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7/7 and Beyond - a South Asian response to the London Bombings 


By His Honour Judge Mota Singh QC, LID (Retd)
Patron, Trustee, Member of numerous charitable and other bodies

I congratulate Ram Gidoomal of South Asian Development Partnership and his colleagues for the initiative in organising this conference - to discuss issues arising from the events of 7 July and 21 July.

These events have been the subject of discussion and comment in public and in private. It would be no exaggeration to say that people were stunned by these events. Muslims too. They asked "How did this happen? What did we do? Most relatives of those involved shared the bewilderment and anguish of Bashir Ahmed, the uncle of one of the four bombers, who told reporters that his shock and shame were so profound that ''we have lost everything." That is not how it was meant to be. The usual expectation is that the first generation of any group of migrants, anywhere in the world, work very hard, yet remain semi-detached from the lifestyles and social mores of their adopted country. Their children – second generation – inhabit their homeland with greater ease. It is the third generation who are supposed to identify naturally with the deepest impulses of the country their parents chose to move to. Most do so – even those who rediscover their parental roots. But now it seems that a small number - a tiny minority - mutate into creatures of internal chaos, at war with themselves and the whole world, indifferent to the pain they cause.

In the early days of mass migration racism was dreadful, but migrants never allowed it to wreck their sense of self-worth. At work, in the factories, workers of all backgrounds related to each other, formed a bond. But now, the factories have disappeared, housing and schools have got more segregated, desolation and separatism have set in.

As I have said we all feel profound sorrow at the events of 7 July. This Conference is asked to discuss and consider 1) causes which led some young men to act as they did, 2) the extent to which blame can be laid at the door (a) of multiculturalism and (b) of religion and 3) where we go from here. I propose to deal with these matters. I will take religion first. A N Wilson, a well known English author who writes on religious matters, begins his tract "AGAINST RELIGION" with the following words: "It is said in the Bible that the love of money is the root of all evil. It might be truer to say that the love of God is the root of all evil. Religion is the tragedy of mankind. It appeals to all that the noblest, purest, loftiest in the human spirit, and yet there scarcely exists a religion which has not been responsible for wars, tyrannies and the suppression of truth." There is no doubt that at various points in history, differences in religious allegiance have been linked to conflict. No religious leader takes that proposition lightly. We know that religion kills. And some of the comments on recent events have put religion firmly in the dock. If religion kills, so does the absence of religion. People have killed in the name of God. But their crimes do not rival the crimes of those who have killed believing they were gods. There are still people who, with a crusading zeal, affirm that they have the monopoly of, or that their religion is, a final, unique, exclusive and incomparable revelation. These people are indirectly responsible for the eclipse of religion, for the blight of unbelief in large parts of the world. I hope I do not tread on any toes, religious or otherwise, when I say that it was Sikhism that raised its voice in protest against empires because imperialism and its latter-day successors, totalitarianism and fundamentalism, are attempts to impose a single truth on a plural world, to reduce men to man, cultures to a single culture, to eliminate diversity in the name of single socio-political order.

All religions proclaim, as their goal, the unification of humanity. Truly religious people work to ensure that their faith contributes to resolving conflicts and tensions, not increasing them. This has taken place in the physical or geographical sense, but our minds and hearts are yet to be prepared for the acceptance of this oneness of humanity. It was Guru Gobind Singh who said "Recognise whole humanity as one, children of the one father". And we Sikhs pray for the welfare of everyone, whether of our faith or not; it is part of our everyday liturgy. A new orientation is required to build unity out of the divisions of races and peoples, out of the rivalries of nations and conflicts of religion. This requires a courageous effort and a radical change of outlook. We have to protect the enduring substance of religion from the forms and institutions which suffer from the weakness of man and the compulsion of time.

