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The noble Lord, Lord Jay, also asked what progress is being made on the International Health Partnership; I hope that I have covered that in my remarks. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester asked what DfID is doing to support MDGs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. DfID recognises the conduct of peaceful elections in 2006, which was a major step forward for that country. However, many problems remain, particularly the high levels of violence and insecurity. We are committing £70 million to DRC this year to strengthen democratic governance, to provide a peace dividend for the population, to support the provision of health, education and water, and to reduce the suffering of the population.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, talked about the credibility of the MDG targets. They are aspirational targets and indeed there are difficulties in obtaining timely and reliable data. I shall write to her further on that. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, rightly put to me many questions about what we are doing on health. I hope that I have covered most of them in my speech, but I will write to him. The noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, asked about new strategies for the MDGs. In addition to our current approach, we aim to strengthen overall health systems, including by increasing the number of birth attendants who are skilled health workers.

I apologise to those noble Lords whose questions I have not reached; I will write to them. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate—in particular, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—for their contributions to the cause today.

2.06 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, in the remaining moments of the debate, perhaps I may thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I think that it was the noble

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Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who said that we have been lucky enough to hear from speakers with real seniority and real experience. I will not dwell on the issues, but we shall certainly come back to them. Lastly, I thank the noble Baroness for her very comprehensive response. She is always enthusiastic and I hope that she will remain in her position. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Interfaith Dialogue

2.07 pm

Lord Hameed rose to call attention to the role of interfaith dialogue in strengthening society; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, one of the most divisive elements in our present-day lives is religion. This was never meant to be so, but extremists in many faiths are bent upon exploiting religion for their own nefarious political agendas. Although there is much warmth and friendship in this House, there is a great deal of fear and hatred in the world outside. As the threats in our daily lives have increased, many eyes have turned in the direction of Islam, from whose corner the recent spate of tragic events has emerged. In looking at Islam through its main reference source, the Holy Quran, we see a religion completely at odds with the actions of the perpetrators of the vile acts of terrorism committed in its name. This resulted in voices being raised and questions asked. Do Muslims hate other faiths? Is Islam mainly the religion of fanatics? Are we to witness the start of a clash between Islam and other faiths?

As these questions reverberated, for many Muslims this was a time for challenge and despair. On the other hand, the response of many in the horrified international community was an expectation that the Muslims would put their own house in order. Many now viewed with scepticism Islam’s message of peace and compassion; for if it was true, why, they asked, is it associated with violence and intolerance towards non-Muslims and the poor treatment of women? The answer is that both Muslims and non-Muslims use the holy book of Islam, the Koran, selectively. The events of 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in London, in Spain, Bali and other places, were despicable acts committed by misled youths, wrongly in the name of Islam. Islam not only prohibits the killing of the innocent but is also most severe on the act of suicide. There is a clear Koranic instruction against taking one’s own life. I therefore have no problem stating from the august Floor of your Lordships’ House, for all to hear, especially my co-religionists from the Muslim world, that exploding bombs as an act of suicide to kill innocent people in buses, bazaars, aeroplanes, trains, schools, places of worship or anywhere else, is totally un-Islamic and against the teachings of the Koran. All Muslims, therefore, must do everything to stop this evil depravity.

One of the least understood words in Islamic theology is “jihad”, which is commonly misunderstood by many as an aggressive act of a religion. Not many understand

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the notion of the greater jihad, which really means to strive. It is misinterpreted in the West, and also in the minds of many Muslims, as a call to religious war. It was explained by the Prophet of Islam as an attempt to control one’s own base instincts and work towards a better and harmonious world. The lesser jihad is to battle physically for Islam, but that, too, only as a defensive action against tyranny and injustice.

Another frequently asked question is: what is the reason for the anger in the Muslim community which leads to acts of aggression? Its origins are attributable to, among other factors, globalisation and world politics. I have often heard people in this country raise the uncomfortable truth that while Muslims rightly enjoy much freedom and the protection of the rule of law in Britain and other democracies, the same does not always apply for non-Muslims, and indeed Muslims, in many Muslim countries. What, then, has gone wrong for the Muslims?

To many onlookers, Muslims appear to be sailing on a ship with neither a captain nor an anchor, drifting aimlessly, buffeted by choppy, turbulent waters. There is clearly a dearth of competent, honest and moderate Muslim leadership reflecting the true faith of Islam and in tune with the 21st century. This leads me to suggest that, along with the problem of leadership, a related important problem in the Muslim community has been the failure of its own socially successful and materially secure role models in engaging with their own communities. The result has been that their less fortunate co-religionists have been left to their own devices in the hope that God will clear a path for the believers and any suffering undertaken in this world will be rewarded in the world hereafter. In such a context it is not surprising that the radicals and extremists have moved in to spread their poisonous message of hate and wanton killing.

Despite the influence of religion, most societies have been suspicious of and aggressive towards strangers who are non-kin and come from beyond the tribe. The embracing of the stranger is challenged by some for fear of diluting exclusive values and identities which they believe should be dominant in the national ethos. This promotes the negative values of exclusivity and hatred. It mobilises its supporters through emotive appeals concerning jobs, schools and homes, recalling ancient wrongs, with bogus threats and character assassination of entire communities.

