[Peter Dowd in the Chair]
I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate. That is in line with Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I also remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre on the estate or at home. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the Chamber.
Before we move on, may I say a little about the process? Seventeen Back-Bench Members have indicated that they wish to speak. In practical terms, other than the mover and the Front Benchers, that gives each Member about two and a half minutes tops, and that is with no interventions—I am not saying that there should not be interventions. To be fair to everyone in advance, I should say that if we get too many interventions, that limit might even drop down. There will be a formal limit of two and a half minutes each after the mover of the motion has spoken, with 10 minutes each for the Front Benchers.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Islamophobia Awareness Month.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd.
When I go home and look at my grandchildren, I see limitless potential that deserves to flourish and thrive, yet I find it heartbreaking that they must grow up in a world where racism is still present—they will be subject to racism purely because of their faith—and that I, as their grandfather, must stand up to talk about the rampant Islamophobia in our midst. This month is an opportunity for us all to tackle that insidious hatred, which manifests itself in hate crime, discrimination and loss of opportunity.
As I look around the Chamber, I am touched by the support of my hon. Friends from all parts of the House who have committed to rooting out racism, whichever form it takes. I hosted a drop-in event in collaboration with the Muslim Council of Britain and Amnesty International last week, and it was brilliant to see the cross-party support. I thank the many hon. Members present today for attending.
The information shared with us by the Muslim Council of Britain last week was very powerful indeed, and reflects the experience that many of us have heard about from our Muslim constituents. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to take responsibility for engaging effectively with the MCB to tackle the issue?
Yes, I agree, and I will be making that point.
I had the privilege of visiting Europe’s first eco-mosque in Cambridge—a real trailblazer in the community. It highlights how effective the British Muslim community has been in tackling the climate crisis with a positive and inspiring message. I extend an invitation to the Minister. I cannot promise that a visit will be as thrilling as Peppa Pig World, but it is worth a visit.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. Does he agree that there is more to be done to ensure that our children grow together in harmony, celebrating the differences that we share, which make us stronger when added to the similarities? That makes us communities. Furthermore, does he believe that one way to achieve that is to facilitate cross-community events that focus on young people of different backgrounds coming together to learn more, to understand more and, inevitably, to accept more about each other, so that we are better together?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I could not have put it better myself.
For 2.7 million Muslims, Islamophobia has distressing and real-life implications. A recent example is the far right peddling the narrative during the pandemic that British Muslims were super-spreaders of covid simply by practising their faith. As a result, Muslim communities suffered a shocking 40% increase in online Islamophobia during this period, according to Tell MAMA. The online safety Bill is an opportunity for the Government to better regulate online content, including harmful and racist material.
I thank my hon. Friend for accepting my intervention, and for all his work—and indeed that of other Members—on this important issue in the House. Does he agree that the issue is not just about online abuse, but that sports can play a role? I know he will go on to this topic, but with the Ashes ahead of us, surely now is the time to tackle Islamophobia in cricket, once and for all.
I thank my hon. Friend. Again, that is a point I will touch on.
I have no doubt that those of us who participate in this debate will be on the receiving end of further abuse. Social media platforms have a moral responsibility and a duty to protect their users. Here, a definition of Islamophobia will help establish a mechanism for accountability and improved regulation. I will return to the definition in a moment, but can the Minister outline what measures will be introduced by the Government to keep users safe online, and what steps are being taken to tackle far-right activity?
It would be a mistake, however, to see this as merely an online phenomenon. The Government’s own figures reveal, once again, that Muslims have been victim to the highest proportion of all hate crimes committed this past year. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) and I have written to the Conservative party chair over the surge in hate crimes against Muslims following the Liverpool attack. Time and again, we see the conflation of Islam and terrorism, which is wrong and perpetuates a harmful stereotype of Muslims.
Last week, Azeem Rafiq’s powerful and moving testimony about his experience in cricket shone a light on how easily racism and Islamophobia can go unchecked and be simply dismissed as “banter”. A series of attacks on mosques, including in Manchester and east London, demand serious action by the Government. Most recently, a man was convicted of terrorism offences after planning an attack on a mosque in Scotland. Will the Minister outline what steps are being taken to better safeguard places of worship?
Crucially, we must remember that these are not isolated incidents. Home Office data supports this, showing that referrals to Prevent for extreme right-wing ideology have increased exponentially. Many of my parliamentary colleagues and I have pushed for an independent review of the Prevent strategy for several years. A coalition of more than 450 Muslim organisations has boycotted the Government’s review of Prevent in protest at the appointment of William Shawcross as its chair. Shawcross has openly expressed a hostile view of Islam and Muslims, including suggesting that—I quote—“Islamic fascism” was the biggest problem facing our society.
I want to put four questions to the Minister today. Will she outline why the Government appointed someone with Islamophobic views? Will she respond to the overwhelming discontent over Shawcross’s appointment? Will she explain why the Government refuses to engage with the MCB, the largest Muslim organisation in the UK? Who sits on the Government’s anti-Muslim hatred working group, and has she ever met the group?
The appointment of William Shawcross is just a symptom of something that must be addressed in this debate: the Conservative party’s Islamophobia crisis. In 2018, we held a general debate on Islamophobia, in which I delivered the Labour party’s position. Two years later, no meaningful progress has been made and the Government have failed to take any action on this issue.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for securing this important debate. Does he agree that the Prime Minister likening Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers directly fuels Islamophobia—I have seen it myself, as a former hate crime worker—and that apologising for offence caused is not good enough? The Prime Minister must apologise for what he said and, more importantly, engage with the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims and take some real action, starting with adopting the definition for Islamophobia.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I agree. The APPG on British Muslims has worked tirelessly to create the definition of Islamophobia, which has the confidence of more than 800 organisations and has been adopted by Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Green party and even the Scottish Conservatives, as well as the Mayors of London and Greater Manchester and hundreds of councils across the country. I applaud the aforementioned for taking that positive step.
Defining and naming a problem is the first step in rooting it out, but it seems that the Government cannot even bring themselves to use the term Islamophobia. How do they intend to deal with a problem that they cannot even name? In fact, I challenge the Minister to use the term Islamophobia today.
The truth is that the Conservative party has repeatedly shown it is in denial about this problem through its failure to accept the definition proposed by the APPG, its failure to conduct a truly independent investigation and its failure to appoint Government advisers on the issue. What concerns me is that the Tory party has an institutional problem. Frankly, it does not care about Islamophobia.
The Singh review revealed institutional failings in how the Conservative party handled Islamophobia complaints. However, the review failed to engage with any Conservative Muslim parliamentarians and, once again, it did not even acknowledge or mention the term Islamophobia. Given that the definition has such widespread community support, can I ask the Minister why the Government insist on reinventing the wheel?
All of this goes right to the top. We all remember the Prime Minister’s shocking comment about Muslim women and letterboxes, but what is less well known is the fact that his comment directly resulted in a 375% rise in hate crime against Muslims. To add insult to injury, the Prime Minister continues to ignore the issue. During last year’s Islamophobia Awareness Month, I wrote to the Prime Minister to urge him to take action and to meet with me and key Muslim organisations. More than a year later, I am still waiting for a reply. I raised the matter in the Chamber earlier this month, and Mr Speaker and I both agreed that it is totally unacceptable for the Prime Minister to simply ignore letters from Members, no matter the subject. The Muslim community in our country deserves better: it deserves an explanation and, frankly, an apology.