Two words have been used in connection with the events we are talking about - "Fundamentalism" and "Fanaticism” The Oxford Dictionary defines “fundamentalism” as the strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion." Dealing with religious fundamentalism, the Chief Rabbi said recently "In our abrasive culture, where it sometimes seems that to get ahead you need to excel in rudeness, boorishness or abusiveness, the worst thing you can do is call someone a fundamentalist. You believe? You must be crazy. You pray? You must be a fanatic. You keep religious laws? You must be dangerous. Lurking beneath the surface of these sneers is fear of fundamentalism. Those who believe in the fundamentals of faith are, we seem to assume, living in the past, hostile to the present, incapable of tolerance, vehement in their condemnation of non-believers, and capable of violence. This is a terribly jaundiced view and will do us, in the long term, great harm. Every faith has episodes in its past of which it ought to be ashamed. That was the message of the prophets. Every sacred scripture has passages which, if wrongly interpreted can lead to hate. That is why Jews, and not only Jews, believe that sacred texts need commentaries. Any system of belief can go wrong. That applies to secular no less than to religious ideologies. The 20 th century’s two great secular substitutes for faith, Nazism and Communism began in dreams of Utopia and ended in nightmares of hell.” And he went on to say "What is wrong with the word "fundamentalism” is its assumption that the fundamentals of faith are dangerous. On the contrary, religions become dangerous when we forget their fundamentals. The God of Muslims is a God of love, not war; God of forgiveness, not revenge; God of humility, not arrogance; God of hospitality, not hostility.”

Those are the fundamentals to which we are all called. The only defence against dangerous fundamentalism is counter-fundamentalism: belief, rooted in our sacred texts, in the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person, the imperative of peace and the need for justice, tempered with compassion. These are the beliefs we all share. They are the real fundamental. What matters now is that they, not their denials, prevail.” "Fanaticism”, on the other hand, is defined as "excessive and often misguided enthusiasm for something, originally in a religious sense" and a fanatic is described as an uncompromising, extreme partisan, doctrinaire, a bigot, a zealot. As I have said, some of the comments on the event have sought to put the blame on religion. Nearly every faith finds that a small number of individuals misrepresent, betray and shame it, while claiming to follow it, and wickedness may hide behind a religious mask. But let me make this clear - Islam is not on tria1, Islamic doctrine is not on trial, Islamic religion is not on trial. The challenge that faces Muslims and us all is how we deal with some of the issues that have been raised.

Sadly, we are all too familiar with scenes of carnage and violence and of the consequent human misery and suffering, sometimes as a result of natural disasters, but often inflicted by humanity on itself. Too often we pass by other disasters because they are distant from us, less immediate and less visible to us here. But in its immediacy and intensity, the humanly created horror of 7/7, and concern over its awesome potential repercussions, have evoked a deep response from us all. Some of the comments on the event have suggested that religion is the root cause of it. The mutual understanding which is vital to the trust which we need to develop depends upon an open dialogue. That is a truthful encounter where there is honest willingness to seek to understand the causes of another’s pain and anxiety and, at the same time, to express to one another our own concerns and fears. It is based on a readiness to be self-critical and on respect for one another's identity and self understanding, upholding and honouring the identity of different participants. At the same time, it is rooted in the conviction that there are basic principles held in common which are fundamental to our shared journey as fellow citizens of this country and of the wider world.

What then are the causes? What prompted the perpetrators of the crimes to act as they did? In order to answer that we can do no better than to remind ourselves of what one of the suicide bombers himself said in the taped message that was flashed on our screens and printed in the papers and what other Muslim leaders have said. He referred to events and the killing of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya and said (I paraphrase this) that he and his colleagues felt they had a divine duty to act, to kill others, innocent or not. In other words, a Jihad. Is that a valid reason? Is that a legitimate cause? Is it sanctioned by Islam? Kenan Malik said in an article "Muslims have certainly suffered from racism and discrimination. But many Muslim leaders have nurtured an exaggerated sense of victimhood for their own political purposes. The result has been to stoke up anger and resentment creating a siege mentality that makes Muslim communities more inward looking and more open to religious extremism - and that has helped to transform a small number of young men into savage terrorists."

Consider what Ahmed Rashid, based in Lahore, says in his book "Jihad". He says "Jihad is often perceived simplistically in the West as a holy war, and that is misunderstanding the idea of jihad. Even the new fundamentalist and militant Islam movements have distorted its great meaning of an inner struggle to be a good and devout Muslim. In Western thought, jihad has always been portrayed as an Islamic war against nonbelievers. Militancy is not the essence of jihad. The greater jihad as explained by Prophet Mohammed is first inward-seeking, it involves the effort of each Muslim to become a better human being, to struggle to improve him or herself. In addition, it is the test of each Muslim's obedience of God and willingness to implement his commands on earth. Nowhere in Muslim writings or tradition does jihad sanction the killing of innocent non-Muslim men, women and children, or even fellow Muslims, on the basis of ethnicity, sect or belief. It is the inner struggle of moral discipline and commitment to Islam and political action."

