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Reflections on Tackling Prejudice and Polarisation

ENCATE Lunch Talks: Antisemitism & Islamophobia in relation to attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, August 28, 2020

I recently had the pleasure of leading a lunchtime talk on August 28 for members of ENCATE. The topic was understanding and tackling Antisemitism and Islamophobia in relation to the discourse around the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We looked at some of the ways in which this topic is high-jacked for other political or ideological agendas – many of them simplistic and binary, painting a worldview that is black and white, good vs. evil. We then explored some of the reasons why human beings find these positions so attractive and why the topic of Israel-Palestine is emotive and very effective at pulling people into the realm of conspiracy theories and hate.

Practicing tolerance

During the course of our discussion, we spoke about how to deal with people who are immersed in such views. Should we view them as the ‘enemy’ to be battled and beaten? Indeed, in the formative days of ENCATE, I recall us debating whether the ‘C’ in our acronym should stand for ‘Combatting’ or ‘Countering’ and we decided that the latter was more appropriate. For the truth is that if we are preaching understanding and tolerance, we need to practice it too, even towards people who we believe are fundamentally wrong.

This is not to say that we should excuse or tolerate racism and extremism – we should be clear and consistent in rejecting and condemning those views. But unless we understand where the people who are holding those views are coming from and how they arrived at such positions, we can never play a part in making a change. Telling people that they are wrong does nothing but cause them to become defensive and more entrenched.

Relationship and Reality

Conflict, polarisation, and prejudice can only be transformed in the presence of two things – Relationship and Reality. Experiencing ‘Relationship’ means stepping outside of your usual circles and standing in someone else’s shoes – someone who is different from yourself. ‘Reality’ means embracing messiness, complexity, and accepting that the world is not black and white or good vs. evil and that you might not already have all the answers.

Embarking on a path towards Relationship and Reality is a process and means moving from closedness to openness, from narrow and shallow to broad and deep. It is not the ‘fluffy,’ easy path that some might perceive it to be; it is a hard journey and a vulnerable and difficult path to walk because it is a path of self-awareness that brings maturity and makes you face your own fears whilst acknowledging those of others.

Understanding opposing opinions and explaining behaviour in order to make a change

It is not about reconciling opinions or excusing behaviour; it is about understanding opposing opinions and explaining behaviour in order to make a change. It is also the path of most respect for yourself and for others and is more likely in the long run to get you what you need. In the end, it is not about being ‘right,’ but about real human beings with real needs facing one another with honesty and the fact that we are all irrevocably connected to and dependent upon one another. Time to act addressing Antisemitism.

Sharon Booth

Sharon Booth
Founder & Director at Solutions not Sides