27 October 2006 - 29 October 2006

The politics of identity and religion: must cultures clash?

Chair: Mr Dick Spring

It was ambitious even by Ditchley standards to examine the most complex aspect of globalisation, the effect of global change on national, communal and individual politics and the links with identity and religion.  Even with such a broad range of experience and expertise at the table, we were united in thinking that the world had some major problems to address, in contrast with the sentiment ten years or so ago when the spirit of optimism after the end of the Cold War was tangible. 

The debate this weekend covered some very astute analysis of what was going on.  The exchanges were sensitive, sympathetic and polite, to the extent that participants realised that there was a crucial element missing from the company, the overwhelming anger felt by those who believed that the advantages of globalisation had passed them by.  The conference also took, perhaps inevitably, a rather western perspective, even in our sympathy for the least developed and worst governed areas of the world.  To illustrate the contrast, one participant introduced us to Nabil the Amsterdam taxi driver, with whom he had entered into a discussion of these things.  Nabil curtly dismissed the westernised idea of dialogue, bridges and the meeting of minds:  “I don’t want tolerance, I want acceptance”.

We had a good discussion about the factors for change which were most relevant to the intensifying polarisation of ideas, cultures and beliefs.  Some of these factors we agreed were familiar:  global awareness, global economic activity, transnational threats, migration, the empowerment of small groups with lethal weapons, all of them adding up to a formidable challenge for national governments acting in traditional ways.  The nation state had been weakened and certainly felt threatened, even if different regions were affected in different ways.  The underlying implications of these changes presented paradoxes which added to the confusion.  The world’s connectivity appeared to be building a single information space;  yet the operation of the internet put an increasing value on speed, which favoured proximity over distance.  Individuals and groups tended to search more intensively under these pressures for an escape route back to their own kind;  yet constantly found themselves caught up in new phenomena and unfamiliar controversy.  Virtual relationships brought in a wide range of acquaintances whom one never met, emphasising the deterritorialising nature of the internet;  but the internet also sealed these relationships within its own world and connected poorly with real life outside the fence.  In other words, centrifugal and centripetal forces were acting with equal strength, bringing more people together in new groupings but deepening the intensity of their association and dividing them from other groups.

This was neatly summed up by one presenter as the process by which people and influences previously invisible were now coming into the mainstream of our lives.  This made the mainstream uncomfortable and unfamiliar to many people.  Most people felt confused about who “we” are.  Perceptions of the world’s reality were probably far behind the reality itself.  Such strong factors for change tended to breed fear and mistrust.  Of all the religions and cultures, Islam was perhaps caught up in these perceptions more strongly than any other because religion was such a powerful part of a Muslim’s  daily life.  Naturally enough, these things fed into politics;  and on both sides of any debate people were inclined to emphasise and exaggerate their viewpoint because, in the competition of an open world, decibels mattered.  These factors for polarisation were very strong.

The conference included some spirited exchanges about who might be to blame for these trends.  Sometimes we ourselves appeared to be at fault.  We had allowed ourselves to develop heightened expectations of peace with the end of the Cold War and with the UN’s success in helping to keep inter-state war at bay.  We were also guilty of selfish approaches to the benefits of globalisation.  Politics had become short-term and the media were too sensationalist.  Wise, strategic leadership was at a premium.  Migration added to economic competition.  The very pace of change was too great for societies to absorb.  Yet even with all these challenges, the feeling of global movement and progress remained exciting.  It was easy to understand the complacent belief that we could survive the cloudier episodes in the weather system so long as the sun occasionally shone.  But was this complacency so great that we were ignoring the coming hurricane?  In the end, most participants agreed that the risks were too great to continue as we were without concern.  The comparison was made with the environment and the urgent need for changed habits.  The overarching message was that opportunities and information had begun to be distributed by globalisation in entirely new ways; and human reactions and political responses were struggling to catch up. 

