Question for Short Debate
“But there is a problem within Islam—from the adherents of an ideology that is a strain within Islam. And we have to put it on the table and be honest about it.
Of course there are Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu ones. But I am afraid this strain is not the province of a few extremists. It has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies.
At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the world view goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit. So by and large we don’t admit it. This has two effects. First, those with that view think we are weak and that gives them strength.
Second, those within Islam—and the good news is there are many—who actually know this problem exists and want to do something about it, lose heart”.
Those are not my words but those of Tony Blair, after the Islamist murder last summer of Drummer Rigby—the same Tony Blair who, as Prime Minister, dismantled our borders to,
“rub the noses of the right in diversity”.
We must be grateful that his subsequent experience as our Middle East envoy has taught him something about the reality of modern Islam, and that he had the courage to say what he did. In these few minutes, I want to talk about some of that reality.
Islam does not enjoy the separation of powers that we take for granted in our liberal, western democracies. Islam’s Sharia law is a legal, political and religious system all in one, which takes its authority solely from the Koran, the Hadith and the Sunnah, as interpreted by its religious clerics, collectively known as the ulema.
Our Muslim friends tell us that the jihadists are a misguided minority who misinterpret the Koran and the holy texts. They point to verses such as Surah 2, verse 256, in which Muhammad commands that there shall be no compulsion in religion, and to other verses of peace. There are millions of Muslims who live their lives guided by those verses, and many thousands who have been murdered by their violent co-religionists.
Here we come up against part of Islam’s problem, which is the widely held Muslim tenet of abrogation. This holds that, when verses in the Koran contradict each other, it is the later verses which cancel out or abrogate the earlier ones. This is unfortunate because, as Muhammad went through life, he became steadily more of a conquering warrior, and the messages that he received and what he said and did became progressively more bellicose and violent. If abrogation is accepted, the later verses of the sword, of which there are many, outweigh the earlier verses of peace, and it is from these later verses that the jihadists take their inspiration and authority. I have time to touch on just two of them. Surah 9, verse 5, commands the faithful to kill the unbelievers wherever they find them, and Surah 9, verse 14, says:
“Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands, and give you victory over them”.
“Them” means non-Muslims. The Hadith and the Sunnah, examples of the sayings and doings of Muhammad, which all Muslims are bound to follow, are even more antagonistic to non-believers, or Kaffirs, as they call us.
I am not pretending that Christianity has done all that well over the centuries. Even if the Crusades were a response to 400 years of Muslim aggression, we still have the Hundred Years War and the facts that Soviet communism emerged from Christian Russia, and the two world wars and the Holocaust from Christian Germany and Europe.
As a Manichaean, I see good and evil as balanced in the eternal dimension, beyond and above all the world’s religions. It seems to me that good and evil are present in each one of us, and that they can work only through the agency of our humanity. Evil is at its most destructive when it passes from the individual to the collective, as we saw with the Holocaust and Soviet communism. It is no respecter of any religion, nor of the humanists—the Soviets were a fine example of humanism gone wrong.
However, we must consider how our world stands now, today, and I fear that the dark side is moving strongly within Islam. I understand the defence that Islamist terror against the West is a reaction to Palestine, Srebrenica, Iraq and Libya. The kaleidoscope of Islamic internal violence is being shaken hard in north Africa with the tragic conflict between Sunni and Shia, and we cannot yet see how it will settle. However, it is not encouraging that the Sandhurst-educated Sultan of Brunei has just introduced strict Sharia law in his country.
If we come home to the United Kingdom, we see large and growing Muslim communities which are set against integration with the rest of us; we see thousands of home-grown potential terrorists; we see Sharia law running de facto in our land; and we see a birth rate several times higher than ours, to which our democracy is already exposed. Noble Lords have just to look at the recent Bradford by-election if they doubt that.
To me, most worryingly of all, we are not allowed to talk about any of it. As soon as we do, we are condemned by our useless political class as racist Islamophobes. The “racist” tag is clearly nonsense—Islam is present in almost every race on earth, including of course our own. A phobia is an unreasonable fear of something, but is it unreasonable to fear a religion which has recently given us 9/11 and 200,000 dead, most of them Muslims, in 18,000 attacks since then; which has given us the London bombings, Mumbai, the Spanish train, Bali, Drummer Rigby, Nairobi and Boko Haram; which, in 15 of its current regimes, employs stoning to death, amputation and death for apostasy?
What baffles me completely is that when we do speak against these things and when we dare to mention that they come from within Islam, we are told that we are the guilty ones—that it is us who are stirring up hate—and our politicians invent “hate crime” to shut us up. However, the hate lies in the heart of the Islamist. We can stir it up only because it is already there, red hot and seething against us. These people hate us with frightening religious fervour, and we are right to fear them.