The theme of this year’s Islamophobia Awareness Month is “Time for change”, and it is time for change. It is time the Government changed their approach towards Islamophobia and tackled it head on. Whether we look at evidence from the McGregor-Smith review, the Lawrence review or the Lammy review, we are confronted with the unavoidable fact that Islamophobia has damaging consequences on the life chances and equality of Muslims across the UK.
I thank my hon. Friend for making such an excellent speech on this really important issue, which affects so many of my constituents in Vauxhall. On his point about the Muslim community being affected, he will know that Muslims have suffered disproportionately throughout the covid pandemic, and yet they were the ones helping at mosques. Does he agree that it is really important that we have leadership from the top, including that apology from the Prime Minister?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I agree—that is exactly what we need. Perhaps, at the end, that is what I will ask as well.
At the heart of the APPG’s inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia was an attempt to do something about the nature, scale and impact of Islamophobia. As political representatives, we have a responsibility to listen to the voices of all in our communities and strive to serve them to the best of our abilities. Representing British Muslims requires more than just lip service: it requires commitment, leadership and, most importantly, action.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I know the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), and I would consider him a friend. We speak regularly. I am disappointed that a debate on a very important subject has turned into the normal political attack on the Conservative party. To hear the sanctimony of an organisation that was investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for prejudice and antisemitism in lecturing this party on prejudice is something.
I would like to talk about the practical—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Dowd. We can talk about the definition of prejudice, but it is within ourselves. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton knows two people who work for me; one is certainly my best friend. I am a Conservative Back-Bench MP who does not see a difference in human beings because of their religion, faith or anything. I see the decency in people and that is what motivates me in politics. It is what motivates Shahbaz and Khalid. At least two Members opposite know those two people who have given years of service to my area and its community. To be tarred with what has just been said—the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton knows it is not correct.
I fight every day in my constituency to ensure that my Muslim constituents have the best possible representation. When we talk about Islamophobia, I would like Labour MPs to support me in practical policies to help with the various issues that affect the Muslim community. There are lots of important issues, but I will talk about just one. In my seat and the seats of the hon. Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Manchester, Gorton, just about every Muslim family is touched by a taxi driver who works there—families who are absolutely dependent on that income. When I contact the hon. Members for Manchester, Gorton and for Bolton South and say, “Let’s set up an APPG for taxi driving in Greater Manchester,” and they say, “No, we can’t do that for political reasons,” it is therefore extremely disappointing. We could actually put in place practical policies—
I have just made a 10-minute speech outlining the different problems that the Muslim community has been facing. The issue is not that the hon. Gentleman has two employees who are Muslim or that he has friends who are Muslim; the issue is that we have a Government who are failing to tackle this problem and the hon. Gentleman is a Member of that Government and needs to tackle the problem as well.
The issue is that Members of Parliament such as myself and my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham), for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker) spend our days going out there and doing our very best to support the Muslim community in every possible way. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton has just made a generalised statement trying to slur every Conservative MP with a prejudice that is not correct.
Does my hon. Friend agree that on such a sensitive subject such as this, the highly partisan nature in which the debate has been opened, if watched by our Muslim constituents, will look not like people trying to tackle anti-Muslim hatred, but as if they, as a community, are being used as a political football for political goals?
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I could mention all sorts of policies here, whether it is support for the self-employed, for taxi drivers or for anybody else in my constituency. I believe I should be working with other MPs in Greater Manchester for the greater good to support all our Muslim constituents through specific policies that address the issues that are at the heart of the challenges they face.
When you represent people who you know; when you have been part of a community; when you do everything you possibly can to represent people, to be their voice in Parliament and to address the issues—what more do Opposition Members expect? Prejudice is an issue that is addressed through the individual and through all of us behaving in a way where we welcome and take every opportunity to say that we value all our communities, and we especially value our Muslim community. We value every single person. Prejudice and racism are not addressed by a definition. They are addressed by an individual and by all of us coming together to make sure that people are not judged by anything other than their personality, their goodness, and their ability and desire to influence their community for the better.
I can tell everybody in this Chamber and elsewhere that my interaction with my communities is simply for that purpose. I am a politician who wants to make change and who wants to ensure that people are treated in an equal fashion. This Government’s levelling-up agenda is about equality of opportunity. Every single policy that we put in place is to ensure that that is the case and that people are not discriminated against on the basis of their background.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing this debate and on recently raising a point of order to state that the Prime Minister had not actually addressed his letter about Islamophobia Awareness Month last year and to urge him to better safeguard the lives of British Muslims. Sadly, that Government inaction comes as no surprise to those of us who continually raise issues of this nature. So I express my full solidarity with Muslim Members right across this House in their ongoing fight against Islamophobia.
Unfortunately, many of us are all too familiar with the vile torrent of abuse that MPs are subjected to, whether it be racist, sexist or misogynist, but we have some reassurance in knowing that society generally recognises the severity of these types of abuse. But for those who experience Islamophobic abuse, there is a feeling that the abuse they receive is not taken seriously. Islamophobia is relegated to the very bottom, despite British Muslims being on the sharp end of some of the worst racism. And it is no surprise that there is a growing sentiment of anti-Muslim hate, because the current party of Government have such a disgraceful track record on Islamophobia, as highlighted by the independent investigation into discrimination in the Conservative party.
I obviously have to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) that there is a certain amount of partisanship involved in this debate. In that vein, what does the hon. Lady think about the quote included in the report entitled “Islamophobia and the Muslim Experience” that 55% of Muslim respondents do not
“trust the leadership of the Labour Party to tackle Islamophobia effectively”?
If Government Members listen to what Labour Members are saying, they will realise that no one is disputing that there is Islamophobia in all parts of society. We are calling on the Government to take action in their own party and right across society; that is all we are doing.
I also want to point out that, as far as I am concerned, the Prevent strategy has contributed to the continuing prevalence of Islamophobia. That policy has embedded infrastructure of surveillance in Muslim communities, has increased police stop-and-search powers and has been inherently Islamophobic in its theoretical underpinnings. Although I initially welcomed the Government’s review of Prevent, they have now delayed the publishing of that review as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021. And to add insult to injury, the Government appointed William Shawcross to head the supposedly independent review, despite, as we have heard, his questionable actions as head of the Charity Commission in disproportionately putting Muslim charities under investigation.
Finally, I remind Members that 45% of religious hate crimes recorded by the police in 2020-21 were Islamophobic. That is an estimated 42,000 incidents of religiously motivated hate crime per year, which is approximately six times the number of recorded offences. And perhaps it is a reflection of how much Islamophobia permeates our entire society that a professional sportsperson had to share his painful experiences of being discriminated against during his time as a cricketer. Since Azeem Rafiq provided evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee this month, other professional cricketers have shared their stories of being abused due to their ethnicity or religion, and an independent commission looking into racism and discrimination in cricket has now been inundated with responses.
