l PRINCE Charles' two-week tour of the Middle East and India will doubtless serve a number of purposes but he got it off to a good start in Cairo yesterday with a speech and television interview about the need for greater tolerance between Christianity, Islam and Judaism. This has long been a special interest of his; he raised eyebrows several years ago when he said that as King he would like to be Defender of the Faiths, rather than just of the Faith. There are few better causes for the Prince of Wales to espouse. Suspicion and hostility between Christians, Muslims and Jews is to be found at the heart of many of today's most troublesome conflicts; although disputes are expressed and argued in political terms, often their origins are to be found in faith. It speaks well of Prince Charles' standing in Islam that he should have been invited to speak at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, an ancient seat of Muslim learning; few non-Muslims have received such an invitation which is a recognition both of his own commitment to inter-faith understanding and of the willingness of senior Islamic scholars to enter into dialogue. The main emphasis in his speech was on how much the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism have in common and he illustrated this with similar texts from each of them. In his TV interview Prince Charles brought his belief in inter-faith understanding to bear on current preoccupations with terrorism. This is tricky ground but he negotiated it well, calling on reasonable and responsible people to “work even harder and speak up louder about the vital importance of understanding that, at the end of the day, the three great Abrahamic faiths do share an awful lot more in common than most people realise”. Prince Charles is not the only person trying to bring some reason and understanding to the stand-off between faiths but he was a pioneer on the subject when he made his 1993 speech calling on the West to overcome its prejudices against the Arab world. A related initiative is the UN/Spanish project for an Alliance of Civilisations which held a preliminary meeting in Palma last autumn and will shortly be presenting proposals for the future.