Address to Interfaith Seminar Hosted by the British Sikh Association

Lord Hylton

My experience over more than 30 years in Northern Ireland convinces me that finding our common humanity is the key to peace.  As they say, blood is the same colour whatever your race of creed.  Personal or group identity is, however, highly important for most people.  We have seen this very clearly in the conflicts that have followed the break-up of the Ottoman, Russian/Soviet and British Empires.  Artificial successor states such as Jugoslavia, or Iraq, and now Syria, have proved unstable, except when controlled by “strong-men”, such as Tito, Saddam Hussein, or  the Assad family.  Today’s young generation is NOT keen on strong men. 

 Religion is an obvious component of identity.  The faith that underlies religion is a strong motivator of behaviour.  Let’s take the case of Ireland.  This was Britain’s first colony.  The Reformation in England and Scotland meant that the ruling class in Ireland came to have different religious views from the majority of the indigenous population.  When the Rulers behaved oppressively, this was deeply resented, and accounts for the strength of the Nationalist and Republican movements.  Successive rebellions and uprisings, sometimes with foreign support, led to Partition in 1922.  This left a catholic minority in Northern Ireland still resenting discrimination at the hands of the protestant and unionist majority.

 The result was violence from 1969 until the Belfast Agreement of 1999, with terrorism used by both sides and barely contained by the police and British army.  Northern Ireland remains deeply divided, in spite of full devolution, as we have seen from riots this summer.

 Majority-minority relations, linked to perceptions of identity, are a current political problem in many parts of Europe, for example England, France, Spain and Bosnia.  In Iraq, Shia/Sunni tensions cause very serious difficulties.  In Syria the small Alevi minority has long held power, and no-one knows what may happen if this control is removed.

 I suggest that the great monotheistic religions can all make valuable contributions to solving majority-minority issues.  To do so they will need to develop and to apply their understandings of forgiveness.  These understandings are not the same, but they can all help to heal grievances and strongly-felt injustices.  The aim of forgiveness should always be the common good of the whole society, which needs to live together.  Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and others can all contribute to the politics of forgiveness, even if people working in a purely secular context do not always appreciate this.

 We have heard today from “Faith Matters, and they have done good practical work on relations between religions in Britain.  Inter-Faith Dialogue is certainly very important, but good communication between strands of the same faith traditions, can be just as much needed, as we have seen from Northern Ireland and Iraq.  In the latter, Canon Andrew White, an Anglican based in Baghdad, has done much work with the senior Shia and Sunni leaders, ever since the fall of Saddam.  This has led, for example, to joint fatwas against suicide bombing and for the protection of all Iraqi minorities.

 The Gulen Movement, which arose in Turkey, in an Islamic context, is also well worth examining.  It has spread outside Turkey, always in a way that respects other religious traditions.  It has developed schools and even universities in several countries, but always in ways that fit in with the local education system.

 I should like to conclude by mentioning two charities with which I am involved.  “Forward Thinking” arose from Christian inspiration.  In England it works through Muslims for better relations between the many local Muslim communities and their neighbours, especially the national and local institutions.  In Israel and Palestine, Forward Thinking has formed close links with the political and religious extremes on both sides.  These are the people who have often been excluded from negotiations, and who have the potential to upset any agreement that might be reached.  These two programmes, though apparently very different, are in fact mutually reinforcing. 

 They are backed by a third international network, called the Nyon Process, after the town in Switzerland, where it first met.  This brings together Sunni and Shia leaders, with Christian Evangelicals and secular representatives.  The events of this year’s Arab Spring have made these connections even more important, and Forward Thinking is proud to provide the secretariat.

 Last of all, I mention the Ammerdown Centre, in Somerset, near Bath.  This Christian ecumenical conference and retreat centre, began in the early 1970s , near my home.  It was concerned with personal and corporate renewal, but soon included Christian-Jewish dialogue.  This has broadened to bring in other faiths and every second year it organizes a Jewish/Christian/Muslim Summer School, probably the only one in England.  There are plans for further work with the rising generation of young English Muslims.  I would like to invite you all to sample the special environment and warm welcome, that Ammerdown seeks to provide.  Individual visits are possible, as well as group courses and event.

