§ 3.16 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Oxford rose to call attention to the religious element in global terrorism and appropriate interfaith responses; and to move for Papers.
§ The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, although our immediate concern is the military conflict in Iraq, I believe, as many of us do, that the greatest long-term threat is global terrorism. Any study of Al'Qaeda reveals that this is a threat that we need to take very seriously indeed. Al'Qaeda is closely related to a range of independent terrorist groups now operating in some 80 countries, providing a global network with a sharply defined, ideologically motivated strategy. It appears to 229 be well organised, with different departments and different nationalities responsible for separate aspects of the operation, including a successful financial section. It has planned a good number of attacks in recent years—not all of them well reported. It has had a significant base in this country. An analysis of bin Laden's telephone-billing records reveal that from 1996–98 a fifth of his calls—238 out of 1,200—were made to Britain. So this is a threat we need to take with the greatest possible seriousness.
§ One of the most disturbing aspects of the phenomenon is the misuse of religion. Even more than technical skill and training, Al'Qaeda seeks religious commitment from its members—a religious motivation that will steel them to kill and be killed without fear or scruple. So the concern that lies behind my Question and behind my asking for this debate is the effect that this has had, and is having, on the mainstream Muslim population in this country. My question is: what can we as a society do and what, in particular, can interfaith groups do to support the mainstream, moderate majority?
§ A book published a few years ago—War of the Flea—analysed guerrilla movements since World War II. The strategy of those movements was not to win great military victories, which of course such groups could not do, but to stay in existence long enough and to be enough of a nuisance until political victory was assured. Winning the political struggle depended entirely on having the support of the wider community on whose behalf they claimed to be engaged in armed struggle. The parallel with Al'Qaeda seems uncannily close. In short, they will succeed only if what they stand for resonates with the wider Muslim world and, in particular, if the religious motivation to which they lay claim is recognised and validated elsewhere.
§ If the Muslim community around the world and in this country feel alienated from the society in which they live, what Al'Qaeda says and stands for will have reverberations within that community. If, on the other hand, Al'Qaeda is isolated, not just physically but ideologically, it cannot succeed. I return to my question: what can we as a society do and what can interfaith groups do to support the moderate mainstream majority in the Muslim world?
§ I would like to mention language. People sometimes talk and write of Islamic terrorism. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, pointed out in the House at another time, terrorists are terrorists so why dignify them with the name "Islamic". It is a matter of fact that Al'Qaeda claims that title, but there is no reason why the rest of society and the millions of moderate, decent Muslims should be complicit in its use. It besmirches the name Islam and reinforces any tendencies in our society towards Islamaphobia.
§ While on the subject of reporting, I make a plea that the media give greater prominence to the views of mainstream Muslim leaders and not just focus on the extremists. There were many Muslim condemnations of 11 th September and there have been Muslim 230 condemnations of suicide bombing as incompatible with the Koran. But so often the men of violence get the headlines.
§ So far as government policy is concerned, I believe that particular care is required to ensure that action is not taken against particular categories of people just because they are Muslim. Immigration policy is a particular issue here. People from Muslim countries should not be classified indiscriminately as a potential threat just because they are Muslims. That can arouse only resentment in the wider Muslim community that wants nothing to do with terrorism. Similarly we need to be vigilant that Muslim prisoners, such as those at Guantanamo Bay, are accorded the basic legal rights that apply to everyone in a civilised society.
§ Then, of course, there are the unresolved political questions like Palestine, which are a continuing source of anguish and grievance to the whole Muslim world and which allow a kind of sneaking sympathy for terrorists among some younger people. I am sympathetic to the fears and genuine security needs of Israel and I make no further comment beyond a hope that the kind of commitment that has been shown to win the war in Iraq might be put into winning a durable peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
§ It is not for a Christian to say what the Muslim community might do to strengthen the forces of moderation except to recall that Islam has been one of the great civilising forces in history and that the Wahabi strand of Islam, especially its more extreme elements, is unrepresentative of Islam in history and in the world today. Only a couple of days ago it was reported that a new Muslim council has been formed in France to represent its 5 million Muslim citizens. I look forward to a time when a Muslim equivalent of the Board of Deputies of British Jews in this country can unite the different strands of Islam and help the whole community to speak with a single voice to British society today.
§ Even here I believe that the wider British society can help. We can try to ensure that on public bodies, major institutions and in all consultations responsible leaders and spokesmen are identified and invited to make their contribution. The religious broadcasting department of the BBC has, I believe, done that to some significant extent by ensuring that there are now regular Muslim speakers on "Thought for the Day". That is just one example of what needs to take place in every aspect of our civic life, for it is in that way that particular people are not only enabled to make their contribution but to become recognised and valued spokespeople for their community.
§ On the issue of leaders, there is just one question I would put to the Muslim community, although not in my own name because that would not be appropriate. Dr Zaki Badawi, who is one of the best known Muslim spokesmen in the country at the moment, has asked about some of the imams who come from abroad, often from very rural backgrounds, to minister in the mosques in this country. He asks what checks are made by the community to see that they are in fact properly qualified, not just from a religious point of 231 view, but also in their understanding of what it might mean for a Muslim to be a faithful Muslim in our society today.
§ Finally, I turn to the contribution that I think interfaith groups, and perhaps particularly the Churches, can make to this issue. I am glad to say that many Muslim communities see the Churches as natural allies and we are glad to try to be such. In many of the cities of our country there are close relationships between Christian leaders and Muslim leaders. That was particularly evident after 11th September and at the time of community tensions a year or so ago.
§ The previous Archbishop of Canterbury—now the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey of Clifton—is associated with two initiatives that could have great value for the future. One is the Muslim-Christian forum, which is in the process of visiting our major cities in order lo listen to Muslim concerns. As I understand it, there have already been visits to about five cities with large Muslim populations. I believe that it will be worth taking notice of what those taking part in the visits hear and eventually report on. Secondly, there is the initiative in the Middle East which brought together Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders at a very high level and which resulted in the Alexandria declaration. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, regrets that he is unable to be here to talk further about that; he is in the United States.
§ Behind the Alexandria process is a realisation that the peace process in the Middle East so far has not really engaged ordinary people. It has been a matter of leader speaking to leader. It was further recognised that if the process is to move out of political assemblies to engage populations as a whole, then religious leaders could play a key role. The Alexandria process continues and there is a permanent committee for its implementation. A particular contribution is being made by the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral.
§ Separate from those two initiatives, but not unrelated, is a meeting in Qatar this week, which was initiated by the previous Archbishop of Canterbury and is being carried on by the present one. I believe that such initiatives and the variety of forms of interfaith work that now go on in our society can play an important role in ensuring that Muslim communities are understood and enabled to play their proper part in contributing to the future of our society in all its aspects. I hope that the Government recognise that and that they will be able, in various ways, to encourage and to support such work. It is of course the initiative and work of the interfaith groups themselves. But government, with their proper responsibility for the health of civil society, can try to ensure that such work is not marginalised but recognised as a key component in enabling the Muslim community to make its contribution to our culture and society and to help British Muslims feel at ease with being such and indeed proud to be such.
§ Those are just a few points. I hope that other noble Lords will be able to complement them with more and perhaps better ideas. It is the question behind the debate that I believe is the important consideration: 232 what can society as a whole, and interfaith groups in particular, do to strengthen moderate, mainstream, majority Muslim opinion? For on the success of that depends the extent to which Al'Qaeda is ideologically isolated and dies out, or has an increasing resonance within the wider Muslim world, so much of which at the moment is alienated. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for tabling this Motion. I have only five minutes so I shall have to be very brief. I am sorry that he has done that. On the one hand, we say that Al'Qaeda is not Muslim terrorism and on the other hand we ask, "What are we going to do about Islam? How can we embrace our Muslim friends?". Why single out Islam? In my view—as an Atheist I am sorry to say—every religion preaches peace and it is used as a cause for war. Every religion—Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism—has spawned terrorism. When terrorists adopt a religious garb they are fooling themselves as much as other people, because their purpose is political. It is very difficult to say to someone, "Go and kill a perfect stranger who has done you no harm". We do not do that, unless for crimes of passion. But say to someone, "Do it in the name of God", "Do it in the name of nationalism", or, "Do it in the name of communism", and they will. You need an ideology to cloak your desire to kill.
It is unfortunate that after a century of secularisation the world has gone backwards, and we now have religious movements. In my youthful naivety, I thought that religion might disappear in my lifetime, but it has not. I do mean it seriously. If we are serious about saying that Al'Qaeda is not Muslim terrorism, let us completely forget about trying to be accommodative to religions and so on. It is nothing to do with the Koran, nor with the Bible. By emphasising more and more faith and interfaith councils by having the Alexandria process and so on, we are doing exactly what we should not.
When Al'Qaeda struck, everyone started to read the Koran. It is a very good book. Like all religious books it is mildly boring. I have always found it very difficult to read such books, but some people like them. One would no more say that the Bible is a guide to solving the Northern Ireland problem—because it is not—than say one could fight Al'Qaeda by reading the Koran. Al'Qaeda is not doing anything which has a religious aspect of being Muslim. Its battle is with other Muslim kingdoms, especially the Saudi kingdom. Its battle is a political battle to undermine modernism in Islamic states. That has happened in Egypt for a century or more. There have been religious movements trying to destroy the secular modernistic movement in Middle Eastern countries.
For instance, why do we suddenly assume that Palestine is a Muslim problem? The PLO originally was a secular political party. There are many people in the Middle East and in Palestine who are not Muslims. They are Christians. The founder of the Ba'ath Party, 233 Michel Aflaq, was a Christian. Why do we suddenly adopt these labels, and, having adopted them out of the kindness of our hearts, say, "The cure to this is to understand religion"? The cure to understanding is that religion is the problem. If we secularise, move away from this and say that these people have nothing to do with religion and that their battle is political and ideological; and if we emphasise those aspects and, as it were, delink terrorism from religion, we will be much better off.
It will be difficult to do because the terrorists will insist more and more that the lead people among them are Muslims—of course they are Muslims. There are terrorists in India who worship the Hindu god and Buddhists in Sri Lanka who kill, despite Buddhism being a non-violent religion. So I feel that we should think very differently about this and not let faith into the problem. Faith will not solve the issue of terrorism. We will have to reinforce what I may call "secular" and "materialist" values. That is the only solution.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Moynihan
My Lords, I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, for enabling us to discuss this absorbing and highly pertinent subject. I agree that it is most fitting that, as noted by the right reverend Prelate, our debate is taking place on the final day of the second Building Bridges seminar in Qatar.
The concept of so-called "sacred terror" is as far as it is possible to get from the true meaning of religion, whatever its denomination and its teaching of peace, forgiveness and tolerance. This debate poses difficult but necessary questions about the role of religious factors in the escalation of conflicts and the justification of violence in the name of religion. It asks what happens when liturgy and scripture are used to defend or to authorise violence and when clerical figures assume leadership roles in acts of bloodshed.
As is so often the case, the influence of religious leaders is heightened in times of crisis. As a result, they have the potential to moderate, mediate and defuse tensions on a local level within their own communities.
