How Remembrance can bring communities together

It comes at a time when our society feels more fragmented and anxious than any of us would want. Societal divisions revealed by the EU referendum campaign have yet to heal, and reported xenophobic and faith-based prejudice has increased.

British Future’s discussions with people across the UK for the National Conversation on Immigration, the biggest ever public consultation on immigration, underlined the importance of getting integration right.

Those conversations, in 60 towns and cities covering every nation and region, found a worrying prevalence of anti-Muslim prejudice that needs to be countered. They also showed the importance of social contact: harmful stereotyping was much less prevalent in places where people from different backgrounds get to meet and know each other.

“Remembrance could, should and does belong to all of us. The armies of 1914-18 looked more like the Britain of 2018 than the Britain of their day.

Finding shared moments and spaces that can bring people together across social and political, ethnic and faith divides, is more important than ever if we are to make integration work. November offers an opportunity to do just that.

There is increasing awareness that Remembrance could, should and does belong to all of us. The armies of 1914-18 looked more like the Britain of 2018 than the Britain of their day.

British troops fought alongside soldiers from across the Commonwealth, including 1.5 million Indian soldiers, 400,000 of them Muslims from present-day Pakistan. This shared history of service and contribution is something we can all remember together in Britain today.

YouGov polling for British Future found that 80 per cent of the public feels telling this story would be good for integration. And while our World War One tracker survey shows an upsurge in awareness of the contribution of Indian soldiers, most people are still unaware that Muslims fought for Britain in 1914-18.

We can do much more to engage with this shared history and the role it can play in integration. The Remember Together initiative, launched in October, brings people together to learn about the multi-ethnic, multi-faith armies of 1914-18, and to understand what remembering our history can mean for identity and belonging in our shared society today.

Backed by the Royal British Legion and by a range of civic and faith voices, it connects people from communities with little contact, to meet, learn and uncover what they have in common. Local events in Bradford, Derby, Waltham Forest and Birmingham will spark new contact and joint engagement in Remembrance. We hope to expand the project in local authorities across the UK in 2019.

For an issue of such salience, it is remarkable that there has been so little strategic leadership on integration at national level. The new Integrated Communities Green Paper is a welcome first step. Crucial to its success will be finding ways to put theory into practice – in the five pilot areas of Walsall, Peterborough, Bradford, Waltham Forest and Blackburn, and more widely across England.

For that to succeed, integration must be an ‘all of us’ issue that is meaningful to people from every background and community. Coming together to remember shared history could be one way to help make integration matter for everyone in Britain today.

British Future is an independent, non-partisan think tank seeking to involve people in an open conversation about identity and integration, migration and opportunity. See www.britishfuture.org

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