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Britons need to eliminate bias and bigotry: Mactaggart

The Home Office Minister, while lauding Britain's multiculturalism, said people need to undermine religious fundamentalism.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2003 23:18 IST
UK Bureau
UK Bureau

The British Government's duty to all its citizens is to give them the freedom to practise their own faith and it is neither the Government's role nor intention to dictate British people how and when they should express their religious affiliation, but people need to undermine religious fundamentalism, said Home Office Minister Fiona Mactaggart.

Speaking at an Eid celebration in London, Mactaggart praised Britain's support for religious freedom and said: "In Britain we have a proud tradition of supporting free speech and allowing people to follow their own beliefs. The British way is to support religious freedom. It is tolerant and adaptable. Britishness today is not homogeneous. It is evolving and is as rich as the different people in Britain. British Muslims have consistently shown how it is possible to be British, Muslim and proud.

"Throughout the country, Muslims, with their strong commitment to community development, and with enterprise and dedication, are playing a vital role in building a strong and vibrant society."

She pointed towards France's recent decision to ban head scarves in schools and said: "There has been a long running controversy in France both within the state education system and nationally about symbols and the role of faith in a secular society. This is a debate we had a long time ago, and with our very different traditions and with sensitivity displayed by all faiths, we have been able to find within our own culture a way of celebrating diversity without controversy."

In Britain women are free to wear the hijab in public or in a school. "That diversity is something that as a government we value and why we are developing work on inter-faith dialogue and the importance of understanding of each others cultures and respect for one another's traditions and values."

She said that Britons need to eliminate discrimination and bigotry and work to undermine religious fundamentalists. "I respect the faith of others and understand that many people of faith hold firmly to all the fundamentals of their faiths and would therefore see themselves as 'fundamentalists'. But we need to distinguish between such people - the vast majority - and the small number
of those whose misinterpretation of such faith leads them into extremism, intolerance and therefore into beliefs and action which are unacceptable to all faiths.

"The fact that extremism seeks to exploit religion and increase alienation in communities is of concern to us all. We must all work together to undermine the efforts of extremists because they harm all society, not just the minority groups they target or claim to represent."

First Published: Dec 24, 2003 21:35 IST