Background and context to the GOT (Getting On Together) Project:
The GOT (Schools’) Project derives originally from tensions within the Cardiff South community following on from the 9/11 atrocity.
It is a ‘bottom up’ programme which comes from the community to answer the specific needs of that community to counter the rising tide of extreme thoughts and feelings, both in the Black and White population, and promote tolerance, understanding and respect for all - Community cohesion in all but name.
At the time of 9/11 one of the directors had already worked for many years within and for the community as then Community Tutor/Head of Middle School at Cardiff’s Fitzalan High School, the largest multi-cultural secondary school in Wales, comprising 1700 pupils.
The school was lucky to benefit from a close working relationship with key community and faith leaders, one of whom being Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Dahir, imam to the Noor-El-Islam mosque, Butetown.
It was he, at the time of 9/11 – engaged in voluntary work over a period of many years at Fitzalan High School - who foresaw the power of education as the medium for spreading the non-violent message of the Islamic faith.
Sheikh Dahir was one of several faith leaders who attended to the needs of Cardiff’s Muslim population, 40% of whom lived in just three wards served by Fitzalan High School – Butetown, Grangetown and Riverside. Sheikh Dahir and the Community Tutor forged a strong professional bond which had existed for many years prior to 9/11.
The events of September 11th 2001 made them realize that the world would never be the same again – and that all young people growing up in its shadow would need additional faith and emotional support allied to greater knowledge and understanding if they were not to be drawn into a spiral of prejudice, discrimination, hatred and violence.
South Wales Police crime statistics reveal the surge in racist crime in Cardiff over the period:
From 276 reported incidents for 1998/99 To 761 in 2001/02
It became clear in a relatively short time that these tensions and verbal and physical attacks were not exclusively confined to Cardiff, but would find national and international outlets:
According to the Commission for Racial Equality there was a marked increase in racial incidents throughout Wales following 11th September: Bullying incidents had trebled; women and children from the Muslim community had been abused in the streets; the Commission reported that nearly all the country's mosques had either been attacked or received abusive mail.
Dr. Ally concluded “… it was clear that the 11 September attacks and post-September 11th issues had raised a tremendous amount of hate between pupils, which would have a long-term effect if it was not addressed.” (BBC News, 2001a).
This sentiment was echoed by Manzoor Moghal, the Leicester-based chairman of the Federation of Muslim Organisations: “I knew immediately that this would transform the world and the world would turn upside down. It would have a long-term effect on the Muslim world.” (BBC News, 2001).
This increase in Muslim/non-Muslim tension was mirrored around the world. For example,
The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia cited a danger that racism had ‘embedded itself’ in Europe (New York Times, 2001).
Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia reported that, with the destruction of the World Trade Centre “... Muslims in Australia, as in other parts of the world, became objects of fear, and targets for anger and vengeance. Discrimination ranged from verbal abuse to physical confrontations and attacks.” (Issues deliberation Australia/America, 2007)
The events of 7/7 (2005) further cemented the resolve of Sheikh Dahir to respond to the faith needs of the communities he served in Cardiff and elsewhere. On the retirement of the Community Tutor in 2007 they determined to develop a faith-based response to promote social cohesion for all through the medium of education, acquiring in this resolve a third director, Dr. Abdalla Yassin Mohamed OBE, vice-chair of the Muslim Council of Wales and a notable academic and scholar.
Independent research reinforced this approach: “If we are serious about our commitment to interfaith and dismantling the foundations that give rise to ‘parallel lives’ and ‘Side-By-Side’ communities then.....it is crucial all younger people – Muslim and non-Muslim – are taught that ideas do not belong to any single cultural or ethnic group and therefore can be shared and argued about with others.” (Mirza, et al., 2007:94)
It was against this background that the directors set about developing a module for secondary pupils, taking pains to ensure it complemented the National Curriculum. Practice suggests that the module, comprising four ‘lessons’, would require 6 - 8 one-hour slots to gain maximum impact.
The directors do not claim to have produced the perfect educational instrument for detecting and then countering extreme thoughts and feelings. Like all processes with people at their core, they will evolve and improve over time. Notably, the GOT Schools’ Project derives from a substantial base of knowledge and expertise which will support its change to variance in local and international circumstances.
We believe that the Project is unique in its focus and methodology and represents a significant advance over current educational provision in this area, both within Wales and the UK at large
Directors of GOT 1: Barrie Phillips, ex-Head of Middle School, Fitzalan High School, Cardiff Sheikh Mohamed Abdi Dahir MA, imam, Noor-El-Islam mosque, Cardiff Dr. Abdalla Yassin Mohamed OBE, Director, ISSA Wales June 2010