All of that is sufficient to show that the Government need to take action now. I urge the Government to give a comprehensive response to the letter by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton; to update Members on Government progress in defining anti-Muslim hatred; to listen to the needs of the community when it comes to the impact of the Government’s strategy; and to ensure that there are proper safeguards for British Muslims against further abuse and discrimination. That is all we are asking for.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing this debate. He made a powerful speech and a lot of good points, but may I respectfully say that I think this was a missed opportunity? We have worked together on Muslim burials, on Kashmir, on Muslims and their efforts during covid, and on the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, so to come here and attack the Conservative party in the way that he has is a really missed opportunity. Making this a partisan thing does his argument no favours whatsoever.
I introduced a debate in this place on Islamophobia some time ago, and I talked about how, during the 2019 by-election in Peterborough, I came across a gentleman called Amir Suleman, who asked my opinion on the all-party group’s definition of Islamophobia. I was rather embarrassed to say, at the time, that I did not really understand or know a lot about it, but I promised that I would get back to the gentleman in question and would campaign and stand with him. I stand here two years later as the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims.
I work incredibly hard, each and every day, representing my Muslim constituents and trying to promote the positive benefits that Muslims contribute in my city each and every day, whether during covid, or through business, society or politics. In the Conservative party we have many Muslim councillors. We have two Muslim councillors in our city cabinet, until recently we had a Muslim councillor who was Mayor of the city, and we also have many Muslim councillors there from the Labour party. We work together, and that is the spirit in which we should be coming together to tackle Islamophobia and promote the positive contribution that Muslims make. We do that in Peterborough; it is such a shame that we cannot do it in this place.
My hon. Friend mentioned that positive contribution. Does he agree that Muslim charities and mosques, especially in my constituency of Dewsbury, have been pivotal in helping the needy and vulnerable during the pandemic, while also helping to promote social cohesion between communities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very humbling to see Muslim communities in my city help not only people in their own community, but those from communities in my city. They make me proud of Peterborough. It did not matter what background people were from, whether Muslim, Christian or eastern European. In Peterborough, we come in different shapes and sizes. We come from different cultures, different religions and different backgrounds, but we stood together as one city. I cannot think of a better example to promote the message of what a positive contribution Muslims made than the one that my hon. Friend gave, or how we all came together as one city.
We have also had success resulting from that in tackling Islamophobia. We have had Muslim councillors elected by huge majorities in wards where many Muslims do not live. People are not seeing this as a Muslim issue; they are seeing it in a completely and utterly colour-blind way. I urge all Members to come to Peterborough and see how a city working together actually works.
We have lots of work to do in this House, and we should be doing it cross-party. We should be tackling the hatred that I sometimes see across the country. Violence, attacks—these are despicable things that need to be stamped out. We also need to see the perhaps more subtle elements of Islamophobia stamped out. I remember the investigation by The Sun in January 2018 that showed that people with typically English-sounding names were given lower quotes than those with typically Muslim-sounding names. We can work together on this. I hope that the rest of the speeches by Opposition Members in this debate highlight that, and say how we can all work together to tackle Islamophobia.
Like many other speakers today, I have my scars. From being attacked by a racist gang in the park with dogs, as me and my brother ran away, having our clothes ripped from us, scared; to the audible gasps of, “Why the hell would you choose to be a Muslim?”, my experiences are as real as they are painful. With a Polish mother and a Pakistani father, and proudly British, I feel fortunate to have grown up immersed in many cultures. I have, sadly, experienced overt racism and bigotry; unfortunately, I have also been where people speak in perceived safety, not realising that I am a Muslim.
When I was studying medicine at Cambridge, a senior surgeon spoke openly about terrorism and Islam. When I asked him kindly to stop, he was shocked. When I stated that I was a Muslim, he asked where I was from and proceeded to tell me that half my family were eastern European cleaners and the other half were terrorists, and that I should go and tell my family to stop killing people.
A taxi driver once told me, 20 minutes into a cab journey, that he would never in his life allow a Muslim into his taxicab. He told me that Muslims were taking over the world, that he had absolutely no desire to meet one, and that he would not allow his daughter to go and study at a university where someone wore a hijab. I told him to stop the car, that he had met a Muslim and that I would continue my journey on foot.
My mum, who is not a Muslim but married one and had two children who chose to be Muslim, is Polish and has blonde hair and green eyes. She has been spat at in the street, called dirty for walking with her children and, while we were growing up, had people shouting at her on the tube, telling her she had married a dirty—I will not name the name, because I do not want to give it a place in this place.
Many people tell me I should have used getting married as the opportunity to drop the Khan and call myself Rosie Allin in a bid to be accepted, and that I should hide all traces of Islam from my daughters’ names, so that they may have “an easier life.” Well, fear will not make me drop my name or my faith, and fear will never stop me fighting against Islamophobia. In this place we have a platform, but millions of people do not. We owe it to them to speak out, and to fight for change for our community and for our children.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe), who is my constituency neighbour, wanted to be here today, but unfortunately cannot attend.
When we have these discussions in this House, they present an opportunity for us to shine a light on an issue and to encourage all our constituents who have experiences like those of the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) to talk about them, and to raise them with us as Members of Parliament, so that we can have a much better informed debate, and to raise them with the police. Such discussions give them confidence that they do not have to suffer in silence or accept that kind of behaviour.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as well as accepting the passionate speech given by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) we also need to challenge ourselves, whenever and wherever we experience such behaviour? There are some fantastic videos of people on tubes and trams challenging people and calling them out. We all need to do that, in all our organisations, wherever we see this discrimination.
The hon. Member is absolutely right. If we want to build a better society and better communities, then we all have a part to play. If we can do one thing in this House, it is to give confidence not just to victims and potential victims but to everyone, so that if they see intolerance or discrimination they have the confidence to call it out and stand up for what is right.
It is very sad that in recent years we have seen an increase in Islamophobia and antisemitism. The words that we use here are incredibly impactful. When I was first elected in 2019, one of the first organisations to reach out to me was Tell MAMA. I had the privilege of meeting Iman Atta, the director of Tell MAMA, who spoke to me at length and incredibly powerfully about the experience of Muslims across the country, but also in my constituency. I have been fortunate to meet representatives from local organisations in Burnley, such as Olive High School, an independent Islamic school for girls. What all this showed me is that when we work together we achieve far more.
Last Friday, we held a local memorial service for Sir David Amess. I laid a wreath, alongside our council leader, who was representing the local imam, and Lord Khan, who is the first Muslim peer for Burnley, both of whom I consider to be friends. It sent a powerful and moving message to constituents in Burnley and people across the country that the more we can work together, the better.
Islamophobia is a scourge on society, and I hope that what we do in this place and the words that we use help people realise that we can find a better way of discussing things and finding solutions. Sometimes, we need to take the politics out of it. If we take the politics out of it, we can work cross-party, as we all do locally in our constituencies. The words that we use in the Chamber are very different from how we engage in our societies and communities. If we take a little bit more of that engagement and community focus here, we will find a much better solution.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) for securing the debate during Islamophobia Awareness Month.
I want to set something straight on the record. Bolton South East does not need the help of other MPs to deal with the issues of taxi drivers. I deal with them, meet them regularly and do not need to set up an APPG for them. I am interested to know why no Conservative MP in Greater Manchester ever wants to join an APPG on Greater Manchester, which is much wider. No Conservative MPs will join that. That was rather a silly comment from the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) in making that point. To repeat, my taxi drivers do not need any help from anyone else.