Can I, then, as a Muslim, recognise God’s image in a stranger who is not a fellow Muslim? Can I see God’s image in a Hindu, a Sikh, a Christian or a Jew? Islam tackles this confusion through a passage in the Koran saying that Muslims should respect all of God’s creation regardless of religion or method of worship. The Koran says:

Other faiths have similar advice when faced with some of the same problems of strangers. The Hebrew part of the Bible commands:

From the ancient Hindu scriptures, Subhashitam, comes this advice:

A great teacher and leader of the Sikh religion, Guru Gobind Singh, taught the commonality of religions and the oneness of God. He mentioned that the Ram of the Hindus and the Rahim of the Muslims were the same. The various scriptures of the main religions of the world point to the oneness of God. From the Christian faith the instruction in this context is very clear: love thy neighbour. The Zoroastrian and Buddhist faiths talk of the brotherhood of man.

We must fully participate in a thriving multicultural society in Britain, with different faiths living peacefully side by side. As a Muslim I implore the silent majority of my co-religionists to stand up and be counted as being against any form of terrorism in this country or anywhere else. Let us make sure that our voice is heard loud and clear so that any effort by the terrorists to hide their criminal intent under the mask of religious piety is categorically denied to them and unequivocally rejected by the community as a whole. That is important because, in a predominantly Christian Europe, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism appear to be gaining ground. This results in pressure on the Muslim and Jewish communities. The consequence is anger, confusion and frustration, and God’s vision of a just and compassionate human society remains unfulfilled.

The recently departed 20th century will be remembered mainly for two great wars in which millions were killed and countless others suffered. The wars were European in origin and led to the shameful and gruesome murders in Auschwitz, Belsen, Dachau and other places. In the context of the present, however, we must strive for greater friendship and understanding between all faiths, but especially among the Jews and the Muslims, who have so much tradition in common. The Co-Existence Trust—created by the hard work of the noble Lord, Lord Janner; now ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell; and of which I have the privilege of being a trustee—is a wonderful organisation created for just such a purpose.

The future of our world is almost certainly with our young people. My work with the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council, a great organisation of uniquely dedicated officers and volunteers which has done so much for many young people in the Commonwealth, has convinced me that a very important component in our strategic thinking for our future harmony should be a partnership with the young people of today who will be the guardians of our civilised world of tomorrow.

In this context, my message specifically for the Muslim youth is to reject the extremists who take you away from education and responsible citizenship and point you in the direction of self-destructive violence. Whatever hardships and discrimination some of you may experience in the United Kingdom, please consider

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how precious to you are your human rights, free speech and the freedom to practise your faith in a democratic Britain which seeks to uphold these rights for all its citizens and which compares very favourably to the civil life of Muslims in many Muslim lands. Therefore, my young friends, come out from your mindset of feeling marginalised into the mainstream of the life of this nation, fully participate with panache and enthusiasm and then demand the rewards which will surely come your way.

Like many noble Lords, I am a great admirer of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. I recently read a brilliant speech that he delivered at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford that is truly remarkable for its interfaith encouragement and vision. I suggest that it should be read by everyone. In one excerpt from that great speech, he said:

Among the many wonderful teachings of the Hindu religion there is one particular prayer from the Atharva Vedas that has come down from thousands of years ago and which I would like to share with the House. Its English translation from Sanskrit goes like this:

“We are birds of the same nest,“We may wear different skins,“We may speak different languages, “We may believe in different religions, “We may belong to different cultures,“Yet, we share the same home: our Earth”.

In conclusion, I request the participation and effort of this noble House to rid from our world the menace of racism, extremism and terrorism and to bring the prayer from the Vedas to fruition. I beg to move for Papers.

2.22 pm

Lord Haskel: I congratulate the noble Lord on drawing our attention to the importance of dialogue as a basis for achieving understanding and self-knowledge. Understanding those who are different adds to the sense of who we are.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a social think tank for the Jewish community, has been aware of the need for this kind of dialogue for many years. I have the honour of being president of the institute. As long ago as 1960 the JPR was involved in the dialogue between Christianity and Judaism, particularly between the Catholic Church and the Jews, and for a number of years published a highly respected academic journal on Christian-Jewish Relations, so this dialogue has been going on for some time.

Underlying that, though, there has always seemed to be a paradox that needs to be recognised. That paradox lies in the difference between religion and faith. What divides us is not faith but the practices of

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religion. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “faith” as trust in the goodness of people. Faith gives rise to good works and to good will, and can easily exist in a multicultural society. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, explained, religion can be dynastic and tyrannical. It is the practices of religion that lead to fanaticism, to hostility, to violence and to the exclusion of women. It is religion that needs the dialogue, not faith.

So what can be done about that paradox? One of the first lessons that we at JPR have learnt is that interfaith dialogue must extend beyond the professional. The dialogue has to be extended beyond the clerics and the officials of religious organisations; it has to include those in other walks of life to whom religious identity is important. Religion is rarely our sole identity, and there is something very artificial about interfaith dialogue predicated on the notion of an exclusively religious identity. The chances of improving relations between religions are enormously enhanced by locating our efforts in the wider context of all the other things that define us: family, work, sport, intellect, culture. They all play a part.