Equally, faith-based institutions have a similar role to play on a larger national and international stage, as part of a broad strategy to prevent the escalation of inter-ethnic, inter-cultural and inter-religious violence. The 9/11 terrorist attacks made it clear that, important though they are, military, political and legal measures alone will not eradicate the threat posed by terrorism. A broader, more long-term approach is needed as well, which takes into account the ideological and spiritual aspects of the influence of religion upon terrorism. The case for religion to be allowed to teach its true doctrine of love, peace and understanding, is overwhelming. Such teaching includes an understanding of the faiths of others, so that an end may be brought to those conflicts all over the world, which are inflamed by a poor understanding of religion, and exacerbated by ethnic, cultural and historical differences.
234 Religion has the potential to be a big tent under which many nations with differing cultures, spiritualities, devotional practices and theologies can gather in peace and harmony. For this reason, meetings of religious leaders, inter-religious academic dialogue such as that taking place in Qatar as we speak and mutual interfaith co-operation, such as lectures in each other's places of worship, are critical components.
Interfaith co-operation and dialogue can be approached in two ways. The first takes the view that, despite our superficial differences, we are all one people, one church and one global community. While acknowledging the diversity of faiths, it stresses the need for understanding, respect and tolerance. An excellent example of this approach is the annual meeting of the Community of Sant'Egidio.
Secondly, there is the need to address the real differences both within faiths and among them. This is the core idea of the World Faiths and Development Dialogue. It was born of an awareness of how complex dialogue across cultures, disciplines and worlds can be and how differently many religious institutions, for example, see the problems of poverty to that of development institutions. Its aim is to bring together at the table the voices and experience of those different worlds with the common aim of attacking the misery of poverty and helping to build a better world.
The events of September 11th and the dialogue since then have highlighted the complicated effect that poverty has on peace, stability, violence and social justice. There is now a far wider recognition that poverty is one of the major alienating factors in society, which in the right circumstances can nurture and breed terrorism.
Religion and faiths are very much part of this struggle, and must equally be part of the search for answers to the problem. With important exceptions, such as Jubilee 2000, religions have perhaps been too little part of the dialogue and work on global poverty issues and country strategies and programmes. We would be wise to expend more effort and energy in this direction.
I have stressed the central importance of dialogue in the pursuit of peace: dialogue between religions and states, between religions and within religions. It is essential. The twin evils of terrorism and extremism destroy the rule of law, human rights, basic freedoms and democracy and they threaten peace and security. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, rightly said, our struggle against terrorism is not a struggle against any religion, including Islam. Terrorists are enemies common to all societies. Men, women and children of all faiths and all cultures have been the innocent victims of terrorist attacks and they have a common interest in countering the global threat. It is time that religions and beliefs reclaimed their rightful role and contributed to the process through determined, resolute and ground-breaking interfaith co-operation, partnerships and initiatives.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, to the terrorist who is motivated by a particular kind of religious fanaticism, all existing governments are evil and all must be swept away. We have made little effort to understand the mind-set of people who reach that conclusion or the ideological basis of their thinking. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, implied, we cannot hope to eradicate that kind of terrorism by military action in Afghanistan or Iraq. On the contrary, as President Mubarak has said, we are creating 100 Bin Ladens by that process. Instead, we must consider the doctrines that motivate terrorists and the means by which they are spread around the Islamic world.
The mainspring of religious terrorism is the idea that only those who follow the Salafi or Wahhabi ideals are genuine Muslims, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out. The Salafis, who claim that Islam has not been properly understood by anyone since the time of the Prophet and his immediate followers, have their own interpretation of the Koran and the Sunna. The rest—Shi'a, Sufis and even Sunnis who fail to come up to the standards set by those self-appointed guardians of Islam, are to be hated, persecuted and killed.
They cite a saying attributed to the Prophet:This Ummah will split into 73 parties, all of which will go to Hell—except for one party: the one which will follow the same path as that which I and my companions are following today".Those people say that the Salafi Da'wah, or call, is the only true constant and blessed Da'wah of the Prophet. Hence, anyone who pretends to be a Muslim, but does not adhere to Salafism, is a heretic and a kafir, or unbeliever. That doctrine is taught in Saudi Arabian schools and spread throughout the Islamic world in Saudi-funded madrassas. Those religious schools are attractive to poor families in Indonesia or Pakistan that might otherwise be unable to give their children any education.
So although Saudi Arabia is nominally our ally in the struggle against global terrorism, Saudi money is paying for the establishment of the breeding grounds of terrorism. Ironically, the Salafist view is just as hostile to the rulers of Saudi Arabia as it is to the West. Those who call for the destruction of America do so as a prelude to the replacement of the Saudi regime with a pure Islamic government, the policies of which are not further defined.
The product of the hatred felt by the extremist wing of the Salafist movement is seen in events such as the bombing of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam; the killing of the French submarine technicians in Karachi; the nightclub bombing in Bali; the attack on the USS Cole; the suicide attack on the French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen; and, of course, 9/11 itself. Those are not isolated atrocities; but neither are they directed by a single, monolithic world organisation. They are the deeds of a number of different groups related to one another only loosely by a common jihadist ideology.
Thus, for example, Jemaah Islamiyah of Indonesia, about which we heard during Questions, whose members perpetrated the Bali bombing, is not part of 236 Al'Qaeda, although its leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, is an outspoken admirer of Bin Laden. In Pakistan, two new brands of terrorist organisation were behind the suicide attack in Karachi—both were coalitions of extremists from a variety of backgrounds.
We should be looking for common ideological or quasi-religious origins behind all those movements, considering what can be done to stop the dissemination of religious hatred at source and helping Muslim states to offer a broader education to the children of the next generation.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Lord Wright of Richmond
My Lords, I, too, welcome the initiative of the right reverend Prelate in introducing this important debate. Of course, I do not approach the subject from the point of view of a theologian, which I am not, but 30 years experience of living in and working with the Arab world and of seeing at first hand some of the tensions and suspicions that have led to what the Motion refers to as,the religious clement in global terrorism",may allow me to point to some aspects of the problem that may not always be obvious to those who see it solely as a problem of how to respond to an Islamic threat. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, put it: why single out Islam?
First, let us ask ourselves why religious people involve themselves at all in what their opponents describe as terrorism: whether they are Roman Catholic or Protestant fanatics in Northern Ireland; Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia joining the ranks of Al'Qaeda; or extreme Zionists preaching the expulsion of Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, from Samaria and Judea.
There are four considerations here, which apply in varying degrees to all of those so-called terrorists. The first is a misunderstanding, by both their co-religionists and by their adversaries, of the message of peace and tolerance that underlies all three great scriptures of the sons of Abraham. Secondly, fear of the threat supposedly posed by religions different from their own—often fed by what I call the baggage of history; whether the Crusades, the Holocaust or the events of September 11th. Thirdly, vengeance for injustices, or perceived injustices, against minorities or their co-religionists, both present and past. Fourthly, the use—or, I should say, the misuse—of religion, often by secular leaders such as Saddam Hussein, to pursue their political ambitions, and the attribution of religious motives to what are essentially nationalist agendas.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, reminded us that the founder of the Ba'ath Party was a Christian. So was the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, George Habash. There are serious dangers in generalising on this diverse and complicated issue and in ascribing all four motivations of fear. mistrust, misunderstanding and vengeance to every incident of terrorism. But there is a generic problem that requires, as the wording of the Motion implies, a truly interfaith response.
237 In that context, perhaps I may say how much I admire the attempts made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has this week been in Qatar to try to achieve a greater reconciliation and mutual understanding between Muslims and Christians, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned. We must all try to correct, or at least explain, the misunderstandings and seeds of intolerance that have their basis in historical conflicts—some as far back as the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, which I have found are still surprisingly fresh in the memories of some Muslim politicians.
Perhaps more importantly, we need an interfaith attempt to distance ourselves from the more extreme fundamentalism of religious leaders—whether the fanaticism of Sheikh Abu Hamza and Osama bin Laden; the racist xenophobia of the late Israeli Minister of Tourism, Mr Zeevi; or the extremism of the more fundamentalist Christian movements in the United States—and to encourage those, such as the young on both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict, who are genuinely trying to work together for peace and whom some of your Lordships may have seen walking hand in hand during some of the remarkable five-minute programmes broadcast from Ramallah on Channel 4.
Most of all, we need unified and unwavering support for those political initiatives aimed at finding a peaceful settlement to current disputes, whether in Kashmir, Belfast or Gaza. It will not surprise your Lordships that I end with a familiar appeal: that, to whatever faith we belong, we continue to urge the United States Administration to put their full weight behind a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is not only causing such appalling hardship, deprivation and casualties for all those involved, but which lies at the basis of so much of the religious intolerance and terrorism which it is in all our interests to allay.
§ Lord Janner of Braunstone
My Lords, I declare an interest. I have followed the noble Lord, Lord Wright, often and have rarely agreed with him more. I am only sorry that he ended up where he did without dealing with the problems of terrorism afflicting that area.
I declare an interest because I was founder president of the Maihonides Foundation, which fosters relations between Muslims and Jews.
I declare an interest because, as a Jewish leader, I have travelled through most of the Muslim world and will continue to do so.
I declare an interest because as Member of Parliament for Leicester West I represented a growing Hindu community and fought against racism against them. A major part of my life was and remains devoted to the battle against racism.
I declare an interest because I went to Durban to the so-called UN Anti-Racist Conference, watched the parade of people with banners saying "Death to the Jews" and sadly ended up leading the Jewish organisations out of that awful occasion.
238 What do we do? The question is how we deal with racism. Of course, racism sometimes has a religious element, but, as my noble friend Lord Desai said, by no means does it always have such an element. We must not blame everything on religion. But what do we do and how do we do it?
The answer came from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. We must have dialogue if we are to get anywhere. Recently, I was with a very senior leader of India who said, "Look, without dialogue you don't get peace. But if you have terror, you can't have dialogue. So if you have terror, you can't have peace". He was talking about Kashmir but he could have been talking about the Middle East. Where there is terror—this is at the root of the first part of the right reverend Prelate's debate—you cannot talk to people; you are afraid of them, and you do not relate to them. How do we deal with it? The answer is through dialogue and meeting and listening.
For example, recently I was fortunate to be the guest of the Tunisian Government in Tunisia, meeting people of all religions. I did the same in Morocco and, lately, in Azerbaijan. Most people do not know where it is. There are 35,000 Jewish people in Azerbaijan, yet there has not been one instance of anti-Semitism in recorded memory. We were taken to the mosque, where we were received by the mullah, who brought together the leaders of all the religions and announced that the mosque was making a contribution towards the rebuilding of the synagogue in Baku, their capital.
There is hope in this world when people get together and understand that either we will live in peace or we will die in war. Either we will live with and understand each other, put up with our differences and understand them, or we will say, "We are going to fight you", and then life is hell for all. People are entitled to have their differences, but they are not entitled to destroy each other. There must be respect. If there is no respect, we will not have dialogue; if there is no respect, we will not have peace.
There are organisations in the interfaith movement, which I know very well, such as the Three Faiths Forum. It is led by marvellous people, including Sheikh Zaki Badawi and Sir Sigmund Sternberg. After 9/11, a joint statement was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury; Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor; the Free Churches Moderator; the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Saks; Shaikh Zaki Badawi; and the Reverend Esme Beswick, co-president of Churches Together in England. They set out their fears, hopes and common ground, specifically in Britain,to build a society in which different faith communities can flourish side by side in mutual respect and in harmony".That is our only hope. If we allow the terrorists to flourish, whether across the way in Ireland, in Palestine or Israel, there cannot be dialogue. If there is no dialogue, there cannot be peace. We must strike at terrorism; we must work together; we must respect each other, and, in that way, we must hope to build a country and a world in which, whatever our religions, we can live together in peace and harmony.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, most terrorist movements, such as the Tamil Tigers and the IRA, have no global agenda. But those that have such an agenda and an ostensible religious basis, sadly, operate in the name of Islam. I do not wish to encourage Islamophobia—rather, the reverse. I am therefore grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the opportunity to discuss those issues, to make distinctions and to suggest interfaith responses.