Returning to the topic of the day, I want to talk about international Islamophobia. In Myanmar, decades of hate speech and persecution culminated in 2017 with more than 700,000 predominantly Muslim Rohingya people having to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh after a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing; and our Government did nothing about it. In China, close to a million Uyghur Muslims are believed to be interned in so-called re-education camps. There, too, Islamophobia is rife across the country and our Government have done nothing about it.
In India, with every passing year, Islamophobia has become more normalised and mainstream. Narendra Modi was a member of the RSS, a neo-Nazi group, and his Bharatiya Janata party is making India into an authoritarian, Hindu national state. Regular, unprovoked attacks on Muslims by Hindu mobs have become routine in India, along with the destruction of mosques and the taking away of Muslims’ human rights.
Last month, the BBC reported that a video had gone viral on social media showing a terrified girl clinging to her Muslim father as Hindu mobs assaulted him. That is not a one-off. That kind of violence is overwhelming. I have never heard a word from the Foreign Office or Government Ministers on that issue. When they talk about wanting to deal with Islamophobia, I would like to hear from the Government.
In Europe, Muslims are being made the other. Constantly in France and other countries, every time there is a general election, they bring up the subject of Muslims, take women’s veils and bring in new laws that say that Muslims are forming a counter-society. Again, we hear nothing in this country from the Foreign Office. I would like our Government to do something about that.
I refer to my unremunerated chairmanship of the advisory board of Conservatives Against Racism For Equality. I begin by saying how proud I am to have the support of thousands of British Muslims in Wycombe, including Conservative councillors, who have been mayors of High Wycombe and chairs of the county council. I am incredibly proud of British Muslims in Wycombe.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and I put out a photo of us standing together against Islamophobia. Of course, as soon as I put that on social media, it was viciously trolled by Islamophobes. I am afraid that happens time and again, every time that I stand up for my British Muslim constituents. That is not going to stop me standing up for them and against Islamophobia.
I want to say to those Islamophobic trolls that it is categorically wrong to condemn innocent people collectively for the crimes of others, because sometimes that is what is done overwhelmingly. I am Christian and, with humility, recognise that over the course of 2,000 years, terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity. People have been tortured to death, murdered and persecuted, even today. We know from the campaign around LGBT conversion therapy that Christians still persecute others.
That does not mean that I am responsible for it, and I would not accept anyone else holding me responsible for it. It would be wrong and unjust of them to do so. All I am asking for is that British Muslims enjoy the same treatment: that they be judged on the content of their own character and behaviour. I am very proud of the contribution that British Muslims make to our society.
I turn briefly to the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia. I understand that the Government object to the use of the word “racism” because racism refers to race, not religion, and there therefore might be a conflict with the Equality Act 2010. I can understand that. The meaning of words does matter, and it is important that we get the definition right, but I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that we have a real problem with Islamophobia or anti-Muslim hatred—whatever term we want to use—and we need to do something about it. Notwithstanding where some of the debate has been, I ask the Minister to meet the APPG officers and see whether we can find some way to work through the definition and pick up something that the Government can adopt. Finally, I ask her to engage with the MCB. I think it has some new leadership that I suspect she would very much approve of.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) for securing it.
Today we have the opportunity to address and acknowledge Islamophobia Awareness Month and to reaffirm our collective determination to challenge and eradicate hate speech and discrimination, but we are also here to celebrate and champion the many thriving Muslim communities in all parts of the country. Newport West is one of the most diverse communities in Wales—a fact that I am very proud of—and its greatest strength is its diversity. From my visits to the Jamia Mosque on Commercial Road, the Islamic Society of Wales and the Newport Central Mosque in Stow Hill, which is at the heart of our city, I know the contribution that they have made to our local community. It is so important to acknowledge the key role that our Muslim communities have played in the last 18 months. From looking out for neighbours to providing food and support to people of all faiths and none, Newport’s Muslim community has shown that it cares, has a big heart and is committed to bringing our communities together. I am very grateful for the warm welcome that I have always received at our local mosques, and for the steadfast support provided to me personally.
Islamophobia is not just verbal or physical abuse; it is structural. In many ways, it is entrenched in our society, so we parliamentarians have a real responsibility to shed light on the problem and tackle it head-on. One of my team here in this place, Adam Jogee, is the first Muslim Mayor of Haringey. I have heard from Adam, who I know is watching the debate, about some of the experiences that he has had to face as a Muslim. The abuse he has had ranges from having his faith questioned on social media to being called “Jihadi Jogee”.
I agree 100% and I thank the hon. Member for his intervention.
It is completely unacceptable that abuse takes place on social media and that it is often elected representatives who engage in it. There are tangible things that the Minister can do, and I would be grateful if she outlined precisely how the Government plan to lead by example in the fight against Islamophobia. Has she met the excellent, new and young secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain? If so, when did they last speak? Lastly, I would be grateful for an update on the discussions with the devolved Administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland about the fight against Islamophobia. There are vibrant and thriving Muslim communities in all four countries of the UK, and the Government must stand up for all of them.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton for his leadership and for calling this important debate. I thank all Muslim colleagues in this House and the other place for their perseverance. To the Muslim community in Newport West, in south Wales and across the UK, I say this: please be assured that I stand with you against hate, now and always.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing this important debate.
It is ironic that when we consider the word “Islamophobia”, we think about the word “Islam”. “Islam” means “peace”. “Salaam alaikum” means “peace be unto you”, and “Alaikum salaam”—the reply—means “unto you be peace”. It is deeply ironic that, as the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) said, we have the evil of Islamophobia out there. I, too, have seen some very ugly stuff that I never want to see again. Islamophobia exists.
In the short time available, I want to tell an anecdote. As a student, I was fishing about for a subject to make up my degree, and one of the subjects I chose, by great good fortune, was the history of Islam and Islamic culture. That was one of the best things that I ever did, because I learned everything about the life of the Prophet. I learned about the Hegira in 622. I learned about the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the hadith literature—I was talking to the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton about this earlier today—the sunnah of the Prophet, and so on. In doing so, we met Muslims. They came to lectures. We worked with them. We ate with them and learned about food. It is a very simple thing, but when you know somebody and you like them, it is hard to hate them. I was very fortunate with my education. I think that we can build into education in the future a greater understanding of Islam, Judaism and other religions, which will make for a more tolerant society.
One of the things that came out of my lectures was the expression that we all know—that we are all the sons and daughters of Abraham. The similarities between Christianity, Judaism and Islam are there to be seen, and they are strengths that we should build on together. Wherever we are today as a nation, we will have to play to our strengths and really work together. It is a difficult world for us. That means mobilising everyone of all creeds and religions in this country. Therefore, stamping out something like Islamophobia can only help to build a better country for all of us.
Thank you, Mr Dowd; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing the debate, and thank the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) for his reasoned contribution.
I had a speech prepared and I have ripped it up, because there are a few matters that I want to put on the record. I will start by saying this: if you want to tackle Islamophobia, you need to listen to the lived experiences of Muslims. Our contributions and lived experiences will help you to shape policy to tackle Islamophobia. I know what it feels like. I was nine years old when I was asked if my dad was a terrorist the day after 9/11. Only a couple of months after that, our mosque was burned to the ground in a suspected Islamophobic attack. Those are my lived experiences, and I know how that feels.
