Project Maja reminded me that Bosnia-Herzegovina as a country in the heart of Europe, is still delicately balanced between its past and its future.
A past where much blood has flowed down the River Drina where the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to the First World War, and where differences in ethnicity and faith were cruelly exploited in 1995, leading to the worst genocide to have taken place in Europe since the Second World War.
Conference, despite the progress made in the last 14 years, without further sustained international attention Bosnia could easily slip back.
And after the failures on the part of the international community during the Balkan war.
We have a duty to support Bosnia and its future as a united multi-ethnic, multi-faith country in the heart of Europe. We must not fail Bosnia again.
Conference, let me now turn to issues closer to home. No one needs reminding of the tragic consequences when communities fragment, as they did in Northern Ireland, and how those consequences were felt throughout Britain, including the tragedies during the 1990’s right here in Manchester.
We as a nation throughout our history have had to deal with extremism in all its guises, with groups that promote both hatred and violence.
And this summer, we were reminded again why that fight continues.
The protests against our troops led by Anjem Chowdhury and Al-Muhajiroun in Luton were truly disgusting and quite rightly condemned by us all.
And we also rightly condemned recent violent demonstrations led by the English Defence League, and their nasty friends in the BNP.
These groups of extremists represent two ugly faces of the same coin, and for them, hatred of the ‘other’ isn’t just a scourge, it is a political philosophy.
They have a simple, yet dangerous goal – to drive a wedge, to spread hatred and to sow the seeds of division.
Conference, during the Second World War, British and Commonwealth soldiers, including my two grandfathers, fought side by side to defeat fascism in Europe.
So over 65 years later we are NOT going to tolerate fascism on our soil.
Conference let me say this loud and clear. There is nothing Muslim about Anjem Chowdhury and Al-Muhajiroun.
There is nothing English about the English Defence League. And there is certainly nothing British about the BNP.
Conference, there are three key messages I would like you to take away from my speech today…
1. Labour’s reliance on multiculturalism has failed Britain
2. The state’s continued suspicion of faith is wrong
3. And the threat of terrorism is no excuse for demonising a whole community.
Firstly, when we as Conservatives talk about multiculturalism we are not talking about the building of temples, or synagogues or mosques in any neighbourhood. For us that is religious pluralism and it is a defining British characteristic that began with the non-conformists.
For me, state multiculturalism, as I like to define it is forcing Britain’s diverse communities to still define themselves as different, patronisingly special and tempting them to compete against each other for public funds.
It’s the madness of political correctness which fails to teach our children British history in case it offends, and is the madness of translating documents into a multitude of languages instead of actually teaching people English.
State multiculturalism is not integration, is not unifying and is not the British way.
Secondly, Conference under Labour, the State has become increasingly sceptical of an individuals religious belief.
We’ve all seen the stories, how appalling that in Labour’s Britain a community nurse can be suspended for offering to pray for a patient’s recovery.
Or a school receptionist could face disciplinary action for sending an email to friends asking them to pray for her daughter.
At the heart of these cases lies a growing intolerance and illiberal attitude towards those who believe in God. The scepticism of senior Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris driving this secular agenda has now grown to become an ideology permeating through many parts of the public sector.
It’s an agenda driven by the political-elite, who have hijacked the pursuit of ‘equality’ by demanding a dumbing down of faith.
It’s no wonder that this leads to accusations in the media that our Country’s Christian culture is being downgraded.
For many their faith brings them closer to their neighbour, it’s the driver for their voluntary work, their social action. And for many, faith is the basis for some of the best schools in our Country.
This scepticism against faith communities and in some case outright hostility, is both wrong and dangerous.
Strong societies are built on cherishing their heritage.
So when some misguided lliberal tries to downgrade Christmas…
Or a school tries to ban the nativity play, or a child is not taught about the empire in case it offends.
It’s no wonder we lose track of who we are Conference, I am not for one minute suggesting that faith communities should get a special deal, but, I do believe they should get a fair deal
– one that doesn’t discriminate,
– one that isn’t intolerant
– and one that truly understands and appreciates religious communities… and their contribution
Forced secularism in not progressive, it is not Conservative and it certainly is not the British way.
Thirdly, Conference, I am sure you will forgive me if I say a little about my own faith.
As a British born Muslim, I believe that my faith makes me a better person.
I disagree with those who believe that in the present climate, to say one is a Muslim is more a political act than simply a matter of faith.
British Muslims are found in every walk of life, as doctors, nurses , teachers, as soldiers in the British armed forces, as parliamentary candidates and dare I say members of the House of Lords.
But reading some newspapers or some blogs today you could easily believe that such Muslims are in the minority.
Since the 7/7 attacks in Britain, the fear of terrorism has fuelled the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment.
Leading journalist Peter Oborne in his Daily Mail column said that anti-Muslim hatred is Britain’s last remaining socially acceptable form of bigotry.
Recent months have seen several arson attacks targeting mosques around the country.
In September, a spate of attacks against Muslims culminated in the death of a sixty-seven year old man in Tooting.
And last week, here in Manchester, 20 Muslim gravestones were desecrated.
Conference, the fight against extremism cannot succeed if all communities do not feel they belong and have an equal stake in Britain’s future.
As I have said earlier I am not for one minute suggesting that the Muslim community or any other community should get a special deal.
But, I do believe racism and religious intolerance is unacceptable, and just because you belong to the Islamic faith – you are no less a British citizen deserving of our country’s protection.
Like all-forms of bigotry, like anti-Semitism and homophobia, anti-Muslim hatred should rightly be recognised as an evil and noxious creed.
Discrimination against any community has no part in a liberal democracy, it is not Conservative and it certainly is not the British way.
Some of you may know, I have sometimes been my press officer’s worst nightmare.
I put it down to the fact, that I am from the North, proud to be from the North and proud to say it… like it actually is.
And in these difficult times, more straight talking and honesty is what is needed
After 12 years of socially divisive politics,
After 12 years of Labour playing fast and loose with our heritage.
And after 12 years of Labour tip toeing around the difficult issues.
As a nation.
We now need to be clear.
We now need to be honest.
And above all we now need to be brave.
We need to mend the broken ties that should bind us.
End the politics of us and them.
Put integration at the heart of our policy.
And proudly, once more, make the case for today’s Britain.