The vast majority of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims are peaceable, law-abiding and often renowned for gracious hospitality. But recent years have seen a disturbing rise in terrorist and militant Islamism. Unless we take that seriously, there will be a backlash against all Muslims, as terrorism breeds fear, and fear is irrational. Therefore, I wish briefly to discuss the religious dimension of Islamist militancy in global terrorism and to suggest examples of appropriate responses.
The Koran contains the oft-quoted verses of peace and of the sword. Resulting inconsistencies have been addressed by the principle of abrogation, in which the later revelations abrogate the earlier and the verses of the sword thereby abrogate the verses of peace. There is therefore a religious mandate in traditional Islam for militant Muslims to undertake jihad holy war—in its militaristic form rather than limit it to a spiritual interpretation of struggle to live a good life.
There is also in traditional Islam the division of the world into Dar El Islam and Dar El Harb the world of Islam and the world of war. In the former, Islam is the ruling power; in the latter, there is an obligation on all Muslims to use all appropriate means to gain supremacy for Islam.
One means is through militaristic jihad, which is evident in many parts of the world today. In Sudan, the National Islamic Front regime is using military and terrorist policies to promote its Islamist agenda. In Nigeria, religious conflict is exacerbated by foreign jihad warriors armed with sophisticated weapons. In Indonesia, President Megawati's moderate government are trying to contain the activities of Islamist militants, such as Jemaah Islamiyah and the thousands of Lasker Jihad warriors, who have been responsible for the deaths of thousands and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Christians and attacks on Hindus in Central Sulawesi.
Militant Islamism is also a cause for concern in this country. Recent media headlines report the activities of Abu Hamza. May I be forgiven for mentioning that I have been raising the issue for more than three years? In January 2000, I described in your Lordships' House a film on Channel 4 in 1999, which showed Abu Hamza inciting hatred and violence, teaching terrorist tactics, such as devices to bring down aircraft landing at British airports, and urging everyone in his large audience to develop similar terrorist tactics. Abu Hamza has also allegedly been associated with international terrorism—his son was arrested in Yemen for planning terrorist activities. I have repeatedly asked the Government how many men have 240 been trained in this country by Abu Hamza and other radical Islamist clerics, sent abroad to fight jihuds and return with enhanced capacity for terrorist activities here. So far, I have received no reply.
There is therefore clearly an urgent need for appropriate interfaith responses. They must be realistic. It is often said that the West is to blame, directly or indirectly, through inept foreign policies or because it is deemed to cause poverty, which is a breeding ground for Islamic disaffection and militancy. Although Western foreign policy has not always been right or helpful, and while poverty may encourage recruitment to fundamentalist causes, those are not the root problems. Many of Al'Qaeda's leading terrorists are the well-educated élite. Their statements and behaviour demonstrate motivation by extremist Islamist beliefs.
One interfaith response that could foster mutual trust would be for moderate Muslims to support publicly the freedom of individuals to change their religion. Freedom of religion is specified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which UN member states have agreed to respect. But imposition of Shari'a law curtails that freedom and has been a contributory factor in terrorist activities and conflicts such as those in Sudan and Nigeria.
There is also a need to encourage moderate Muslims to contain their terrorist co-religionists. Time permits only one example. On my last visit to Indonesia, I was privileged to help to launch a new interfaith organisation: the International Islamic Christian Organisation for Reconciliation and Reconstruction. Former President Wahid is honorary president. He hopes that we can work together closely to restore traditionally harmonious relationships between Muslims and Christians in areas such as Maluku and Sulawesi, which have been torn apart by conflict, but where moderate traditional Muslim and Christian leaders yearn for peace.
I conclude with a tribute to one of those moderate Muslim traditional leaders who face reprisals by Islamic militants. His house has been attacked and his car stoned. Discussing the risks of participating in an interfaith meeting he told me, "My daughter said `Daddy, if you attend that meeting and you are killed, I will be proud of you'". He is an inspiration for us all.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for reconciliation between the great religions is much to be admired.
Frequently, religion is seen as the cause of wars, and it is said to be the root of many terrorist organisations such as Al'Qaeda, Hezbollah and the sectarian paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. Historically, religion appears to have been the principal reason for many conflicts, including the Thirty Years War, the Crusades, which were fought under the sign of the cross, and the Ottoman conquests, which were fought under the banner of the Prophet. However. we are all aware that power, domination, bitter resentments and tribal enmities—we should think for a moment about 241 today's shocking news from the Congo—are equally important contributory factors to violence and instability.
It is less easy to find recent examples of large-scale engagements in which religion could reasonably be advanced as the primary cause of conflict. Nor will it have escaped your Lordships' notice that, in Iraq, there is bitter irony in any comparison of the efforts made by coalition forces at Najaf and Karbala to protect two of the holiest cities in the Shia religion with the depredations of Saddam Hussein's secular tyranny. That said, I readily concede that Saddam would dearly like to have turned the war in Iraq into a religious one.
For examples of religious motivation in current acts of violence, we must look instead at so-called asymmetric warfare, of which terrorism is one representation. Asymmetric conflicts involving largely Christian minorities include those in East Timor, southern Sudan—to which the noble Baroness just referred and which I visited last September—where close on 2 million people have died, Pakistan and northern Nigeria, among others. If there is state oppression, individuals often strike back in the name of their religion. The discontent motivating fundamentalist Islamic militarism is not primarily or even significantly the result of religious persecution; it is more a product of oppression, frustration, poverty, lack of a political voice and damaged pride.
If we in the West seriously wish to tackle the growing threat from what is simplistically referred to as Islamic terrorism, we should consider in depth the whole range of underlying causes of terrorism, rather than attributing it to religious differences. Anyone who has visited Palestinian refugee camps—my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond referred to that issue—knows that the hopelessness festering there will inevitably breed another generation of suicide bombers, if the cause is not tackled.
In addition to tackling the underlying causes of alienation, we should ensure that the centrally declared tenet of western foreign policy should be the world-wide promotion of freedom of religion and conscience. That would be the best antidote to religiously influenced terrorism. What regime exists anywhere in the world that respects freedom of religion and conscience and is also a haven for terrorists? There is none.
A government's guarantee of freedom of religion and conscience is a cornerstone of a democratic society. Without religious freedom, society is destabilised, deep tensions are created and human dignity is impaired. Where freedom of religion and belief is protected, religiously motivated terrorism will not take root. That will be a major challenge for Islamic societies, but not only for them. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, the rise of Hindu nationalism in India and the growing religious tensions in eastern Europe illustrate that the problem is spread far and wide.
We must be better informed in assessing the situation in individual countries. We could do worse than emulate the United States' International Religious 242 Freedom Act and its appointment of an ambassador-at-large, with a mandate to report annually to Congress on the situation in particular countries. If freedom of religion and conscience is upheld and underlying political grievances are addressed, the causes of religious terrorism will be assuaged. It that does not happen, the future will, I fear, be bleak, and there will be continued threats to global stability and security.
It is timely and welcome that your Lordships should debate such important matters. We are all indebted to the right reverend Prelate for enabling us to do so.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has worked for a long time as co-chair of the Council for Christians and Jews. That should be acknowledged this afternoon. He is to be warmly congratulated on introducing a debate that it would be an understatement to describe as timely.
I shall take a Jewish starting-point and quote from the Chief Rabbi's book The Dignity of Difference. He writes:One of the great transformations from the 20th to the 21st century is that whereas the former was dominated by the politics of ideology, we are now entering an age of the politics of identity".He goes on to observe, perhaps less uncontroversially:That is why religion has emerged, after a long eclipse, to become so powerful a presence on the world stage, because religion is one of the great answers to the question of identity".I wonder whether there is some mileage in examining more closely the supposed shift from ideology to identity and the re-emergence—the possible re-emergence—of religion as a serious player on the world stage, including Europe. The concept "From ideology to identity" explains many shifts in our national life that come, again and again, before your Lordships' House, in debate and legislation. The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill is one example. The phenomenon of the re-appearance of the chough—a cousin of the crow—with its red bill is described as symbolic of Cornwall. I am not being facetious; I am making a serious point. So many of our attitudes and motivations show a discernible shift from being based on ideology—what we should do on the basis of commonly held political, social or religious views—to being based on identity—who we are in relation to others—with an increasing concentration on boundaries that must be defined and, perhaps, exerted in exclusive ways that can lead to violence, among other things. Al'Qaeda has an ideology, but its ideology is predicated on a strong and exclusive sense of identity.
Secondly, there is the suggestion that, in this changing world, religion is re-emerging because it provides for people one of the answers to the question of identity. Here, I know, we are on tricky ground, but it is right that the debate should encourage us to get onto that ground. I support that suggestion, but not out of any triumphalist sense of relief that, somehow, we can turn the clock back to a pre-Enlightenment view of faith and the world. Anachronism—in 243 philosophy, religion or politics—has never served us well. I welcome the suggestion because it explains many tendencies, including the threat of global terrorism, the export of religious hatred from the Indian sub-continent to this country, which we have discussed in the Select Committee on Religious Offences, as well as more mundane manifestations, such as the increased interest in religion as personal therapy and as a form of self-exploration through new routes that is apparent in bookstalls up and down the country.
In facing such changes, we must grapple with the question of fundamentalism. It is not the same as being traditional or traditionalist. Fundamentalism is another post-Enlightenment phenomenon, first applied to religion as a reaction to excessive change. It can be applied to other areas of life, politics included. A fundamentalist assessment or judgment is usually a bad one; it is easy and quick and applies the letter of the law in an outmoded way in a search for rigidity, in order to take a stand and be seen to take a stand. It is based on identity, rather than ideology. Fundamentalism's main symptom, besides fear, is an inability to be self-critical. Fundamentalism can come across in secularist ways. Secularist fundamentalists, for example, blink at the popularity of church schools in our Muslim and Jewish communities.
As we all know, when we want to make a point strongly—never in your Lordships' House, of course—violence can be a form of communication. The great spiritual traditions of the world's religions contain many strands of profound self-criticism that have pared those traditions of distorted dogma, the seedbed of violence as a way of life. Religious self-criticism is not the preserve of the theologian; it should be the equipment of every struggling believer, including the religious atheists in our midst. Nor does self-criticism lead to a bloodless, cerebral set of beliefs; it can clarify and, I would suggest, help to make us humble.
Fifty-eight years ago today, a German Lutheran pastor was executed in the closing weeks of World War II for his part in the attempt to kill the Nazi dictator a year earlier. Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be properly described as the patron saint of religious self-criticism. He was acutely aware of the need to be faithful to one's religious tradition and to one's belief in its uniqueness, but, at the same time, to be aware of a much changing and exciting world. It is a vocation that I would say is worth following.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, Portsmouth is, indeed, fortunate to have the right reverend Prelate among the leaders of that community. This is an important debate, for which we should all be deeply grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford.
