Bob Geldof: We must not ignore the poor and the brutalised

From a speech given by the singer at the Ireland Fund of Great Britain lunch, held in the Banqueting House, Whitehall
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The Independent Online

On the train back from a gig, somewhere between Grantham and Peterborough I had this blinding flash of inspiration in which everything that's happened in the world between the Himalayas, this room, Ireland and ourselves suddenly made sense. And thankfully for you, I decided to come and share this grand unifying theory of everything that's completely wrong in the world, and offer the solution.

Reference has been made to the fact that we're all here despite circumstances. They're not unique circumstances, unfortunately, but they are grim. Blair is right when he says this is not a religious war. Bin Laden is wrong when he says it is. Bush is wrong to say that it is a war in defence of civilisation while others are equally wrong to say that it is a clash between cultures. I think it's fairly clear that what is happening is a struggle between modernity and traditionalism.

Most of us in this room, and indeed in our part of the world, have experienced modernity as liberating and empowering. Yet in whole areas of the world, people have experienced, and continue to experience, this same modernity as coercive, invasive and disorientating. And when we go into these parts of the world, however well intentioned, it becomes for the recipients of this good intent dislocating and disorientating. And those people who experience modernity as an assault will often become fundamentalists.

I happened to be in Turkey about a month ago. It's a huge country, critically important, always has been. It borders us, and they would desperately like to be a part of us to safeguard their political and economic future. But its old empire stretches out into the ex-Soviet Republics of Asia Minor. The sole source of water for most of the Middle East rises in Turkey. So it's going to go off one of these days unless we help to sort it out.

If you're there, you'll experience huge urbanisation in Istanbul, which is mirrored throughout most of the poor parts of the world. Go out into the vast bulk of the rural areas and you'll see fundamentalism's seed. It's very dangerous for us, and it's deathlike for them. It's clear why – they have nothing, and there's no chance of them ever having anything. At the same time, one of the few things they have is a constant diet of our culture – through the weird lens of Hollywood. They have Dynasty and Dallas amid the dirt and the dust, and it appears to them as if we're simply making fun of them.

And so they revert in confusion from our morality, which they view as decadent, and of which they have no understanding outside of the little TV box, and revert to what they are themselves and to their culture. For them, that is defined by Islam. Seeing no future, they flood into political centres such as Istanbul. And not being allowed or able to get any housing or work, they revert to an incendiary form of this culture, which again is fundamentalism.

You can see this happening in Turkey especially, because in the 1920s Ataturk enforced Western liberalism on them. Because of their size and economy, it was largely successful. The veil was was removed, women had education, men were forced to abandon the fez. But today we see them desperately trying to become part of what Thatcher called the rich man's cartel.

Ireland has experienced this same sort of thing. David Trimble deals with our own form of fundamentalism. The English had their own Ataturk 500 years ago in Oliver Cromwell.

So what's the mechanism to avoid the clash of the great forces of the enlightenment and the cultural bulk (things that were never meant to be mutually exclusive)? It can only be an economy that allows development within the conditions of each culture – fair trade duty and quota free – between those who have nothing and those with it all.

We can't leave behind in our roaring wake the poor, the brutalised and needy. That way leads to more bin Ladens and, frankly, the loss of our souls.