Nevertheless we tried to list some courses of action and potential remedies which the world would do well to adopt if it wanted to stabilise itself.  Some of them were so big in scope that, at this point, they could only be rhetorical:  that poverty reduction should come closer to the top of the real agenda;  that the knowledge deficit should be more directly addressed by greater investment in education, especially at the university level;  and that, as a concomitant of the first two, gender equality should be universally promoted.  These were summed up as the essential points in a philosophy of equality:  our collective future was at stake.  If any axis was worth having, it was an axis of equals. 

The discussion did not always stay at this macro level, however.  We tried to sketch out some particular lines of action under a number of headings.  One of these was the spread of democracy, which no-one felt could be the panacea but which could be a vehicle for spreading certain common values.  For democracy to do its work well, time and patience had to be allowed for the building of mature institutions and for the organic growth of mutual respect.  It was important to find ways of empowering the moderates and not the radicals, for instance by putting emphasis on the strength of civil society.  In any specific place the process had to be looked at through a local lens with sensitivity to the local culture and religion.  The process itself would work better if the end values were not too imperiously stated. 

The debate also underlined the importance of non-state actors.  NGOs and other organisations within civil society had to play an important role.  They could also form coalitions across borders and bring in good practice from elsewhere.  Universities should be an important part of this network.  Women’s coalitions showed how successful these linkups could be;  and the corporate private sector was beginning to play a stronger role.  This was an area where people felt that the UN could exercise an increasingly central influence.  While most participants were sceptical about the UN in its inter-governmental capacity, Kofi Annan’s secretary-generalship had helped to move forward the association of non-state actors with the UN’s work, with an appeal going beyond governments to parliaments, churches, civil society, the corporate sector and on down to individuals.  Many different ways could be found of intervening in particular circumstances and influencing policy:  women’s conferences were a significant example of this.  Most participants felt that the UN still retained such potential, and would be so difficult to replicate if it disappeared, that we should not feel the need for more institutions, but seek to make the present ones more effective.

We spent some time on education.  The curricula in schools and universities had to address some of the deficiencies in the new global makeup, in awareness, tolerance, respect, civil education, the importance of the rule of law – soft-sounding concepts at the rhetorical level, but with real power if they were properly promoted.  Teaching programmes were particularly needed for immigrant communities, not least in defining their obligations and loyalties as citizens of their new country.  University exchanges and cross-engagement should follow up ideas in these areas more deliberately.  Civil service and other professional training could also be the vehicle for an approach which countered fragmentation and spread the essential values of tolerance and the rule of law. 

When the debate had come to a standstill on whether the media were irresponsible or merely responding to market forces, the conference recognised the importance of action by the media to help diminish polarisation and fragmentation.  Fear and mistrust, after all, stemmed largely from the way information was received by groups and individuals.  Persuading people to behave differently could not in the end be achieved by enlarging the scope and specificity of laws and regulations.  Laws were only needed in those areas where enforcement made sense.  Freedom of speech and respect for the truth, even if hard, were much better instruments;  and here the United States was seen as a model, even though in other areas US policy took a considerable knock for failing to understand consequences and reactions. 

Given that the nation state, for all its troubles, remained the foundation of the world’s political structure, the conference laid great emphasis on the benefits of patriotism (as opposed to nationalism), citizenship and loyalty.  The state, after all, set the context for an individual’s most basic requirements:  security, employment, services and an intelligible public structure.   In all the multi-faceted aspects of identity which individuals could feel in the modern world, citizenship of an identifiable and acceptable collective had to play a central part.  People needed to understand that other aspects of their identity should not be allowed to overwhelm this one.

While much of this discussion was both obvious and ambitious in its scope, there were certain thought -provoking items which could be taken away.  Nation-building had to begin at home:  because some of us were trying to do it abroad, it did not mean that we had got it right domestically.  Greater self-awareness and humility were perhaps necessary.  Engagement and communication were vital, with the ear playing as great a role as the mouth, the non-west having as great a say as the west.  Solutions proposed should be consistently non-violent:  terrorism, for instance, could only be effectively defeated by the insistence on non-violence of the populations within which it appeared.  Democracy and globalisation had to be restored to their more progressive and optimistic meanings.  Those states that could take a lead should do so by setting a quiet example rather than preaching their message in loud words.  And with all this, the material problems of the world had to be energetically addressed.  Nothing, we concluded, would start the ball rolling in these directions better than a vigorous attempt to find a settlement for Palestine.

