H. E. Mr. Richard Kinchen MVO
UK Ambassador to Belgium

spoke on

“Islam” and “the West” – Conflict or Cohabitation?

Thursday November 17th 2005

The Oxford and Cambridge Societies met on 17 November in the premises of the Dominican Priory on Ave de la Renaissance, to listen to a talk given by British Ambassador to Belgium Richard Kinchen ( Trinity Hall 1967-70), who was accompanied by his wife Cheryl.
The theme chosen was “ “Islam” and “the West” – conflict or cohabitation?” Richard (and Cheryl) has/have excellent qualifications to talk about the subject, Richard being an Arabic speaker, and having lately been the Ambassador to the Lebanon. After joining the Foreign Office in 1970 he spent time in the Centre for Middle East studies, and then amongst other postings has seen service in the Embassies in Kuwait and Rabat. He made clear that both the terms Islam and the West are loose terms. There are as many different strands in the Islamic world as there are in the Western world. There is nothing innately anti-Western in Islam, nor vice versa, but in each country and in each culture there are certain elements (extremists) which promote conflict, and certain elements which promote cohabitation. Nevertheless the current situation has seen a number of events which have helped those who promote conflict, and this has been aggravated by a tendency in certain circles to see things in black and white. The stated reasons for conflict may vary widely from countries which have Muslim populations such as Chechnya, Bosnia, Indonesia, Iraq or Afghanistan, but it has led to a situation where Muslims may feel they have a general grievance against “the West”, and to feeling in the West of being under threat from “Islamic” terrorists.
A very lively discussion ensued, and one which could have continued for many an hour. As always the evening had to be cut short to allow those who needed to, to continue on their way, whilst some 25 amongst the audience of nearly 60 repaired to a local restaurant in the company of Cheryl and Richard Kinchen for an excellent dinner.
Our thanks to both our guests for taking the time to give us a lively evening, and to Fr. Michel Van Aerde, for making available to us the facilities of the Dominican Priory.