Last night on "Newsnight", my noble friend Lord Filkin was speaking for the Government in response to anxieties expressed by the Islamic community in the United Kingdom about the war in Iraq. He said that while he respected its position, it was 244 based on their faith and he seemed to imply that, for that reason, the difference in perception between it and the Government could not be bridged.
I wonder if he and the Government would reflect on that. Does not such an approach tend to institutionalise divisions within our society? Can it not be interpreted as the language of exclusiveness rather than inclusiveness? The Islamic community is every bit as much part of the United Kingdom as any other community. In our democracy the insights and global connections which Islamic culture brings to our national life should be welcomed and seriously considered, not, perhaps inadvertently, portrayed as something to be sidelined as separate and predictable.
We are faced with a paradox. The world is inescapably interdependent. But it is deeply divided between those with power and the excluded. We can advocate the redistribution of wealth and resources. We can call for greater social justice. But these, without a redistribution of power, will not, of themselves, bring global stability. The strength of burning resentment at disempowerment cannot be overestimated.
In Chechnya, the Middle East and, now, the Gulf, the intransigence of Russia and the West—not to mention Israel—is counterproductive. It has marginalised the moderates and played into the hands of the extremists who seize the flag of faith for their fundamentalist cause and as their rallying point for the dispossessed.
Meanwhile, in the West, our own value system has become dominated by materialism, by ego-centricity and by quantitative concerns. Indeed, too often our education system is ever more preoccupied with quantity. This culture exacerbates hostility and anger of the dispossessed. It is, I suggest, no accident that amid such selfishness in the United Kingdom and the United States our own simplistic, fundamentalist sects become attractive to some, with their emphasis on a vertical link to God, on self and on personal salvation to the exclusion of social responsibility.
Truth is complex. We need to rediscover the challenge of facing up to that complexity. We need to celebrate diversity and enjoy dialogue. We need to value creativity and originality. We need, above all, to rekindle tolerance, humility, mutual respect and understanding as the hallmarks of civilisation. Wisdom and intellectualism, as distinct from cleverness with its blinkered arrogance, should be at a premium.
With that wisdom and intellectualism, and with them reasserted in our educational system, we may, I hope, come to see that morality has more to do with distinguishing between the good and helpful compromise and the unacceptable compromise than it has to do with denying the validity of compromise at all.
After the horrors of September 11th, President Bush allowed himself to use the fateful word "crusade". History never repeats itself, but there are profound lessons to be learnt from it. The Normans and the Franks were, of course, however dressed up in faith, driven by a search for new land. But what Steven Runciman wrote 245 in A History of the Crusades is perhaps highly relevant to our immediate situation. He wrote:The triumphs of the Crusades were triumphs of faith. But faith without wisdom is a dangerous thing. By the inexorable laws of history the whole world pays for the crimes and follies of each of its citizens.In the long sequence of interaction and fusion between Orient and Occident out of which our civilization has grown, the Crusades were a tragic and destructive episode.The historian as he gazes back across the centuries at their gallant story must find his admiration overcast by sorrow at the witness that it bears to the limitations of human nature.There was so much courage and so little honour, so much devotion and so little understanding.High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind narrow self righteousness; and the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost".
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Selsdon
My Lords, on 15th October 1999, approximately four weeks before the unfair and unjust eradication of 650 hereditary Peers from your Lordships' House, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury moved a Motion to draw attention to the role of religion in effectively promoting international order and doing away with international disorder.
Eight of your Lordships who have spoken today spoke in that debate. It was quite a remarkable debate, on a Friday—a fish day. None of the right reverend Prelates present today spoke then. I recall, at that time, the words from the prayer used by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth today—that is, setting asideall private interests, prejudices and partial affections".That is what we must do if we are to combat what is taking place in the world today. In preparing for the debate, I looked at some of my old school books trying to remember. I found reference to a great chap—Titus Livius Patavinus—who wrote 14 years, or thereabouts, after the death of our Lord, that one should forget not the nature of the war or the nature of the enemy. The question is: are we talking about enemies, and what is the enemy?
During debates on the terrorism Bill, I took the liberty of asking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, whether, if I wrote to him, he would be kind enough to define the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. He said that it would be rather difficult and that he would prefer that I did not write. So I did not write.
On looking at the 240 countries or so in the world, I asked how many were dictatorships—whether led by a king or by a ruler? And if a country has a ruler or a king, is he malevolent or benevolent? Of course, we must accept that the majority of countries in this world are dictatorships in one form or another. But who is the enemy, if there is an enemy, and who are the friends?
Of course, the friends are religion and the Church. If we concentrate more on the 3.5 billion people who 246 are people of the book—that is, Jews, Christians andMuslims—they all say "Don't kill". The Koran says,He who kills shall surely himself be killed".Therefore, aggression and death is against all these three religions. I shall not go on to other parts of the world. But in the previous debate I declared my interests and said that having been involved with trade I had the advantage or the disadvantage of sitting down in almost all the terrorist—or so-called terrorist—areas of the Middle East, with Prelates, great men and others, debating the role of religion.
The strange thing is that on looking at the trade routes, from the silk route and others, one can see that everyone ended up on the pilgrim route to Dakar. If one looks at the distribution of people of Jewish faith—approximately 20 million in the world—one sees that the biggest group is, of course, in Israel itself, then in Dakar, then in Sao Paolo, and then in New York. But the number of Jews in the world is relatively small—the same number as Sikhs. Moreover, on looking at the number of Muslims—842 million—or those who may promote themselves as such, and Christians, one realises that there are divisions in religious society.
But what is terrorism? Terrorism is government by fear. I believe that a terrorist is someone who uses fear to coerce governments or to coerce the community. Therefore anyone who uses fear or terror is in effect a terrorist. When we publish information that frightens the public about sarin and other toxic substances, we border on being terrorists. The United States too has frightened people. It could be argued that the Government of Iraq are a terrorist body.
One of the difficulties and the beauties of the English language—Churchill remarked that Britons and Americans are two peoples separated by a common language—is its interpretation. I find it difficult to accept the fact that there is a "war on terrorism"; that we must combat terrorism is important. Furthermore, two of the more vital factors in all this are the use of religion and the prevention of misinterpretation.
I find that those factors bring three things to people's minds. First, they look for a reason. If they find that the reason is not acceptable, they look for an excuse. Finally, they may have a motive. But the reasons, excuses and motives behind terrorist activities in the world are still very unclear to me.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords. I shall concentrate on interfaith responses. I have to declare a non-financial interest as a co-founder of the Ammerdown Centre, situated in Somerset near Bath and Bristol. It adjoins my family's traditional home and benefits from gardens, woods and parkland. It opened in 1973 as a residential centre for ecumenical Christian renewal. with an open approach to all aspects of life in the South West and beyond.
Very soon it was actively engaged in Christian-Jewish dialogue. This broadened into interfaith studies and encounters. Today we support the search for ethics acceptable to the major monotheistic faiths. 247 Like Dr Hans Kung and others, we see such agreed ethics as an essential foundation for long-term peace, in particular in the Middle East, although of course not only there.
The coming year's programme includes a Jewish-Christian summer school, Islamic and Hindu insights into peace-making, a study on non-violence in Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Christian approaches to peace-making and introductions to Buddhism. Many other courses deal with aspects of caring and social service. Every month there is a Taize prayer group, as well as interfaith prayer.
Ammerdown is committed to the theme of reconciliation in all its facets. The trustees wish to help improve race and community relations in Britain, while contributing in any way they can to world-wide peace. At the moment an appeal is in hand to bring the premises up to the requirements of the 21st century and to provide specialist services for some users.
I move now from Somerset to Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia. There, the Reverend Donald Reeves has been successful in bringing together a civic forum in the city of Banja Luka in an area which saw ethnic clearances and atrocities. The forum includes several cultural and political traditions. He has established a project called the "Soul of Europe" with the aim of rebuilding the Ferhadija mosque. Noble Lords may know that this place of worship was built in the 16th century by Sinan, the great Ottoman architect. The beautifully decorated building, situated in the centre of the city, was loved by Serbs and Croats as well as by Muslim Bosnians. Towards the end of the fighting it was totally destroyed, along with 16 other mosques and 10 Catholic churches.
Why, one may ask, should an ancient mosque with no large congregation now be rebuilt? I think there are two reasons. The first is one of justice. It is not right that a small group of extreme nationalists, not representative of most Bosnian Serbs, should be allowed to remove every trace of Islam as if it had never existed. Ethnic clearance and cultural genocide cannot be allowed to prevail.
The second reason is co-operation. This project is the first of its kind anywhere in Yugoslavia or south-eastern Europe. It follows a trail already blazed by St Ethelburga's in the City of London. It is highly significant to the 15 million or so European Muslims. The building can and should be rebuilt by all the faiths working together. It will symbolise the coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Jews that was so typical of life in Sarajevo over many centuries. It points to the kind of plural and culturally diverse Europe that we all want to see rising from the ashes of recent wars. It could provide a good omen for a peaceful Middle East.
Fundraising for the project starts this year. I commend the Soul of Europe project and I trust that your Lordships will help it to create a solid bridge of reconciliation.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord Haskel
My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of noble Lords to working paper 9074, published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research in September 2002. This paper studies the complex issue of terrorism, its nature and its causes. Time does not allow me to describe the surveys and analyses within the paper, but the writers agree with my noble friend Lord Desai. They conclude that terrorism is not a cry of anger and rage against poverty and deprivation, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and other noble Lords seem to suggest. It is a violent form of political engagement; violence carried out largely by middle class people.
That rings true for me. First, it rings true because of the huge number of people of all faiths who condemn terrorists acting in the name of God. They condemn terrorists for distorting and perverting religious precepts. As other noble Lords have said, it is a source of deep concern and worry to most Muslims, most Jews and most Christians that religions of peace can be hijacked in this way in order to convince many, especially the young, that violence is the correct path to God.
Secondly, it rings true because although some who commit acts of terror may claim to be acting in the name of God, they are but the tip of the iceberg. Behind them lie the recruiters, the information gatherers, the bomb makers and the trainers. The bureau paper implies that all those support mechanisms are politically motivated, middle class and use religious zealots to commit political violence masquerading as a violent form of theological discourse. I have used the word "masquerading" because this is not religion. It is the violent politicisation of religion.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Desai. What terrorists are attacking is not our religious belief, but our liberal democracy. To defend it, we have to do far more than simply break the link between religion and terrorism. We have to show that maintaining that link negates the essence of our traditional way of life. Otherwise we shall fall into the trap of demonising faith communities. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford that there is absolutely no justification for attacking the Muslim community as a whole for the actions of the few who undertake suicidal attacks and claim to act on behalf of Islam.
Similarly, there is absolutely no justification for attacking Jews in Europe because of those whose actions are perceived to be abusing the human rights of Palestinians. All of us should be alarmed at the reported attacks on Muslims in America, which have grown by some 1,700 per cent since 9/11. Equally, we should all be alarmed at the rise of anti-Semitism, which is undoubtedly flaring up again at this time of heightened international and Middle East tension.
Here I must declare an interest and recommend to noble Lords a book, soon to be published, of recent essays on the current position with regard to anti-Semitism. It was commissioned by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, of which I have the honour to 249 be the current president. The institute has a long and distinguished record, in particular in the fight against anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. This work throws much-needed light on a phenomenon that has generated heated debate over recent months. But readers will be struck by the similarities between the expression of anti-Jewish prejudice and the course and development of Islamophobia.