One is tempted to ask, if what happened on 7 July is sought to be justified on some religious pretext or another. Because of events in other countries, if the cause was just, valid, why have millions of other Muslims, in Muslim countries, not raised a finger? We know that, according to Press and other reports, a million people marched through the streets of London in protest against the war in Iraq. Why? One assumes they were, they must have been, as angry as those who resorted to the bombing of innocent people. But they have not chosen to resort to violence. And people ask, what is the justification for the killing of Shias by Sunnis or the Kurds or the other way round??

No religion sanctions the killing or maiming of innocent men, women and children. By invoking God, don’t make God an accomplice in what is a wicked deed. But religions now face their greatest challenge since Europe four centuries ago. Which will prevail: the prophetic vision of peace or the call to holy war? Religion usually speaks to the best in us, but it can sometimes speak to the worst. Religion is like fire. It warms, but it also burns; and we are the guardians of the flames. Each of us must have the courage to fight the extremists in our midst. Children deserve better than to be taught to hate those with whom they must one day learn to live. They deserve better than to be told to win their place in paradise by committing suicide in the course of destroying innocent lives. If that is not blasphemy against the God of life, what is?

If religion is to rise to the challenge of a global age, it must oppose fundamentalism in the name of faith itself. God creates diversity and calls on us to honour it. He has placed His image in those who are not in our image. He speaks to mankind in many languages, not one. God has given us many faiths but only one world in which to live together. And if not now, when?

That brings me to the other vexed question. Is multiculturalism responsible for the alienation of Muslim youth? Among others, the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality seems to think so. He seeks to blame lack of cohesion, diversity, multiculturalism, separate communities. Diversity. Ghettos, he said. Implicit in what he said is that that was the reason for British-born Muslims acting in the way they did.

We are living in a society which is now characterised, whether some people like it or not, by a multiplicity of faiths or multicultural. In that it is a microcosm of world society. It is a society with many dimensions to its diversity. We can rightly celebrate this as a source of richness which provides us with resources which help us to understand both ourselves and our world and to deal with its problems. The clear commitment, evidenced again in recent days, of, the political and religious leaders of this country to endorse the need to respect this diversity, while unity within it, is much to be, welcomed. But because of the events of 7/7, the concept of multiculturalism has come in for reproof, it has become a casualty. To me, it reflects, most basically, a positive endorsement of communal diversity, usually arising from racial, ethnic and language differences. As such, multiculturalism is more a distinctive politcal stance than a coherent and programmatic political doctrine.

Two sets of arguments have been advanced in favour of communal diversity, one based upon its benefits to the individual and the other based upon its benefits to society. For the individual, multiculturalism recognises that human beings are culturally embedded, in the sense that they largely derive their understanding of the world and their framework of moral beliefs and sense of personal identity from the culture in which they live and develop. Distinctive cultures therefore deserve to be protected or strengthened, particularly when they belong to minority or vulnerable groups. This leads to the idea of minority or multicultural rights, rights that may include the right to representations, the right of respect for cultural, and usually religious, practices that might otherwise be prohibited by law or regulations and the right to recognition through the preservation of symbols that help to promote collective esteem. For society, multiculturalism brings the benefits of diversity; a vibrancy, and richness that stems from cultural interplay and encourages tolerance and respect for other cultures and religions; while at the same time strengthening insight into one’s own culture.

We are here to say. This country is our home. At the heart of our thinking is a Britain where Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Sikh and others can all work and live together, each retaining proudly their own faith and identity, but each sharing in common the bond of being, by birth or choice, British. Integration must be based on shared basic values associated with Britain. They include democracy, freedom of speech, tolerance of other people, and equality of opportunity. Are we diverse but divided? Are we integrated in theory, but separate in practice?