 We live in a world that is becoming daily more globally connected.  It faces acute problems to do  with majorities and minorities.  Mutual respect, non-violence and forgiveness are therefore urgently needed.  These, coupled with dialogue between and within the faiths, will take us to the essential heart of our common humanity.

 Lord Hylton/July 2011

6 comments for “Address to Interfaith Seminar Hosted by the British Sikh Association

  1. Gareth Howell
    05/08/2011 at 8:18 pm

    Such a courteous invitation noble and often wise Lord!

    Just to give a different take on the history of Ireland, (and the politics which can be so very,very tedious)The Cambro Norman Invasion of Ireland in the 12thC, colonised Kilkenny, in such a way that all those people called Howell became known as Welshies or Walshes, thus all Howell people knowing, to this day, that they are cousins of the Welshes, and vice versa.

    Cromwell’s invasion took a distinctly similar path and sacked those places with deeply rooted connections to Howell, Hayles’ castle being notable in that way.

    I am fairly certain that much of the Welsh Howell population of today in Wales, is non conformist (not CofE)but I have not succeeded in doing further research in Kilkenny to determine the religious basis of the lives of
    the Walshes, and shall almost certainly not do so.

    Religion makes a nonsense of kinship in that instance.

    But what of religion and race?
    The theory is often given that “nationality”,
    in the rugby playing sense, also determines
    biological-genetic status as well.

    Race is, in my horticultural language, not cladistic, but merely to do with species.
    Darwin said it, at a crucial time in the
    understanding of the natural world and it history,and I accept it.

    Race means variety, ie SUB-species, cultivar, hybrid. In gardening there are crosses but that is not a helpful analogy).
    Some people call “race” … “strain”.

    My own influences have been Hindu in many ways through, Krishna Murthi and the Theosophists, but the evolving Yogic influences on so many Brits, which is prosleytizing, is one that I happen to enjoy, and value as therapeutic.

    Here I am listening to Mahler’s second, a Christian convert, and I, having given great thought over the last few years to the roman catholic principles of Benedict, with whom I totally concur, without being a catholic!

    Islam has a lot to offer in its unitarian way of thought. Freud would not make much progress in the world of Islam.

    I was threatened recently outside the CofE
    Cathedral near New Street in Birmingham, by a
    Mullah of callow age, and insulting behaviour, and it gave me cause to wonder at the marginalization of the more deeply rooted population of these islands in favour of
    people just from….. anywhere.

    Send me the details and I will come over on the Heart of Wessex line.

  2. MilesJSD
    08/08/2011 at 1:04 am

    “finding our common humanity is the key to peace”

    surely finding a sustain-worthy model, and practical equation, for eking out this Earth’s resources is the key to finding our common humanity and survival thereof ?


  3. Senex
    08/08/2011 at 2:19 pm

    The practice of early Christian churches to be established upon the sites of pagan temples is one that has taken place world over, except that is, in Delphi. The practice it seems is shared by both Christianity and Islam. Vatican Hill too has its association with pagan temples especially that of the Temple of Magna Mater.

    Most recently in Lahore the Sikh Naulakha Bazaar Temple has been re-designated as a Mosque by the authorities. The most famous Islamic conversion is the Greek Patriarchal Cathedral of Constantinople later a Mosque and now a Museum in Istanbul. Can a museum be regarded as a secular church?

    If humanity was to be regarded as ‘me’ then Lord Hylton’s post is all about me, me, and me. Buried beneath monotheism is a sacred respect for the earth with all of its complexity and diversity. If a faithful man was ever to forget that which his faith is built upon then the foundation of men’s faith will crumble and the weight of his neglect will bring down his world with him.

    Ref: Sikh community in Lahore prevented from celebrating Martyr-day
    Pyramid shrine to the god Huitzilopochtli

  4. eureka
    10/08/2011 at 11:47 am

    Thank you for your great work.

