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Lord Chalfont: My Lords, during the course of his remarkable and perceptive speech, my noble friend Lord Wright devoted a section to the relationship with Islam. It is on that subject that I should like to concentrate for the next few minutes in strongly supporting the ideas and the views that my noble friend put forward. Indeed, as the Government develop their role as president of the European Union, I hope that the Foreign Secretary and his advisers might have time to study some of the aspects of the eastern question in Europe in the 19th century, especially in so far as they are relevant to this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Healey, referred to the Ottoman empire, which, as he implied, was at the heart of the eastern question. However, as my noble friend clearly suggested, the current contemporary dialogue between the Islamic and the non-Islamic world, and more especially between Islam and the Judaeo-Christian cultures of Europe and the West, is now becoming a matter of increasing importance and urgency.
At present, this is largely a dialogue of the deaf, characterised on both sides by a failure of tolerance and understanding. That arises in the West from such misconceptions as the failure to recognise that revolutionary movements like the Black Moslems in the United States have nothing much to do with Islam, apart from the borrowing of a few bits of selective rhetoric from the Quran. There is also a tendency, especially in our media, to use the phrase, "Islamic fundamentalism", as a synonym for terrorism or extremism whereas, of course, a fundamental belief in Islam is no more sinister or threatening than a fundamental belief in Christianity. On the other hand, misunderstanding in Islam arises from a perception of democracy among some followers of Islam as being in conflict with the sovereignty of God, separating the faithful from the "ungodly" western society.
So far as concerns the West, there is no excuse for ignorance. There are more than 10 million Moslems living in western countries; there are about a million in Britain, and the number is growing. The British Islamic
However, that does not apply only to Britain. It is a feature of life in several European countries; indeed, we have already had mention of the terrible sufferings of the Moslems in former Yugoslavia. We need not be reminded that fear, prejudice and bigotry are still poisoning international relations. With the end of the Cold War, it might have been supposed that the chances of global peace and stability had substantially increased. For a time, events in the Middle East provided further cause for optimism--perhaps, as we have already heard today, too much optimism.
Yet, the dangers have not disappeared. Indeed, as my noble friend mentioned in his speech, there are people both in the Islamic world and in the West who advance the proposition that, with the end of the central struggle of the 20th century between capitalism and communism, the great conflict of the 21st century will be that between Islam and the West. That seems to me to be a dangerous over-simplification. As a military historian, I have made a long study of the causes and origins of conflict. They are complicated and many-sided. They include the ambitions of unscrupulous and dictatorial leaders; economic rivalries; the collapse of established societies; and so on. However, the most persistent underlying causes of conflict are distrust and fear, based often upon a failure to understand the aspirations of other societies and the sensitivities of other cultures. That is especially significant today in the relations between Islam and the West. These, of course, date back centuries to the days of the Byzantine empire and were exacerbated in the time of the Crusades. They are now mainly characterised by a sharply different approach to the concept of theocracy. Islam does not recognise the exclusive jurisdiction of any lay authority in the conduct of worldly affairs whereas, in the West, although we do sometimes recognise moral imperatives in the conduct of worldly affairs, many decisions are taken outside and independent of religious precepts and principles. That is an important difference which is not always fully understood.
In Britain, which is a multi-cultural society, there is often still misunderstanding of that difference, which occasionally, I fear, leads to an apparent lack of respect for the daily practices of the Islamic faith, and to actions and words which may seem unremarkable within our own culture but which cause deep offence to Moslems. At the same time, it must be said that we have the right to expect those of the Islamic faith who come to live in our society to respect our history, our culture, our religious traditions and our way of life. While Moslems have a right to be themselves within their own religious faith, they also have an obligation to integrate themselves into the community in which they live.
Medieval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time. It was an example to the rest of the world. However, it is a matter of great regret that today we in the West do not perceive tolerance as one of the outstanding virtues of Islam. That view is not confined to the West. Recently, in my presence, a distinguished Islamic diplomat quoted from an article he had contributed to a French political journal in which he wrote that the cherished Islamic traditions of courtesy, tolerance and hospitality were temporarily in eclipse. That was an Islamic diplomat speaking.
Another fruitful source of misunderstanding and frustration is the ignorance on the part of many of the extent to which there is much common historical experience shared between Islam and the West. As Prince Charles said in his speech at Oxford, the West should recognise the great contribution of medieval Islam to the making of modern Europe--something which is not often recognised by modern historians. Further, not just in the political and cultural fields, without the work of many Moslem scholars the development of western science would have been seriously impaired. On the other hand, sometimes in the Islamic world--and I have had personal experience of this--there is a reluctance to accept that the West has also made serious contributions to the human condition. There is a tendency among some Moslems to concentrate on those aspects of western behaviour and culture which are at best inexplicable and at worst offensive to Islamic sensibilities.
Relations between Islam and the West are at a crossroads. In my view, it would be tragic if, as my noble friend suggested, we were now to accept that they are set on some kind of collision course. We need now to consider seriously ways of stimulating and encouraging a serious dialogue. The West will have to get rid of some of its stereotypical prejudices. Above all, western commentators and journalists must learn not to extrapolate the utterances of extremists into some false perception of Islam as a whole.