What can we do? I suggest that we must stop being afraid to talk about it. We must do much more to encourage and support our many brave Muslims and apostates who take on their violent co-religionists publicly and thus risk the death penalty.
As an example of our present weakness, I give you the BBC, which was happy to air “Jerry Springer: The Opera”, with its offensive treatment of our Judaeo-Christian heritage, but which refused to air that brilliant play “Can We Talk About This?”, a factual critique of Islam, which ran last summer to packed audiences at the National Theatre. It was helpful of Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director-general, to confess that the BBC would not air “Can We Talk About This?” because he did not want to look down the barrel of an AK47.
In that respect, and in closing, I congratulate the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who is to reply to this debate, for the great courage that she showed in her speech at Georgetown University last Friday. I regret her support for UN Resolution 16/18, put forward by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which seeks to criminalise Islamophobia or “defaming Islam” worldwide. She certainly highlighted, however, the current plight of Christians in the present world at the hands of what she calls a new sectarianism. As a Muslim she was particularly brave to say that Muslims should be free to change their faith.
I conclude by asking the Minister only two questions. First, does she agree that nearly all the present violence against Christians is coming from within Islam—from the jihadists? We have the suffering of Muslims themselves in Burma and we have the Hindu massacre of Christians at Orissa, but is not the rest of it almost entirely jihadist?
The second question is one I have asked the Minister before. If it is true that the jihadists are such a small minority in Islam, who misinterpret the Koran and the holy texts, why does not the great majority do more to stand up against them? Why for instance do not the leaders of Islam, the grand muftis and righteous ulema call a massive conference, a sort of combination of the councils of Nicea and Trent, to issue a fatwa against the jihadists and to cast them out of Islam?
Could it be because they dare not? Are things as bad as that? I hope not and I look forward to the noble Baroness’s reply.
I am also grateful to all noble Lords who are to speak. Looking down the list I fear that none of them may agree with what I have said. At least, however, we are talking about it. I trust that it is just a start.
My Lords, I speak as a Muslim, as a proud British national and a supporter of all faiths and communities. I am privileged to live in a country where people of numerous religious beliefs live alongside each other in relative peace. This is a testament to our nation’s tolerance and unity in equal measure.
I was brought up in Uganda, where there were people of different racial and religious groups, and learnt to respect all communities. I am a patron of several Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that promote harmony between people. I believe that there must be dialogue and respect for others if we are to continue to coexist peacefully. Without these, there is lack of understanding which leads to suspicion and tensions.
I believe this debate today has been called as a result of such misunderstanding. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, questioned the basis for the Prime Minister’s statement that:
“There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror”.
I believe the basis for the Prime Minister’s statement was obvious. There is nothing in any religion, teaching or scripture that condones causing indiscriminate harm to others. It is the interpretation of corrupt minds that seek to justify these actions for themselves and those they manipulate.
The actions of a few fanatical individuals must not be the yardstick by which we judge Islam or any other religion. If we allow this to happen, the culture of fear and division takes hold. When that culture permeates, the terrorists realise their intentions. Later on in the statement, the Prime Minister referred to the murderers’,
“extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam to create a culture of victimhood and justify violence.” —[Official Report, Commons, 3/6/13; col. 1234.]
It is that ideology that we are facing, not the religion itself. Terrorists’ motives have time and again been revealed as political grievances. Terrorists twist these grievances, through the prism of religion, into an ideology to justify their actions. It must therefore be clear that these actions were not motivated at root by religious teachings. The united condemnation of the Woolwich attack from prominent Muslims illustrated this.
Let us look specifically at Islamic teaching. As a Muslim, I was taught that human life was sacred. It is written in the Holy Koran,
“whoever kills a human being … it is as though he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a human life, it is as though he has saved all mankind”.
That is why I have consistently spoken about Islam as a religion of peace, and continue to do so. In fact, I even represent that in my coat of arms, which features two doves. I believe that every Muslim should be an ambassador to convey that message and help to promote peace and harmony with other religions. I also believe that both the media and politicians must play their part. Some media circles, in particular, are guilty of vilifying Islam and portraying us with an unfair image.
There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and in the United Kingdom, there are more than 2.6 million. Such large numbers of people and their faith must not be used as a scapegoat or a political football. It is important that our politicians of all persuasions act responsibly and use moderate language. I find the use of the term “Islamic terrorist” to be improper in the same way that I would the term “Christian terrorist”. That kind of language stokes fear and creates a psychological tie between the religion and the terrorist.
