The independent Bloom review on faith engagement falls short of scrutinising the government’s longstanding prejudices against Muslim civic activism
In emphasising the dearth of religious literacy in the British government and the public sector, the recently released Bloom review seeks to raise the game when it comes to the state’s engagement with faith.
The independent review, published last month, challenges the government to take religion seriously by recommending the institution of an Independent Faith Champion to take the lead on consulting fairly with faith groups and establishing oversight.
The report by faith engagement adviser Colin Bloom expresses concern about poor levels of religious literacy, and this is not misplaced. But his recommendations fall short of scrutinising the government’s longstanding prejudices against Muslim civic activism, and as such, it could serve to entrench the draconian reach of the state in regulating minority faiths and containing dissenting perspectives.
Setting the tone for the rest of the document, the review’s foreword presents a curiously simplistic typology of three different categories when it comes to faith or belief. Bloom’s “true believers” and “non-believers” are the good guys – “sincere, peaceful and decent”, and thus deserving to be taken seriously by government.
In contrast, “make-believers” are portrayed as insincere trouble-makers, guided by some form of self-interest and employing subterfuge to unfairly exert their influence – a problem and a threat for government and communities alike.
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This is a judgment on which voices can be regarded as legitimate or representative. The problem with this framing is that it relies on subjective descriptors, which when handed over to government leave their interpretations reliant on specific implied notions of peacefulness, decency and sincerity – namely, ones that comply with the politically charged parameters laid down by the state.
For a government whose ministers have long been proponents of a hawkish nativism, and indeed continue to champion such agendas, there is little doubt that in today’s highly securitised and xenophobic political climate, critical and dissenting Muslim civic voices will be classified as a threat to peace – as subversive and illegitimate disruptors.