Don Foster writes: A powerful meeting where all faiths spoke with one voice

Nick Clegg at inter faith event.Today I attended an interfaith meeting, chaired by Nick Clegg and attended by representatives of the other political parties, following the terrible events in Woolwich on Wednesday where soldier Lee Rigby was brutally murdered. The event was incredibly positive, with representatives of many faiths coming together to denounce the attack, condemn those who bring terrorism to our streets, and agree that we have to stand together in the face of it.

I’ll warn you up front that I’m not going to use this post to make political points, because this is beyond politics. And, as today’s event showed, it’s beyond religion too. One of the most compelling phrases I heard at the event, which both Nick and others used, was: “terrorism has no religion”.  Certainly some terrorists claim to be acting in the name of a religion, but no religion condones terrorist acts such as the one on Wednesday.

Hearing people from all faiths speak with one voice to reject the attack and agree that this brutal act is nothing to do with Islam or with any other religion, was incredibly powerful. And it makes it all the worse that there has already been a reported increase in Islamophobic incidents since Wednesday, including graffiti and vandalism at mosques and a number of Muslims, including children, being abused in the street. We cannot let this happen. The people who carried out the attack used their political and religious justification to mask what is basic brutality. As one of the other speakers, Canon Guy Wilson from the London Faiths Forum said, we should see each other first as human beings and neighbours. We cannot condone grouping people together by religion and holding the many responsible for the acts of the few who are using a peaceful religion for their own ends.

At the meeting of community leaders beforehand, many of the participants told us how important interfaith dialogue and interfaith community action are and how important it is that governments past and present have worked and continue to work to encourage and promote this. I hope to be able to announce something further in this area in the very near future.

Another very positive phrase to come out of this terrible episode, and one which all those who might think of undertaking violent acts should think about, is what a bystander said to one of the attackers in Woolwich: “You’re going to lose. It’s only you versus many.”

* Don Foster is MP for Bath, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Coalition Deputy Chief Whip.

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  • The problem with “You’re going to lose. It’s only you versus many.”, is this equally applies to our soldiers serving in Afghanistan, who conveniently die away from the cameraphones. If you want our troops to defend the UK, bring them home to the UK.

  • Helen Tedcastle 24th May '13 - 11:10pm

    Don Foster : “… many of the participants told us how important interfaith dialogue and interfaith community action are and how important it is that governments past and present have worked and continue to work to encourage and promote this.”

    Interfaith and inter – religious dialogue is essential to bring about and sustain community cohesion and most importantly understanding of other religions in this country.

    This is why I am particulary sad and disaapointed that a member of this Government, Michael Gove, removed from the criteria for Ofsted’s inspection fo schools in 2010, the contribution of schools towards community cohesion – this was one of his first acts as Secretary of State – no one stopped him.

    One of the other actions he took early on in 2010, was to omit Religious Studies GCSE ( the study of knowledge and understanding of religion (s)) from the Humanities section of the EBacc) – he could have included it alongside History and Geography as an option but he decided against for spurious reasons. The omission has resulted in RE teachers being made redundant or redeployed; curriculum time for the subject being cut; the GCSE being cut and he has cut the bursaries for the training of specialists in RE. The result, not surprisingly, less pupils are being taught the subject in any depth, if at all. In the long term, we may end up with a generation ignorant about religions.

    If Nick and Liberal Democrats in Government are serious about improving religious literacy, and knowledge/ understanding between communities – why not start with education – and restore the status of RE before more children leave school religiously illiterate.

  • Helen Dudden 25th May '13 - 10:28am

    I will add one comment , I met someone very recently that questioned the subject of Kosher food. I happen to eat vegetarian and eat very little meat. I find eating meat, not something I wish to do.

    Of course ,the lack of understanding that I believe is my way of living. I feel that religion is blamed, it was not religion that killed that brave soldier, it was a situation that is not what it should have been, I make no further comments.

    Most of us except that we are what we are, and I feel having attended interfaith meetings myself, I have no problems with the faiths others.

    My sympathy goes to that brave soldier and the family he leaves behind. To the very brave women who by their actions did prevented further problems on that day.