The opposite is in fact true. A report by Demos in 2011 revealed that 83% of British Muslims feel proud to be a British citizen, compared with 79% of people across the whole population. That reasserts that our problem lies with a very small minority. The vast majority of Muslims enjoy practising their religion peacefully in the United Kingdom. I do not believe that anybody looking to cause disharmony should be allowed to come here from a Muslim country or a European country, such as the Netherlands. If we demonise Islam or any other religion, we are doing a disservice to the concept of religion as a whole and the societies that embrace it. I therefore totally endorse the comments made by our Prime Minister.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for enabling us to talk about these very important matters, so in that sense I can agree with him. I also encourage him not to lose heart at sin and evil wherever they are found. There are remedies, and people of religion are often seeking to achieve them.
Of course, if I read my own scriptures, as I do every day, and select various pieces of them, I could easily form myself into some kind of sect which would be disapproved of, I hope, by most of civil society. None the less, our activities which are theological, seeking peace, are often turned into historical disappointments and much less than the ideal that we want to promote. That is true of all religions and, indeed, of all humanity.
Rather than seek division or selective use of scriptures and theology, I emphasise today that the healing of divisions and the communication between those of different religions and societies is the primary responsibility, such as we find in the very diverse community of Birmingham, with 187 nationalities and all the great religions of the world represented in great numbers.
Your Lordships will know of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in reviewing the Prevent strategy, which came to us in 2011. There we can find that those who support terrorism obviously reject a cohesive, integrated society. They often reject parliamentary democracy. Because polarisation and fragmentation are key conditions for the emergence of radical views, every effort should be made to understand, to have dialogue with and to befriend those who are different from ourselves, those who have different religions, different cultures or even different political solutions to intractable problems both at home and overseas.
In the communities of the Church of England, we have a process of presence and engagement where we want to be present in local communities, however diverse they are, and to engage with theologies and differences of views from our own strongly held beliefs. Noble Lords will know that the Near Neighbours programme, which is supported by the Department for Culture and Local Government, engages in four communities across England. They are asked to make friends, stay friends and change society based on cross-cultural and cross-religious engagements. In smaller ways, charities such as the Feast bring Christian and Muslim young people together in activities both civically and in practical ways. We can see that in the face of unacceptable terrorism, wherever it is found, the response is to resist evil but at the same time to build new ways of understanding and community.
Perhaps one other thing to mention is the process of scriptural reasoning where the great Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity are, at the highest level and local level, examining the scriptures and testing the realities of things that are captured perhaps by groups who want to be terrorists. They are put into their proper perspective and understood, so that the wider community can be taught properly. I also welcome the work of the Ministry of Justice and the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Ahmed, in seeking to understand what religious freedom is really like in this country.
Of course, those national and international efforts—the practical resistance of evil wherever it is found—are necessary. But it is at the local level in local dialogue and local communication that I believe these terrible things that we experience can begin to be resolved. We should sit with one another and listen to the understanding of our theologies and our scriptures but also debate vigorously the differences that we find when we do not understand why someone might feel differently or behave in a different way.
I hope that today we will understand that there are difficulties but that we are building a new community in a completely unrecognised way in places such as Birmingham. People who hitherto have not understood each other and not got on with each other are now able to say that they are proud to live in this country and proud to enjoy their diversity. They also are proud—as one Muslim waiter in an Indian restaurant in Birmingham seeks to do with his Bishop—to stand against those within their own community whom they feel, sadly, have become atheist; we have a joint campaign to enable them to be enlightened. In the scriptures we have the strong and imperative demand to seek peace and pursue it.
My Lords, the statement made by the Prime Minister on 3 June 2013 is correct and has been echoed by the leaders of the Labour Party and the Lib Dems. Terrorism and extremism has existed in people from all faiths and religions. The important thing to understand is that such terrorists form a very small part of the faith groups. If one looks at the Muslim communities in Britain, there is a huge silent majority who abhor violence in the name of their religion. They are peace-loving British citizens who practise their faith and contribute to the welfare of their own communities, the wider communities and the United Kingdom. They oppose the attacks on innocent civilians. No religion advocates violence. Those who commit violence should be dealt with by the police and other law-enforcing agencies.
One has to look at the root causes of terrorism in the United Kingdom. Is it lack of education? Is it lack of understanding of their own faiths? Is it because the young get influenced by radical preachers? Our schools should be teaching the messages of peace and law abiding, and ensuring that only through sound education one becomes successful. It is perhaps rightly argued that people who are trapped in the vicious circle of poverty due to lack of jobs and opportunity become victims of radicalism. The past five years have not been easy for such people without jobs. The Government need to create more opportunities for the young who are without work.
