WE LIVE in dangerous times. The threat from Islamic State, even
in our own communities, is very real. Our citizens are being
Those who subscribe to its dangerous ideology are the minority,
and imams up and down the country denounce them. One slightly
comforting outcome of the horrific murder of Alan Henning was the
forthright condemnation of it by the Imam of the Manchester Mosque
as unIslamic. It is clear that the Islamic State does not represent
For many years, we have in this country subscribed to the theory
and practice of multiculturalism. This seems to have been
interpreted in many places and by agencies as, so long as English
laws are not broken, each religious and, usually, ethnic group can
live in its own community with its own language rather than
English, side by side with other communities, but not communicating
This failure in many areas to make the effort to understand and
support the culture of other groups, or to work together as a wider
community, has led to forms of ghettoism, and even, from time to
time, to such practices as forced marriages and honour killings
here in the UK and by those born here. It may also have contributed
to young people's going to Syria and joining the Islamic State. On
the contrary, to try to create wider communities is in no way a
failure to respect the personal identity and culture of others.
Anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim demonstrations are, of course,
unacceptable - but they are the open manifestation of the mentality
of those who are not prepared to be tolerant of others. There are,
it is sad to say, many others who have the same thoughts as those
articulated by the English Defence League.
IT IS obvious to me that people outside Government and the Armed
Forces can do nothing directly to help to resolve the issues in the
Middle East; but there is much that we, as citizens, can do to help
to resolve some issues that create jihadists on our own doorstep.
Perhaps we can thus help to prevent another 7/7.
I have learnt much from the meetings the Commission has had
across the country. A number of points are made again and again by
the Churches and other religions, and by civic leaders.
Most notably, there is a widespread perception among all
communities who have spoken to us that Muslims are viewed almost
entirely negatively. This is particularly seen in the approach of
This negativity is based largely on religious illiteracy, which,
of course, extends far beyond Islam. A most perceptive assessment
of the media is that they see all religions as intolerant; and
that, I think, is an entirely apt description. This attitude causes
problems when the tragic events in Gaza, Syria, and Iraq are seen
by all the communities in this country only through the eyes of the
press and television.
In this dangerous world, there is no quick fix for these
problems. They are coming home to families in this country: the
families of those kidnapped, and those whose sons/husbands have
been so cruelly murdered, and the families of the young men and
teenage girls who have gone to join the jihad. Our sympathy should
be extended also to so many of those families.
ALTHOUGH global conflicts take place far away, there is much that
we can do. One splendid organisation is Near Neighbours, which now
has some public funding. It is Christian-based, but reaches out to
all religious and ethnic groups with great success.
Many cities are actually a collection of neighbourhoods or urban
villages. The impression I got was that the work done by local
people in their small area is, in many cases, often better than
when larger charities go in and take over. For instance, the local
football or cricket match; a tea party; a coffee morning (not
during Ramadan), and so on - all are barrier-breakers.
Education is, of course, crucial. RE is often badly taught, and
generally inadequate for the needs of today. The Commission was
told of the importance of teaching children from the first year in
primary school - not so much facts about religions as values and
morals. A Sikh told us that they should be taught the importance of
truth, love, and compassion.
We should cease being defensive, and reach out to other
communities. Join a local group. Become involved.
Underlying all of this is the need for tolerance of others, and
a respect for their views, drawing a distinction between reasoned
criticism and closed-mind opposition to their culture. It is
crucial to make genuine efforts to communicate and to have dialogue
- with a desire to learn and not to teach.
It reminds me of the character in Charles Kingsley's The
Water Babies: Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. This is really the
minimum response we should be making towards those who are not like
us and whom we do not understand. If we want to be treated fairly,
politely, and respectfully by others, it follows that we should do
This is an edited extract from a speech given by Lady
Butler-Sloss in Leicester Cathedral last week. The views are her
own. The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life, set up
by the Woolf Institute, welcomes the views of the general public.
Its website, www.corab.org.uk, contains a set of questions for
people to answer. The commission is working towards the publication
of a report in 2015.