Dialogue Over Division – Lord Ashdown and Maajid Nawaz

16th January 2019

To mark the passing of Lord Ashdown, we are posting a short video that Lord Ashdown and Maajid Nawaz made for the Liberal Democrats a few years ago, with a timeless message.

Lord Ashdown: The politics of the Devil’s songs is easy, anybody could do that. Anybody could make a political appeal that is to bring the worst out in people. But the politics of releasing the better angels of our nature, that’s much tougher.

Maajid Nawaz: On the Muslim side we see Islamist extremist organisations recruiting, and on the non-Muslim side we see the rise of far-right organisations, whether they are street protest movements or in some cases they’re in government.

Lord Ashdown: Now the public discourse is full of the dialogue of division. And that is fundamentally against the British character, the true British character is about tolerance, it is about acceptance.

Maajid Nawaz: If what we are really concerned about is I am living next door to people who are strange, who I don’t know, who I can’t relate to, then if we think about it, if the solution to that is to push people and divide people even further apart, then they’re going to feel even more strange, and we’re going to feel more scared.

Lord Ashdown: I think what UKIP represents and in their own way, some in the SNP, not all, represents is the triumph of division over unity and that is deadly.

Maajid Nawaz: If we don’t speak what happens is those people in the middle are right for recruitment by the two extremes.

Lord Ashdown: If that beast gets loose and overturns the principles of tolerance and respect for others, then you are facing a catastrophe on a grand scale sooner or later.

Maajid Nawaz: We’ve got a serious issue here, up to 2,000 people don’t just get up and leave the country to join the worst terrorist group that we’ve ever known, unless there’s an atmosphere that exists from where they’ve come from.

Lord Ashdown: Only when you understand that we have a capacity across those divisions to live together can you actually create a successful society.

Maajid Nawaz: What we’ve got to be good at is identifying those reform and progressive voices within minority communities.

Lord Ashdown: Fighting against the devil’s songs is a quintessential struggle that liberals have to be involved in.

Maajid Nawaz: Unless we start doing that in the centre ground and reclaiming that space, I think that the debate is going to get even more polarised.

Lord Ashdown: And it is why I think that I am so proud to be a liberal and a Liberal Democrat because we stand absolutely foursquare, uncompromising, like Martin Luther, ‘here I stand, I can do no other’ as the polar opposite of all of that, as the polar opposite of UKIP. We stand on the principle that we are better together.

Maajid Nawaz: The best, most efficient way to disprove the idea to the idea that all Muslims are extremists is if we were working with Muslim voices who are trying to challenge extremism within their own communities.

Lord Ashdown: In a very short time people are going to go to the polls, and you need to understand that there are lots of things at stake, a strong economy, a fair society. But one of the things which is now under deadly attack from the rampant and destructive nationalists in our own society, especially to be found in UKIP I think, is the very foundation upon which Great Britain is built.

Maajid Nawaz: The most important thing in challenging all this is to stand for human rights and to be consistent in our stand for human rights, because of anything else means we lose the moral high ground.

Lord Ashdown: It’s engagement in the wider world, it’s eternal tolerance, it’s acceptance of immigration, it’s determination to create the society, that by the way Churchill created in the 2nd World War, united across our diversity to preserve something that’s dear for us. This is now at risk in a way, in my view, that it has never been at previous elections. That fundamental principle is now at risk. However people vote, vote to preserve that equality, don’t vote for those people who will destroy it.

Transcript by Emma Russell