British Council: Baroness Warsi meets students at NYU

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim to serve in the British Cabinet, addressed NYU students recently on her life in politics and her domestic and international work.

In the NYU President’s Colloquial Room, overlooking Washington Square, Britain’s Senior Foreign Office Minister and most senior Asian politician engaged with students during an event organized by the Islamic Society at NYU, the British Council and the British Consulate in New York.

The second of five girls, born in a working class family in the north of England, Baroness Warsi explained that her father had always been supportive of her and wanted her to pursue her own dreams. She started her career as a solicitor, defending the rights of women victims of domestic violence and campaigning against racial bigotry. After spending time living in Pakistan, supporting a range of grassroots projects, she returned to Britain, determined to make a difference and help address the growing gap of understanding that divided the West and the “Muslim world.”

Students were keen to hear about how her background shaped her outlook on foreign policy. The Senior Minister explained that she was constantly reminded of the duality of her identities. Her goal is to convince all sides that multiple identities are not mutually exclusive. That is why there is, according to her, a role the government must play in engaging with faith communities and facilitating dialogue among people of all faiths and none, and as the country’s Minister for Faith and Communities, she has been at the forefront of driving this mission.

Baroness Warsi’s perspective on foreign policy was also shaped by her experiences as a Muslim. A frequent visitor to Bosnia-Herzegovina, it was the international community’s failures in Srebrenica that motivated her to back the campaign to defend civilians in Libya. Such action, she felt, was legitimate, as long as it was legal, had broad regional support, and ensured Libyan citizens had a seat at the table.

Asked about the UK’s relations with Pakistan, from where her parents originate, the Minister concluded that they had improved significantly over the past two years. The UK’s objective was to deepen its relations with the country and open up cultural relations – going beyond ministerial-level meetings in Islamabad and engaging with parties in places like Lahore and Karachi.