Religion, Violence and Sectarianism
Baroness Warsi is the first ever British Minister for Faith in a British government. She is also Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In both roles, at home and abroad, and with the strong support of the Prime Minister, she has made religious freedom a personal priority: promoting and protecting people’s right to hold a faith, manifest their faith, or indeed to change their faith.
She is known here in the Vatican from her visit in 2012 when she led the largest ever British ministerial delegation to the Vatican, and argued passionately at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy that Europe should be stronger in its Christian identity. That speech in 2012 was one of a series that she has given since 2010 on the place of religion in modern society. Earlier this week, Baroness Warsi delivered a further speech in the series, this time at the Sultan Grand Mosque in Muscat, arguing strongly for religious co-existence and tolerance, and against sectarianism.
In her speech, Baroness Warsi laid down a clear challenge to all those who use differences within a faith, or between religions, to generate sectarianism and violence. “Violent sectarianism isn’t just un-Islamic”, she argued, “but anti-Islamic. It is at odds with Islam’s principles and perspective and it jeopardises the future of Islam”. This reminded me of Pope Benedict’s words at Assisi in 2011: “[violence] is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction”. The obvious question is: are those who commit violence in the name of religion listening? The answer: probably not, but we can, with determination, close down their space for misusing religion for their own ends.
UK Ambassador to the Holy See