Turning to Islam as a faith community, I wish to say that Islam, although it is the fastest-growing faith in the world, is little understood or not understood at all in the West. There is a deficit of understanding of Islam. Islam is a peaceful faith and occasionally, like all other faiths, it is hijacked by a handful of radicalised people for their own perverted personal or political reasons and ambitions. Islam reveres all the prophets—Christ, Moses, Abraham and others. Muslims are shocked when the prophets are ridiculed or abused on the altar of freedom of speech and expression.
Freedom of expression is a democratic right, but it carries responsibility. Our democracy is based on the rule of law, and those who break the law should be dealt with in the courts. Our courts are independent and magistrates and judges ensure that justice is not only delivered but seen to be done.
Turning to the Muslim community in Britain, I ask the Minister whether more could be done to support newly arrived spouses and partners from different parts of the world who come to join their families. In order to integrate them into the wider communities, they need to learn English. There are thousands of Muslim women who need to learn English to be able to communicate with the wider community and participate in civic society. They also need to be able to communicate with their own children who go to school. I believe that English and the ability to use a computer with internet connectivity are the two tools that will bring such isolated groups of women from the margins to the mainstream.
English and computers will enable the mothers to understand what their children are doing with their computers when they return home from school. Are they doing their homework, or are they playing computer games or chatting with undesirable people? The Minister should consider talking to some of the charities who work with these isolated groups of women to explore how additional funding could be given to those charities to help these isolated groups of women.
Assalamualikum wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barkathu. Peace be upon you all. This is the fundamental doctrine and teaching of Islam, so how is it that, again and again, we are forced to defend the beauty of our faith? Find me a community that does not have its burden—countless acts of senseless violence and death all over the world, including between different faiths. We all have our crosses to bear. Hidden under the protection of faith, hundreds of thousands have suffered predatory abuse in silence, yet it has never occurred to me or to many others in the Muslim community to make the slightest aspersion on the religion of those who committed those crimes.
I do not think about the religion of those who carry out drone attacks, ruthlessly, on thousands of innocent bystanders, just as I do not consider those who tried to kill Malala Yousafzai, Kainat Riaz, Shazia Ramzan and many other girls and women—Muslims. We must call acts of brutal violence and criminality by their name and not allow them to be trivialised with our prejudices and blindness by attributing it to Islam, Christianity or Catholicism.
A task force to tackle radicalisation was set up by the Prime Minister following the murder of our soldier Lee Rigby in a bid to deal with extremism head-on. Michael Gove and Schools Minister David Laws will look at confronting racism and extremism in schools and charities, while Business Secretary Vince Cable will monitor universities, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling will look into prisons and the Faith and Communities Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, will examine work in the communities.
That is rightly impressive attention, yet I also heard emotional pleas made publicly on television channels by the family of Mohammed Saleem, a father, grandfather, husband and brother mercilessly stabbed repeatedly by a self-confessed racist. The family and its supporters asked repeatedly why there was no political outcry about the terror that the family and the community endured. Why was no COBRA meeting called? Why was there no decision to hold an inquiry into the activities of the far right fascist groups and their atrocious impact on the streets of our major cities, schools and universities and, most importantly, why was no mention made of the attacker’s race or faith? Further, why was his community not asked to account for his criminal action?
This is the home of 3 million Muslims, who are impeccably loyal and love our country. We also know that there is inherent, deep-seated Islamophobia and racism in the way that we deal conveniently with one community and not the other, demonising one until it has no recourse except to tolerate more deaths and violence. I commend the Prime Minister’s commitment and his words, and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, whose record speaks for itself.
I end with a quotation from the Deputy Prime Minister in his more liberal days. In 2008, he said:
“The sad truth is you play into the hands of the men you seek to discredit, driving further the alienation of the majority of Muslims who see themselves mischaracterised everywhere they turn as would-be terrorists ... The space for debate is currently filled with few voices, a fact that extremists capitalise on. If we are to truly achieve a society in which all peaceful members are free and equal, that space must be filled with reasoned and principled debate … We must challenge publicly the ideas of those who propagate terrorism and instead promote the cause of peace and freedom in Britain for all citizens”.
I very much look forward to the Deputy Prime Minister, in the very near future, countering some of the impact of what Tony Blair has said.
I believe in free speech, so today I have borne the seething hatred of Islam from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. It is time that we reclaimed our pride as a multifaith, multiracial society where we now take collective responsibility against the subjugation of all our faiths.