To be perfectly frank, I will not accept a debate in which we are told that we have to take the politics out of it, because the Prime Minister peddles dangerous rhetoric when he says that veiled Muslim women look like “letter boxes”. I am a Muslim. I know how that feels. As the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton said, attacks against Muslim women increased after those comments.
I am sorry, but I do not have enough time to take interventions. When people say, “I don’t see race. I don’t see religion,” they might not, but I do, because there are other people out there who ensure that I know how it feels that I am a little bit different from the rest of you. To be perfectly frank, I really do not care what party Members are in. The Scottish National party is in government in Scotland and the Conservatives are in government in Westminster. More needs to be done across all four nations to tackle this. The Scottish Government recently passed legislation that expanded the definition of hate speech and makes it easier to hold to account those who express prejudice in a threatening or abusive way. That is a step in the right direction, and the UK Government need to do more. We are saying, “Listen to our lived experiences. It’s not party political.”
This has been really difficult to speak about. I will say just one more thing: I am so proud of my identity. I am a Scottish Pakistani Muslim. In the month of Ramadan, you will find me fasting, and breaking my fast by drinking a cold can of Irn-Bru and eating samosas.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on leading it in the extremely effective and passionate way that he has. The statistics that the Muslim Council of Britain has published for Islamophobia Awareness Month underline the urgent need for greater education and awareness about Islam, the Muslim community and Islamophobia. They underline the need for those of us in positions of authority to speak out. Crucially, they underline the need for the Government to demonstrate leadership on this issue.
Muslims have just as much right to be safe and be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential as those of us who are not Muslims. Almost 50% of all recorded religious hate crimes are targeted against Muslims. Survey after survey shows Muslim adults held back from even getting interviews, never mind full-time work, and we know from the evidence that the MCB published that it costs more to live if someone is a Muslim. They pay more to insure their car, for example, and those with an apparently obvious Muslim name who seek a flat get fewer replies.
In Harrow, there are too many examples of Islamophobia, from casual graffiti in tube stations and men spitting at Muslim women wearing the jilbab in north Harrow to the Muslim woman from Harrow called a terrorist, a bomber, while travelling on the train. There are examples, too, of job discrimination against Muslims and in local politics, with—I say this gently in the context of what has gone before—Conservative councillors partly responsible. It is that day-to-day reality that needs to change.
In my experience, the Muslim community in Harrow is astonishingly generous. Harrow Central Mosque has helped to raise money for a primary school in need of new computers and an overhaul of the books in the school library. The Sri Lankan Muslim Cultural Centre, one of the contenders for best-run mosque in the UK, played a critical role during lockdown in helping to get food and clothing to those in need, and the remarkable Mahfil Ali community in north Harrow, as well as helping to run a soup kitchen, has been attending midnight mass on Christmas eve at its nearest Anglican church for the last 12 years. By any definition, that is a remarkably generous gesture of interfaith respect and love.
Muslims in Harrow walk the same streets as I do and shop in the same supermarkets. Their children play in the same playgrounds and they use the same public services as I do, so why should they not have the same opportunities as I and those who look like me do?
It is a privilege to serve under your stewardship, Mr Dowd. Although I do not agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) has said, I thank him for securing this debate.
A huge number of people, identities, cultures and heritages celebrate their day, week, month or whatever—in particular, the black community celebrates Black History Month—which is about the achievements they have made in communities and society. I want Islam to be recognised as a positive religion. I want us to look at the holy Prophet, peace be upon him, whose message had a profound effect and changed the entire Arabian society from warring tribes into people in the worship of God. He preached moderation and social reform. He advocated social reform on many levels, including gender and racial equality, religious freedom and education for all. His efforts to this day have allowed Islam to prosper. A huge number of people were the best medical advisers. For many years, Europe used the scriptures from Islamic scholars to base modern medicine on, so there was a huge advantage in what has gone on in terms of what Islam does.
In my local community, we have fantastic mosques that have provided food banks and events to support the local community. Also in my constituency, a very good friend of mine, Raja Khan, has delivered more than 250 tonnes of food to communities. This is about promoting positive Islam. If we are to get away from people who are anti-Muslim, we must show them what is positive about us and the positive things that we do. That is really what this debate should be about. We are not here to promote negative issues or go into victimisation mode. We need to be positive. We are no lesser than anybody else. We are British citizens and we are Muslims, and we are here to stay.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing this important debate during Islamophobia Awareness Month.
I speak as a humanist and as vice-chair of the showing racism the red card all-party parliamentary group. I want a tolerant society in which we collectively advocate for people’s freedom to practise their faith or belief so that everyone may live in a fair and equal society without discrimination. Religious education and anti-racist education play important parts in that.
Being born and bred in Luton, my home town, I am proud to represent Luton South, including our significant and vibrant Muslim community. Luton’s hyper-diversity and the contribution of all faith and belief groups is our strength. We have to use our strong community cohesion to stand against all forms of discrimination and racism. As the hon. Member for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) said, the scourge of Islamophobia has no place in society.
Conspiracy theories and tropes perpetuated by the far right seek to dismantle that community cohesion to threaten the safety of Muslims across Luton, the UK and the world. As we have heard, British Muslims are victims of the highest proportion of religiously motivated hate crimes. The Home Office hate crime statistics for 2020-21 show that 45% of religious hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales were against Muslims, with 22% of crimes targeted at Jewish victims and 9% at Christians, while 16% of offences were unknown.
Excellent organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, MEND—Muslim Engagement and Development —and Tell MAMA support and empower British Muslims. This year’s Islamophobia Awareness Month theme is “Time for Change”. As other hon. Members have said, it is an apt time for the Conservative party to change its approach by conducting a genuinely independent investigation of Islamophobia in the UK, engaging with the British Muslim community to root out Islamophobia wherever it occurs and accepting the definition of Islamophobia of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims. I look forward to hearing what plans the Minister has in place for Islamophobia Awareness Month.
I express my solidarity with the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and with all Muslims in Bath and across the UK. I join him in calling on the Government to adopt the APPG on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia, as we Liberal Democrats have done.
British Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims have been subjected to the highest proportion of all hate crimes committed this year. The Government must take an active role not only to punish discrimination, but to ensure that it does not happen in the first place.
I have to say that I was a little disturbed by the—initial, at least—aggression of some Tory Members in this debate. It behoves those of us, like me, who have not faced discrimination because of our skin colour or religion to listen carefully to those with the lived experience and not to call it politics, but to recognise it as hurt that has been caused.
We need to listen to those who have lived that experience, to recognise it as hurt and not to call it politics. That is wrong, and I am ashamed, as someone from the white Christian community. I do not share those views, and I stand in solidarity with all Muslims who have faced discrimination, and with those who are perceived to be Muslim only because of their skin colour.
This month is about raising awareness of the discrimination faced by British Muslims and the hate that drives that discrimination. It is also time to celebrate the many contributions of British Muslims to our society in Bath and beyond, from politics and media, through sport and entertainment to local business and our community life.
