Monday, April 7, 2008

And as the Sikh broadcaster said.......

"Forget the bottled water and go straight to the well". These words of Pope Benedict suggest that we shouldn't place too much store on distilled and often skewed religious writing and preaching, but should go back to the source teachings.

His advice was quoted at a Vatican Education Conference last week on the need for greater dialogue with those of different faiths to which I had been invited. The quote struck an immediate responsive chord. A number of the learned contributions seemed to me, to miss the declared aim of the conference of understanding, and rejoicing in what different communities hold in common and respecting and reconciling areas of difference. Despite this, the conference did show people in Europe are becoming increasingly alert to the challenges of living together with different cultures.

In Britain, we rightly pride ourselves on our progress in understanding and respecting the communities around us. But, in my view, and that of some other minority faiths, since 9/11 and the London bombings, we seem to have lost our sense of focus. Concerns over the activities of a small core of Muslim extremists, and an understandable wish not to offend the Muslim majority have pushed the need to understand our different faiths and cultures to the back burner. Earlier initiatives on greater understanding have given way to new thinking, based on the questionable premise that all faith communities are isolated, and there is an underlying need, in the jargon of the day, to build bridges and connect communities. Bridges from where to where? The Sikh community, for example, gets on fine with those of other faiths or none, and this year celebrates the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first gurdwara in Britain in London's Shepherd's Bush.

What worries me about this political and academic manoeuvring to curb extremist activity in one religious community is the implicit suggestion that similar problems exist in all minority faiths. It's true that religion can be manipulated and packaged with dangerous rhetoric, but, as Pope Benedict observed, the best way to counter this is to go back to source teachings. The Sermon on the Mount or Sikh teachings on equality and justice, and similar teachings in other faiths, cannot be open to misunderstanding - and focussing on these and other values we hold in common is, in my view, a sure way to true community cohesion."

Indarjit Singh, BBC Radio 4, 1st April 2008: "Thought for the Day."