This brings me to the ecumenism to which the right reverend Prelate referred. I congratulate him on introducing the debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth is right. Ecumenism can teach us to value the differences that make up mankind. This is what makes interfaith work important.
Of course nothing replaces good relations as a means towards understanding and tolerance; of course it has an important place in our liberal society. But it is this very liberal society we are defending against terrorism. We are defending our liberal ideals; our way of life. So those involved in interfaith work have to address the circumstances which allow terrorism to become the means of attacking not only our spiritual and theological beliefs but our way of life.
This means stepping outside the relatively safe dialogue or trialogue on matters spiritual and theological. It means also addressing the issues of human rights abuses, social justice, the suppression of cultural and educational expression, our desire for self-determination. These are the things that terrorism sets out to attack; these are the issues to which we have to give precedence; these are the values that we hold in common.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Janner that mutual understanding and respect for our religious traditions are important, but they cannot come first in the face of terrorism if we are to build a safer world and cohesive societies on the basis of our common concern for the fate of humanity.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, it is just possible that the Minister may recall an intervention I made in an earlier debate on Afghanistan when I suggested that the pathogen of global terrorism could not be cured with a Harry Potter solution because it was essentially a Lord of the Rings problem. By that I meant that the use of deadly fireworks such as we have witnessed recently over Baghdad can destroy only a visible enemy on the battlefield; it is not expected to win over the hearts and closed minds of a religious population contained in homes darkened by war.
So how can we identify what has gone wrong with a religion that can breed the violence of 9/11 and its aftermath all around the globe? For a start, it might be helpful if the leaders of an interfaith response could define for lay people what constitutes "spiritual religion" and what constitutes "political religion".
250 The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury may have partially supplied the answer in this year's Dimbleby Lecture. If I can paraphrase his words, he said:the true believer in the Jewish. Christian and Muslim worlds"—to which I would add the Hindu and Buddhist worlds—must first seek an awareness of his or her relationship with the eternal".As someone who is a devout pantheist at heart, I feel sure that these words are an acceptable basis of "spiritual religion" as conceived by individual worshippers from all faiths and those who have none.
The most reverend Primate went on to say that,political or institutional religion has a history of violence … and that religions have work to do intellectually to defend their basic credibility".If the most reverend Primate is saying that elements of the world's great religions have had to resort to political fundamentalism because the tenets of their religion have become out of date, then I would have to agree with him. And if this has led to an increased political fundamentalism in Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu societies because their leaders have failed to deliver the eternal hopes and visions of their congregations, then I would also agree with him.
Therefore, is it not a matter of urgency that the intellectual repair work recommended by the most reverend Primate is for religions to modernise without delay by adapting to the global information explosion brought by the Internet, which will be available to every child on the planet soon and which will become the main educational tool for societies in the future?
Is it not a fact that fundamentalist regimes can stay in power only by denying education and information to their people from the earliest age? The madrasahs of fundamentalist Islamic regimes are no substitute for proper schooling and were courageously exposed by Dr Mahatir Mohammed, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, on 29th July 2001 when he said:In Malaysia, many of the Malays have had their minds controlled through the abuse of religious teachings by the fundamental Islamic party".He went on to say that Malay children in the fundamentalist states of Malaysia were denied access to science and technology in the madrasahs because their leaders said that it was against the Koran. This is a distortion of true religion.
By the same token, I understand that some states with fundamentalist Christian administrations in America exclude the works of Darwin from the official educational curriculum because they are considered to be at variance with the book of Genesis. This is a distortion of true science.
Is there any way forward for the future, where the Government and interfaith leaders can agree how political fundamentalism can be stifled at birth and true science and technology taught to our children? As I see it, this can be achieved only by opening the doors of independent single-faith schools to children of all faiths, including those who have none.
251 This week the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, predicted that the risk factor in scientific progress is so high that humankind may not outlive the 21st century. Whether the end comes from the impact of a 10-kilometre asteroid or from a suicidal despot's Doomsday machine is quite immaterial; the end of the world is indeed at hand.
However, all may not be lost, for according to Sir Martin and my noble friend Lady Greenfield it will not be long before human beings can transcend biology by merging with computers to download their brains into silicone hardware, thus recreating themselves as resurrection clones.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, we are still waiting with bated breath for Christendom to agree the computus for Easter Sunday, on which it has been working diligently since the Council of Nicea some 1,678 years ago.
It is my considered view that if the world's great religions are to maintain their credibility with their congregations over the next 10 decades they will have to find answers to the entirely new ethical dilemmas posed by space exploration, designer genes, robotics and nanotechnology, to name but a few. If they do not, their only alternative is to revert to fundamentalism.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Lord Ahmed
My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for giving the House the opportunity to discuss this important issue.
Some people today would say that any discussion about global terrorism is a discussion about the subversion of the moral argument, propaganda and deception. We are discussing global terrorism and yet most noble Lords who have spoken so far have referred to Muslims and terrorism. From the outset I should like to repeat that there is no such thing as "Islamic terrorism", which is the creation of silly, irresponsible and extremely dangerous spin.
Like all major religions of the world, Islam does not promote terrorism; it is a religion of peace. But when Muslims feel that they are being oppressed, that they are not getting a fair deal, they react very much like other oppressed people in the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Janner, said that in India he met a leader who said,Where there is terror you cannot have a dialogue".You also cannot have a dialogue and peace while there is state terrorism, oppression, rape and torture in countries such as Kashmir.
While we must condemn acts of terror we must also strive to understand the reasons for the terrorists' anger and reaction, however irrational or unacceptable they may seem to us. When the US Navy ship was recently attacked on the coast of Yemen, it should have reminded us that Japanese kamikaze pilots blew up the "Prince of Wales" as she sailed towards Singapore and Burma in the 1940s. Even then there were suicide bombings.
252 But history has shown us that it has a strange relationship with the people we call "terrorists" today. Most of those we consider to be terrorists are regarded by their own people as freedom fighters. Of course, "terrorists" such as Mao, Jomo Kenyatta, M r Begin, the former Prime Minister of Israel, and Mandela are now acknowledged as legitimate leaders in their own countries. I wonder how George Washington was seen by the British government when he fought for American independence.
I would like to say a few words about British Muslims. Many young people are resentful and feel utterly marginalised in a society that continues to be racist and Islamophobic. Yet, as all signs point to dangerous situations developing in our inner cities, the authorities seem oblivious to what is going on. There is a common perception that the Home Office and the Foreign Office have tried to create a new leadership within the Muslim community and, in the process, have deliberately marginalised legitimate leaders of the community—imams, councillors, parliamentarians and grass-roots activists. I am afraid this is not the time to play politics with the community.
A few years ago, many of us celebrated the creation of the Muslim Council of Britain, as an umbrella organisation of the Muslim community based on the structures of boards of deputies. Unfortunately, the MCB has failed to provide leadership and does not relate to the issues of ordinary British Muslims. It is seen more as a middle-class club for a certain section of the community rather than a grass-roots organisation.
We have a community in which individuals elevate themselves to be judges of the Sharia court and groups call themselves the Muslim Parliament of the UK, giving the impression that they have judicial and legislative powers. There are many individuals running Sharia councils for marriage and divorce purposes. I fear that unqualified individuals will practise illegal acts too.
I believe that there has to be a minimum qualification for the imams, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said; Dr Zaki Badawi has also been saying the same thing. It would be desirable for imams to communicate in English to engage with our youth who no longer speak Urdu, Punjabi or Gujarati. This will bridge the gap that exists between the mosque and the British Muslim youth who are in search of their identity. A growing number of Muslim youth have been influenced by extreme ideologies in colleges and universities. Of course "rent a quote" organisations create problems in the Muslim community as well as in mainstream society.
Finally, let me make it clear that the majority of our people here in Britain want the same as their brethren anywhere in the world—to have respect, to be listened to, to be appreciated and to be taken seriously. They want to engage, participate and work with others. These are historic times for all of us—a time to build bridges, initiate dialogue and deal with real issues affecting real people. Otherwise, we will all reap the dire consequences of our myopic and partisan initiatives.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Baroness Richardson of Calow
My Lords, I, too, am very grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I am glad to have heard the contributions from so many of your Lordships. I want to limit my contribution to some considerations of interfaith relationships within this country.
There is no doubt that global terrorism and the military conflict have had a negative impact on many of our faith communities. There is heightened anxiety and tension. I am glad to have heard the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, speak about British Muslims; there is more anxiety among British Muslims and in the Jewish community. It is harder to hear the moderate voices because they are vulnerable to suspicion within their own communities. There sometimes seems to be a conflict between loyalty to the United Kingdom and the solidarity that wants to be expressed with faith communities throughout the world. There is particular anxiety among Asian Christians in this country and in other parts of the world.
The heightened tension in the world has had a positive impact on interfaith relationships. Those that were strong already have been immensely strengthened by a determination to stand together in solidarity with each other. Many new initiatives have been taken in places where they were not already strong.
The Churches Commission for Inter-faith Relations, of which I am moderator, issued a leaflet inviting local communities to undertake certain activities together in order to strengthen the role of faith communities within the whole of community life. Mention has been already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, of the invaluable work of the interfaith network which has brought people together in friendship. Those friendships remain strong and provide a strong framework within which new relationships can be made.
I also want to recommend to your Lordships the material that is offered for the week of prayer for world peace, which happens each October. It draws on the sacred writings of all the major faiths in order to offer help to other communities.
There is much work going on. One of the strong pulls is through the respect initiative which grew out of the wonderful, magnificent shared act of reflection and celebration which was held in the Royal Gallery in the millennium. Out of that has flown the very rich stream which is engaging young people to work together in local communities and form friendships across what seem to be barriers in order to make strong relationships upon which communities in Britain can find their own strength.
As has been said, all religions speak peace and want to act against violence. Most recognise that there is a higher authority to whom we are accountable and most seek the common good.
If your Lordships will allow me, I want to offer a simple reflection which comes from the core document of my own faith. Jesus was having a conversation with a lawyer who was troubled in his mind about what faith meant, as to how to relate both to his God and to 254 the community, to whom he had a duty of care. Jesus told him a story about a man who was set upon by thieves and left wounded at the roadside. He was completely ignored by two respected religious leaders of his own faith community and was cared for by a member of a different faith altogether, at great cost to himself. Jesus said, "Go and do likewise". I recognise that it is very much easier to give comfort, support and help to the wounded victim at the roadside than to address the issue of the robbers in their act of terrorism. The only record that I can find of what help Jesus gave in dealing with that is that he said, "Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you". But there is not a great deal of strategy that we can gain from that.
I believe strongly that the suspicion, the hatred, the blame, the in-fighting of one religion with another cannot help in any way in addressing the global terrorism in which all are involved. We need to find those parts of our faith which can give a strong lead.
Early in this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, spoke about the ideology which says, "In God's name, kill". I think all faiths will also say, "In God's name, do good and seek peace and pursue it". If we work together in a strong coalition of faith, in this country and elsewhere, surely there is hope for the future.
Whenever I say the Lord's Prayer, I say, "Thy kingdom come", and I believe that that means for every single person on Earth.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, I fear I will offend against the law of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, by joining in this debate at all. We no longer call ourselves a Christian nation.
We benefit from many religious minorities and, along with them, a strong sense of religious revival. This may, to some extent, be a mourning for our lost religion and especially for a sense of values. We live by humanitarian and not religious rules. Yet many of us who are called Anglican long for the certainty of faith expressed over so many years by our own saints and martyrs. That makes some of us envious of other faiths, as though reluctantly accepting that no revival can ever quite bring us back to where we were. Diversity, instead, is the fashion of our generation.
