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Faith communities have a vital role to play in civil renewal and promoting ...
Faith communities have a vital role to play in civil renewal and promoting

active citizenship, the home secretary, David Blunkett, will say today.

The home secretary will praise faith communities' engagement with the wider

society through community projects, opening their facilities to local people

and providing community leadership. Faith groups' social networks and

influence can encourage citizens to make their views heard in the political

process, he will say.

Speaking ahead of delivering the Heslington lecture at York University tonight, Mr Blunkett said: 'Faith can be the building blocks and the glue of community.

It plays a vital role in people's lives - even for those of us who are not

overtly religious. All of us, our basic values, our sense of right and

wrong, are shaped by our community and its religious heritage.

'Understanding the role faith plays in people's lives is

vital to community cohesion and good race relations. Many faith groups reach

out to the wider community, providing facilities, undertaking practical

projects and harnessing their deep commitment and drive to improve

everyone's lives.

'Of course, while we want people to gain strength and

contribute, we have to recognise that there are risks in channelling this

through faith. When we want people both to participate in the political

process through their faith community, but to be part of and active beyond

it - and sometimes despite it - this is the real challenge.

'The challenge for faith communities is to develop the

skills and confidence of their members to play an active role in civil

society - speaking and acting not just on behalf of their faith, but on

behalf of the local community as a whole.

'The 11 September placed the debate in the wrong context -

but it focused all of us on disentangling religious commitment from the kind

of religious 'fundamentalism' which can lead to extremism. We have to

understand what is happening in a world where young men and women can be

enjoined by their religious leaders to take their own lives and those of

others as suicide bombers. We are not completely untouched by these trends

in the UK.

'It is a worrying trend that young, second-generation

British Muslims are more likely than their parents to feel they have to

choose between feeling part of the UK and feeling part of their faith - when

in fact they should feel part of wider, overlapping communities. The issue

here is identity: whether people identify with the actual world in which

they live, or with another world they are taught about, which offers the

absolute certainties which day-to-day interaction can never do.

'We need to join those within faith communities who are

trying to resist this tendency, working together to isolate extremism.

Otherwise there is a real risk that instead of religion helping to build

civic society and a sense of belonging among those who might otherwise

become alienated, religion could actually increase that alienation.

'I am not trying to impose a new duty on faith groups to

engage with the formal political arena. I simply want all of us to recognise

that in a increasingly complex, connected world we all share the challenge

to find solutions to our common problems.'

The Home Secretary will deliver the Heslington lecture at Central Hall, University of York, at 17:30 on 30 October 2003.

2. The Heslington lecture is a public lecture which has taken place

annually at the University of York since the University was founded in the

1960s. Its purpose is to examine an aspect of the place of religion in the

modern world. Since the first lecture in 1965 it has attracted many eminent

speakers. While speakers have been drawn from other faiths, they and their

lectures have mostly been of a Christian tendency and this lecture was the

first to directly address faith diversity. Previous speakers include Paul

Boate ng MP (1996) and Baroness Warnock (2002).

3. A high-level steering group taking forward the review of the

government's interface with faith communities was set up this year to look

at ways of giving faith groups an input into policymaking and delivery. It

is due to report in December.

4. Fiona Mactaggart, the home office minister responsible for race and

community cohesion, is participating along with other government ministers

and faith leaders in a European conference in Rome on 30 and 31 October.

They will discuss how governments should be engaging with moderate elements

across faith communities to isolate extremism and promote social cohesion.

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