Chair East London Humanists Paul Kaufman asks what community means


- Credit: Archant

Do you think of yourself as a member of a community, say the black community or the Muslim community?

Community is often used carelessly to describe groups of people based simply on their religion or their ethnicity.

The danger is to assume that all members of that community think in the same way, where in fact most so-called communities are actually hugely diverse.

Many have no leaders with any legitimate claim to speak on their behalf.

For example, Islam does not have a hierarchical structure like, say, the Anglican Church.

Similarly, the Chief Rabbi can speak only for one orthodox section of British Jewry. There cannot therefore be one definitive view of what such so-called communities believe. Tarring all members of a community with the same brush can result in mistrust and prejudices such as Islamophobia.

The risk of false assumptions was brought home on a recent demonstration against the attack on Gaza.

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I marched proudly with a number of fellow Jews (I am of the secular variety) under the banner of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

The sight appeared to confound the preconceptions of many Muslims who were on the demonstration.

For my part I was suspicious that some may use anti-Israeli sentiment as a vehicle for anti-Semitism.

It was therefore reassuring that so many Muslims approached to speak warmly of their appreciation of our presence and without any hint of animosity.

In the end we are of course all part of the same human community, and the different communities into which some would pigeonhole us share many of the same human values.

One is the so-called Golden Rule which lies at the heart of Humanism, as well as most religions and cultures.

A good example is from the Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel, speaking in Babylon 2000 years ago.

When asked to teach the Torah, the complex book of Jewish laws, he answered: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is just explanation. Go and learn it.”

How much war, pain and suffering would be avoided if we could only learn this lesson.

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