My Lords, the holy book of the Muslims begins with the concept of God as not hurting or harming or as cruel but as beneficent and merciful. It also talks of Islam as a religion of peace and not war, for every time a Muslim takes the name of the Prophet Mohammed, he adds the words, “Peace be upon him”. The Koran also instructs the believer to be tolerant and compassionate and to extend a helping hand to the sick and infirm. It also commands the pursuit of knowledge with respect for scholars, women and minorities in any land. It also instructs Muslims to respect other faiths and to live with them as good neighbours in peaceful coexistence. Therefore, strapping oneself with explosives to kill others in an act of suicide in search of martyrdom is totally un-Islamic and against the instructions of the Koran, the holy book that all Muslims must obey.
As was explained earlier, the word “phobia” is described in the Oxford English Dictionary as an extreme and irrational fear or dislike of a specified thing. Thus, noble Lords may have heard of the term “Islamophobia” being bandied about against Islam, leading to prejudice and generalised hatred or fear of Islam and its followers. The media around the world have their share of blame to bear in drip-feeding into the minds of the readers of newspapers and journals, and the viewers of television, regular doses of anti-Muslim material, not as factual reporting but to create public excitement with sensationalism to enhance the number of their readers and their viewing public. The widespread damage this does to society at large is incalculable. The resultant pressure from this on Muslim families is anger, confusion and frustration, with the resultant acts of violence.
God’s vision of a just and compassionate human society remains unfulfilled. This, in turn, leads to impressionable young men, low in self-esteem, frustrated with unemployment and ostracised by society through the media, who then become the best recruiting ground for the sergeant-majors of terrorism.
In truth, no divine religion has ever been based on conflict, whether it be the religions represented by Moses and Jesus or Mohammed, Ram or Guru Nanak, Zarathustra or Buddha himself. On the contrary, all religions strictly forbid conflict, oppression and the killing of innocent people.
The question we face as Muslims in the West is whether Islamic society is ipso facto fundamentalist. No, we say, because the holy book of the Muslims, the Koran, repeatedly commends coexistence. It says:
“lakum deen-e kum wal ya deen”—
your religion for you and my religion for me. It also says,
“la iqra fi al deen”—
let there be no compulsion in religion.
Let me give your Lordships a glaring example of how selective our principal source of information, the media, can be. I am pointing out a question of opportunities. One of the most venerated and respected figures of the Islamic world is the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, where the most holy sites for Islam are based. Recently, he delivered the Hajj sermon for the annual pilgrimage, where nearly 2 million Muslims were gathered. There, with many in the Muslim world also listening to his fatwa, or sermon, he underscored the true teachings of Islam through peace and harmony and declared that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism or extremism and urged Muslims to unite against the incidence of suicide bombings. These, he said, were recipes for being transported to hell rather than a place in paradise. I wish that our wonderful media worldwide had given more prominence to such a message, rather than the drip-drip that we see in newspapers every day which leads only to the poisoning of our minds against each other.
Finally, let us proclaim loudly our intent to defeat those who are bent on destroying our civilised way of life and resolve our differences through interfaith dialogue. My friends, it is time to stand up and be counted. This, indeed, is our duty, and we must fulfil it.
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s statement that there is nothing in Islam which justifies acts of terror was a call for unity at a time when many of us felt frightened. The Prime Minister was right: we must respond to senseless violence with all the strength of a united society. When community leaders of all faiths work together to guide young people away from extremism, they strengthen our society. That is the kind of constructive action we need. The spreading of religious prejudice is far from constructive. Islamophobia and any other kind of religious hatred will only divide Britain. Religious hatred and the fear-mongering that goes on with it has no place in a civilised country.
First, I want to deal with the myth that terrorism is an Islamic phenomenon. In July 2011, 77 people were murdered and 150 injured in Norway. Acting on the belief that immigrants were undermining the Christian values of his country, Anders Breivik identified himself as a Christian crusader. I do not think that Breivik was a Christian. I do not think that his actions reflect Christianity or that Christianity has something fundamentally wrong with it because he claims to be acting in its name.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, mentioned Pavlo Lapshyn, who stabbed an 82-year-old man, Mohammed Saleem, in Birmingham. Pavlo Lapshyn also planted three bombs outside mosques. Lapshyn cited his desire to stir up racial tension as the motivation for his crimes. Surely this makes it our duty to quash any racial tension that this kind of violence stirs up.
The noble Lord mentioned the Buddhist monks who have been attacking the Rohingya communities in Burma, killing thousands of Muslims, and Hindu nationalists have also bombed in India. They do not represent the majority of Hindus or Buddhists. From the reign of Bloody Mary and her burning of hundreds of Protestants to the troubles of Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, our history illustrates that it is ignorance, prejudice and the desire for power—not religion—that fuels violence.