Over the past two years at JPR we have been trying to put that concept into practice. The project is called “Recreating the European Common Good”, and is generously funded by that farsighted New York-based organisation, the Ford Foundation. The project started with a major series of round-table discussions in seven European countries, including the UK. The problem discussed is a weakening of the sense of shared belonging in European societies, and the significance of religious differences looms very large. Most importantly, because each individual is valued for all the facets of their identities—they are not merely seen as a Muslim, a Jew, a Catholic, a Turk, an Afro-Caribbean or an Arab—the possibility of reaching a more general and more profound understanding of what needs to be done is greatly enhanced. It is this sense of shared belonging that is the key to successful interfaith dialogue. Through the generosity of the Ford Foundation the project will continue for a further 18 months, and from its conclusions we will develop practical recommendations that will be disseminated throughout Europe.

Leading up to that exercise, JPR has followed the same principles in a series of seminars we have conducted in Britain. What emerges is the importance of finding a way in which minority groups can organise themselves to represent their interests. The common ground is universal human rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, said. We all seem to agree that when religious or culturally specific values come into conflict with the common good, the universal human rights principles must take precedence. Religious understanding is more effectively achieved when people are encouraged to concentrate on the common good, and on the kind of moral and values-based society that faith is meant to achieve.

Interfaith dialogue is a big issue that requires more than five minutes. We are all small players in this drama, but each of us is helping to create a society with a greater sense of shared belonging. That is what interfaith dialogue is about.

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2.28 pm

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Hameed, on the tremendous work they do for interfaith dialogue. Forty-eight hours ago I spoke in this Chamber—I think the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, was here—and said that I felt some trepidation at speaking in a debate that was participated in exclusively and dominated by lawyers. I have that same feeling of trepidation speaking today on a subject in which I have no expertise when there are so many people in the Chamber, particularly the right reverend Prelates and people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lord, Lord Janner, who have been involved in the issue of interfaith dialogue for so long.

I want to speak for one reason alone: this is a massively important subject, and the greatest challenge we face in our world is to avoid the clash of civilisations that is talked about so much. We desperately need an interfaith dialogue, not just, as the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, says, in order to strengthen society, but, if I may push the Motion a little further, because we need it internationally as well to strengthen what is called “the world community”. Of course you cannot divide a domestic interfaith dialogue from an international one; an interfaith dialogue in this country involves talking to immigrants and to communities that have relatives overseas and have communication all the time with them.

Political and diplomatic relations between Islam and the West, which in my view are at something of a crisis point, need the involvement not just of politicians but of people of faith as well. Politicians such as Mr Tony Blair can play an important role. I pay huge tribute to his decision to set up his own faith foundation, though in his comments on radical Islam he often misunderstands the origin and nature of, and what has created, political Islam.

Interfaith dialogue is important also because there are parts of the world to which the West hardly talks because it does not like the mixture of politics and religion, yet how can you begin to understand that spectrum called political Islam if you do not talk to or engage with it in any way?

Part of the tension between Islam and the West is not a clash of religions, but a clash between belief and unbelief. We simply do understand or appreciate how deep, how embedded or how strong is religion in many parts of the world. Not so long ago, a friend of mine and Member of the other place told me how he went to the Middle East and rather fancied himself as someone who could talk to people of extreme views there. He met someone from the spectrum of political Islam and they did not get on very well. After a while, the Muslim on the other side of the table said, “Well, we are not agreeing politically, but there is one thing we have in common: we believe in the same God”, to which my friend replied, “I do not believe in God at all”. That is the not the way in which this dialogue can proceed constructively. We have an aggressive secularism in the West which is deeply antipathetic to people in other parts of the world.

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Another reason that we need dialogue is that the development of Islam in Europe will have an impact on the development of Islam worldwide. Scholars such as TJ Winter at Cambridge have a tremendous impact worldwide, but we hear only about extremists in mosques and not about people who can have a real influence in the evolution of Islam worldwide.

Politics and Islam are intertwined for historical reasons. Arab nationalisms failed and were succeeded by the Muslim brotherhood. Secular liberalism failed and was succeeded by the Islamic revolution. Many things come under the term “political Islam”: Islamism, Islamic democracy, an Islamic republic. They form a spectrum at one end of which is a theocracy and, at the other, people who just want to live under a Government who vaguely support the principles of Islam. We have to recognise that it is a spectrum, not label everyone in the same way and recognise the importance of religion in politics.

Many problems in the Islamic world that most concern us in this House come from a lack of development rather than from religion. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said that it is not faith but religious practice that creates problems and tensions. I think that it is a lack of development, which is often wrongly attributed to religion.

I sometimes think that people just expect the values of the Enlightenment suddenly to take grip in foreign countries overnight, without remembering that it took centuries for us to separate church and state. Even in the 19th and 20th centuries, and probably even today, we have laws whose origins are religious. It will take time for the values that we support to take a grip elsewhere. We cannot just expect everyone to become like us.

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