5 September 2014
As a result of experiencing the horrors of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, my mother brought me up to hate Hindus and Indians. It was only seeing the jingoism of the Pakistani press in the 1965 war with India, and then getting to know some Hindu friends at school, that led me to grow out of this.
Ever since, I have believed in standing up for whichever party to a dispute I believe to be in the right, rather than automatically coming down in support of "my own side" based upon criteria such as ethnicity or religion.
I have been conscious of how much the recent Gaza conflict has damaged relations between Muslims and Jews in Britain, and also led to tensions within the communities as dissident voices come under pressure to remain silent. Accordingly I made this the theme for my twenty first "Thought for the Week" given on BBC Radio Manchester last Sunday.
The text is reproduced below.
Britain today is one of the most diverse countries in the world. There are many benefits, to our economy, to our culture and especially to the range of our food!
However there are some drawbacks, especially when there is conflict overseas. Whenever there is a conflict almost anywhere in the world, you can find communities in the UK which are on opposite sides.
In recent weeks, the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has been filling the news. Whenever there is conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, relations between Muslims and Jews here in the UK get worse.
That is why I was very pleased to see last week’s joint statement from the Muslim Council of Britain and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In it they say: “In spite of the situation in the Middle East, we must continue to work hard for good community relations in the UK. We must not import conflict. We must export peace instead.”
However conflicts of this kind don’t just damage relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities. They also damage relations inside the communities. During conflicts, there is enormous pressure to “stand up for your own side.” People become very tribal.
Many Muslims have harangued me for not criticising Israel. Not one has called upon me to criticise Hamas, which is something I have actually done. Similarly Jewish people who are critical of Israel have faced insults and abuse from other Jews.
The great prophets of the Old Testament, such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were fearless in condemning their own people when they were in the wrong, for example when they oppressed foreigners.
In the Quran, God makes the same point, in Chapter 4 verse 135:
“O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk.”
[Muhammad Asad translation]
We should always say what we believe is right, instead of blindly standing up for our own side.