How often have you been warned not to mention politics or religion, when you meet people in the pub or invite them to your home for dinner?
Discussions on politics or religion were felt to be high risk, leading to potential conflict. Combining the two could be explosive, as we have learned to our cost in the international arena. Everyone knows of the horrific conflicts which rage periodically around the world and the frequent atrocities that always accompany them and can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of the abusive mixing of religion and politics.
As a Member of the European Parliament, I was President of the EU’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq. I had to visit that beleaguered country many times and watched in horror the aftermath of the Gulf War, when ISIS seized control of more than a third of Iraq and their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared an Islamic caliphate in a sermon from the central mosque in Mosul, claiming to revive the Muslim theocracy that ended with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Al-Baghdadi transformed the flagging Sunni insurgency into a black-clad global terrorist network that drew recruits from more than 100 countries. His followers quickly overran vast areas of Syria and Iraq, imposing their barbaric interpretation of Sharia law on the beleaguered population. The defeat of ISIS left in its wake the almost total destruction of Mosul, Fallujah and many of Iraq’s age-old settlements. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis lost their lives.
It was the horror of these conflicts that motivated me to join Salam’s bid to create an international treaty aimed at introducing clear rules to ban all political uses of religion that undermine human equality, all religious exclusion and all restrictions to freedom of belief and worship. The abusive mixing of politics and religion lies at the heart of the most intractable conflicts worldwide. Sadly, some of the worst political abuses of religion today are carried out in the name of Islam. But you don’t have to turn the pages of history very far to find similar conflicts involving almost every religion on earth. Mixing politics and religion will always lead to the same disastrous results.
Our campaign has accelerated exponentially since its launch two years ago. BPUR International’s advisory council now boasts prominent elected parliamentarians, ministers, senior politicians and religious figures, as well as key decision-makers and business people from countries that range from Bangladesh to Ecuador. All are determined to achieve a UN treaty that bans all political uses of religion. But they also want a treaty that bans all restrictions to freedom of belief and worship, to ensure that the rules will apply to all violations and will bypass any clashes with the deeply engraved religious teachings that many people have. BPUR International believes that their non-confrontational approach, grounded in the utmost respect for all religions, will build a global consensus to help the international community disarm extremism and deal with current and future conflicts. In my view, the BPUR International treaty is long overdue.