Currently we live in such a world that is fraught with many conflicts. In many countries the intolerance of religious, racial and ethnic minorities is mounting high and in some instances they are being made scapegoats for political and economic difficulties facing the countries in which they live. Their basic human rights are being blatantly violated by the majorities. Often minorities there face discrimination, intimidation, torture, arbitrary arrests and even persecution. In several regions of the world the minority communities are excluded from taking part in civic and political life; hence their marginalisation has forced them to live in isolation. On the other hand minority women and children are frequently victims of human rights violations. The on-going threat of violence and different tactics of harassment and bullying has seriously restricted minority women’s freedom of movement. In some cases their right to express their religious, cultural and ethnic identity through the way they dress has been hampered. These limitations in turn are restricting their access to health services as well as education and employment. For example, such restrictions have recently been imposed on Muslim women in France and other European liberal democracies are considering to follow suit.
In view of the continued worsening plight of minorities in the world your proposed conference is timely and appropriate and I do hope you will be supported by the Government of Pakistan in this noble cause. I have deliberately chosen only to highlight some of the problems facing minorities in today’s contemporary world in order to provoke a wider debate on this important issue. However, I’m sure concrete recommendations will hopefully emerge at the conclusion of this conference that will help set the wider agenda for seeking solutions of these most complex but vital issues raised herein.
Mohammed Ajeeb (Hon Ma, CBE)
Former Lord Mayor of Bradford
The Queen of Democracy Britain is the best example of modern developed democracies of our time. It is perhaps the only country in the world that has no written constitution and yet its parliament is hailed as the mother of all parliaments. However, its acclaimed reputation is the result of enormous sacrifices made by British people over the past many centuries. Despite British democracy deeply rooted in the country, it is still headed by a monarch. The Queen is still the head of the state but possesses no real political power. She is regarded as a symbol of unity and British traditions and is held in high esteem and respect by the majority of British people. The Queen is also the head of the commonwealth countries.
Although Britain no longer has its empire, its political influence in the modern world in promoting and enhancing democratic values remains highly significant. Because of Britain’s well established historical links with most of the countries of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the past half a century has witnessed the advent of hundreds and thousands of economic immigrants and political refugees and asylum seekers in its midst. These new racial , religious and ethnic minorities have now chosen to make Britain their home. An overwhelming number of these have found Britain land of opportunities and have succeeded in improving the quality of their lives and gradually are becoming an integral part of mainstream British society. Although this process has not been and still is not smooth and free from difficulties, the access for minorities to different spheres of life in Britain is available. All this has been achieved due to Britain being an open, free and democratic society where there are no restrictions on expressing ones religious and political views. Since minorities are free to join all political parties their representation is quite visible both in local and national governments. Some members of these minorities are occupying very influential positions including Mayors and Lord Mayors of major British cities as well as members of the both houses of parliament and even members of the cabinet. Undoubtedly these are the obvious benefits and fruits of strong democratic Britain. On the whole Britain can be described as the safest country for minorities to live in where they enjoy equal rights under the law and discrimination on racial and ethnic grounds is unlawful and incitements to religious hatred and harassment of religious minorities is a criminal offence.
The first ever Asian/Muslim Lord Mayor in Britain was elected to Bradford Metropolitan Council in 1985. Since then many other cities have followed suit. This year we have seen the election of the first Muslim woman of Pakistani origin as Lord Mayor of Bradford. In the past 25 years many persons of Pakistani/Kashmir origin have been elected to the high position of Mayors and Lord Mayors in Britain. This is great credit to Bradford and Britain. Currently there are 23 elected councillors of Pakistani Kashmiri origin on Bradford Council (and this number is increasing every year) who represent all major political parties as well as voters of all communities of the city.
Your decision to hold the first exhibition of the Queens portraits painted by Pakistani artists in Bradford known as “little Pakistan” is the most appropriate and right. This kind of exhibition in Bradford will be beneficial both for Bradford and particularly for Pakistan in enhancing its image abroad. I suggest that you extend such exhibitions of the Queens portraits to other part of Britain and the Commonwealth Countries to coincide with the Queens Diamond Jubilee Celebrations.
In democratic Britain freedom of expression speech, thought, print and electronic media is passionately cherished and valued. Here all kinds of individual freedoms are enjoyed and appreciated by its citizens and they are always willing and ready to make all possible sacrifices to protect and defend them. It is no wonder why many countries of the world are envious to emulate these sublime principals of British democracy.
Unfortunately in other societies where democracy has not been allowed to be developed and practised and all other freedoms have been denied to their people for a long period of time the consequences are earth shaking changes like political and social instability, violence, religious extremism and even chaos and anarchy. The perpetuation of military and civil dictatorships, monarchies with absolute powers and using brutal force to render their people incapable of independent thinking and deprive them of individual and political freedom and social justice should not be taken for granted to continue forever. The recent profound changes in the Asian and Arab countries are a testimony to a fast changing world. In view of these changes which in many instances entail violence, extremism and terrorism, it has become more urgent and incumbent for us to join those forces who are engaged in promoting and enhancing democracy in the world.