Even so, some will draw comfort from blaming the Muslim community. In an interview in 2009, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, stated:
“Muslims are breeding ten times faster than us”.
To me, this dehumanising language echoes the anti-Semitic comments made about Jews in the 1920s. When the noble Lord says “ten times faster than us”, what does he mean by “us”? Would he separate British Muslims from the rest of British society? Millions of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs served in the British Armed Forces across two world wars. British Muslims have also served and died in Afghanistan.
Quotations from the Holy Koran have been used by Geert Wilders and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, including verse 14 and other verses in Surah 9, and Surah 47, verse 4. I tell noble Lords that those quotations are out of context. They are not even interpreted. I challenge him to recite three words in Arabic and see whether he can do the translation.
The truth is that the right reverend Prelate was right. I could quote 18 examples from the Holy Bible that could be misinterpreted, but I do not want to go down this route. As a politician, I want to remind noble Lords of a quotation:
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. …You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might … You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: it is victory, victory at all costs … victory, however long and hard the road may be”.
That is not Lord Ahmed calling for jihad in the House of Lords or threatening the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, as he claimed in Washington DC on 28 October 2009. This is our great war-time leader, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons on 13 May 1940. It can be read at col. 1502 in Hansard. I do not need to remind your Lordships of the two world wars. There were 16 million deaths in the First World War and 60 million in the Second World War. I need not mention the colonial wars. Everywhere you dig into European colonialism in Afro-Asia there are bodies—lots of bodies—as well as between 1916 and 1930 in Tsarist and Soviet Russia. Lives were also lost during the fight for Algerian independence. I could go on. None of them were Muslims.
I know that my time is up. All I want to say is that the Koran teaches me: do not argue with the people of earlier scripture. Even if they do, tell them that you believe in the same God as they do.
My Lords, I start by doing something that I have not done often, which is simply to endorse the Prime Minister’s words. It is notable to me that no noble Lord today has started with the convention that we have of congratulating somebody on getting a debate on the Order Paper. That is probably because most of us, certainly me, have looked forward to this with some apprehension. I was apprehensive because I know from the time in November 2009 that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in running for the leadership of his party, UKIP, said that the political class was complacent about Islamism. He claimed that our people—again, I do not quite know who the “our” and “we” are—were strangers in our own land. He went on to commend the right-wing Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, and invited him to screen his controversial film about Islam here.
A number of speakers in this debate have treated it, understandably, as though it were a discussion of a religious or theological issue. I do not believe that it is—I think that it is straightforwardly political. It is about the potency that is sometimes achieved, at times of economic crisis, of characterising some people in ways that are dismissive of them and stereotypes them, speaking about them with a generality that cannot be justified. I shall have to go back through Hansard to make sure that I am quoting accurately, but in introducing this debate the noble Lord talked about the “dark side” and birth rates of people who are, obviously, not quite as good as us, people stirring up hate and “red hot” people striving against us, people who we will finally see looking down the barrel of a gun at us, the plight of Christians, and so on. These are all characterisations which, candidly, should have no place in the debates in this country and our Parliament.
Sadly, and I want to say this as briefly as I can—and I make the point about it being political—this is not simply about the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I have been going through quotations from a large number of other people from UKIP, and there is obviously an attempt to adopt positions on the extreme right in our country. Cavan Vines, the candidate in south Yorkshire, talked of people who hide behind women and kill our children. Chris Pain, the opposition leader in Lincolnshire, gave a foul-mouthed diatribe about Islam. Peter Entwistle, the deputy chair of Bury UKIP, speaking of President Obama said:
“If I ever see him on a Greyhound bus wearing a rucksack, I’m getting off!!”.
Misty Thackeray, the deputy chair of UKIP in Scotland, praised the right-wing Dutch politician, Geert Wilders as a self-confessed hater of Islam. I could go on. I have also noted that the support for those UKIP positions from the EDL has been as conspicuous as those quotations are. This is a sequence of attacks that have no place among us.
Whatever the justification that some people may feel for political objectives that they cannot achieve by normal, democratic means, those objectives never justify the use of violence to achieve them. That is true for any people in any community; it is never justified, and nobody in here would try to justify it. Nobody would say that the people of the United Kingdom can be bombed, shot at or violently compelled to make political changes that they do not wish to see. They never have been compelled that way and I do not believe that they ever will be compelled that way; this is a country that repudiates violence from any quarter and insists that those who conduct violence from any quarter are brought to justice. That is a straightforward convention among all of us, for reasons that are very profound.
