Civil Society

Faith leaders: an untapped resource in protecting communities

neon prayer

Faith leaders represent a powerful, untapped resource for promoting community safety Image: UNSPLASH/Chris Liverani

Dana Humaid
Chief Executive, Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities
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Roles of Religion

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • It is critical to engage with faith leaders to create a moral framework for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Faith leaders are in a uniquely positive position to bring about change.
  • 84% of the global population identifies with a faith group.

Faith has a crucial role to play in providing a moral framework for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and also tackling issues at a local level. I strongly believe that faith and faith leaders represent a powerful and largely untapped resource to tackle issues pertaining to community safety in 2020 and beyond.

Since the beginning of time, faith has provided a tangible moral basis to resolve conflict as well as being an instrument of peace, hope and comfort. Faith remains relevant to human and community progress by guiding societal and economic interactions, despite the rapid advances and development in our society. The challenges that communities face – particularly crimes that affect community safety – impede their ability to prosper. It is more critical now than ever to engage with faith leaders to create a moral framework for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We must work towards finding ways in which faith leaders can be mobilized and educated to empower them to take an active role in helping to develop and safeguard our global community.

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Playing a positive role

Faith leaders can also play a positive role in education within communities. The network and support function provided by faith leaders from large cities to small villages is powerful and proven successful. Religious organizations worldwide run incredibly effective programmes in everything from drug prevention to interventions in cases of domestic abuse and delinquency to stop gang culture. We know this works. Faith leaders are in a uniquely positive position to bring about behavioural change through their teachings and actions, particularly given that 84% of the global population identifies with a faith group.

Working together to combat hate crime

The powerful and progressive technology available to people today is being abused by those who allow their personal agendas to get in the way of human progress. As society has advanced online, many experts concur that individuals with tendencies towards racism or extremism have found subcultures that can serve to reinforce these views as well as provoking them towards violent actions in the physical world. There is a thin line that connects hate crime to radicalization. Reflecting this, it is very important to work together to combat hate crimes on a local level and halt their negative impacts before they escalate and resonate throughout society and cause even more damage.

rising hate crime, uk
UK government figures suggest instances of hate crimes more than doubled between 2014-2019 Image: Statista

Hate crime represents an increasing global threat to our societies. In November 2019, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation found that hate-crime violence hit a 16-year-high. In October 2019, the United Kingdom’s Home Office found that instances of hate crimes had more than doubled in the preceding five years. Similarly, academics from Cardiff University found that an increase in hate speech towards minorities on social media has a direct correlation to increased violent acts against minorities. Technology and business must work together with police and governments to find solutions to govern and eradicate these issues at the top level. When looking at these issues in the context of communities, however, faith leaders can act as the social glue to bring communities closer together.

Tackling online child abuse

Another technological challenge, online child abuse, is growing: one in four victims of trafficking are children, child-trafficking is a $32 billion a year industry and 80% of victims of online exploitation are less than 10 years old.

Shockingly, 800 million children are currently at risk of being victimized or abused online. An investigation by The New York Times recently found that the technology industry has consistently failed to deliver substantially combative actions to shut down illegal and harmful content.

The Child Dignity Alliance acknowledges one of the major issues facing law enforcement agencies is the sheer volume of images and videos requiring initial analysis and investigation. The digital age also presents risks to children in the form of online peer-on-peer abuse, such as sexting or coercion. The Marie Collins Foundation found that children as young as eight are likely to experience online abuse.

The increasingly complex nature of online hate speech and child exploitation necessitates a strong, effective coalition of faith, business, government and technology leaders, without which, these horrendous issues will not only endure, but increase.

Faith leaders and the work of the IAFSC

Faith leaders, armed with knowledge and training, can assist in guiding their communities in a positive direction. As someone who has worked with victims of crime during the past decade, I have witnessed first-hand how faith leaders are the first line of defence – families rely on leaders of their faith for guidance, support and advice. This is why we created the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities (IAFSC), to create a global movement in which faith leaders, NGOs, business leaders and policy-makers, as well as broader civil society come together to address these problems. In the past year we have focused primarily on the issues of hate crime and online child exploitation and I believe that we can expand our scope to work on any issues that pose a threat to our community.

This past year we have held workshops in Cairo, Manila, Moscow, Nairobi, New Delhi, New York, Paris and Santo Domingo. We know that this approach works. We conducted a survey of hundreds of grassroots faith leaders from different religious backgrounds. Those surveyed had awareness of traditional child abuse, but levels of awareness were much lower when considering online child sexual abuse and they were unsure of what to do when dealing with online sexual abuse. The IAFSC is bringing together many disciplines to help empower faith leaders and give them the necessary skills to help tackle these societal problems and improve interfaith relations and community development.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis has called for unified action to protect children from digital harm Image: UNSPLASH/Ashwin Vaswani

In November, during a joint ecumenical meeting for the promotion of online child dignity in the Vatican, Pope Francis called on experts in science and technology, the media, business, legislators, parents, faith leaders and others to join hands and pursue tangible, urgent action to protect children from criminal violence and harm in the digital world. It is important that faith leaders begin to harness technology to reach the masses and utilize their united voice as a voice of hope.

For too long, empty promises and failed policies have allowed these horrendous crimes to endure. I believe that this year’s Annual Meeting will offer a catalyst for change, and we look forward to working with stakeholders in all disciplines to achieve a cohesive and sustainable solution to these issues.

At the Annual Meeting 2020, the IAFSC will convene a coalition of stakeholders, including faith leaders, to discuss these issues and highlight the role faith leaders can play in addressing hate crime and promoting online child dignity.

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