As horrific and unfathomable as it may be to accept, discrimination and xenophobia have been a part of human civilisation for all of recorded history. Whether it was the treatment of the Jewish population in Ancient Egypt and Nazi Germany, the persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire, or even far more recently the apartheid in South Africa or the segregation of 20th century America, people have often been disgracefully mistreated simply based on their beliefs or factors outside their control, such as ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
As a society we have progressed dramatically and are thankfully far more liberal and tolerant towards those with different views. Our communities have also become more inclusive and welcoming to other races, creeds and cultures, and as a result Britain has benefited exponentially. Though far-right xenophobes may dispute it, Britain is one of the most multicultural nations on Earth. Ironically, this is a legacy of the otherwise troubled imperial period in our history. So too is the British love affair with the exotic taste of tea, coffee, tobacco, cinnamon, chillies and many more delights. As a result, today we are as a country associated with our tea drinking, chocolate companies like Cadbury's and Chicken Tikka Masala, which until recently, regularly topped polls of the nation's favourite dishes.
After this incredible progress it would be easy and comfortable enough to sit back and accept that discrimination is no longer a problem in Britain. However, this would not only be terribly complacent, but also ignorant of the facts. Last year, in England and Wales, there were 42,930 recorded incidents of race-based discrimination and 3,254 recorded incidents of religious discrimination. Respectively, these figures represented rises of 15% and 43% on the year before, with the discrimination predominantly being focused on Muslims and Jews. This is why over 95,000 young people nationwide voted in favour of making “Don’t Hate, Educate” the UK Youth Parliament national campaign for 2016.
I was incredibly pleased to see this voted to become the national campaign and it made a substantial change from the often unfeasible campaigns the UK Youth Parliament has run in the past. It seemed to me as though it was a campaign that very few people would disagree with and although it wasn’t one of the top issues in Medway (the area I represent), it was a campaign that I felt many would be able to get behind. The campaign has already gained the support of Rehman Chishti MP, Huw Merriman MP and Sharon Hodgson MP, to name just a few.
It aims to encourage us all to challenge negative attitudes around race and religion, work with others to educate our communities in order to tackle ignorance, and promote integration. It’s certainly a considerable challenge, but one that we must face up to if we are to make our society more tolerant and welcoming to those of different faiths and ethnicities.
This is particularly important in light of recent prejudice and scapegoating in the media, which has led to the growth of fringe parties like the British National Party, Britain First and UKIP. The situation is even worse across the pond with Donald Trump looking likely to be the Republican nominee in the US Presidential Election this year. Challenging negative media stereotypes of those from Islamic and Jewish backgrounds, as well as challenging all forms of discrimination, is vital if our country is to continue to socially progress.
I would ask everyone who has taken the time to read this article to follow the advice of 95,000 young people nationwide and condemn discrimination - whether it be racism, homophobia, ageism or anything else, in order to build a more cohesive, tolerant and inclusive society for us all to live in.