This weekend covered so many other conversations and so much exchange of analytical detail that no summary can do justice to this remarkable gathering.  Ditchley owes a great deal to the willingness of all the participants to engage in such a constructive dialogue;  and, most of all, to a Chairman who guided us through the complexities and potential ambushes with wisdom and a firm hand.  With so much more to be discussed in this general area, for once Ditchley could claim to have set in hand already a number of follow-up conferences:  on terrorism, on the ingredients of national identity, on the promotion of democracy, on the long-term impact of the internet and on the way young people form their political opinions.  Watch this very large space.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman: Mr Dick Spring

Executive Vice Chairman, Financial Exchange Co of Ireland (2002-).  Formerly:  Member Dáil, Labour, Kerry North (1981-2002);  Leader, Irish Labour Party (1982-97);  Deputy Prime Minister (1993-97 and 1982-87);  Minister for Foreign Affairs (1993-97), Energy (1993-97), Environment (1982-87);  Minister of State for Justice (1981-82).



Dr Michael Fullilove

Programme Director for Global Issues, Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney (2003-).  Formerly:  Consultant to Frank Lowy AC (2002-03);  Associate, McKinsey & Company, Sydney (2000-02);  Lawyer, Freehills, Sydney (1999-2000);  Advisor to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Paul Keating MP (1995 97).


Father Raymond de Souza
Chaplain, Newman House, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario (2003-);  Columnist, National Post.
Ambassador Arif Lalani
Canadian Diplomatic Service (1991-);  Canadian Ambassador to Jordan and Iraq (2006-).  Formerly:  Chairman, Working Group on Canada’s Relations with Muslim Communities (2003-06);  Political Counsellor, Embassy of Canada, Washington (2000-03);  Alternate Representative, UN Security Council (1998-2000). 


Professor Haideh Moghissi
Director, MCRI Diaspora, Islam, Gender Project, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies, York University, Toronto;  Member, Executive Committee, Centre for Refugee Studies, York University.  Founder, Iranian National Union of Women.


Mr Jean-Pierre Cabestan
Senior Researcher, French National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris;  Associate Researcher;  Asia Centre, Paris.  Formerly:  Director, French Research Centre on Contemporary China, Hong Kong (1998 2003).  Author.


Nr Mobashar Jawed Akbar
Visiting Fellow, The Brookings Institution, Washington (2006-);  Editor in Chief, The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle (1994-).
Mr Salman Haidar
Director, South Asian Political Initiative, United States Institute of Peace (2005-).  Formerly:  High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (1997-98);  Ambassador to China;  Foreign Secretary, Government of India (1995-97).


Mr Emmanuel Sivan
Professor of History, Hebrew University, Jerusalem (1977-).  Author.


Ms Manal Omar 
Regional Program Manager for the Middle East, Oxfam (2006-).  Formerly:  Regional Coordinator, Women for Women Internation, Baghdad (2003-05).


Mr Sherif El Diwany
Director Middle East and North Africa, World Economic Forum, Geneva (2005-).
Profesor Tariq Ramadan
Professor of Islamic Studies;  Senior Research Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford (2005-);  Senior Research Fellow, Lokahi Foundation (London);  President, European Muslim Network, Brussels.  Formerly:  Professor of Islamic Studies, Department of Classics, Notre Dame University.


Mr Majid Jafar
Director, Crescent Petroleum;  Board Member, Dara Gas (PJSC).