It is not a matter, in my view, of whether people choose to live differently in their style or at a distance from others in their own communities. Personally, I have no taste for seeing communities constructed in that way—let me be quite clear about it. I prefer to live in an integrated society in which people share each other’s cultures and enjoy them. But it is also a truth that if people live that way within the law and including all laws that protect equal status of all citizens, there is no reason why those people should be subject to state intervention or trenchant language, as we have heard in the House this afternoon. People do have different lifestyles, and if they wish to live lawfully in their own communities we should at least have some modicum of respect for those facts.
I noted what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, said about abrogation, with the later verses superseding the earlier ones, but I am not a sufficient student of that tradition to understand what is or is not within context. However, I am, in my modest way, a Talmudic scholar—at least, I have studied it to some extent—
I am nearing my final words. I notice that one of the most prominent quotations often relied upon is about smiting one’s opponents hip and thigh. That appears in Judges, chapter 15, verse 8. I tell noble Lords that I have never set about doing that, I have never thought of doing it, and I have never thought that it was a compunction upon Jewish people or anybody else.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to put on record this Government’s view on extremism and terrorism. I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, for his bold words of support, and I add my wholehearted endorsement to everything that he has said.
I begin with the Prime Minister’s words in the wake of the horrific murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in May —the words to which the noble Lord refers in calling this debate:
“What happened on the streets of Woolwich shocked and sickened us all. It was a despicable attack on a British soldier who stood for our country and our way of life, and it was a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror, and I welcome the spontaneous condemnation of the attack from mosques and Muslim community organisations across our country. We will not be cowed by terror, and terrorists who seek to divide us will only make us stronger and more united in our resolve to defeat them”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/6/13; col. 1234.]
Those are his words, and I thank my noble friend Lord Sheikh, the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and others for their kind words of support for the Prime Minister’s stance—support which was received from across the world and from across the British Muslim community. Indeed, if Islam justified terror, we would not have seen the out-and-out condemnation of this brutal murder by the British Muslim community.
After that attack, we saw the Ramadhan Foundation, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Christian Muslim Forum, MINAB, the Al-Khoei Foundation, the British Muslim Forum, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, the Karima Institute, the Islamic Forum of Europe and many, many others come out and say, “Not in our name”. They were united with the country in grief and horror at what happened on a London street. I wholeheartedly support this clear and unequivocal condemnation. As the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, said, let us stand and be counted. The British Muslim community did just that.
I am grateful for the very considered contribution from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham. Islam, like all the major religions, is not inherently violent. Passages from sacred texts must be taken in context. It would be possible to distort quotes from any religious text.
The noble Lord referred extensively to the sword verses in the Koran. These are often cited by critics to demonstrate that Islam is violent in its very nature. These same verses are also selectively used, or abused, by religious extremists to develop a theology of hate and intolerance and to legitimise unconditional warfare against Muslims and non-Muslims.
It is not surprising that the Koran, like the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament, has verses that address fighting and the conduct of war. However, like all scriptures, Islamic sacred texts must be read within the social and political context in which they were revealed.
As a political anorak, I shall step away from theology and talk TV political drama. In the hit American show “The West Wing”, a conversation between the Catholic President, Bartlet, and a bigoted TV presenter went something like this. President Bartlet:
“I like your show. I like how you call homosexuality an abomination”.
The TV presenter:
“I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does”.
“Yes it does. Leviticus 18:22. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I have you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?”. While thinking about that, can I ask you another question? My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here’s one that’s really important because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town: touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you?”.
I could not make this point more clearly. These texts from the Old Testament could so easily be manipulated to cause mischief and indeed have been manipulated in the past. But being religious means making choices and understanding the central values of your faith. It also means considering the context in which that faith was formed. To be an adherent, one must also be a historian. This is a point that the late Benazir Bhutto, the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim country, once put particularly well when speaking of teachings in the Koran. She said:
“In an age when no country, no system, no community gave women any rights, in a society where the birth of a baby girl was regarded as a curse, where women were considered chattel, Islam treated women as individuals”.
Noble Lords will be aware that most religions have suffered at one time or another from extremism. Islam is no exception. The essential lesson taught by Islamic history is that extremist groups are ejected from the mainstream of Islam. They are marginalised and seen as heretical aberrations to the Islamic message. That is why religious leaders such as countless Muslim scholars have stood tall, not only condemning acts of violence committed in the name of their faith but issuing clear Islamic rulings, a fatwa on why terrorism is a rejection of what Islam stands for.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has a clear interest in Islamic theology. He makes a distinction between the Prophet’s life in Mecca and Medina. He refers to the “sword verses” in the Koran. He joins critics to demonstrate that Islam is violent in nature. Ironically, these same verses are also selectively abused by religious extremists to support their theology of hate and intolerance. It is not surprising that the Koran, like the Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament, has verses on fighting and the conduct of war but they must be put into context.
