BRITAIN’S multifaith society is “pretty remarkable”, and the values underpinning it are not “wishy-washy” but strong and passionately held, the Prime Minister told an Easter reception at Downing Street on Maundy Thursday.
After speaking of the “difficult and dark times” evidenced by the bombings in Brussels, Mr Cameron gave a vigorous defence of Britain’s faith groups and their place in the public square. The country had not “reached some kind of perfection” in multifaith harmony, he admitted. “But I think it is pretty remarkable what we are building.”
He called on those present to help Muslims, well represented in the room, to root out extremism. Islam was “one of the great religions of our world”, he said. It had been “hijacked” by extremists who had “poisoned its narrative. . .
“I believe that our brothers and sisters who believe in that religion, they want our assistance, and we should be reaching out to help them — just as if our religion were polluted in that way, we would want their help.”
He warned that this was “going to be a fight of our generation. We are not going to solve this overnight; it is going to take a very long time.” It would involve ensuring that “people who are drifting into an extremism mindset can be yanked back.”
Muslims had endured “appalling persecution, torture, and murder”, he said. “It cannot be said to often that the biggest set of victims . . . are actually other Muslims.”
The terrorism seen most recently in Paris and Brussels was not new, he argued, but the latest manifestation of a a phenomenon first seen in East Africa in the 1990s. Further attacks could take place in Britain, he warned. “We have to stand together for the values that we share.”
These values included freedom of religion and a place for it in the public square. Britain was, he insisted, “a stronger country for having faith-based organisations. . .
“That we can have liberal democracy . . . and have plenty of space for religious and faith-based organisations, living together in harmony . . . that is what those people are trying to destroy,” he said. “Our values are far stronger and far more appealing than anything they are offering. . . What we believe in is not somehow wishy-washy or weak . . . it is immensely strong.” This included “the freedom to worship your God as you choose”. Fighting terrorism also meant persuading those tempted by extremism to be excited “about what an incredible country we are building”.
Tolerance and room for religious doubt should not be mistaken for weakness, he said: “It’s not weak because we question our own faith. It’s immensely strong. We are rational rather than extremist, but don’t mistake that for lack of passion.”
Mr Cameron reiterated his assertion that Britain was a Christian country: “We should not be embarrassed about that.” There were some, he said, who argued that “if you say Britain is a Christian country, that is somehow a denigration, or a doing down, of other faiths.” Asserting that Britain was a Christian country, with an Established Church, “helps others of a different faith feel that that there is a space for faith. . . I think it is an advantage, and, as Christians, we should be proud of that, and never let people believe it makes it more difficult to build the strong and integrated country that we want.”
He said that he was “very proud” to be the Prime Minister who introduced an Easter reception for the country’s Christians. It was important to celebrate Easter’s message of hope, he said, “particularly when we consider what a dark and terrible world we are living in”.
He began by thanking those present for their contributions to the “Big Society”.
“One of the great things about our country is that we have so many faith-based and Christian organisations that do so much incredible work in our communities,” he said. The social action of churches, mosques, synagogues was “not a sign of a weak country or an inadequate set of institutions, but a sign of our strength”.