Sir Mark Allen CMG
Special Adviser, BP plc (2004-).  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1973-2004).
Professor Humayun Ansari OBE
Professor of Islam and Cultural Diversity, History Department, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Ms Zeinab Badawi
Broadcaster and Journalist, BBC (1998-).  Formerly:  Chairman, Article 10, International Centre Against Censorship, (1998-2002);  News Reporter and Presenter, Channel 4 News, ITN (1988-98).
Mr Michael Binyon
Diplomatic Editor, The Times (1991-).  Formerly:  Foreign Correspondent Moscow, Washington, Bonn and Brussels.
Ms Shami Chakrabarti
Director, Liberty (2003-).  Formerly:  In-house Counsel, Liberty (2001-03);  Lawyer, Legal Adviser’s Board, Home Office (1996-2001).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Tony Colman
Associate Director, Africa Practice and Africa Investment Advisory (2005-);  Formerly:  Member of Parliament, Labour, for Putney (1997-2005);  Member, International Development Select Committee (2000 05).
Ms Margaret Drabble CBE FRSL
Author and Journalist;  Member of Council and Committee of Management of the Society of Authors;  Vice President, English PEN;  Patron, Cambodia Trust;  Patron, Guantanamo Human Rights Commission.
Mr Mark Greenstock
Church of England Reader (1979-).  Formerly:  General Secretary, The Independent Schools Christian Alliance (2002-06);  Classics Teacher, Harrow School (1966-2001);  House Master (1985-97).
Mr Roger Hardy
Middle East and Islamic Affairs Analyst, BBC World Service.
The Rt Revd the Lord Harries of Pentregarth DD FKC FRSL 
Life Peer (2006-);  Chairman, Ethics and Law Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority;  Honorary Professor of Theology, King’s College, London.  Formerly:  Bishop of Oxford (1987 2006);  Chairman, Council of Christians and Jews (1992-2001).
Sir Max Hastings
Author and Journalist;  Contributor, The Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Sunday Times (2002-).  Formerly:  Editor, The Evening Standard (1996-2002);  Editor-in-chief, The Daily Telegraph (1986-95).
Baroness Howe of Idlicote
Life Peer, Cross Bench (2002-).  Formerly:  Chairman, BOC Foundation for the Environment and Community (1990-2003);  Chairman, Broadcasting Standards Commission (1997-99), Chairman, Broadcasting Standards Council (1993-97);  Chairman, Archbishop’s Commission on Cathedrals (1992-94).
The Rt Hon Lord Howe of Aberavon CH QC
Life Peer, Conservative (1992-);  President, Which? (1992-);  President, GB China Centre (1992-).  Formerly:  Chairman, Framlington Russian Investment Fund (1994-2003);  Member of Parliament, Conservative, Surrey East (1974-92), Reigate (1970-74), Bebington (1964-66);  Lord President of the Council, Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister (1989-90);  Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1983-89);  Chancellor of the Exchequer (1979-83).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Simon Jenkins
Columnist, The Guardian (2005-).  Formerly:  Columnist, The Times (1992-2005);  Editor, The Times (1990 92);  Columnist, The Sunday Times (1986-90);  Political Editor, The Economist (1970-86);  Editor, The Evening Standard (1976-78).
Mr Tim Livesey
Secretary for Public Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury (2006-).  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1987-2005);  Assistant Director, Strategy and Information,  Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2003-06).
Dr Martin Longden
Strategic Policy Advisor (Middle East and Transatlantic Relations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2005-).  Formerly:  Ministerial Press Officer and Foreign Office Spokesman:  Asia and counter-terrorism (2003-05).
Sir Alan Munro KCMG
Chairman, Saudi-British Society;  Chairman of Trustees, The Beit Trust;  Director, Middle East Internation (1997-);  Vice Chairman:  Arab-British Chamber of Commerce (1993-).  Formerly:  Director, International Trade and Investment Missions Lt (1988-2002);  HM Diplomatic Service (1960-93);  Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (1989-93);  Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Middle East/Africa, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1987-89);  Ambassador to Algeria (1984-87).
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones DCMG
Chairman, Information Assurance Advisory Council (2006-).  Formerly:  Chairman, QinetiQ (2000-05);  A Governor, BBc (1998-2004);  Vice Chairman, Hawkpoint Partners Ltd (1998-2000);  HM Diplomatic Service (1963-96);  Deputy Under Secretary of State and Political Director, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1994-96);  chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee (1992-94).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Dr Farhan Nizami
Director, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford, The Prince of Wales Fellow, Magdalen College, Oxford.
Ms Anne Pringle 
HM Diplomatic Service (1977-);  Director, Strategy and Information, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2004-).  Formerly:  Ambassador to the Czech Republic (2001-04);  Head, Eastern Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1998-2001).  A Member, Programme Committee, The Ditchley Foundation.
The Rt Hon Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
Life Peer, Labour (1996-).  Formerly:  Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2003-05);  Deputy Leader, House of Lords (2003-2005);  Minister of State for International Trade and Investment, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2001-03);  Minister of State for Defence Procurement (1999-2001).  A Governor and Member of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.
Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green
Life Peer, Labour (1998-);  Head of Childcare Services, Excelcare Holdings Ltd (2003-).  Formerly:  Chairman, Home Office Working Group on Police and Community Leadership;  Member, Community Cohesion Panel.
Canon Andrew White
President, Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East;  Anglican Priest for Iraq (2005-);  Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Representative to Alexandria Process (2004-);  International Director, Iraqi Institute of Peace (2003-).  Formerly:  Canon, Coventry Cathedral and Director, International Centre for Reconciliation (1998-2005);  Archbishop of Canterbury’s special Representative to the Middle East (2002-04).


