the way is vital. The ethos of trust should permeate every level of communities, from the leaders at the top to the ordinary members. This can only be built through a consistent and meaningful interaction and engagement amongst citizens in order to build positive relationships and work for a common good. Just having good intentions is not enough; passion or rhetoric alone will not bring the required trust between communities.

Building trust is a process - it is the glue that gels people in families, neighbourhoods and communities. The end goal is peaceful coexistence and mutual respect, for which we need honest dialogue and a culture of trust through meaningful relationships.

Ours is a much disturbed world now. Due to gross inequality, political divisions, prevalence of "fake news" and free market morality we live in an era of declining trust between and within people, communities, and the established authorities. The main trust breakers are ignorance of one another, pre-conceived or biased perceptions, limited or unplanned engagement and unrealistic expectations. A blame game culture, less human interaction, ineffective communication with others as well as a lack of respect, openness and transparency are also common reasons that break trust.

Ever since the 7/7 atrocities British Muslims have been under unusual scrutiny from sections of our media. One of the main reasons for the trust-deficit towards Muslims has been the lack of religious or cultural literacy amongst people, particularly in the media establishment. As a community of communities coming from disparate backgrounds it has been unprepared for the ensuing challenges that fell on it.

Muslims have since been seen with a prism of security and often as a "suspect community" or "enemy within". Muslim socio-political activists are sometimes seen as "entrysts" if they are perceived as influencing politics. Some individuals and think tanks have also contributed to a decline in trust. The former Head of Equalities and Human Rights Commission Trevor Phillips stated in January 2016 that Muslims are not like us. This "otherness", mentioned by people of power and institutions, has continued, particularly, since 2005.

The media's distrust of Muslims and scape-goating the whole community have made public participation by Muslims very difficult. The religious affiliation of a Muslim always seems to come up in the media when there is negative news, even if the matter is nothing to do with religion; this hardly happens with other groups. No one could imagine Jo Cox killer being called a Christian terrorist.

Sadly, there are no signs that the distrust will be coming down. Many Britons now hugely overestimate the number of Muslims in the UK, according to a survey in December 2016, where some thought that one in six Britons were Muslims - reality is less than one in twenty. Could this be a result of the significantly more media attention focussed on Muslims, especially on the negative stories, while turning a blind eye to all the good work taking place? According to a poll by think-tank Demos in 2011, British Muslims could even be more patriotic than the average UK citizen (83% of Muslims, compared to national average of 79%). But our politicians and media do not think so.

This is creating further gaps between Muslims and the wider society, even amongst the youth. More than a quarter of 18 to 24-year-olds in Britain do not trust Muslims, a BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat poll found in Sept 2013.

It is counterproductive to only point fingers at the Muslim community, the mosques or the religion of Islam. What we need is an ethos of respect, equal treatment of all, fairness and justice to build trust. We need a balanced discussion and right action by involving communities to face the nihilism amongst us, not by talking down Muslims after each vile atrocity caused by someone with Muslim name. As Daesh (ISIS) is on the run, the fear is it will lash out indiscriminately wherever it can; Muslims will be the worst sufferers in their heinous game. We must not fall into their trap and divide ourselves.

Human beings are flawed; communities have their share of weaknesses; and the Government and security services also make mistakes. It is now understood that the security services have come under scrutiny for missing five opportunities to stop the Manchester bomber, whereby Muslims themselves reported their concerns to the authorities. We all should learn from mistakes.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, parenting consultant and author.

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