I remember the innocence of the 1960s, when so many of us left home and traditional religion in search of other ideas and cultures. In my case, the destination was the shrine of a famous Muslim saint, in Nizamuddin. on the southern edge of Delhi.
Looking back, I recognise how well insulated Anglo-Saxons have been in the past century. It is true that it took a fighting spirit to win through two wars and keep others at a distance, but we have to admit the extent to which our privileged caste and our island mentality has kept us away from the world's horrors. Those of us who have continually travelled and visited the poorest countries see how fortunate we are materially yet how deprived we are spiritually. We must recognise that we now live in a changed world in which even diversity is not enough if it has no legal 255 framework. Globalisation has brought improved communications and, perhaps, fairer trade, but it has also forced societies into much tighter arrangements, sometimes against their will.
Countries cannot be squeezed into convenient brackets of tolerance and human rights, just to suit our international lawyers. As noble Lords have said in previous debates, and as the writer Malise Ruthven has described in his new book, A Fury for God, a Manichaean spirit is abroad—a belief that we live in a time of good and evil. We easily assume that all the evil is on the other side, in the Middle East. Yet those who have observed the plight of Palestinians at close quarters see it differently. In his analysis of the Al'Qaeda, Ruthven refers to Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian scholar who wrote In the Shadow of the Koran in prison and was hanged in 1966, aged 60, as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb is a symbol for many educated Muslims who have been, or felt, corrupted by Western civilisation and have rejected American ideals as the embodiment of evil.
Only through such writers can we glimpse the vision of young fanatics all the way from Karachi to Jerusalem, reading the Koran, as many read the Old Testament, who believe that their only way out is the ultimate personal sacrifice. It is an historic religious act, not confined to Islam, but described by all who have witnessed martyrdom throughout the ages. Like so much in the Bible that we have left behind, some of the precepts are easily distorted. While martyrdom is claimed to be acceptable in Islam, suicide has not been sanctioned at any time since the 7th century, when various hadith, or sayings of the Prophet. unambiguously condemned it.
I agree that religion can be no excuse for terrorism, but it may help us to understand it. There are few of us here, if any—even refugees from the ghettos—who have had the experience that develops the mindset of the suicide bomber. I fully take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, about the people who are behind that person. But to understand that, I still believe that we must look not only to the Al'Qaeda élite but to the situation of the oppressed. There is no time to go into the Palestinian situation, to which noble Lords have already referred, but reports show how moderate Palestinians feel under occupation—not the fanatics. We know from many sources how close to the margin they are living. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, I believe that, while they are deemed to be terrorists, they are themselves the victims of terror.
The images that we in the charities are determined to present of a peaceful world of interfaith dialogue, of reconciliation and conflict, of free and fair trade, necessary as they are to us and our supporters and even to our religion, are still pitifully removed from the realities of war, violence, suicide and other forms of brutality that dominate the news. Like other noble Lords, I feel that we can only work harder towards reconciliation. We can only reconcile the two extremes through a greater mutual effort to understand the drama of individual human life struggles.
256 Finally, I can testify to one very effective interfaith channel, in relation to humanitarian aid in the Middle East. I refer to the partnership between Christian Aid and organisations such as Islamic Relief. The benefits of that are felt at both ends, in the field and equally by those supporters in communities such as those in Birmingham who may be experiencing a partnership with another faith for the first time. These are the means by which we can defeat the appalling mistrust bred by terrorism.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for enabling your Lordships' House to debate this important issue at this significant time in history.
It would be idle to deny that there is a religious element in many conflicts that face the world today. Superficially, it would be easy to portray the current war in Iraq as a war between Christianity and Islam. There are fundamentalist Christian voices in Bible belt America speaking the language of crusade. There are Islamic voices of protest on the streets of Cairo, Oman and throughout the Middle East shouting the language of jihad. But the ideology of Saddam Hussein and the regime he led was more akin to secular fascism than to Islam. Indeed, bin Laden regarded him as one of his bitterest enemies because of his disinterest in Islam. The fact is that Christians and Muslims were to be found among Saddam Hussein's closest Ministers, and Christians and Muslims together with those of other faiths will have to be involved in rebuilding Iraq, if it is to have a more peaceful and prosperous future.
Of course, there are fundamentalist Muslims involved in global terrorism but, lest we think that Islam has a monopoly in such terror, stories in the news today might point us in a different direction. President Bush has met the Prime Minister in Belfast and engaged with the leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland, seeking to build a democratic and peaceful future in that land. Such a hope would have seemed a utopian dream a couple of decades ago, when terror was common currency on all sides, and Roman Catholicism and Protestantism gave a spiritual undergirding for some of that terror. It is ironic, is it not, that British troops have been so skilled in combating terror on the streets of Basra because of their long experience of combating terror on the streets of London and Belfast?
Another news story today involves yet another great world religion. A new Jewish enclave or fortress has been built in the heart of East Jerusalem in a traditional Palestinian sector. Please God that that symbol does not become one more trigger point for more acts of terror. Nor is it only the Abrahamic faiths—the faiths of the Book—that are prone to terrorist acts.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, for her encouraging words about the work of the interfaith network of Britain and Ireland. I co-chair that network, which exists to promote harmony, respect and co-operation between the world faiths in Britain. We try 257 hard not to be diverted by overseas issues, but global issues have a habit of breaking in—not just Iraq or the situation in Israel/Palestine, but disputes involving other faiths.
We have been most exercised by the strong feelings engendered in the UK by the destruction by Hindus of the 400-year old mosque in Ayodhya because it was claimed on the site of a previous Hindu temple marking the birthplace of Ram. Last year, a train carrying 500 Hindus back from a gathering was attacked and set on fire, and some 58 adults and children were burned alive. Following those deaths, as many as 2,000 Muslims were killed in rioting in Gujarat. Meanwhile, the dispute about self-determination in Kashmir is a longstanding sore between Muslims and Hindus.
With all of that accumulated evidence, I for one do not need convincing that there often is a religious element in global terrorism. There are always those who are prepared not only to die for their faith but to kill for it.
But that is not the whole story. For, if religion is part of the problem of terrorism, it is also part of the solution. All the world's religions, by their very proximity today, are challenged to ask each other what they most deeply believe, and to see how far they can share those beliefs, in order to draw strength from each other on behalf of the human family so as to save it from failure. All of us who are people of faith are faced with the challenge of trying to promote respect for people of other faith traditions and to co-operate with them where possible, at the same time trying to ensure that we are not diluting the essential truth of our own faith but finding fresh and positive ways of living it out.
We should gain encouragement from the experience of 12th and 13th century Spain, where there was an ideological overlap between Islam and Christianity which enriched both religions. Islam was the vehicle by which Christian scholars rediscovered the classical heritage of Aristotle and Plato; and, out of that, St Thomas Aquinas formulated a systematic account of practical faith and civic action which still undergirds much of Christian thinking today.
The ingredients in our religious dialogue are plain: how to disagree with dignity and respect; how to disagree with tolerance; where to bear distinctive witness; the understanding that everyone has the right not to become someone else's clone. But, above all, we should not be standing face to face in argument, but standing shoulder to shoulder in meeting the needs of the wider community. When it comes to working together to serve the world, the Jewish scholar, Hillel, put it briefly but well:What is hateful to you, don't do to others".
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Wallace of Saltaire
My Lords, this is one of those unusual debates which could usefully have been longer. It would have been helpful if we could have heard for longer from those participating. I am grateful to the Government Chief Whip for the fact 258 that, halfway through debate, a note was passed saying that those winding up on this and the Conservative Front Bench could speak for 10 minutes rather than five. I shall struggle not to take the full amount of time.
We are talking about terrorism and the rationale for terrorism. There have been a whole range of rationales. In terms of state terrorism, there was the Inquisition in Spain, the Gestapo in Nazi Germany and the NKVD in Stalinist Russia. In terms of religious terrorism, there have been assassins, thugs and others; but, most relevant today, those inspired by a rage against the established order, modernity and all the change forced upon traditional society. In 19th and 20th century Europe that was provided by anarchists, revolutionary socialists and nationalists. Today, in much of the developing world, it is provided by those who have found in fundamentalism—most often Muslim, but occasionally Hindu—a rationale for their rage against the modern world.
I take religion to be a system of belief by which we all live; and in that sense, it is an ideology. What we have seen in the developing world to a great extent is that fundamentalist religion has returned to fill the void left by the collapse in the credibility of Communism and Arab nationalism as creeds for the discontented. We all recognise that in societies that are moving at speed—as was pointed out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth—from traditional politics and modes of belief to modernity, with all the sharp dislocation of meaning and identity for individuals and groups that that involves, there is a natural tendency for people to want to find an all-encompassing rationale by which they can live.
The reactions in European societies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—our own violent, nihilistic and sacrificial ideologies which we saw in Germany, Italy, Russia and elsewhere, and which killed many millions of people across Europe—should give us some limited sympathy and understanding for the problems of a developing world which is going through the same process three or four times as fast as we did. It is easy in Britain to be complacent and to say that we never had a revolution. But Britain moved through these processes much more slowly than any other country which followed us.
The divide that we now face is between liberal systems of belief—I use the word "liberal" in the broadest sense, not in any partisan sense—and fundamentalist systems. By "liberal belief" I mean an attitude to the world which accepts that we cannot "know" in the final and ultimate sense; that we have to live with uncertainty. We therefore have to tolerate difference, and that requires us to have a generosity of spirit, to be inclusive in our attitude to others rather than exclusive, and to be prepared to compromise. My favourite verse in the Bible is:and now we see as through a glass, darkly".My favourite Apostle is St Thomas, because he doubted. That makes politics possible; and it makes open society possible. But it requires a self-confident society, at peace with itself—like medieval Muslim Spain, or the kingdom of the two Sicilies or 19th century Britain.
259 On the opposite side, fundamentalist beliefs require certainty, a world divided between the saved and the damned, between good and evil, between Aryans and Slays and Jews, between orthodoxy and heresy; between the righteous and unrighteous. If there is no compromise, no form of politics is possible. There are even those who would say, "We are the chosen people, and others are the unchosen". That is a problem for all religions. We Christians certainly need to be well aware of the dark side of Christianity, of our own religious wars, persecution and intolerance, as we look at the intolerance which now mars other religions.
After all, the Church of England grew out of this and the bitter lessons of near-religious wars within Britain. I grew up within that tradition. However, looking back on it—I say this in the knowledge that the other day I was attacked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for not being sufficiently patriotic in my attitude to Britain—when I first went, as a choirboy at Westminster Abbey, into the choir school at Westminster Cathedral and realised that the people there had a different sense of nationalism and of what was possible, I was deeply shocked. I had grown up with a whole set of unthinking, anti-Catholic prejudices. When I first met a member of my own party who was also a Catholic—his name happens to be Tordoff—I was quite shaken and surprised. In the process, I learnt to be rather more tolerant to other aspects of my own religion and, by extension, to other religions. I am proud that my children have grown up with a large number of Muslim and Hindu friends and have understood that others have systems of belief which are also liberal and which are worthy of respect.