Sir Sigmund Sternberg OStJ KCSG JP
Chairman, Martin Slowe Estates Ltd (1971-);  Member, Board of Deputies of British Jews (2005-);  President, British-Hungarian Society (2005-);  Coordinator, Religious Component, world Economic forum (2002-);  Patron, International Council of Christians and Jews.


Ms Baria Alamuddin
Foreign Editor, Al-Hayat Newspaper;  President, International Arab Charity;  Member, Tallberg Forum. 


Mr H Brandt Ayers
Chairman and Publisher, “The Anniston Star”;  Board of Directors:  The Southern Center for International Studies;  The Twentieth Century Fund;  Inter American Press Association.  Member:  Council on Foreign Relations;  Advisory Council, American Ditchley Foundation.
Professor Philip Bobbitt
A W Walker Centennial Chair in Law, University of Texas at Austin.  Formerly:  National Security Council:  Director for Intelligence, Senior Director for Critical Infrastructure, Senior Director for Strategic Planning;  Associate Counsel, The White House.
Dr Robert Edgar
General Secretary, National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA (2000-).  Formerly:  President, Claremont School of theology, California (1990-2000);  Member, US Congress (1974-87).
Ms Susan Eisenhower
President, Eisenhower Group Inc;  Chairman Emeritus, Eisenhower Institute;  Director, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace;  Director, Nuclear Threat Initiative.  Formerly:  President and Chairman, The Eisenhower Institute.
Mr Warren Hoge
Foreign Affairs Correspondent, The New York Times, United Nations Bureau (2003-).  Formerly:  The New York Times:  London Bureau Chief (1996-2003).
Dr Christina Jones-Pauly
Visiting Fellow, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of Oxford.  Formerly:  Rita E Hauser Human Rights Fellow, Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies, Harvard University;  Consultant on Islamic Law, UNDP, UNIFEM, World Bank.
Ambassador Nancy Soderberg
Visiting Distinguished Scholar, University of North Florida (2005-).  Formerly:  Vice President for Multilateral Affairs, International Crisis Group, New York (2001-05);  Alternate Representative, United Nations (1997-2001);  Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, The White House (1993-97).  Author and Broadcaster.
Mr Kirk Spahn
Founder and President, The Institute for Civic Leadership, School of International Affairs, Columbia University;  Managing Partner, Educare Capital, New York.