Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the United Kingdom’s first minister for faith, called for an international response to religious persecution at the Alumni House on Friday.
Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, moderated the event.
During the hour-and-a-half-long event, “An International Response to a Global Crisis,” Warsi discussed the challenges facing the United Kingdom and Europe in proper enforcement of religious freedom. Warsi also explored the methods of preventing the persecution of both Christians and minority groups, issues that she considers to be part of the aforementioned global crisis.
Warsi, a member of the Conservative party, has been a U.K. senior minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and minister for faith and communities since 2012. A Muslim of Pakistani descent, Warsi has personally faced persecution from xenophobic members of fringe political groups such as the English Defense League and the British National Party.
“I’ve knocked on doors, and have had expletives hurled at me for a bit,” Warsi said. “Oftentimes, it is a minority of these extremist groups that are actually inherently prejudiced. I’ve convinced EDL and BNP members to vote for me after simply explaining the issues and how I plan on dealing with them. These are people who feel disenfranchised and who fear globalization, they do not simply hate for the sake of hating. Thus, they can be changed.”
Warsi expressed a lack of worry about these far-right parties, explaining that they are unlikely to win seats in Parliament and thus are not a part of the law-making process.
“Most are a bunch of people who get drunk on Saturdays after football matches and yell at everyone who is different from them,” Warsi said.
Warsi was appointed co-chairman of the party in 2010, becoming the first Briton of Asian descent to chair a major British political party. Warsi then became the first Muslim to serve in a British cabinet upon her 2010 appointment by Prime Minister David Cameron as minister without portfolio.
“I have dealt with a lot of people telling me that I can’t do things, but I haven’t learned to listen to that, and I don’t think that I ever will,” Warsi said.
Warsi addressed the issue of extremism in the U.K. and worldwide.
“The problem with extremism isn’t too much religion, it is too little religion. The people who kill in the name of Allah or whatever god lack a basic understanding of their own faith,” Warsi said. “For myself, a Muslim mother, I teach my children to be good people, and then show them that Islam is a good basis for that kind of behavior, but I don’t indoctrinate them in the way that some people indoctrinate their children. I want my children to be good people first, and then hopefully good Muslims.”
The minister also addressed a rise in anti-Muslim groups in England after the May murder of a British soldier by two jihadists outside of the Royal Artillery Barracks in southeast London.
“I really commend the way that David Cameron responded to the knife-wielding tragedy in Woolwich. He said, ‘It’s not Britain versus Islam, it’s all of us against violent extremism,'” Warsi said. “I agree with him wholeheartedly.”
The event, co-sponsored by the Berkley Center and the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, drew a crowd of more than 90 people, packing the seats.
Georgetown students in attendance appreciated Warsi’s sense of humor and her determination to make the world more tolerant.
“The baroness’s speech was quite unique,” Yash Johri (SFS ’17) said. “Her path through politics has not been an easy one, but she has really been able to make a big difference. I admire her desire to stand up for the religious rights of any group anywhere in the world.”