More is the pity I never met Nawazish Bokhari.
I think we would have been friends.
We would have had much in common – the pleasure we take in our families; our interest in history; my love of Pakistan and his of Britain and vice versa; and belief that the world will be a better place where people of different race and creeds live together in peaceful co-existence.
That would be the least of it. Our hope and ambition would have been greater than leaving it at that. It is not enough to say that there should be a free for all and may the strongest person win.
That is not my philosophy and from all that I have learnt about Nawazish it was not his either.
He would have known and I do too, that there have to be rules; rubrics of behaviour; laws of the land; and a willingness to engage in and share common aspirations and values.
People still come to this country because for the promise of a better life. They come to enjoy the privileges and freedoms that our forefathers strove to create in the name of a just society.
This was not an easy process. Our history is littered with conflicts, skirmishes and on occasion civil war when ideas clash and progress to the creation of liberal ideals, on which our constitution and institutions are created, were resisted and threatened.
Happily the ideals on which our democracy and the rule of law are founded, and people desires to see equality of opportunity and treatment, freedom of speech and of conscience and the rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind, are stronger than the short-term dictates of vested interests.
Although the battles over the fundamentals of our constitution have been fought and won we still must be aware that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”.
We have new battles to fight: we have new responsibilities to live up too.
In today’s highly fluid and mobile society it is not enough to assume that integration and cohesion do not require collective endeavor by all people of goodwill.
We know that some sectors of society are falling behind. To illustrate; Pakistanis were the least likely to have a better job than their parents: only 26% of Pakistani women are in paid employment compared to 72% white British women
We cannot say we have freedom of opportunity when we know that some will never be able to reach their true potential: not through their fault but because the systems that we introduced to provide a ladder of opportunity have rotten rungs which forbid a climb.
We have to build a new ladder.
When doing so we look to people like Nawazish Bokari for inspiration.
He was a man who knew that education was one of the best and surest means of securing our place in society.
He knew that societies work best where there is free interchange of ideas and ideals.
He knew that there had to be a balance to individual aspiration of an equal ambition to see that by our own efforts others benefit.
That is why he devoted his life to education: that is why he was a fearless spokesman for calm and moderation and that is why we are gathered here tonight to celebrate his life story and to commend his example to others.
I hope others will follow Naz’s example. Politicians may have the responsibility to ensure the apparatus of the state conform to society’s needs and aspiration but it is individuals who by their own efforts adds the richness to society.
That richness may come in many different shape and forms. It could be as a good neighbour; or a hard working parent; it could be as a public servant; a captain of industry or a small shop keeper, a member of one of the professions such as teacher or the law; or as a voluntary worker, or it could be answering the calling to follow a more spiritual life.
Whatever people’s chosen destiny we must make sure that they can achieve their true place in society and maximize the chance of their lives having appositive impact on others.
I believe this is a common endeavor that is shared by all who are gathered here tonight. And this is a fitting legacy to Nawazish Bokhari.