I am delighted to be able to be here today to show my support for the wonderful work being done by Islamic Relief to alleviate the terrible suffering of the refugees in Afghanistan.
I salute you, alongside Muslim Aid, the British Red Cross, and all the other charities and international agencies who continue to work in such appalling conditions to help those who need your assistance.
Of course, this suffering did not begin only in the last month. Islamic Relief's appeal to help victims of drought and famine in Afghanistan has been long-standing. Nearly half of all Afghans - or 12 million out of 26 million people - had been adversely affected in some way by three years of drought and two decades of war. Inevitably, however, the situation has now become far worse.
Yet it is important to understand that our work - the work of all of us who care about building bridges and understanding between communities and faiths - is still the same as it was before 11 September. What happened on that terrible day, and events since, have only emphasised the fact that violence and extremism is driven by ignorance and fear, and a sheer inability to acknowledge our common humanity, the deeper spiritual truths which actually unite all mankind on a deeper level and, I am sorry to say, the reality of pain in areas of conflict in the Middle East.
It remains, more than ever, the task of moderate people of all faiths and creeds - in other words, the vast majority of us - to speak out against those who hold extreme views, and to make that extra leap of imagination away from the ignorant certainties of bigotry towards a genuine attempt at mutual understanding and respect.
I have been particularly pleased to learn today of the close co-operation between the British Government, through the Department for International Development, and Islamic Relief. And more generally, DFID has done an excellent job in mobilising relief to help Afghan refugees in these most difficult of conditions, and it is particularly good news that they have opened up a new convoy route to the North with the help of Russia and the United Nations.
It is also up to the private citizen to play his part. I shall be matching my donation to the Red Cross Afghan Crisis Appeal with a further modest donation to the Islamic Relief Afghan appeal. I can only urge everyone to do what they can to help tackle what is fast becoming a humanitarian catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.
Apart from anything else, the practical efforts of organisations like Islamic Relief and Muslim Aid, working closely with governments and alongside Christian and secular charities, is the very best answer to the language of hate and division that is spouted so loudly by the extremists, but which is so unrepresentative of the views of most of us.
Compassion is perhaps the most important requirement demanded of us by Bible or Quran. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews and Hindus all have compassion written into the very basis of their creed. I know that many are doing their best in this present crisis to follow that path.
So I leave here with a message of hope - together with my very best wishes for the endeavours of everyone, of all religions and none, but particularly of the British Islamic community for whom these last few weeks have been so difficult and who, I know, are determined to do what they can to combat suffering and reject extremism.