In today's world, extensive and immediate communications systems and intertwined economic and social life mean that it is impossible for us to live in isolation from one another. Even when it is more difficult to do so, it is important to remember that we are all part of one common humanity and to hold fast to the values we share. We share a common future, a common destiny. I am a Sikh. As a Sikh, I have found no difficulty in adjusting to life in Britain, in integrating into the society here. I cannot recall an occasion when I have felt that my way of life was at risk and, by and large, I have found no difficulty in reconciling my personal life, lived in accordance with the tenets of my faith, with life as a fully-fledged member of British Society. At the heart of our thinking is a Britain where Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, Sikh and others can all work and live together, each retaining proudly their own faith and identity, but each sharing in common the bond of being, by birth or choice, British; in stark terms - in our loyalty to this country, our country.

Where do we go from here? We may not be able to find all or any answers today, but answers will have to be found. We will have to face facts, however uncomfortable they may seem.

I started off by recalling that Britain is now a multicultural, multifaith society with many dimensions to its diversity. We can rightly celebrate this as a source of richness which provides us with resources which help us to understand both ourselves and our world and to deal with its problems. The need is for a clear commitment to endorse the need to respect this diversity, while seeking unity within it. We respect God, author of diversity, by respecting diversity.

We cannot remain oblivious to the recent events across the Channel, in France . Is there a lesson for us there? Let me remind you of what one French political commentator has said. I quote "The French Republic wanted to show the world that with its secular values, its schooling system, its language, its history, its universal principles and its strong State, it was capable of transforming any foreigner, from any continent, whatever the colour of his skin and whatever his religious beliefs, into a true patriotic Gaul with a moustache and a tendency to moan. This methodical assimilation is one of the keys of the famous, indisputable French exception. Other countries - the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Canada - had chosen the different route of multiculturalism and communitarism. They accepted, they encouraged immigrants to cling to their culture, their language, their memory, their original habits. They gave them a margin of autonomy, of self-organisation. They admitted, they proclaimed, they facilitated these differences. In France, the republican melting pot, this mysterious and unique receptacle, sought the opposite. From multiple immigrants, it strove to form a single type of citizen. For a long time, Paris observed race riots and fighting in countries having opted for communitarism with gloating superiority. Today, it is its turn to cry over its burning model.

I ask again - where do we go from here? This has relevance to two of the questions raised in the Gidoomal letter - "how do we support the Muslim leaders by understanding the pressure they are facing and by helping them to ask the difficult questions of themselves and their communities." This assumes that the Muslim community accepts the proposition implicit in the question. Whether or not they do, I think it would be presumptuous of me, of us, to offer advice to a proud community. The majority of Muslims have been here for years. Some came here as immigrants, others were born here. For them England is home. And there is anecdotal evidence that for many others, there is no other home.

I can do no better than to recall the words of the Pakistan High Commissioner who pleaded with Britain's South Asian Muslim community to make greater efforts to integrate in the UK and with "broader society" to help them. While stressing the huge contribution made the British Pakistani community, Dr Maleeha Lodhi said a failure to integrate could play into the hands of extremists. "This is a very dynamic community that has been changing a huge amount over the past few decades. It is not in crisis, but there are challenges of modernity. You can integrate without assimilating so you are part of British society, adding, modern attitudes would beat the extremists, both racists and Muslim radicals."

The community will have to decide where its future lies; it will have to make up its own mind as to where its loyalties lie. And it must do so without any input, however well meaning, from others. The only opinion I am going to express is that no individual, no community, can go through life – at home nowhere and in exile everywhere.

The important thing is there must be a dialogue. Discussion and argument are critically important for democracy and public reasoning. They are central to the practice of secularism and for even-handed treatment of adherents of different religious faiths, including those who have no religious beliefs.

What role does religion play in creating conflict and division? If religion is part of the problem, it must also be part of the answer. Living and working together is not always easy. Religion harnesses deep emotions which can sometimes take destructive forms. When this happens, we must draw on our faith to bring about reconciliation and understanding.The truest fruits of religion are healing and positive. We have a great deal to learn from one another, indeed about each other, which can enrich us without undermining our own identities. Together, listening and responding with openness and respect, we can move forward to work in ways that acknowledge genuine differences but based on shared hopes and values.

Tragedy unites us, but blame divides in the aftermath of disaster. Natural disasters bring out the best in people. Look at Tsunami, look at Katrina, look at Kashmir. But that does not mean that we should wait for such disasters to bring us to our senses.

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