I must mention Mr Diya Al-Muzaffar, who allowed people into his house on Pierrepont Street in Bath for prayer, where they still go today—it is the site of the Bath Islamic Centre and mosque. The Bath Islamic Society mosque offers interfaith workshops, alongside churches and synagogues in Bath, bringing interfaith communities together. The success of those sessions shows how we can join together to protect and support one another. It is a powerful reminder that there is so much more that unites us than divides us.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing this important debate and on his tireless work. We have been here before many times. Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon but one that has sadly entrenched itself into significant segments of our society. As the Muslim Council of Britain noted, 70% of Muslims have experienced religious-based prejudice in the past 12 months and just under half of all religious hate crimes recorded by police in 2020-21 were Islamophobic. I also highlight that abuse can happen to Muslims or even those perceived as looking like Muslims, such as turbaned Sikhs like myself.
I personally called on the Prime Minister to do more over two years ago, and asked for an apology for his derogatory and racist remarks describing already vulnerable Muslim women as looking like bank robbers and “letter boxes”. Those comments led to a 375% spike in hate crimes and, more widely, showed that to openly abuse Muslim women was acceptable. All that was without an apology, except for a half-hearted one during the heat of an election and only when pressed to do so. That is characteristic of the Government response—denial, delay and avoidance.
Given the increased prevalence of such Islamophobic incidents in the Conservative party, where is the independent inquiry into Islamophobia, as promised on national television by the Prime Minister and his now Health Secretary? In fact, when the all-party group on British Muslims, of which I am proud to be a vice-chair, agreed on a definition of Islamophobia, all major parties accepted and adopted it with one notable exception: the Conservative party. We cannot simply accept the unacceptable status quo. If we do, we fail millions of Muslims because, without action, this is the message that Muslim communities are hearing.
I hope that the Minister, for whom I have time, has come with more than just warm words, because the persistent failure of the Government, particularly the Prime Minister, has real consequences and fails the people of our country.
Every single day, people of Muslim backgrounds like me face discrimination and prejudice. I am never allowed to forget that my presence in Parliament, as the first MP to wear a hijab, makes many uncomfortable, from the regular mispronunciation of my name to being mistaken for other hijab-wearing women who work in Parliament, to being asked, even, if I am related to Shamima Begum.
Too often, we are cynically used as a focal point for people’s anxieties, as scapegoats for the failings of the political and economic system. It should therefore be no surprise to anyone that I constantly have to cope with a vicious torrent of abuse. Just to give hon. Members a few examples, this is the kind of material that I receive: “Vile and filthy religion…importing vile and filthy creatures like Apsana Begum”; “Muslims should be banned from public office…we can’t trust their allegiances”; “Muslims are the masters of lying. They are the bane of our Christian society. They do not belong and should be deported”; “Deport the Filth”; “Throw her and her family back to where they came from”; “Chop her hand off”; “This could be one of your last statements”. Those are not even, by any measure, the worst of what I receive.
All too often, Muslims live with a constant, persistent fear overshadowing our lives, especially given that the latest data shows that Muslims are the largest target of religiously motivated hate crimes. The rise of the far right, in particular, is a very present danger. I just want to pick up on the fact that Government Members have been talking about taking politics out of this. I wonder what they would say to what the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief reported—that institutional suspicion and fear of Muslims has escalated to “epidemic proportions” and that “numerous” states, regional and international bodies were to blame. Perhaps the Minister can address that point.
It is important to remember that, across the world, under the auspices of fighting terrorism and extremism, we see people of Muslim backgrounds facing persecution and the denial of basic citizenship rights, from the Rohingya refugees to the escalated harassment of Muslims in France, for example. The evidence is very clear. Islamophobia is on the rise. But there is hope and I am inspired by the history of anti-racist struggles in east London. I am proud to represent the constituency that I have lived in all my life and I pay tribute to the contributions of Muslims all across Britain.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Dowd, and to participate in such an important debate secured by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). Those people who pay attention to the parliamentary calendar might notice that we had a debate quite recently on the definition of Islamophobia. We are debating a not dissimilar topic today, which is important and welcome. We need to be much more focused and relentless in looking at this issue, and this debate today is part of that. The recent high-profile cases of racism in cricket are just one example of why that really matters.
I am a member of the APPG on British Muslims, like a number of other hon. Members here today. The APPG is a good example of cross-party work, which is really important: collective purpose is absolutely necessary when we are dealing with Islamophobia, given the significant harm and detriment caused to so many people, some of which we have heard about today.
We have heard powerful speeches today from several hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Ms Qaisar) is a strong woman. I am proud to be her friend and colleague. What she had to say today was really important; I am grateful to her for saying what she did. Tackling Islamophobia absolutely requires us to listen to the lived experience of those who are affected. It is absolutely not on for those voices to be minimised in any way.
There are other people whose powerful work in this area is making a difference. We heard about Tell MAMA, which supports real change and works closely with the Community Security Trust. Joint working between Muslim and Jewish bodies is really important. It is a shame that such work is needed, but it is assuredly needed. From what some people might describe as low-level discrimination or harassment—presumably, those people have never experienced it themselves—to very serious crimes, the way that Islamophobia touches lives is broad and ever evolving. We heard from the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton about his worries for his grandchildren and the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) talked about her own children. We heard about the online space, which is a bin fire of abuse and harassment, with anonymous trolls spreading bile and threatening people in a terrible way. The impact on women is greater, online as it is offline. This is not a straightforward issue, however, and it requires all of us to focus.
Somebody whose work we have heard about in this area—somebody who will deliver change—is Zara Mohammed, the new general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. The call from the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for the Minister to discuss with Zara is sensible. Zara is a young, Scottish woman on a mission to deliver real, positive change. She is absolutely committed to pressing for action to deal with Islamophobia and improving lives. Part of how we can do that is to be open and encourage dialogue, to make sure that people are focused together. She was good enough to spend some time recently with me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), explaining the issues she is dealing with. I am grateful to her for that.
Of course, these issues reach far beyond this place. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton hosted some visitors earlier in the week, including Rahima Mahmut, whose work on behalf of the Uyghur Muslim community is so important. We owe her huge thanks.
It is also worth reflecting on the work that other groups are doing, including groups led by young people. In my local area, Kirsty Robson is a co-founder of Yet Again, a group of young people who work to prevent genocides such as that faced by the Uyghur Muslim population in China. There is the work of Never Again Right Now, another youth-led movement, spearheaded by the European Union of Jewish Students, including my colleague, Olaf Stando. It is international in membership, and calls out the treatment of those who suffer human rights abuses because of their religion. I note its campaign in support of Uyghur Muslims, calling for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing games.
I mention those groups in particular because solidarity is important. Tackling Islamophobia is not something that only Muslims should have to deal with and it is not something that is the responsibility of Muslims. We need to be open, all of us, to the fact that it is an issue everywhere. I have heard some comments today that make me think that I need to emphasise that point. I live in a fantastically religiously diverse community. I live in a country where there is a lot of work going into delivering fairness and social justice and stamping out racism in all its forms, but we do not have a magic wand. We cannot wish away the reality that Islamophobia remains and is an issue in Scotland just as it is everywhere else. We need to be alive to that and we need to be willing to work hard to deal with it.
The Scottish Parliament has a cross-party group working hard on this issue. It has been working with Professor Peter Hopkins and his team from Newcastle University, has conducted an inquiry and has adopted the APPG definition of Islamophobia. As we have heard, all parties in the Scottish Parliament have agreed to do that.
We need to define Islamophobia; we need to be clear what we are talking about and what is unacceptable, and we cannot do that if we do not define it. We need to be confident in our language.
