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Sayeeda Warsi has spoken to a Guardian conference on race equality this morning.  It’s a good speech and this is a particularly encouraging section:

"A key question is to what degree political parties should engage with
people and organisations who have extremist or separatist views.  My
view is clear.  Of course we should be willing to engage with
individuals and groups who don’t share our philosophy – including
disillusioned and alienated young men who are vulnerable to Al Qaeda.
But engagement doesn’t mean partnership. This Government clearly
believes in partnership with national organisations that claim to
represent communities. This is wrong – firstly because it’s patronising
to suggest that diverse communities can be represented by single
homogenous groups. It suggests that individuals – particularly women –
within those communities aren’t capable of representing themselves.
And this approach is wrong because some such groups often hold
ambiguous views on cohesion and integration. And as a responsible
government, engagement must involve what diplomats call ‘a robust
exchange of views’, in which the Government asserts without apology or
concession, that the attitudes of certain groups are hindering a
cohesive Britain.  The next Conservative Government will take instead a
fresh, new and more localist approach – listening to individual voices
and ideas, particularly from women and young people, and devolving
power through local government to the grassroots."

That is critical.  We should be open to dialogue with nearly all groups within Britain but extremist groups – often highly unrepresentative – should not have a special place in government consultation mechanisms and should not receive public funding.

Listed below are other key highlights from her speech.  Download a PDF of Sayeeda Warsi’s full remarks.

On her mission to free Gillian Gibbons: "I hope that as Muslims and as Parliamentarians in a democracy, we helped represent to the Sudanese government and people a very simple and very important principle.  That you can be a Muslim and believe in democracy and the rule of law. We wanted, in a small way, to show the people of Sudan that Muslim politicians can have different values to those responsible, for instance, for what is happening in Darfur."  This is the one disappointment of the speech.  There could, and should, have been much stronger criticism of the Khartoum regime.

Islam and democracy: "None of the world’s religions – not Judaism or
Christianity or Islam, not Hinduism or Sikhism or Confucianism – none
of the world’s religions are incompatible with democracy, unless they
choose to make themselves so.  A religion can make itself incompatible
with democracy in two ways – either by demanding the exclusion of other
cultures from the public space, or by voluntarily excluding itself from
the public space."

We must be proud of Britain’s religious
diversity:
"It distresses me when I see a minority of people who claim
to represent my own faith, Islam, arguing that Britain should be an
Islamic state, either wholly or partly, or those who support opting-out
of British law rather than demanding equal treatment under the law.
When Nazir Ahmed and I went to Sudan last week we were proud to do so
as members of a House of Parliament which has bishops and the Chief
Rabbi as fellow members. We do not want to belong to a political system
which only gives room to one faith – even if that faith is our own."

Some cultural practices are wrongly being given religious meaning:
"There are people in Saudi Arabia who say women driving cars is
unIslamic. In Somalia some say Muslim girls should be circumcised.
That’s not the Islam I know.  But there are ideas we get here in
Britain which are just as wrong.  Take forced marriages. Islam is
unambiguous in its condemnation of forced marriage – it’s not a
religious requirement, it’s a cultural outrage and Muslims reject it.
Or take honour killings, I even find this label offensive because there
is nothing honourable about these murders and perpetrators of such
crimes should not be allowed to hide behind any faith."

The veil issue: "If a woman wants to wear the face veil in her
private life she should be free to do so. But she should be free to do
so, as she is free to wear any other dress she feels appropriate. No
one has a right to insist that she should wear the veil in her private
life – just as no-one has a right to insist she should not.  And of
course schools must be allowed to set their own rules on dress. And of
course security or health and safety can mean it’s necessary to ask a
woman to remove a face veil, provided it’s done sensitively – for
example by a woman in a private space. And we shouldn’t be scared to
say this."

A way forward for community relations: "First,
cohesion must be local: problems and solutions are found in local
circumstances, as much as in far-away national and international
events.  Second, cohesion requires understanding: because what is
perfectly innocent in one context – a teddy bear in a classroom, for
instance – can cause offence in another. There can be no special
pleading for different groups, and of course tolerance means learning
to live with people and opinions you don’t like – but for tolerance to
work, there must be real sensitivity to how different groups see the
world, and to how we use language.  And third, cohesion requires
responsibility, and discernment: because there will always be
hardliners or one sort or another, the sort of people for whom
compromise and empathy and understanding are signs of weakness not
signs of strength."

Brown is wrong on multiculturalism: "Multiculturalism has been
manipulated to entrench the right to difference, a divisive concept, at
the expense of the right to equal treatment despite difference, a
unifying concept.  And the fact that cohesion is local, means Labour
get it wrong when they go in the other direction too. After years of
promoting top-down multiculturalism, Gordon Brown is now promoting
top-down unity.  Of course, localism has to be in the context of a
national consciousness – and that’s why I want us to reverse the failed
state multicultural approach and ensure there is sufficient English
language teaching for new arrivals, and proper teaching of English
history for our children so that they have a deep understanding of our
great institutions and how they came to be as they are."

30 comments for: Warsi makes first big speech on community cohesion

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