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The UK must rethink its approach to community relations

Pioneering Report on cross-cultural values reveals new ground for bringing people together from diverse social and religious backgrounds.

London; 8 December 2010: A major policy event focussed on improving intercultural relations within and across societies concluded yesterday with leading commentators and social actors calling for a new approach to building inter-community relations. The ‘Rethinking Dialogue’ Forum, which was chaired by the BBC’s Bridget Kendell, opened with the UK launch of the ‘Anna Lindh Report’ which is based on the very first Gallup Opinion Poll on intercultural values with 13,000 people across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Among its findings, the 13 country Poll - which involved 1000 people from the UK - highlights that European Union citizens and those in countries of the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean have common ideas and perspectives about the space they share but misunderstanding and misperception when it comes to assessing the values they have in common.

Speaking on the opening panel, André Azoulay, President of the Anna Lindh Foundation and co-founder of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, said: “For too long, all of us have been hostages – whether as passive observers or as tragic victims – to those who have set out to take over our cultures and beliefs, and to use them as tools for confusion and misperceptions. With the Report, things can be different. We will be able to speak with more clarity to policy-makers and the people at large about the political and cultural complexities, and put an end to the regressive notion of ‘clash of civilizations’”

The Report, which involved experts on cross-cultural from over 30 countries in its preparation, including UK-based academics from London's City University and the University of Westminster, is intended to be a tool for action at the level of policy as well as in the hands of international institutions and civil society organisations working across the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Mike Hardy, who leads the intercultural dialogue work of the British Council, the UK’s international institution for cultural relations, said: “If social cohesion was yesterday’s story, then we have to talk about what is today’s. There must be a narrative about the permanent positive aspects of diversity and pluralism in society. However, diversity is a complex thing and the Anna Lindh Report gives us a lot more data to analyze that complexity. In contrast to previous narratives envisioning a clash of civilizations, what the Report demonstrates is simply a reciprocal 'clash of ignorance'.”

The ‘Rethinking Dialogue’ event, which was organised by the British Council and the Anna Lindh Foundation, also involved expert contributions from Magali Rheault (Gallup Center for Muslim Studies), Sara Silvestri (City University), Naomi Sakr (University of Westminster's Arab Media Centre) and Sarfraz Manzoor (Winner of the Mediterranean Journalist Award 2010 for his article in the Guardian 'My month of being Jewish'). The event is part of a programme of national debates on the Report findings taking place across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and which is being carried out with the Foundation's region-wide Network of 3500 civil society organisations and NGOs. The day before the event, the Foundation's UK National Network - which is coordinated by Manchester-based Centre for Urban Education (CUE) and brings together NGO leaders, academics and cultural actors - met in London in order to assess how the Report can be used as a tool for action at the national and trans-Mediterranean level.

For more information on the Anna Lindh Report 2010: