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Violent Extremism

Volume 745: debated on Monday 3 June 2013

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will encourage an international conference of Muslim leaders to address the issue of violent extremism within that religion.

My Lords, before I answer the noble Lord’s Question, I am sure that I speak for the whole House in offering our condolences to the family and friends of Drummer Rigby. They have handled this horrific tragedy with great dignity and resolve, and our thoughts and prayers are with them.

My Lords, this country is resolute in its stand against violent extremism. As the Prime Minister has made clear, there is no religious justification for these acts, and he has stressed that al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism has taken more Muslim lives than any others. We are working with international partners and religious leaders worldwide to combat violent extremism.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that fairly helpful Answer. I would have thought that, as a Muslim, she is well placed to lead such an initiative. As we think of Drummer Rigby, I ask if the Government are aware that there have been many thousands of fatal Islamist attacks worldwide since 9/11, and that most of the victims have been Muslims? I will put the evidence for that in the Library. Secondly, if Islam is a religion of peace, could not a gathering of grand muftis and others agree to issue a fatwa against the jihadists, so that they are cast out of Islam and are no longer Muslim?

My Lords, I take the noble Lord’s point that more Muslims than members of any other community have died at the hands of violent extremism. However, I take issue with some of the noble Lord’s views. I am familiar with his views on Islam and Muslims. He premised the question by saying, “If Islam is a peaceful religion”; the Prime Minister made it abundantly clear that Islam is a religion of peace.

I can speak as someone who led the community response to the tragic killing of Drummer Rigby, when Muslims in this country came out vociferously and with a single voice said, “This was not done in the name of our faith. This was not done in our name”.

My Lords, is it not the case that people of all faiths and backgrounds have deplored the barbaric murder of Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich? Is there not a risk of demonising Muslims, including the 3 million Muslims in the UK, which is not the answer? Does the Minister think that it is appropriate for decent voices of moderation to be drowned out by radicals such as Anjem Choudary— discredited people—who are given a media platform on the BBC and Channel 4? Drowning out other voices does more harm than good. Does the Minister agree with the Deputy Prime Minister, who said at a cross-party interfaith event last week, “Terrorism has no religion”?

I absolutely add my voice to the words of the Deputy Prime Minister. I agree with my noble friend that one of the positives to come out of this tragedy is the way in which communities of all faiths have stood united and said that we will not be divided by the extremists who conduct these horrific acts in the way that they have.

Does the Minister recognise the importance of encouraging Christian-Islamic dialogue at all possible levels, nationally and globally? Is it not the case that the justification of jihad in the Koran could be paralleled by similar blood-curdling references in the Bible if one wanted to interpret them in that way? Therefore, dialogue should be on the basis that both sides have issues to discuss with each other.

My Lords, one of the worst things that politicians often say is, “I made a speech on this”—but I made a speech on this. It was on unpicking the arguments between religion and reason. I absolutely agree that a literal interpretation of any faith can lead to perverse results. However, I can also assure the noble Lord that, both domestically and internationally, we are engaged in a whole series of interfaith projects, which bring people from different religions, and indeed people of no religion, together to create the space and the dialogue that create better understanding.

My Lords, from these Benches we extend our sympathy and prayers to Drummer Rigby’s family and pray for his soul. Until recently, I was co-chair of the Inter Faith Network for the UK. My fellow co-chair was a very distinguished Muslim scholar and leader. I ask the Minister two things. First, as we have heard, violent religious extremism is not simply an issue for Muslims. In the Inter Faith Network we were constantly reminded, through other faiths across the world, that millions of people suffer from violent extremism, often for political purposes and not religious ones. Secondly, does the Minister agree that, while there is of course a responsibility on those of us who lead religious and political organisations, there are other factors, such as how foreign policy is perceived, that send signals and triggers to people that it is very difficult for leadership on its own to deal with? Therefore, there has to be a partnership between religious and political leaders and those who form our culture for peacefulness and a common stand against violent extremism.

I would draw a distinction between legitimate discussion of foreign policy and, on the other hand, what is clearly violent extremism. The latter cannot be justified in any way in terms of the former. I completely agree with the right reverend Prelate’s view that every religion has its extremists. I have colloquially referred to them as “nutters”. Pastor Jones is no more representative of Christianity than Anjem Choudary is of Islam.