    Hope the idea will spread out to more places:
    Why education matters for global security, Irina Bokova(Director General, UNESCO), 1 March 2011:
    ‘’ Education must rise on the agenda of peace building. We know the wrong type of education can fuel conflict. The use of education systems to foster hatred has contributed to the underlying causes of conflicts, from Rwanda to Sri Lanka, but also in Guatemala and Sudan.’’

  5. johnrdkidd
    19/09/2011 at 9:21 pm

    THE ULTIMATE TRAGEDY for America and for Democracy.

    If President Barack Obama refuses to crumble under the extreme pressure from the American Israel lobby and the Likud prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and REFUSES TO VETO the recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN Security Council, it could prove to be the single most important act of his presidency.

    Otherwise, two events are very likely: a nuclear war in the Middle East and the transformation of the US into a declining world power in the grip of an unelected pressure group that decides American foreign policy. That would be the ultimate tragedy for America and for democracy.

  6. MilesJSD
    22/09/2011 at 1:48 am

    Thursday 22 Sep 2011 USA and France are pushing Israel and the stateless Palestinians to “accept the compromise that is on the Table”,

    which will still fail to meet the immediate and the longest-term Needs & Affordable-Hows of those two Parties and of the rest of the world.

    Palestine was the basic name for Jordan, also known in 1947 as Transjordan, a huge largely unoccupied land area needing to be worked and developed; but once the Israelis showed their business acumen and how they could make fast infrastructure development within their small neighbouring State’s tiny land-area the Arabs, including the Jordan-Palestinians, quickly infiltrated Israel’s new successes, preying upon it and still ongoingly both covertly and overtly avowing to “kill all Israelis”.

    Those Palestinian Arabs had their chance of a separate statehood, but they themselves and other Arab states decided against it, and withdrew from contact with the Israelis.

    Now they occupy two internally large and vital land-areas within the State of Israel, namely the West Bank, and the Gaza strip; and are still hotly intent upon killing-off all Israelis and taking-over the State of Israel, and renaming it all as their new State of Palestine, totally Arab dominated.

    (Melanie Phillips has reported much better than my above, in cold sober and historical detail, in “The World Turned Upside Down”).

    Why are no two parties trying to make the peaceful and friendly win-win-win Method III work ?

    The Whole World of Peoples should urgently be informed of the lose-lose nature of Compromise.
    The International Conflict Resolution Network’s professional training workshop includes the following graphic example of the serious losses incurred by compromise simplhy because it is a “quicker fix” than win-win-win Method III cooperative problem-solving:

    A family’s two children hurry to the kitchen to prepare their respective lunch boxes in time to catch the school-bus, but therfe is only one orange and each say they want it.
    “We must compromise, cut it in half”, which in haste they do, both at least half “satisfied”.
    That evening one parent asks “What was the upset in the kitchen this morning ?”
    “Only one orange – so we compromised and cut it in half”.
    Mother then says to the girl “It was your cookery day”
    “Yes, I needed the zest for sauce we had to make”
    Father says to the boy “Did you have cookery ?” “No, Dad, I wanted the orange for my lunch”…

    If only they had taken the time to do a Method III to recognise their respective needs and hows, the girl could have taken the skin and the boy the internal flesh: thereby would all other lesser-involved but affected parties not present at the problem-solving meeting.

    A similar family was travelling on a road when suddenly they were noisily overtaken by a high-speeding car
    “Quick Dad, after him !” cried the children in the back.
    “He must be very short of time” said Mother;
    and Dad kept going steadily whilst the children slouched back and sulked;

    until whilst rounding a sharp corner they espied that same speeding car, now crashed into a huge tree just off the road.
    “Cor!” say the children.

    Dad says quietly “He’s got plenty of time now”.
    Lord Hylton, why are all the possible conflict resolution facilitators and mediators, and the United Nations itself, failing to complete the Method III win-win-win cooperative problem solving’s five simple steps, it appears at any level, other than because of the fatuous excuse “There isn’t time” ?

    Why is Win-Win-Win methodology not working ?

    Compromise is surely only going to slide all of us into further, and more and more band-aids, and soon again states of emergency, and attritional warfare ?

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