Religion, multiculturism and belonging

15/04/2004

Amidst the carnage of the aftermath of the Madrid bombing it is worth bearing this in mind about the religion of Islam: it is a religion which promotes tolerance, respect for others and values all human life. After all the terror attacks since 9/11 I’ve read that “Islamic terrorists” were responsible, but this makes no sense at all. Osama Bin Laden, the Madrid bombers and the suicide bombers of the Middle East are no more good Muslims than I am the man in the moon. Remember the Omagh bomb? Or the Manchester bomb? The people who carried out those atrocities are without doubt Catholics. I am a Catholic. Does this make me complicit in their guilt, or does it make them “Catholic bombers”. No, of course it doesn’t, not least because the New Testament, like the Holy Quran, is the antithesis of terrorism. As far as I can see, and I meet my fair share of people from a very wide cross section of all communities in Hyndburn, people of Asian heritage are at least at as appalled, if not more so, than the rest of the community at terrorism carried out wrongly in the name of their faith.

There has been a debate recently about whether people who come to live in our country should leave their culture behind and accept purely British values. But surely this polarised debate has got it wrong – there should be no dichotomy between embracing British values and cherishing one’s own background. I’m proud of where I come from and where my ancestors came from. I was born and bred in Hyndburn. One side of my family are Lancastrians since probably the year dot. Another part of my family is from Yorkshire with a bit of the west coast of Ireland thrown in for good measure. I support England at football but I quite like Ireland to do well too, just like millions of other Englishmen. Why should anyone be surprised at people whose ancestors come from Mirpur wanting Pakistan to do well at cricket? Tolerance is the greatest virtue of the English and perhaps now is a good time to be proud of it whilst at the same time remembering that we don’t have a monopoly on it. A while ago I visited one of the oldest Mosques in the world in Damascus; for centuries it had doubled up as a mosque on Fridays and a Christian church on Sundays. Inside it is the tomb of John the Baptist and it is venerated as a shrine by the Islamic faithful there. The respect for different cultures, religions, backgrounds was quite humbling. Maybe we could learn from it.

Greg Pope MP