There is much that we can now do, in co-operation with the countries of Islam, to solve some of the really serious besetting problems of poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world. For over half a century those problems were largely overshadowed by the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West. It would be a tragedy if they were now to be overshadowed by a failure of comprehension and communication between two great religious and cultural traditions.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for what he has just said. I agree with every word. As a Jewish leader, it has been part of my life over the past few years to try to promote precisely what he has said. I call in aid what the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said about Islamophobia. I have been on two occasions to Jordan as part of a parliamentary delegation to help them to set up an
I have also educated myself since Oslo. In the world in which I grew up as a Zionist leader we had no contact with Arabs and very little with Muslims. But since Oslo I have made it my business to try to find out how people live and how they think. I have been extremely kindly and courteously received. I have travelled to Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, the Yemen, Oman, Qatar and even to Saudi Arabia. I find that I have a great deal in common with people there. Part of our common bond lies in the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has said. The golden age of the Jewish people did not occur in a Christian land nor indeed in a Jewish one; it occurred in Spain at a time when it was ruled by Muslims. Those three great religions have a great deal in common, as they do with others. I believe that one great contribution that Britain can make during its presidency of the European Union is to try to look for what we have in common and to search for the common ground and not to attack each other for what we perceive to be our differences. We should try to find ways in which we can work together and help others for whom the peace process is even more essential than for ourselves to achieve that end.
Recently I spent a week in an Israeli Arab town, Sakhnin, in Lower Galilee, where I tried somewhat unsuccessfully to master the Arabic tongue. I know that in all these Arab places the vast majority want peace. They want it as much as the people of Israel want and need peace. The problem lies often with the systems of government and with the people who rule them.
In most of the countries in that region, rulers are not elected. In Israel, they are elected. One of the problems the Israelis have is that they have elected people for whom most of us would never vote, just as we in Britain elected people for 18 years for whom I did not vote and whom I desperately tried to get rid of.
As the noble Lord, Lord Healey, said, we have to recognise that in many places we are dealing with dictatorships and that is not the same as dealing with democracies. As the noble Lord, Lord Healey, also said, we have to recognise that when you are dealing with democracies you have to deal with the people whom the voters in those democracies have seen fit to elect to office. Whether you like them or not, whether you would vote for them or not, you have to deal with them.
I would not have dreamed of voting for Netanyahu as I deplore many of his policies. But the fact is he is there and he has been elected. If we want to take part in the peace process, it is no good just attacking him, or indeed those Americans who support him, or people in this country who support him. We have to try to find a way to help him to achieve peace while keeping his own cabinet together as long as his government lasts.
As I said, most people in all these countries want peace. The people want security; certainly that is the major concern of people who live in Israel. Family and friends of mine are afraid to go on buses or go to supermarkets. They do not know when the next bomb will go off. But that is not a result or a creation of
This is a complex and difficult problem. It is one which we cannot just get rid of by saying, "If we give the Palestinians whatever they seek, this will go away". That is not the case, and that is their problem too.
I was a convert to the concept of a Palestinian state, after Oslo. I now believe firmly that unless and until there is a Palestinian state there will be no full peace in the region. That is the view of the Israel Labour Party and it is my view. But you cannot have a Palestinian state except under conditions in which their Israeli neighbours are able to live in peace with them; where Israelis are satisfied that their lives and those of their children will not be even more endangered than at present; and where they do not feel that by giving up territory they are merely providing ground from which their enemies can leap more easily into their towns and villages to cause more havoc, harm and death. In my respectful view, we must find ways through our EU presidency to assist this process and to work with both sides.
We must try to get rid of some of the stereotypes referred to so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I am president of an organisation called the Maimonides Foundation, which seeks to establish and foster relations between Muslims and Jews, here and abroad, because if we do not understand each other we shall get nowhere. We must start with individuals. In my belief the problem of peace lies not so much with the people--because they cannot have it even if they want it--but with those who lead them and rule their countries and with the relations that they establish.
I learned this in an odd way. Many years ago, I was invited to visit President Sadat in his villa on the Nile. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, will have visited that place often. President Sadat was at that time making vigorous verbal attacks on Menachem Begin with whom he was seeking to make peace. When I asked him why he was doing that, he said, "You do not understand, but my friend Menachem Begin understands. He has his constituency and I have mine. We have to bring our constituencies behind us. He and I will make peace".
The sadness of Washington to me was that Netanyahu met Clinton and Arafat met Clinton but Netanyahu did not meet Arafat. They were together in the same city but they were not brought together to talk. The talks were conducted through intermediaries. The minds did not come together. They helped towards a condition of trust. Our Prime Minister has an outstanding talent. People identify with him and they like him. He has a way with people. I hope that we can get results precisely through the good will that he could create and which he is so good at creating.
I have enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Wright. I have worked with him in other spheres for many years. I know that he thinks there are double standards in the US Congress. He knows that they think that he has double standards. That will not get us very
I say, with respect, that it does not help to slam the US Congress. It is much more helpful to do what the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, has done and stress the importance of our partnership. I pay tribute to him and to his maiden speech. He was president of the Cambridge Union the term after I was and we have been sparring partners for many years. I note that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, is to speak after me. I am sandwiched between two people whom I have held at political arm's length right through my political life. They are both my friends. I am pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, on his maiden speech.
The Middle East was the focus of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wright. I turn to other speeches. With respect I profoundly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, as regards giving up the rights of Gibraltarian citizens to their sovereignty without their consent. In my view the situation in Gibraltar is the same as that in the Falklands. I even ventured to suggest in my maiden speech that Gibraltar might send delegates to our Parliament, with no voting rights, in the way that the dependencies of the United States send non-voting delegates to the US Congress.
Europe is a great family of peoples. If we can in some way as a family act as catalysts and bring people together, our presidency will be worthwhile. We can bring peace to parts of the world where there is none. If we can act as catalysts, if we can get rid of some of the stereotypes, then, when our presidency is over, we will look back on it with pride.
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