Our shared values are far greater than our differences

interfaith summit 7

Here is Aaron D’Souza’s keynote welcome speech from the London Interfaith Summit on Tuesday 17 November in the aftermath of the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015.

Good afternoon.

My name is Aaron D’Souza, a member of the Parliamentors Alumni Network Committee and one of the organisers of this summit.

On behalf of the whole committee, Anna Connell-Smith, Charly Burridge-Jones – who has just given birth to baby Beatrice this morning! – Councillor Hashim Bhatti, Jordanna Zetter and Maria Capaldo, I am thrilled to welcome you to our inaugural Interfaith Summit. Thank you for joining us.

This summit has been two years in the making. In fact, when we formed this committee one of our first goals was to deliver a national conference by young leaders for young leaders.

We took the first step last year by celebrating the achievements of ParliaMentors alumni at our inaugural Alumni Awards in the House of Lords.

And this year, we have come together and made this Interfaith Summit happen. To see our Summit in partnership with National Interfaith Week is extremely exciting and satisfying.

For those of you who have not heard about ParliaMentors — where have you been all this time?!

ParliaMentors is a UN award-winning leadership programme of the Three Faiths Forum, 3FF, which began in 2007. University students of different faiths and non-religious beliefs collaborate to create real social change on campuses across the UK while being mentored by Members of Parliament.

In short, we are creating a student-led revolution with the advice and guidance of our elected representatives!

I participated on the ParliaMentors programme during my final year at university in 2011-12. It is an experience I look back on with pride and I continue to learn from those that I have met and worked with.

In particular, I remember the first time I met the two other people in my trio, Ali and Aimee. I remember it very well because I had just finalised my dissertation topic – British foreign policy during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and beyond.

I had read countless books, studied Downing Street documents, Foreign Office memos, embassy telegrams but got no closer to understanding the real significance of Yom Kippur for Jewish people. Upon revealing my concerns, Aimee, who is Jewish, said ‘well, why not talk to me?’ It was that simple.

Our ParliaMentors network is filled with talent and is now over 300 strong. Alumni are making a positive impact in all corners of the world by running the own enterprises, organising communities to take action and bring people closer together and by becoming elected officials; Councillors in the UK and members of the Knesset in Israel just to name a few. I’m sure we’ll soon have a ParliaMentor MP!

And you don’t have to take my word for it either. Today, you will hear about more of the work our alumni are doing throughout our keynote young leadership panel and during our expert-led interactive workshops.

As Yasmeen has said, the relevance of this summit and of National Interfaith Week is clearer than ever. Never has such a dialogue been more critical.

I have always believed that faith is a challenge. Interfaith more so because it requires us to go out of our comfort zone: and to be continually out of your comfort zone is not easy.

But nowadays everyone, especially young people, are required to go out of their comfort zone every day: the faces of our communities are more diverse than ever; businesses are working with more countries and cultures to remain competitive; and more young people are challenging the beliefs and customs held dearly by parents and grandparents.

Identities, as well as beliefs are being tested. Through this summit, we wanted to go beyond faith and explore beyond interfaith. We termed it Faith+. We hope that each session will allow you to express yourself and find common threads, stories and identities through all types of medium that you can share with each other and those who couldn’t make it today.

And that is why today makes me hopeful.

Because whilst these conversations have never been more necessary when people try to divide us, never have the leadership and people working to make this dialogue a success – people like you – been so strong and inspirational.

As an alumnus of a programme that brings together diverse young people with different beliefs but a mutually desire to change society by challenging traditional leadership structures, and encouraging a collaborative and diverse future leadership, I think together we can build a harmonious future.

And – if I do say so myself – we have put together an awesome programme and line up of speakers, musicians and changemakers to listen to, learn from, discuss with and put this into action.

We specifically designed this summit to cater to all to tastes and experiences — perhaps you will find inspiration through theatre lead by the MUJU Crew.

Or perhaps your perceptions around gender, power, politics and migration will be confirmed or contested at a talk by alumnus Gulwali Passarlay and at our world cafe.

Or maybe you will connect and meet new people ‘Speed Faithing’.

I do know for sure that by 7.30pm we will have a carnival atmosphere led by Anja’s Faiths In Tune.

Wow – don’t you wish you could do everything?! I hope you are as excited as I am.

Because this summit is fluid and dynamic, and we expect more people to join us as the afternoon progresses while some, hopefully not many, may have to leave, I just want to take a moment to thank those who have made this summit possible:

The excellent ParliaMentors Committee who I introduced earlier; all our performers and contributors; the 3FF team led by Yasmeen Akhtar; and especially the ParliaMentors team of Tim Mortimer, Sean Turnbull and Ben Shapiro who have worked tirelessly to make this happen. Please join me in giving them a huge round of applause.

We would like this summit to be the first of many and intend to run this event annually. So do give us plenty of good feedback – and perhaps the odd improvement. You will see members of the committee and many people from 3FF wearing summit T-shirts.

So, to conclude I am proud to be one of the co-organisers of this summit. I want as many people as possible to experience our communities of faiths and cultures as I have through ParliaMentors and 3FF because I have learnt that when we join hands and work together, we prosper together. When we share our stories with each other, we get to know each other. And when we integrate our cultures, we become one community.

I do hope that the discussions we have today will test you, hearten you and inspire you and also provide a way to heal the pain that has been wrought in the past week.

Our diversity make us stronger and our shared values are far greater at the end of the day than our differences.

Thank you once again for coming and enjoy the summit.

Written by APP Reporter

APP Reporter covers all of the work APP candidates are doing in their community, finding out about the issues that affect residents and continuing to spread APP's vision of fighting for equality at the top.