The British government has carried out a number of consultations and initiatives aimed at fostering thinking and debate about the vitally important issues surrounding diversity and integration. These have been welcomed by the Bahá'í community, which has played a part in them. The teachings of the Bahá'í Faith call for a deep rooted and wholehearted recognition of the essential oneness of humankind.

We feel that these have relevance to the situation in Northern Ireland, where recent news reports have brought us the all the shaming news of racist attacks on members of ethnic minorities. We therefore call on all to realise that racism originates not in the skin but in the human mind. At the root of all forms of discrimination and intolerance is the erroneous idea that humankind is somehow composed of separate and distinct races, peoples or castes, and that those sub-groups innately possess varying intellectual, moral, and/or physical capacities, which in turn justify different forms of treatment.

The reality is that there is only the one human race. We are a single people, inhabiting the planet Earth, one human family bound together in a common destiny, a single entity created from one same substance, obligated to be even as one soul.

The principle of human oneness strikes a chord in the deepest reaches of the human spirit. It is not yet another way of talking about the ideal of brotherhood or solidarity. Nor is it some vague hope or slogan. It reflects, rather, an eternal spiritual, moral and physical reality. Its emergence is more visible now because, for the first time in history, it has become possible for all of the peoples of the world to perceive their inter-dependence and to become conscious of their wholeness.

It is within this "unity paradigm" that diversity has its meaning and enriches all our lives. Without unity, diversity leads to division; without diversity, unity leads to uniformity. Neither uniformity nor division are characteristic of a healthy society. We believe that there must be transformation of individual, family, group, neighbourhood and societal perceptions, interactions and values if we are to build a cohesive society that will fully empower all of its members to learn and to use their talents and capacities for their own good and for the good of all.

Clearly education (spiritual, moral and citizenship education) has a central role to play in this transformation. This may be through formal classroom-based education, but education for transformation is just as likely to take place in informal settings in the family, in places of worship, in youth clubs and so on. We hope that the Government will give thought to how such education for transformation can be promoted and funded. An essential part of the transformative experience for young people will be to meet young people of different cultures and faiths in an environment of trust and equality of regard.

Very often this kind of transformative work is best carried out by the voluntary sector and/or by faith communities. There can be no doubt that funding invested in suitable projects run by the voluntary and faith sectors will be an investment in the development of a truly cohesive and empowering society.

If individual and small-group initiatives are to play the important role at the grassroots that they should, there will need to be provision for simplification of funding regimes and for easier access to small pots of money for development and transformational education.

The Bahá'í community calls on the relevant authorities to give serious thought to the role of women as builders of cohesive communities. Much of the reportage and analysis of failures of community cohesion has not recognized that women in all communities are often "natural" cohesion builders. Women in some communities may need to be encouraged and empowered in appropriate ways to play this role in more public settings than the family and household, but investment in such encouragement will pay dividends in bringing communities together and building cohesion.

We close by quoting a text from the Bahá'í scriptures that we find inspiring and which guides our thinking and action in our relations with our fellow humans. This was written by Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, over a hundred years ago:

O Children of Men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.

September 2004 CE