Fundamentalism in the developing world is rage against the corruption of states and the failure of modernisation—I refer to regimes in the Middle East, in North Africa and in West Africa; for example, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. It is the discontented young, looking for an answer, with rage against their own states externalised on to the West, which is seen as supporting them, and against the trivialising values, as they see it, of modernity which the West is seen to promote. Terrorism is the outlet. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, a form of asymmetric warfare. We all recognise that this very often applies to the second or third generation in those countries. It is the first educated generation—the children of those who have gained privilege—who do not find the opportunities, the satisfaction or the comfort in a new society, who are among the most rebellious and who are most prepared to sacrifice themselves.
But we should also be concerned about the drift back to fundamentalism within the West, including within the United States—the divide between "good" and "evil" which simplifies American foreign policy. I am not sure that evil is a term that should be used very often in politics or foreign policy. There are those terrible simplifiers who said that we had a clash of civilisations, and who welcomed that idea. There are those who talk about the United States, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, did in a debate a couple of months 260 ago, as a righteous nation, implying that it is above the law of nations, and that others are less righteous and thus have to obey the law more fully.
There are those who preach the theology of hatred on American television, as I have watched when I have been over there on many occasions. There are those who attack and kill people in family-planning clinics because that is what God tells them to do, and those who are affected by all the deep anxieties about modernity that fill the American south.
Then there is the Jewish right, which believes in the right of the Jews to the whole of Israel, with the right to expel Palestinians as necessary. To them, the settlements are God's will. For example, there are those who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin or machine-gunned Islamic believers worshipping at the tomb in Hebron.
Liberals of all faiths need to stand together in dialogue, and we need to stand up for our beliefs in this country and abroad. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said as he opened the debate, we need to encourage and cherish the Muslim presence in this country as far as we can. The other day as I walked from here towards Westminster Cathedral—it was after all built by the Catholics in Westminster to symbolise that they are accepted in British society—past the Central Hall, I wondered what we will do with the Central Hall after the Methodists have, we hope, reunited with the Church of England. Could it not become the central mosque, as a symbol that Muslims are now also very much part of the religious interfaith community in this country?
Internationally, we need to think about the symbolism of Jerusalem. It is a holy city for three faiths, and is becoming a contested territory among two of them. We are, we hope, coming out of a war in Iraq, but we have a longer struggle against terrorism. We will win that struggle only if the quality of our values and the confidence of our liberal beliefs are sustained.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, we are all grateful to the right reverend Prelate for introducing his well-crafted Motion calling attention to the religious element in global terrorism and appropriate interfaith responses. Hopefully, the responses can be global too, but we are on firmer ground when we take a local, national approach.
I am bound to say that one of the more heartening pictures at the start of the war was of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, flanked by the Chief Rabbi and the chairman of the Council of Mosques and Imams, proclaiming that the war was not religious and,could only be a limited means to an end".That statement had the support of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. There is, as we know, a large measure of doctrinal agreement between the great religions on their attitude to war and the conduct of it. Peace is infinitely preferable but, in the 261 event of war, it must be conducted humanely with every attempt made to avoid civilian casualties and damage.
That common theme was given a positive slant by the coalition forces, with their concentration of bombing on command-and-control centres and their affirmation that the war was not against the Iraqi people but for their liberation. The coalition's success in maintaining that stance has been as variable as the fortunes of the war itself. I am sure that we were all happy to see some peaceful scenes emerging from Baghdad today but, regrettably, civilians have been killed and injured, with ugly scenes of carnage and devastation presented on television throughout the world. Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi television presentations have had a tremendous impact on the Arab peoples, who tend to see the war as a United States-led invasion to impose western imperial control on the Middle East.
People's perception of the war is the key to the all-important battle for hearts and minds everywhere. The propaganda war is very real. If those perceptions result in widespread antagonism, hatred and anger, they provide a rich recruiting ground for terrorists and a hasty, superficial justification for their vengeful activities. Many, including President Mubarak of Egypt, fear that the war will provide a fillip to the terrorist cause.
We know that a causal starting point for the war was the terrorist attack on New York's twin towers on 9/11. That attack was, as our Prime Minister rightly said,an affront to people of all faiths and of none".It was that event that prompted President Bush to see an axis of evil in Iran, Iraq and North Korea, and to switch from a policy of containment to pre-emptive action against Afghanistan and now Iraq. The aim was to trample on the roots of terrorism, but it was always conceivable that a consequence of war might be an increase in the terrorist threat.
The second half of the Motion seeks "appropriate interfaith responses". That is right, because terrorism has no part in the mainstreams of the great faiths and will never get their total endorsement. There may be temporary and local support, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, but it is never total, never lasting. The great faiths would never have survived as long as they have were they not conducive to the preservation and betterment of mankind, which terrorism by its very nature is not. It is an aberration; it transgresses the limits, and God does not love transgressors, if I may quote the Koran. I therefore have great faith in the faiths themselves to counter terrorism from within, from their inherent goodness and strength. That does not mean, of course, that they should not be helped in every way, including intellectually and spiritually. There must indeed be dialogue.
Incidentally, it would be interesting to know the outcome of the Prime Minister's statement of intent on 12th November last year, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, on 16th December, to create bridges of understanding 262 between the faiths and discuss the creation of a specific organisation with the Islamic religious leaders in this country. I am sure that she will give us a report of progress.
The Islamic world has been in turmoil for some time and its attitude very critical towards western materialism—"dry, miserable and spiritless", as Osama bin Laden described it. We must evaluate that criticism and try to show that there is a benevolent aspect to material progress. It can improve people's lives. Our ideologies must somehow be reconciled in that context. Jusuf Wanandi of the Centre of Strategic Studies at Jakarta said in an article that we must,seek to understand why some Islamist movements harbour such profound resentment",towards the US and the West. He continued:Many Muslims believe that they have been left behind in the march towards progress".In the context of present-day Iraq, the provision of food, water and humanitarian aid is universally recognised as of paramount importance. Along with the reconstruction and development of a successful economy, it is proof positive that we care for the people and their well-being. After the overthrow of Saddam's regime, we must ensure a system of democratic government that meets the needs of the different peoples within Iraq, possibly on a federal basis, to prevent conflict and promote harmony between them.
Democracy is not easy to establish. I recall a distinguished German, Manfred Rommel, son of the Field Marshal, telling me that democracy would not have survived in West Germany after the war had it not been for the benevolent dictatorship of the Allied occupation forces. There is food for thought in that remark. It makes the American viewpoint on the governance of post-war Iraq understandable. Ultimately, however, as we all know, only good Iraqis can rule Iraq. A sound, democratic system in Iraq could send a powerful signal to the rest of the region where democracy is in short supply. It will not be welcome to all Arab rulers, but there is a widespread feeling that democracy's time has come.
As so many have said, beyond the frontiers of Iraq, there is the just prospect of a Palestinian state and the "road map" to it. I was delighted to hear President Bush's commitment to the road map yesterday. I talked about the possibility, in Israel, in the 1970s, with Abba Eban, the former Foreign Minister. It was a non-starter then. However, we can no longer doubt that the desperate plight of the Palestinians is a virulent sore which suppurates violence in the Middle East. It has to be healed if peace is to have a chance. The faiths can do much to promote this proposal and hasten its implementation, especially if they act in unison, as I think the right reverend Prelate suggested. We hope that we are on the verge of a new order in the Middle East, but the birth may be painful and the labour prolonged.
A fundamental prerequisite of any co-operation between the faiths is knowledge and understanding of each other. I say that with an acute sense of my own ignorance. We know something of the diversity of the 263 Western world, its states and religions, but our knowledge of the Islamic world is very limited, and so errors abound in our preconceived ideas and perceptions. We have seen a number of such ideas exploded as myths in the current war. Of course myths can be costly in terms of human life.
I listened today to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and I noted the exchange that followed his Starred Question on 16th December last year when he asked what the Government meant by "Islamic terrorist", a term deeply offensive to Muslims like himself. Of course terrorism is anathema to mainstream Islam, but that does not prevent terrorists from calling themselves Islamic and seeking endorsement from fundamentalist and radical elements. We must recognise, I think, that there is deep concern across the world about this war and everything related to it. There have been protests in many Western and Islamic countries by people of all faiths. No one can be certain of the ultimate consequences of the war or the outcome of the war against terrorism, but I hope that we all have faith that good will ultimately triumph over evil. We know, too, that that belief is shared by all true believers in all the great faiths. Therein lies our best hope for the future.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for proposing this debate. It has been wide-ranging and extremely stimulating. I cannot recall another recent debate in your Lordships' House where I thought that every contribution was so well argued and so very thoughtful.
The right reverend Prelate was right to point out that international terrorism continues to pose grave long-term threats to our interests. The terrorist threat from the Al'Qaeda network and the groups and individuals linked to it remains extremely serious, as do the threats from a number of other international terrorist groups. The past year has shown that terrorists will conduct attacks, including against British citizens, in an ever more indiscriminate fashion. The figures behind those tragedies are truly chilling. Eighteen people, including tourists, were killed in Tunisia in April 2002. Seventeen people died in Mombasa in November. Some 202 people, many of them tourists and most of them young, died in Bali on 12th October. Churchgoers have been bombed in Pakistan on a number of occasions. Voluntary health workers, diplomats and expatriates have been murdered in the Middle East.
The death toll is terrible, but every statistic represents an individual human tragedy—mourning for a family and for friends, and horror for a life cut off in a senseless act of barbarism. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, may be right when he says that although the groups who undertake these outrages are not formally connected, common threads are apparent in their ideology. There are such threads, which may be cultural, religious or political, and we have to examine what they are.
264 There have also been successes in the campaign against international terrorism. With our partners, including many Muslim countries, we have disrupted the bases of Al'Qaeda, in Afghanistan, and we are working together to set that troubled country back on the long path to stability. Nearly 1.5 million people have returned to that country in a testimony to the hope that they feel for its future. Many of Al'Qaeda's senior leadership have been captured. Most recently, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—the man who planned the 11th September attacks—was detained with the help of the Pakistan authorities.
As a result of increased law enforcement around the world, about 3,000 terrorists have been put behind bars in Europe, including the United Kingdom, in South East Asia, in the Middle East and in the United States. However, Al'Qaeda still exists. It is still issuing its hideous threats. It is still calling people, mostly young and vulnerable, to its doctrine of hatred, to carry out suicidal acts of terrorism. The latest threats are, of course, against this country and the United States. So the Al'Qaeda network remains dedicated, ingenious and global. The threat remains and will continue. That is the reality that we all face.
Our efforts to combat this threat take many forms. The successes of our police and intelligence services, supported as appropriate by our Armed Forces, are rightly praised in public. What we do not hear enough of is the fact that that is a dangerous and difficult task which they undertake on our behalf. It demands dedicated professionalism, experience and real courage to take on groups of terrorists who believe that they have the right to take human life indiscriminately. However, to begin to deal with terrorism effectively, counter-terrorism requires us to address the conditions that terrorists exploit and—as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said—to tackle the phenomenon of failed states where terrorists can often find a fertile environment in which to prepare their attacks and to recruit support, be it active or passive.
