We need a better debate on race and faith

London, UK - NOV 20, 2006 The UK Christian think tank Ekklesia has backed a call today by the progressive New Generation Network for a better debate on race and faith issues, in the wake of the 30th anniversary of the Race Relations Act.

The freshly-formed Network, comprising individuals from a range of backgrounds, is particularly asking the government to drop its ‘colonial’ approach in order to listen to a wider range of voices beyond self- appointed “community leaders”.

It says that the current public conversation on race and faith issues is often simplistic and has been manipulated by recent governments to demonise minority groups, as well as by faith and community leaders whose claims to speak on behalf of others needs to be challenged.

New Generation has been set up by journalist and commentator Sunny Hundal, founder of Asians in Media and the acclaimed Pickled Politics weblog – which focuses on politics, media and society from a broad, mainly South Asian perspective.

Its founding statement is backed by Sunder Katwala (General Secretary of the Fabian Society, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (writer and journalist), Gurpreet Bhatti (author of the banned Sikh play Behzti), Dr Robert Beckford (TV presenter and black theologian), Simon Barrow (Co-Director of Ekklesia), and writers Ziauddin Sardar, Hari Kunzru and Dave Hill among many others.

The New Generation Network manifesto says that a focus on equality involves accepting people’s multiple identities (rather than privileging some over others) in the public arena. It also means rejecting prejudice from majority and minority ethnic organizations, protecting freedom of speech for all, and including disaffected white working class families in the racial justice agenda.

The demonisation of Muslims is singled out as a concern in the document, as is the tendency of the media to elevate extreme voices and hype fear in order to make “a good story”.

Says Ekklesia’s Simon Barrow: “I have signed this manifesto as one voice among many. Ekklesia has long called on the churches to stop defending their privileges, and to recover a radical tradition of justice, equality and peace-building alongside others. We need to renew the transformative voice within all traditions, both religious and non-religious, and to develop a broad concept of civil society beyond ‘the great and the good’ which dominates government thinking.”

He added: “This is New Generation Network’s initiative, not ours. But we are happy to back it. Like NG, Ekklesia doesn’t try to speak on behalf of others, but to encourage better conversation and debate through new approaches to tired issues.”