Mayor of London to speak at cross party rally to defend religious freedom

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone will join cross party and multi-faith speakers to defend freedom of religious and cultural expression on Monday 20 November.

The meeting at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster represents the broadest yet response to the issues raised by the recent barrage of attacks on the Muslim community.

Its organisers, the British Muslim Initiative and Liberty, have brought together speakers representing all of the main political parties, different faiths, the trade unions and the peace movements.

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, said: ‘Over recent weeks we have seen a demonisation of Muslims only comparable to the demonisation of Jews from the end of the nineteenth century. As at that time, the attack on Muslims in reality threatens freedoms for all of us, which took hundreds of years to win – freedom of conscience and freedom of cultural expression. Every person who values their right to follow the religion of their choice or none should stand with the Muslim communities today.

‘The living standard of every Londoner depends upon the ability of this city to welcome companies and people from every part of the world. That would be impossible if we succumbed to the threat to religious and cultural tolerance, which the new demonisation of Muslims represents. As Mayor of London I want to make clear this city has no intention of taking that path, which would destroy the international openness, and excellent community relations upon which our prosperity depends.

‘I cannot believe it is a coincidence that this entire artificial pseudo debate has been stirred up at a time when the credibility of the entire war and occupation of Iraq is collapsing before our eyes. ‘Muslims and all of us have a right to call for a different policy within the democratic process.’

Jon Cruddas MP, who will also be speaking at the rally, said: ‘It is incumbent on all politicians to construct the debate in a way that brings communities together and not does not increase division.’

Shadow Spokesman on Community Cohesion Dominic Grieve MP said: ‘The Conservative Party believes that Muslims have a role to play in British life and have an important contribution to make. We are wholly opposed to Islamophobia and welcome the opportunity this meeting brings to address the concerns of the Muslim communities.

Andrew Stunell MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesman on Community and Local Government and former Baptist preacher, commented: ‘Religious freedom and freedom of expression are central to our democracy and whether it is attacks on the Muslim faith or any other, they need to be dealt with robustly. I am delighted that there is all party and all faith support for this initiative.’

Anas Altikriti, the spokesman of the British Muslim Initiative commented today: ‘The 20th of November will mark the first step towards establishing a national coalition against Islamaphobia -widely recognised as the new face of racism – that will encompass all corners of British society including Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, representatives of a number of political parties as well as representatives of a large number of Muslim and non-Muslim NGOs.’

Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti said: ‘Freedom of conscience and religion, like freedom of speech, is essential to any democratic society. We must keep our heads and unite around democratic values, applying them to others, as we want them applied to ourselves. We must all be able to think, wear and say what we like, subject only to personal ethics and restrictions truly necessary for the protection of others. This may not always make us comfortable but it will keep us free.’

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