It is welcome that the Scottish Parliament has got to that place. I am really keen to hear from the Minister the UK Government’s plans to look at this again and push ahead with this. I do not think they should get to keep kicking this into the long grass, particularly given the Prime Minister’s past comments, which are indefensible. The tone of some comments from Government Members today is regrettable. That is not the way we should conduct ourselves in here. Some of the eye-rolling and the language used was most unfortunate. However, I have to say that the contributions from the hon. Members for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker) were eloquent and welcome. We need to see and hear more from the UK Government on this. We need to be mindful of the broader environment that we are in: there is a changing climate across in the world. We have a part to play here, using the platforms that we have, in making sure that we make a difference, because there has been a surge in respect of how the Muslim community is treated.
I conclude by returning to something the Minister said, which others have reflected on. She said that this is not political, or should not be, but her comments were. We need to take a step back from some of that. We need to accept that this is an issue for all of us in this Chamber and across the House; we all have a responsibility and duty to deal with Islamophobia. We will do that better if we can have discussions without raising the temperature in the way that it was raised, regrettably, today. I hope the Minister has something positive to say on that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) for securing the debate. I thank all Members who contributed to the debate and the many others, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), who could not make the debate but wanted to put on the record their commitment to tackling Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is a dark reality, with three Muslim grandfathers murdered here in the UK, while terrorist attacks in Christchurch, Quebec and multiple others around the world emphasise the serious nature of Islamophobia if left unchallenged. In the UK, Islamophobic hate crimes against Muslims and their places of worship have sadly become far too common. The latest data for 2020-21 show that 45% of all religious hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales were against Muslims, although a large number of cases are simply not reported to the police. Data from the crime survey of England and Wales suggests the actual number is approximately six times the number of recorded offences. According to the same data, Muslims were the most likely to be victims of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2017-18 and 2019-20.
That is not Muslims complaining about Islamophobia. That is the police collecting data on Muslims being attacked. One would think, when Muslims are the most likely to be the victims of religiously motivated hate crimes, that Islamophobia would be a top Government priority but, tragically, it is not. Islamophobia does not manifest itself only in hate crime. Islamophobia is not always a visible attack on mosques or Muslims. Someone does not have to vigorously hate another person to discriminate against them. Discrimination comes in many forms, including conscious and unconscious bias. Let me explain how.
When 15-year-old Azeem Rafiq is forced in a car to drink alcohol, that is of course a hate crime and an assault. Later, when he feels he has to drink alcohol to fit in, to be the best that he can be, to have an opportunity to progress, where is the hate crime then? He is in an environment in which he cannot be the best or achieve his dreams while adhering to the faith that he chooses to follow. Listening to his evidence at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, it was evident how much trauma he faced later on in life through being forced to be someone he was not just to fit in.
Many Muslims face similar barriers daily. A sizeable percentage of British Muslim women do not wear the headscarf, not because they do not want to but because they fear that, by wearing one, they may be attacked, or due to prejudice, will have lower chances of succeeding and reaching the top. They, too, feel that they have to fit in to avoid abuse, discrimination or their chances being limited. Their fear is not misplaced. A 2016 Women and Equalities Committee report found that Muslim women face a triple penalty. Some of the vilest vitriol I have received online is coupled with a picture of me wearing the headscarf while being at a place of worship.
As Muslim women, we often recall praise such as, “I am impressed to see how empowered you are as a Muslim woman”—as if being a Muslim was a barrier to empowerment and we even beat it through our archaic faith to become a symbol of success. Although this is often done unknowingly, it is done through people accepting a trope about Islam being a faith that is deeply misogynistic. Contrary to that trope, I want to put on record that as a Muslim woman, my empowerment as a women comes from my faith and the life and teachings of the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him.
A report by the Centre for Media Monitoring that analysed media output over a three-month period in 2018, which comprised analysis of over 10,000 published articles and broadcast clips, found 59% of all articles associated Muslims with negative behaviour and over a third misrepresented or generalised about Muslims, with terrorism being the most common theme.
When such perpetuated tropes and false conspiracies about Muslims are allowed to develop, it enables an environment where people are otherised and demonised. Not everything I have mentioned is a hate crime, but it all can have an impact. Islamophobes and those who consciously or unconsciously discriminate against Muslims often use anything and everything that links to a person’s Muslimness as a factor for their negativity, be that religious practices, ways of dressing or customs, or even sometimes something that is not part of Islam, but is perceived as Muslim, such as a Sikh man wearing a turban. The reality is that Islamophobia is rampant across society, and purely basing Islamophobia on hate crimes like this Government wish to do deprives us of the ability to tackle the full extent of Islamophobia.
We have to tackle the environment in which Islamophobia is normalised. Today, a former England captain, Michael Vaughan, can ludicrously suggest a Muslim England Cricket player like Moeen Ali should go around in between test matches asking random Muslims if they are terrorists—as if he too was somehow liable—and still continue to be a mainstream pundit. The former editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, can openly brand Muslims as antisemites and say that it is a nice change from a Muslim making a bomb or trying to kill hospital visitors, and still get invited as a mainstream guest on media shows. In fact, people like Trevor Phillips can generalise an entire community by saying:
“Muslims are not like us”,
that they will never fit in and are
“becoming a nation within a nation”,
without an apology or remorse, and get a special programme in their name on Sky News.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. On her point about institutionalised Islamophobia in certain parts of society—she mentioned cricket and the media—should we not be looking at the governing organisations, whether that is Ofcom in the media or the England and Wales Cricket Board, and seeing whether they are fit for purpose? I do not think they are in this regard.
I absolutely agree and thank my hon. Friend, because that brings me nicely on to my next point. In 2011, the former chair of the Conservative party, Baroness Warsi, said that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner table test”. A decade later in 2021, Islamophobia has now passed the mainstream media test. It has become normalised. In fact, it has become fashionable to demonise Muslims and gain from the political capital of hate. That is why it is so important to adopt a definition of Islamophobia to enable us to at least understand and tackle Islamophobia in all its forms.
The Labour party was one of the first parties to accept the APPG definition of Islamophobia. Again, last week, the chair of the Labour party and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton wrote to the Government urging them to rethink and adopt the definition. I welcome the intervention by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) on trying to do that in a collegiate way.
The Government’s record on a definition of Islamophobia is horrific. The Government refused the Muslim community a definition of Islamophobia, they then refused to accept a cross-party definition, and now two and a half years after promising a definition, they have failed to produce one. While the Minister may try to regurgitate the same old falsehoods about the APPG definition, I ask her one simple question. The APPG officers, before publishing the definition and in good faith, gave sight of it to Ministers. Since the definition has been published, can she tell me if the Government have ever reached out to the APPG to address any questions or concerns with the definition and in good faith try to come to a solution together on the matter? Have they even reached out, even once? The dangerous message that it sends to British Muslims is that this Government simply do not care.
When it came to the covid pandemic, this Government played with people’s lives; when it came to levelling up, they played with people’s future; and, again, on the issue of Islamophobia, they are playing with people’s lives. Minister, I urge this Government to show some leadership and good faith. This issue is far too serious to be ignored. As the theme for this year’s Islamophobia month suggests, it is time for change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. It has been a very feisty debate, and it is quite clear that concerns about anti-Muslim hatred transcend party lines.