Typically, terrorists seek to exploit social and political grievances for their own purposes. I agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Judd said. Like him, I shall not mince my words about this. All too often those social and political grievances are real. In some cases, political exclusion and poverty may be direct factors which fuel the emergence of terrorism and are used by some terrorist groups to justify their actions and to recruit and draw support for their cause.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in an excellent contribution, spoke about poverty. If some parts of the world continue to grow rich while others remain in abject and grinding poverty, it cannot surprise us if that creates and sustains grievances that become the fertile soil in which terrorism thrives. It is not that poverty leads directly to terrorism—that is not what the evidence shows us. It would be an insult to many poor and decent people to suggest that one leads directly to the other. Rather, poverty, social injustice and—above all—exclusion from hope of a better future are the potent ingredients used to justify terrorism. The truth is that they are real injustices and real grievances. There is, as 265 the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, real oppression in the world. That is not to justify terrorism. However, we who have the means to do so need to address those issues. That means active, real effort to come to grips with the very conditions which, if left to fester, provide the environment in which the roots of terrorism grow and are nurtured.
Well before the events of 11th September 2001, the UK was actively engaged in working to spread the benefits of increasing world prosperity to the least developed and developing countries of the world. We are doing so through aid, but also—arguably every bit as importantly—through trade. We have worked hard to spread respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law and to promote democracy and good governance. We are at the forefront of international efforts to reduce poverty, working to cut debt, remove unfair trade barriers and tackle killer disease. Those are all issues on which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I would like to engage more not only with religious leaders in the House of Lords but also with religious leaders throughout the country and from all faiths.
The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, in his very interesting contribution, reflected on what the definition of terrorism should be. I disagree with some of what he said but I agree strongly with him that terrorism has its roots in many causes and that we have to examine those causes very honestly. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, was right: we have to look at all those possible—what he described as underlying—reasons which may be camouflaged in the religious reasons with which terrorists seek to justify their actions.
Let us acknowledge that regional conflicts fan the flames of terrorism. One of the regions where Her Majesty's Government have focused particular attention is on helping to defuse the tensions in the Middle East. In the Middle East we have seen an almost complete breakdown of trust between Israelis and Palestinians. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, it has been made worse by every suicide bombing, by every missile, by every young person killed in a discotheque and by every retaliation and house demolition. Most British citizens—Muslim and non-Muslim alike, those of the Jewish faith, those of us who are Christians, and those of no faith at all—hope that we can secure the peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Earlier this afternoon we spoke of what happened yesterday and of the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas, who has now taken up the awesome responsibility of Prime Minister of Palestine. Yesterday's announcement from Hillsborough concerning the commitment of the United Kingdom and the United States not only to the publication but also to the implementation of the road map constitutes a real step forward. But of course I recognise that there is scepticism. Scepticism is born of hitter experience in this case. But I urge all your Lordships to support a move which I believe is the best chance for peace that has arisen in a very long time.
266 I agree strongly with what the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Roberts of Conwy, said; namely, that the problems in the Middle East, for which religion is often cited as a justification, are a huge underlying cause seeking to justify terrorism. By tackling the Middle East problem we also tackle that terrorism.
As many of your Lordships acknowledged, terrorist groups have long used religion to justify their crimes. My noble friend Lord Desai urged us to delink religion and terrorism. I wish that we could do so. But the linking of religion and terrorism is widespread, deep-seated and, as my noble friend said, it has become distorted and abused. It is not a new phenomenon and Islam is not the only religion to have been used in that way. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, what is new is the emergence of fundamentalism. He and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark were right to remind us that all religions have their fundamentalists. Some in secular life also espouse fundamentalist beliefs.
The right reverend Prelate asked us to consider self-criticism. I believe that he was absolutely right to do so. But, if I may say so, I suspect that his wise words will not reach their target. I give the example of Osama bin Laden. He seeks to use Islamic texts and scriptures to legitimise his attacks: attacks that have targeted civilians on a massive scale and resulted in the deaths of many innocent people—Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
As I said in this House on 16th December last year, Islam is a faith of peace. But, appallingly, as a result of atrocities such as those perpetrated by ArQaeda. for some, Islam and terrorism have become inextricably linked. That is tragic. My noble friend Lord Ahmed was right to remind us how wrong such a linkage is. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark was right to remind us that religion is often used as a cover for terrorism. A terrorist is a terrorist whatever his or her religion. Let us be clear that people like Osama bin Laden are responsible for this tainting of the Islamic faith.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that such actions and hatred—the sort of comments that we have heard in the racist rhetoric of Abu Hamza, and others who preach his dreadful message—are an anathema to the overwhelming majority of Muslims. The fact is that the majority of Muslims—indeed, the majority of all people—abhor any violence of that nature. But, sadly, many terrorist organisations describe themselves as Islamic, either in the titles that they give themselves or in the descriptions of their aims. In effect, they hijack the fine name of Islam for their own dreadful ends. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford made clear—my noble friend Lord Haskel was also right to remind us of this—it is not only Islam that unfairly attracts such distorted labels but also other religions, including Judaism.
The noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow, in her call for a strong coalition of faith was also right to remind us of what unites the great faiths of the world 267 in the pursuit of good and the help that we can give each other in pursuing good against the evil that is so often perpetrated.
The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, raised the question of differentiating between political religion and spiritual religion. By political religion I understood the noble Lord to refer to those who seek to politicise their religion for a secular end. He described those who seek to create new, modern political structures informed by fundamental precepts of their religion. That is not peculiar to one religion either, as the noble Lord made very clear in his address. Fundamentalism of a blinkered nature in all religions of the world distorts lives and the relationships between those who espouse religious faiths. But we have to be careful here. Political religion may well be eccentric rather than damaging. In no way does it automatically equate to violence or terrorism. I considered that part of the noble Lord's analysis unnecessarily bleak.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford asked what could be done to support the mainstream rather than the extremes in faith. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and my noble friend Lord limier of Braunstone that dialogue has to be the key to unlocking this problem. Religious leaders have a key role to play in developing greater understanding and mutual respect, particularly in those communities riven by violence and mistrust. Interfaith dialogue can, and does, promote real alternatives to violence. As the right reverend Prelate said, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in a fine speech, it can be a tremendous force for good in the world.
In January 2002 the Alexandria Declaration brought three of the world's great religions together to work for peace in the Middle East. Here I must commend the personal commitment of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey of Clifton, to the Alexandria Declaration and the process that followed it. With the Alexandria Declaration, senior Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders have committed themselves to work together to promote a peaceful settlement to the Israel/Palestinian conflict; to support calls for a cease-fire and an end to the violence; to oppose incitement, hatred and misrepresentation of others; to help create an atmosphere where present and future generations will live together in mutual respect and trust and to ensure followers of the three faiths respect the sanctity of the Holy Land, which is holy to us all.
The Alexandria process has the wholehearted support of Her Majesty's Government. As many of your Lordships made clear, including particularly the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hylton, the net goes far wider than the problems in the Middle East. I assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford that the Government are playing a full role in promoting interfaith dialogue at home and abroad and in particular helping to build links between communities in the United Kingdom and communities overseas. We are focusing on ways to encourage Muslims to speak out more in opposing the extremist minority or the violent fringe. We are associated with numerous groups and forums and are increasing our outreach to the Muslim community as a particular 268 priority. Ministers regularly meet with leading representatives of the Islamic community in this country and with influential religious and community leaders overseas to discuss matters of concern.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary recently visited South East Asia in the wake of the Bali bombing and spoke of the importance of promoting understanding between the West and the Islamic world. In Indonesia, which we discussed earlier this afternoon, and which a number of your Lordships visited last year, we have promoted interfaith dialogue. A delegation of UK Muslim councillors also visited that country to share their experiences. In addition, a number of UK visitors to Indonesia have undertaken speaking engagements with the influential moderate Muslim community. I thank the noble Baroness. Lady Cox, for all her valuable work as regards Indonesia and the Sudan.
We are reaching out through our parliamentarians to leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco and Tunisia. We have all remarked on the fact that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has been in the Gulf this week attending the interfaith conference hosted by the Emir of Qatar. That is another excellent example of the steps being undertaken by faith communities to build dialogue.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for reminding us about groups outside government in the established Church, which take their own initiatives to grow interfaith dialogue. I am grateful to him for his heartening description of what is happening in this respect in former Yugoslavia.
Much work is being undertaken in the Foreign Office to develop closer relationships with the Muslim community at home and abroad. I shall single out a few instances. Since 2000, we have supported and funded Hajj delegations. I remember well the valuable help that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, gave me in trying to set up that initiative. It involves a partnership between government and the Muslim community and has also been led by the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Blackburn. This year's delegation, which included eight medical staff, helped about 10 per cent of 15,000 British pilgrims. The noble Lord can take much credit for having been part of the trigger that got that going. We have also been running successful Islamic awareness training courses for our staff.
My noble friend Lord Ahmed spoke about what is happening in the United Kingdom. My honourable friend Mike O'Brien has planned a series of outreach visits to regional communities in the UK, and my noble friend Lord Filkin is undertaking a complementary programme as the Home Office Minister. I say gently to my noble friend Lord Judd that my noble friend Lord Filkin has worked assiduously on promoting that interfaith dialogue.
I shall write further to those noble Lords who I know are interested in these matters about the other work being undertaken. We are planning a seminar on faith and foreign policy as part of a multifaith week at the FCO. Planning is in its early stages but I should be 269 happy to talk to any noble Lord who wishes to be associated with that work about ways in which we are able to develop that in future.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, spoke about the current conflict in Iraq. One of the most frequently stated objections to the conflict is the claim that it will tend to fuel terrorism. I believe that there is an argument that the reverse is true. When one looks at the faces of the civilians in Basra, who are starting to believe that the time of oppression will soon be over, or at the faces of young soldiers who are surrendering to the coalition and who ask, "When will I be executed?" only to be given food, water and reassurance, one sees testaments to the fact that this conflict will not inflame terrorism but suffocate it.
I listened carefully to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who urged us to look critically at ourselves. He was absolutely right; disconcertingly, he quite often is. We as individuals must look constantly at our own attitudes. One of the points in which I place most hope is that of the tolerance of young people. They share friendships between races, cultures and faiths, and most of us could learn a great deal from that. That is not because they are set aside from their own culture, faith or race, but because they live in a world in which living together day by day comes far more naturally than it did to many of us when we were young. They have grown up in a multifaith, multicultural society in this country—in a United Kingdom in which we seek to involve and encourage political, religious, cultural and ethnic diversity. With all of the shortcomings that are so obvious in our society today, that tolerance and acceptance makes me feel much more optimistic about the future.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Oxford
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comprehensive reply to this debate and to all noble Lords who took part, especially, if I may say so, those who spoke out of their own deep commitment to interfaith dialogue of one kind or another.
It is a sad fact that so many Muslim societies and communities feel alienated in our world today, hostile to US power, disgusted by western lewdness, sometimes oppressed and, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed said—he was referring to Muslim communities in this country, and particularly to young people—resentful and marginalised. They feel, as the Minister said, excluded from the hope of a better future.
That, as we are all aware, is the breeding ground for terrorism. When those communities take religion seriously, as they do, when terrorists speak to that sense of alienation by offering an alternative better world that can come about only by destructive acts of violence, and when they can gain the allegiance of those alienated young people by a religious call to commitment to kill and be killed, we have a very serious situation indeed. Religion is being misused, as every noble Lord pointed out. However, we must face 270 the sad, brutal fact that misused religion is a powerful destructive force. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, put it, it is a rage against the established order and a rage against corrupted states; it is a creed for the discontented.
I am particularly grateful to those noble Lords who addressed this sense of exclusion and who are concerned to find ways of strengthening the moderate mainstream majority, thereby helping them to be valued, to know themselves to be valued and to be fully participating members of our society and the world as a whole. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.