RICHARD WILLIAMSON COLUMN: Peace and Tolerance Not Terror; We Guarantee Freedom of Worship but the Right to Follow Religion Carries the Obligation to Respect Beliefs of Others

Article excerpt

Byline: RICHARD WILLIAMSON

THREE people blown up by a terrorist bomb and a two year-old shot during an Israeli raid in Gaza - it was just another routine week in the agony of the Middle East.

Except that suicide bomber Asif Mohammed Hanif was British and that brought the whole tragic business much closer to home.

To some he will be a martyr. Others will condemn Hanif and his accomplice Omar Khan Sharif, from Derby, as gullible fools transformed into callous killers.

All round the world people are shaking their heads in despair and wondering at the motive for trying to de-rail peace proposals unveiled by America, Russia, the UN and the EU.

Here at home the questions are more specific. For how is it that two apparently normal, hard-working, intelligent young men can emerge from the English suburbs as fully-fledged terrorists?

You might argue that there is nothing to stop young men and women from volunteering for a cause they hold dear.

After all, didn't idealistic Englishmen rush off to fight for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War?

Yes, but they did not resort to ruthless terrorism in which housewives and children are regarded as legitimate targets and suicide is considered a rational weapon. We seem to have a new breed of fanatics who are hell-bent on turning Palestine and many other conflicts into wars of religion.

Yet the Israel-Palestine dispute is essentially a political, legal and moral argument over land and the rights of two peoples to a home they can call their own.

It is not a war between Judaism and Islam but a bitter struggle between Israeli and Palestinian that demands a just settlement for both sides.

Some will hail Hanif and Sharif as Islamic martyrs but mainstream Muslims consistently condemn suicide bombers and terrorists.

As Suleman Chachia, of the Hounslow Jamia Mosque where Hanif was a worshipper, said: 'Whether it be a Palestinian life or an Israeli life - life is life and we condemn people who resort to those extreme ways of doing things.

'It's un-Islamic and we condemn it completely.'

Sadly, there are others who seem determined to see everything in terms of religious persecution.

The war in Iraq was denounced by some as an attack on Islam.

At best it was about removing the vile repressive regime of Saddam Hussein. At worst it was a disreputable scramble for oil and imperialist power.

Clumsy, insensitive and violent it may have been but it was not an attack on a religion. There is a growing sense of unease at the emergence of extremist radical groups who propagate a creed of hate and who do, indeed, talk in terms of holy wars. …