As we have learnt this morning, the wanton violence and looting seen in Tottenham and other parts of London over the last few days has now spread to places like Birmingham and Bristol. It has its origins in the police shooting of a member of the public in still confused circumstances. But while the mindless violence has taken the headlines there are legitimate concerns over the balance of the right to life and freedom of individuals and how far the police should go in the course of their duty.
In a different area of the balance of rights and freedoms, the Equality and Human Rights Commission chose last weekend to suggest that the banning of satellite dishes in conservation areas may infringe an individual’s human right to freely practice their religion by denying the right to services beamed from abroad.
Both these examples show the importance of getting a sense of perspective on human rights. When the Human rights Act was first brought in, it was generally seen as an overdue protection of fundamental freedoms, but today many see it, and associated European legislation, as undue interference in the right of our country to its own interpretation of individual rights. I doubt if many will see access to a satellite dish as high on the scale of national priorities.
Over-focussing on comparative minor infringements of religious liberty simply blurs real issues.
For many of us religion is much more than formal worship. For Sikhs and I believe for most faiths the essence of religion is responsible living. This is something far removed from, and perhaps an antidote to, what has been termed ‘the recreational violence’ seen on our streets over the last few days.
Religion takes us away from a narrow obsession with self and my rights, to concern for those around us and respect for our surroundings. It is because of this that I believe that it would make for a more contented society if rights were seen in their true perspective, and the proposed new Bill on Human Rights framed to encompass both rights and responsibilities.