Dr Altaf Hussain is the Shadow Minister for Social Services in Wales and a regional AM for South Wales West.
As we stand united with France against the evil that would seek to destroy our freedom in the most abominable way, our focus inevitably now shifts to what our next steps must be in the battle against the evil of ISIS. There will doubtless be much debate across all sections of society as to whether we can or should commit forces to the ground and, rightly, the question of how we safeguard our borders will arise. These are all vitally important decisions that our governments simply have to get right.
Recent events in Paris and Belgium serve to highlight that we can no longer see this as a distant conflict in a region far removed from our everyday lives: it is a war that is not only on our doorstep but that has become interwoven with the fabric of our way of life. This presents us with challenges not only in foreign policy, but with questions that arise immediately close to home and require an answer.
At the root of problem we face is the notion of ‘multiculturalism’. This idea has guided so much of our policy in recent decades – and it is quite simply the wrong approach. The idea of having communities that identify on the basis of race, colour or religious faith living side-by-side, yet never properly integrating with each other, is a recipe for discord. It creates conditions where a distorted world view – a world view that allows for murder in the name of God and one that is repugnant to true believers from all faiths – may find an ideal breeding ground.
When you keep people apart from each other as matter of policy, and encourage communities to develop in parallel whilst never fully integrating with each other, you encourage people not to get to know each other. When people do not know each other, it is less easy for them to trust and co-operate with each other. It is not too difficult to see how an evil mind can, from this starting point, ruthlessly exploit this set of affairs in setting about the task of corrupting young people and brainwashing them into a corrupted world outlook. When they are spurred to act on these corrupt teachings, you could almost say it is a cry for help – a cry that would be more easily heard in a community that did not, in many respects, cut itself off from broader society.
Let us be at no doubt that this outlook is anything but a total corruption of what Islam teaches. At the core of Islam is the notion of community – of living in harmony and integrating with our fellow man. The clear message within Islam is that leading a fulfilling life at the core of the community is part of God’s recipe for the perfect life. The Qur’an clearly states that God has sent prophets to all people in the world. The prophets not only bring a universal message of the love of God, but the ‘prophethood’ itself is universal in nature. No nation can claim to be superior or the “chosen one”, because a prophet was sent to all and each of them simultaneously as this honor. So, Islam teaches that this is a shared heritage of all mankind.
As Muslims, we must enunciate clearly that the Qu ‘ran carries an unambiguous message of unity. As Muslims, we must stress that part of being British is recognising we can have different beliefs, skin colour, habits – but believing that what unites us it greater than what would divide us. The saying that “whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world” – is common to the Talmud and the Qur’an. It is consistent with the teachings of Christianity, and indeed many strains of humanistic and non-theistic thought. This serves above all to emphasise our commonality as human beings. God is one – so is the human race.
Multiculturalism, by contrast, has emphasised our differences and suggests barriers must always exist to prevent us from integrating. Multiculturalism has run its course. We must focus all our efforts on encouraging integration between all religious, racial and cultural groups – celebrating our diversity and each person’s uniqueness – but removing the barriers which keep people apart.
There now comes a difficult conversation that we need to have, and one which people of all faiths and political colours have ducked out of for too long. The stakes are now too high to avoid this conversation any longer. We need to be brave in our approach and have this conversation urgently. The way to do this is to start talking – inspired by the courage of our convictions and belief in our shared humanity.