As many noble Lords have said in this debate Islam, like all world religions, neither supports, nor advocates, nor condones terrorism. I am saying that the values of al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorists are not only contrary to what we as a country stand for, they are a distortion of the Islamic tradition itself. Al-Qaeda’s ideology is fundamentally at odds with both classical and contemporary Islamic jurisprudence. That is why the majority of Muslims across the globe reject their ideology.
I believe it is a great shame that the noble Lord has asked this question. It points, at best, to ignorance about Islam, or, at worst, a deliberate attempt to perpetuate a distorted image of the faith. It is particularly sad to see this being done during interfaith week, when we celebrate the important role that faith plays in British society, particularly when different faiths come together. This Government support the role of faith in society. They support people in their right to manifest their faith, to worship freely and to act in the name of their faith for the good of society. They support people to share their faith with others, to change their faith, or, indeed, to have no faith at all. As well as that, they are committed to protecting people from intolerance, discrimination or even persecution on the basis of their faith. We have done more than any other Government to tackle that unacceptable scourge of anti-Muslim hatred. For that, I am proud.
Deep, entrenched anti-Muslim bigotry goes against everything this great nation stands for—the idea that Islam is a particularly violent creed and therefore an irrational reaction to it is somehow appropriate. I am concerned that the deeper Islamophobia seeps into our culture, the easier becomes the task of extremists recruiting. I invite the noble Lord to reflect on this.
The noble Lord may make a brief point for clarity.
I am coming to that now. I will be answering the noble Lord’s direct questions now. The fact is, British Muslims play a crucial role in British society. Everyone in this house knows Muslims in British life—doctors, engineers, scientists, journalists, MPs, teachers, business people, local councillors and so on. They are all making strong contributions to our country. The citizenship survey of 2010-11 asked whether it is possible to fully belong to Britain and maintain a separate cultural or religious identity. Some 89% of Muslims agreed with that, as opposed to 72% of the general population.
Let me draw the noble Lord’s attention to recent research conducted by ICM, which showed that Muslims are Britain’s top charity givers, topping a poll of religious groups. Muslims who donated to charity last year gave an average of almost £371 each. That is nothing new. The first recorded Englishman to become Muslim was John Nelson, in the 16th century. At the time of the union with Scotland in 1707, Muslims were already in Britain. There are records of Sylhetis working in London restaurants as early as 1873. Noble Lords may also be aware of the recent campaign that the Government launched to highlight the contribution of the nations from the Commonwealth during the First World War. Hundreds of thousands of the 1.2 million who served in the British Indian Army were Muslims. They fought and died for the values and freedoms that we enjoy today.
I turn to the two specific questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. He asked about the persecution of Christians and by which particular group it was being conducted. I say this simply: one life taken, one life destroyed, is one life too much. For me, the religion of those communities is absolutely irrelevant.
With respect, that does not answer the question. The question I put to the noble Baroness was about the persecution of Christians, to which she so bravely referred in Georgetown last Friday. Is it or is it not mostly the work of the jihadists? That was the question I put to her.
It was mostly the work of extremists who do not follow any faith, as far as I am concerned. Collective punishment for co-religionists is wrong. That is what I said in Georgetown. Collective requirement of a community to be a constant apologist for its co-religionists is also wrong. As the UK’s first ever Minister for Faith and Communities, it is my job to ensure that freedom of religion and belief remains at the top of the Government’s agenda both at home and internationally.
The US Congress hearing in 2011 about “Islamist terrorism” was described as reality TV and a witchhunt. The White House said that we do not practise guilt by association. The Prime Minister, this Government and I wholeheartedly agree with that. Values such as religious tolerance are not just British. They are universal values that cut across different countries and different faiths. Although, of course, all faiths contribute to the public good, Islam is my religion and I am proud of my beliefs.
I believe that our work in building a society characterised by respect and tolerance is not best served by scare stories stirred up by Parliament or parliamentarians. Those of us who have the privilege to serve in Parliament should use this platform to help to build better relations, to speak not just for those communities and faiths to which we belong but wherever injustice occurs, as I did just a few days ago in Georgetown, when I spoke about the persecution of Christians. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for his warm words about the speech, and I hope that it inspires him to take a similar approach. Once more, I thank noble Lords for their contributions.
Committee adjourned at 5.37 pm.