  • Melanie Harvey 26th May '13 - 11:59am

    This government “terrorism” certainly required no faith in order to distress and kill a vulnerable victim, one amongst many as I understand who met with a similar fate. Where was the compassion when these barbaric acts were carried out against the poor and vulnerable?..

  • Russell Brand has (surprisingly?) written one of the most heartfelt and insightful articles I have read on this issue:

    Including “What I think is that all over our country, all over our planet there are huge numbers of people who feel alienated and sometimes victimised by the privileged and the powerful, whether that’s rich people, powerful corporations or occupying nations. They feel that their interests are not being represented and, in many cases, know that their friends and families are being murdered ..”

    Which applies equally well to the riots here in the UK, in Sweden (with its new right-wing government), Melanie Harvey’s comment above, and this incident.

  • Helen Dudden 26th May '13 - 5:18pm

    Unless, the extremists within our country and abroad are able to be monitored, and have their whereabouts known, then we are open to the problems of t what happened.

    I agree with freedom, but at what price? Being narrow minded about the capabilities of these people will not protect our country or those who live in it.

    My statement too is not political,, being narrow minded, and not excepting there is danger will not get us very far.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '13 - 1:04am

    no religion condones terrorist acts such as the one on Wednesday

    Yes, and no religion condones paedophilia either.

    So next time a Catholic priest is caught kiddy-fiddling, can we expect the great and good to come flocking saying what a wonderful thing the Catholic Church is, and how any child abuse in its ranks is just evil people who are nothing to do with the Church?

  • Seriously Matthew, are you are really using this issue to try that point:

    1=You are ignoring that this is a completely different situation because here we have rogues attacking completely independently of the main religious intuitions, who have quickly and openly damned these actions, whereas the incidents you mention were / possibly still are carried out by official agents of the Church,who not only did not denounce their actions, but actively helped to cover them up, so no, no one is going to say that the Catholic Church is great until it sorts itself out.

    2=Catholics were not being attacked in UK streets over those actions.

    3=It is just sick and wrong of you to use such events for your own purposes. I normally respect you and your opinion, but here you have made a very low comment.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '13 - 9:49am


    My concern here is twofold:

    1) Double standards – I will elaborate further, but it does seem to me that the double standards over the way the social elite in this country treat Islam as opposed to Christianity, leads to resentment amongst many.

    2) Problems within Islam – I think there are problems right now within the world Islamic community, very big ones, which it needs to tackle. I quite agree that Islam does not have to be interpreted in a violent and intolerant manner, indeed one can find plenty of quotations from its scripture and traditions which oppose such things. However, it seems to me that Islam at the moment is not doing enough worldwide to promote this way of thought, and yes it does deserve to be criticised for that.

    On the double standards, who is an “official agent” of Islam? It doesn’t have such a thing because it doesn’t have a centralised organisation. However, we know there are Muslim religious leaders who preach violence, and many others who while not preaching violence cover up and excuse those who do. There is also an organisational culture which allows this to happen. So it seems to me there is more of a parallel than you are willing to admit. You say “no one is going to say that the Catholic Church is great until it sorts itself out”, well fine, but why don’t you say the same about Islam? You jump to the worst possible assumptions about Catholicism, assuming it is doing nothing to sort out this problem and suggesting it should be regarded with contempt until it does, but you jump to the best possible assumption about Islam, assuming that when it says “this is not what Islam teaches”, that is all it needs to do, and we should regard as just prejudice any criticism of it after that for not doing enough to root out those who claim allegiance to it and who interpret it violently.

    You say that Catholics are not being attacked in UK streets, but did you know that now most priests do not wear clerical outfit when they leave their churches because of fear of being attacked?

    I actually do wish well of Islam, and I am very sorry to see the poor state it is in worldwide now, in terms of narrowness of thinking, and over-dominance by simplistic sola scriptura types. It doesn’t have to be like this, and it wasn’t historically. However, I think continually excusing it and allowing it to play the victim game isn’t helping the sort of development it needs to get out of this rut.

  • Helen Dudden 28th May '13 - 2:53pm

    Until there is a better understanding of what we wish to achieve within society, things will never change. Misunderstandings, lack of knowledge, comments that are hurtful to others, within the subject of what they believe.

    I found it very negative the comments about food laws, I like vegetarian food, but if I did eat other than this, I would restrict, and obey what is taught.

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