I thank the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) for securing this debate. I say to him that I am not afraid of using the phrase “Islamophobia”. We are not going to have a semantic argument, but there are good reasons why we refer to anti-Muslim hatred. It is partly to do with the APPG finding that the definition is not in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. If the hon. Gentleman wants more correspondence on why that is the case, I am very happy to provide it. I stand here not just as the Minister for faith but as the Equalities Minister. We must not allow those who seek to divide our diverse and multi-faith society to succeed. We are united here today in our determination to protect people and end discrimination.
I would like to use this occasion to remind colleagues about the tragic murder of our colleague and friend, Sir David Amess, whose funeral was yesterday. I attended it, as I think many others in this room did. He died at the hands of someone seeking to divide us all; someone claiming to act on behalf of Islam. However, if ever people needed reminding of the real values of Muslims in this country, they need look no further than the tributes paid by the Muslim community of Southend to the life of Sir David. His murder could have fanned the flames of fear and resentment, but instead of opening new fault lines between people, it was met with an outpouring of love and good will.
That is at the heart of what we are here today to discuss. The freedoms to say what we feel and to worship as we please are both fundamental to the character of this country. Those democratic values are reinforced by our staunch belief in equal rights and the rule of law. These are the principles that underpin debates such as this.
I barely have time to finish my speech, so I am afraid not.
No one in our society should be discriminated against because of their religion. In the spirit of remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood), I will talk about the contributions of Muslims to our public life.
The UK is one of the best places in the world to live, no matter who you are or where you come from. It is full of opportunities. We have a large and thriving Muslim population who have made contributions to our country and society. The country’s first two mosques were founded in 1887, and now there are almost 2,000 mosques serving a Muslim population of more than 3 million. Wherever we look, we see Muslims enriching our public life, including as politicians in the Cabinet, as doctors and nurses keeping our NHS going, and as sporting heroes dominating on the world stage. Their prominence is testament to our openness as a country, and proof of something that has long been true: when someone lives in Britain they can become anything they want, whether that is Health Secretary, Education Secretary or growing up to win gold medals representing Team GB.
I now turn to the remarks made by hon. Members during the debate. I am afraid that I will not be able to cover all of them, but I will try to go through as many as I can. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton invited me to visit the country’s first green mosque. I will have a look at my diary and see if that is something I can accommodate. He also asked what we are doing to keep people safe online. He knows that we are progressing the online safety Bill. If there is anything specific he would like to mention, I would be very happy to take them forward on his behalf—it is a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport competency, but I am sure that we all can work together.
The hon. Gentleman also asked what we are doing to protect places of worship. I am told that we are funding, through the places of worship protective security funding scheme, quite possibly well over £100 million. Is that correct? It is quite a lot. I will confirm the amount, but we are putting several millions into the protected security funding scheme. I do not have the exact figure in front of me.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned his letter to the Prime Minister. This has caused quite a bit of confusion. The hon. Gentleman wrote to the PM and received a response from the party chairman. I often respond on behalf of the Prime Minister. I am informed that, after the hon. Gentleman made a point of order, the Prime Minister responded to his letter, so I hope that we can put that matter to rest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) made some really good points about individual action; it is not just about words or definitions. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood) also made the point that this should not be a party political issue, and talked about the trust that people have in different political parties. This is not just a Conservative party issue, and people should not make it out as such.
I thank hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) for sharing her experiences of anti-Muslim hatred. I found them quite shocking and will come on to what the Government are doing to tackle that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) asked me to meet the APPG officers. He will be pleased to know that my office has already reached out to the shadow Minister’s office. We have not yet had a response, but I am sure that we will in due course and that we will find a time to meet the APPG. I am happy to meet its chair as well.
Although I admire the passion expressed by the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Ms Qaisar), I disagree with her fundamentally when she says that we should not take the politics out of the debate. We should take the politics out of the debate—in fact, we must. I grew up in a country where people did not take the politics out of the debate and can tell hon. Members now that when we do not do that and allow politics to infect religions, countries burn. As faith Minister, my approach will be to take the heat and the politics out of the debate. [Interruption.]
It was disappointing that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) used her speech to make partisan attacks on colleagues on the Government side of the House. She said that she does not have the lived experience of racism and that we should listen to those who do. I can tell her of my many lived experiences of racism at the hands of Liberal Democrats who made disgusting and vile comments, which I am sure she would be happy to apologise for. We should be able to have this debate without making partisan attacks such as hers. [Interruption.] I did not intervene on Opposition Members, so I will not give up my time to take interventions.
The hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) made a fair point, which I accept. He said that it is fair to talk about action. I accept that he has made a good point that things have been slow. A commitment was made several years ago and we did lose momentum. We had a change in Administration, Brexit and covid, which, fingers crossed, we are coming out of. I think he will find a different change of tone and pace with me as faith Minister.
We all share the view that hatred of Muslims is a vile social ill. We have no time for people who seek to divide us. As I said before, we will not tolerate anti-Muslim hatred any more than we tolerate antisemitism or any other form of hatred, but the reality is that, despite this and our continued condemnation, stubborn pockets of prejudice exist.
Home Office figures show that 45% of religiously motivated hate crime recorded by the police was perpetrated against Muslims. The fact that Muslims—[Interruption.]
Order. Can we stop interrupting? We have two and a half minutes. The Member in charge is not going to get to speak and we may not even get to put the question. That is how serious this is. I have tried to be as honest and delicate as I can in this debate and give people the opportunity to speak.
It is shameful that Muslims can still face verbal or physical attacks and are made to feel like outsiders in their own country. Political parties are granted a rare standing in public life, and it is our job as politicians to demonstrate leadership and set an example for others to follow in everything we do, from our public discourse to our constituency surgeries.
To that end, it was incredibly disappointing that the hon. Members for Manchester, Gorton and for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) used their speeches to attack William Shawcross with defamatory remarks that would be actionable if made outside this Chamber. William Shawcross is an outstanding public servant, as is Trevor Phillips, who the shadow Minister mentioned.
On a point of order, Mr Dowd. I do not make this point of order flippantly. The Minister has just said that Mr Shawcross is a great man and she started her speech by using a trope about Muslims and terrorism, yet she is meant to be talking about Islamophobia. Shawcross has said that the Muslim faith is a fascist faith. How can she say that he is a person to lead a review that impacts on Muslims?
Debates such as this are symbolically important to show our shared commitment, but symbolism does not improve lives on its own. The Government have done a lot and we have some of the strongest legislation in the world for tackling hate crime, and it is working.
I will give a few examples. In 2019 a man who posted violent messages about Muslims alongside photos of him posing with a fake shotgun was jailed for four years. That year, two brothers attacked a group of men outside a Cardiff mosque: one was sentenced to five years and three months in jail, the other to 18 months in jail.
Our approach to discrimination is something that we should be proud of. In July, the European Court of Justice gave the green light to employers in the European Union to ban their workers from wearing hijabs or other religious insignia. We have taken control of our laws and are no longer subject to the ECJ’s jurisdiction. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that that kind of prohibition is thoroughly un-British.
I recognise that the debate is concluding, Mr Dowd, so what I will say in closing is that this is an issue that I am prepared to work on with all Members of the House, but what I will not do is be intimidated or bullied, and—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).