Sayeeda Warsi: Britain must be a country where people can be proud of their religion

Published in the Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 28th October 2011

Earlier this year, people across the world were shocked and appalled when Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, was assassinated. I met him a week before he was murdered; last week, I saw his brother, Dr Paul Bhatti – a trained surgeon who has now become minorities adviser to the Pakistani prime minister, and helped set up a new Ministry of Harmony – and spoke to him about the plans Shahbaz and I had been discussing.

Back in March, when Shahbaz was murdered, I said that the soul of Pakistan was not in these attacks. There is nothing in the vision laid out by Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, that creates the space for such acts of hatred. The idea of unity through diversity runs through Pakistan’s history and helps to define its society today.

In the last 18 months, I have made four visits to Pakistan, and I have seen for myself the moments of hope among the tragedies. It is heartening, for example, that for the first time in Pakistan’s history, a number of seats are to be allocated for minorities in the senate.

But two things struck me that are as relevant to us as they are to Pakistan. First, it is a mistake to assume that you compromise your identity the more you try to understand others. The stronger your understanding of your neighbour, the stronger your own religious identity becomes. For many years, I have been saying that the stronger we are as a Christian nation, the more understanding we will be of other faiths. That is why, a year ago, I went to a bishops’ conference and said that this Government would “do God”. It is why the Pope’s visit was so important for our country. And it is why I am proud that this year, for the first time, the Prime Minister held an Easter reception in Downing Street.

We need to create a country in which people can be unashamedly proud of their faith – where they don’t feel that they have to leave religion at the door. That means being proud of Christianity, not downgrading it. It means encouraging people to say that their faith inspires what they do. It means supporting religious charities in delivering public services in schools, hospices and rehabilitation.