The importance of dialogue, diversity and prevention of extremism

Posted by ap507 at May 31, 2017 10:40 AM |
Professor Philip Baker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology, Dean of Medicine at the University of Leicester, was invited to speak at an Iftar Dinner, marking the end of a day’s fast by Muslims during the month of Ramadan, on the topic of Dialogue, Diversity and the Prevention of Extremism
The importance of dialogue, diversity and prevention of extremism

Professor Philip Baker

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Professor Philip Baker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology, Dean of Medicine at the University of Leicester, was invited to speak at an Iftar Dinner, marking the end of a day’s fast by Muslims during the month of Ramadan.

The invitation came from the Dialogue Society and Spring Education Society and Professor Baker was invited to speak on the topic of Dialogue, Diversity and the Prevention of Extremism.

He writes: "On Monday 22nd May I agreed to the request that I speak on the topic of “The importance of dialogue, diversity and the prevention of extremism”. Just a few hours later the tragic events in Manchester unfurled – adding added poignancy to the topic and emphasising its importance. I spent many years in Manchester, know the arena well, and grieve for the loss that occurred that night.

"I’m very much a Leicester boy, having been born in the city – and I make no apology for being tremendously proud of our city. Leicester is a city that prides itself on its diversity – a diversity that is not new. In the 1920s, Leicester’s diversified economic base and its lack of dependence on primary industries meant that it was in a much better place than other cities to weather the tariff wars of the 1920s and the Great Depression that followed. Indeed, the bureau of statistics of the newly formed, and ill-fated, League of Nations identified in 1936 that Leicester was the second richest city in Europe; Leicester became an attractive destination for refugees fleeing the persecution and political turmoil of continental Europe.

"Since the Second World War, Leicester has experienced much immigration from all over the world. Polish serviceman prevented from returning home by the Communist regime established a small community in the city. Economic migrants from Ireland continued to arrive. Immigrants from the Indian sub-continent started to arrive in the 1960s; when Idi Amin announced that the entire Asian community in Uganda had 90 days to leave the country, in 1972. Nearly a quarter of the initial Ugandan refugees settled in Leicester – by the end of the 1970s around a quarter of the initially dispersed refugees had also made their way to the city. In the 1990s Dutch citizens of Somali origin settled in Leicester. With the enlargement of the EU, Eastern European migrants have arrived. There have been many other examples of immigration and the trends continued until recently Leicester became the first city in Britain not to have a white British majority.

"I left Leicester in 1980. Initially I did not travel very far – just to Nottingham where I trained as a doctor and started my subsequent training as an obstetrician. As junior doctors do, I moved around to Cambridge, to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and then back to Nottingham. My first Professorship, in my mid 30s was in Nottingham, I then left for Manchester to establish what became the largest pregnancy research centre in Europe. After 8 years in Manchester I travelled further afield. First, to Alberta Canada where snow is on the ground for 7 months a year and temperatures dip to -45. I then went to China ending up in Chongqing, a city that some of you may know – the world’s largest city with a population of 34m. Indeed, I still have a pregnancy research centre based in Chongqing. My next role was in New Zealand as Director of one of the national research centres. New Zealand is a beautiful country with very generous people. So I have worked in 4 continents and I have had projects in every continent – indeed I’ve had research programmes in the Arctic to The Andes in sub-Sahara to Scandinavia. The more I’ve travelled the more I have realised that there are basic similarities at the core of all peoples and all people. I’ve learnt to value diversity. The phrase that was originally of Muslim origin: “A lot of different flowers make a banquet” is as true now as it ever was. It was Kofi Annan who said “Tolerance, intercultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected”

"My own journey then took a different turn. I was actually in a taxi in Stoke where the taxi driver very innocently asked me “where’s home then mate?”, little did he know this would precipitate a bit of a crisis at the back of the taxi as I realised that I really didn’t have a home. I had places I had lived in New Zealand, in the UK, in China, I had friends and family dispersed in different cities but I had no place I could call home – indeed I probably spent more time in airport lounges than anywhere else. At the time I was investigating a very interesting job in Australia and when I discussed this with my daughters who burst into tears I realised that I needed to come back to the UK to establish some roots, to have a home. I explored different opportunities but there was one which was particularly attractive – to lead Biological Sciences, Medicine and Psychology at the University of Leicester – my home town. It was a tremendous privilege and honour to obtain and then enjoy the role. Like other universities, the University of Leicester is committed to the acquisition of knowledge, for tolerance, for reason, for progress and the search for truth. The German politician Roman Herzog made the very wise statement “without mutual knowledge there can be no mutual understanding; without understanding there can be no trust and respect; without trust there can be no peace, only the danger of conflict. This means that we have to be willing and able to familiarize ourselves with the way people of other cultures think and perceive the world around them, but without losing our own standpoint in the process”. It is indeed the responsibility of universities to take youthful minds and facilitate knowledge – for tolerance, reason, progress and truth.

"But it is not just universities responsibility, every citizen and every parent shares this duty. The American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou stated that “it is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength”. Every one of us must undertake this task. Finally, who better to quote than the Dalai Lama “the reality today is that we are all interdependent and have to co-exist on this small planet? Therefore, the only sensible intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interest, whether between individuals or nations, is through dialogue.”

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