In the wake the new Liberal Democrat Leader’s “car crash” interview when he was questioned about how his Christian beliefs impact on his politics, Saj discusses the interaction between religion and politics with BBC Radio Lancashire’s Mike Stevens.
Mike Stevens: The new Liberal Democrat Leader,Tim Farron MP, less than 24 hours of being elected, ended up on all the front pages when he gave what has been described by some as a car crash interview. An interview in which he was questioned about how his Christian beliefs impact on his politics.
Mr Farron was asked 3 times if he believes homosexuality is a sin and all 3 times he refused to give a direct answer. This raises an interesting question about how politics and religion interact. A question which I put to Saj Karim, Conservative MEP for the North West and the first British Muslim to be elected to the European Parliament.
Now Saj told me that when he votes on an issue he considers all the facts…
Saj: my decision making processes, without exception work on the basis of incorporating as much information as I possibly can. Taking on board as many different view points as possibly can and then trying to make sense of it all and then doing what I believe to be the right thing.
I certainly haven’t ever gone away and consulted any religions texts of any sort, of any religion but I suppose in a way as a personal faith, as a Muslim myself, I have of course an understanding of a religious basis that people may be making representations to me on. So that may factor into some of the thinking that I do.
All Parliamentarians come with their own individual stories and backgrounds. We have our own characteristics and life experiences that make us. Certainly for me, my religious characteristics, if I can put them that way, are a part of my character, they are a part of my thinking but not exclusively- not everything centres around that.
You quite often find yourself, for instance, if you are dealing with a very complex financially related regulation matter, then your thinking is taken up with that as how are SMRS (Small and Medium Enterprises), going to be affected in the North West of England, in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. That’s what will factor in what you are doing at that particular time.
It’s a part of your characteristic and I think that as long as voters are aware at the time when they are electing you that this is a part of your characteristics, and you are completely professional about how you carry out your representations so that absolutely everybody is allowed a fair hearing and that you then arrive at a decision after that.
Of course the electorate then have the opportunity to judge you at forthcoming elections and give you either a further vote of confidence or reject you because you haven’t carried out representations in a fair way.
Mike: So if we’re saying that they elect you as a Muslim, or they elect you as a Christian they know that’s part of who you are and then comes along a decision on Gay marriage. Is it then fair that you then say ‘actually, I’m going to vote against Gay marriage as its something I don’t believe should happen’ and whether or not that decision is influenced by your faith, is that fair on the electorate?
Saj: Well of course this is something that any Parliamentarian who has to make this sort of decision of course makes it in a very public way and it’s something that your electorate has to bear in mind when you approach them to once again try and gain their confidence. But it needs to be very transparent and people need to understand where you are coming from so it’s down to that individual to try to explain their individual position.
The way I view these things I always start from a fundamental position of trying to ensure that absolutely everybody has equality as far as the state is concerned. That is an overriding paramount for the society that I live in, for the country that I live in and represent within the European Union. Indeed, the EU’s own values that bind all the member states together are based fundamentally on human rights and equality. Therefore my faith and my religion has to make sure that those values are properly delivered.
I am actually quite lucky in the sense that I can look to my religion and many others, in fact I would find it, hard to look to any of the main religions that don’t have equality as a basis on which to build. Therefore with Islam, I certainly don’t see any contradiction in being able to try and fight against discrimination and towards equality for all. This is something where I don’t see any contradiction between my only religion and delivering that for people.