Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the attacks in Paris on 13 November, what steps they plan to take to foster links between communities, as part of their counterterrorism strategy.
My Lords, on Friday 13 November unspeakable horror was visited upon ordinary, predominantly young Parisians as they enjoyed an evening with friends. It was a deliberate act carried out with indiscriminate and callous abandon. The French President rightly described the perpetrators of this crime as psychopathic monsters.
Some have said that this is the world that we should now expect. We are told that what happened in Paris will most likely happen in other European cities, as indeed has been happening in the Middle East and beyond for many years. This “piecemeal” third world war, as Pope Francis has defined it, has no geographic boundaries and is not about religion, although some would have us see it that way. Religion is just a convenient label. This conflict is simply between those who hold humanity as sacred and those who do not.
I was one of the 100,000 who marched in Glasgow to say no to war in Iraq, fearing that it would lead to ever-greater conflict, bloodshed and chaos. I have always believed that peace and dialogue is by far the better path. Yet when ISIL, or Daesh, first began to be mentioned by our news channels, like others I had a sense of dread and foreboding that this was like no other terrorist group before it—that it was a death cult that needed to be eradicated sooner rather than later.
I fear that it is later—and it is certainly too late for the 136 who died in Paris on 13 November, the 44 who died in Beirut the day before, or the 224 who died in the Russian plane over Egypt last month. Add to this the many thousands of Muslims—both Shia and Sunni—and Yazidis and Christians in Syria and Iraq, who have been slaughtered at the hands of Daesh. Sometimes even those of us who are pacifists—and I count myself as one—believe that there is no justification in standing back. But if and when military action is taken, a well-structured plan for reconciliation and reconstruction is crucial.
Whatever the mistakes and differences of the past and whatever else we do, we must stand united against those who would have us be divided. Whenever there is a terrorist attack, Muslims are urged to condemn the terrorists. Ordinary, peaceful, hard-working, law-abiding Muslim citizens of the state are urged to publicly condemn these acts of violence, in a way that the Irish Catholic community was never asked to do when the IRA was bombing our mainland. And Muslim leaders and communities have condemned these acts, openly and publicly, for no right-minded person could ever do otherwise. In fact, most recently, they took out an advert in a national newspaper to condemn the Paris attacks. It represented more than 300 mosques and community groups.
However, if Muslims articulate their heartfelt belief that this bloodlust is nothing to do with their religion, which speaks of peace, love and forgiveness, they are accused of being apologists. This is irresponsible. This accusation only makes people defensive and will only divide us—and Daesh would relish that. Nevertheless, because it is Islam that is being hijacked and misrepresented, there is an obligation on Muslims to speak out. Islam teaches that the middle path is the best and that extremes of any kind are wrong.
The threat that we all face requires a collective response. Blaming this, that and the other, or indeed each other, is no longer an option. The “them and us” that some of our citizens subscribe to must come to an end. The consequences of discord affect all of us.
This is not the time for prejudice; the stakes are far too high. Each of us—Muslims, Christians, Jews, members of any other religion and of none—must examine our own prejudices and levels of intolerance, which clearly do exist. Throughout my life, I have made it a duty to point out intolerance whenever I recognise it, whether from people of my own religious background or of any other.
The goal has to be that everyone feels that they are a citizen of the state and a stakeholder. Remaining in silos is not the way forward. People can hold on to their faith and cultural heritage while being part of the mainstream—that is what makes the United Kingdom so special. Most of us have multiple identities and there is no conflict in that. In fact, it is enriching and can be an asset. It is for strong voices within local communities to interact with each other and give clear and positive messages of trust and respect.
The great efforts made by this country and the raft of race relations and equality legislation over the last five decades have meant that people have been able to integrate in a way that has not been possible in other European countries. We enjoy freedom and security to live our lives and to worship in the way that we please. But with that freedom and security comes a duty and a responsibility. We can see around us, in the chaos that exists elsewhere, that what we have has to be safeguarded and cherished, and that we all have a part to play. It is incumbent on all of us that we reach out and try to understand each other’s perspective, fears and concerns.
The challenge is for us all: not just politicians and the police but also schools, universities, faith groups, charitable organisations, factory workers, even fishermen on the high seas—and the media. The media arguably have the biggest role of all. Now is not the time for sensationalism. It is a time for responsibility, unlike the actions of a certain tabloid newspaper which recently reported false statistics to deliberately vilify the Muslim community. This has been happening even as far back as pre-9/11, when the media gave much airtime to extremists such as Abu Hamza, never clarifying that he was preaching outside Finsbury mosque because the rational, moderate majority had thrown him out. When the media falsely associate such extremists with mainstream Islam, they do no favours in respect of community cohesion.
One of the most sinister aspects of current-day extremism is the way that the internet has become a tool with which to spread poisonous ideologies. The Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy, published last month, addresses this issue and points out that groups such as Daesh or neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing groups are using the internet in ever-more sophisticated ways to disseminate their propaganda. The neo-Nazi website, Stormfront, is often described as the first website dedicated to racial hatred. Companies that are involved in social media provision have an obligation to identify and eradicate extremist material on the internet.
Statistics prove that there has been a rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in recent times. Last week, in Scotland, the deputy chief constable announced that 64 examples of Islamophobic abuse were reported to the police in the week after the Paris attacks. When there is a rise in such incidents, there is also an inadvertent effect on other communities, such as the Sikh community, because some that harbour resentments and prejudice cannot differentiate between different faith groups.
I am heartened to read that the Government will be supporting those who wish to put forward mainstream views and empowering internet users to report extremist content. Perhaps the Minister can tell us more about the Government’s aim to assist particular projects for funding and to provide social media training and technical assistance to counter the extremist narrative. I welcome this initiative but would caution that we must monitor such funding closely. What we do not need is negativity arising from any misappropriation of funds.
What is required most of all is action at grass-roots level, not just official reports. I am aware that much work is being done in consultation and collaboration with groups and individuals at a local level. This recognises the diversity within the Muslim community. What is required in conjunction with these initiatives is encouragement for every citizen to help foster links between communities and faith groups and to join in a movement for greater unity. Then we can begin to overcome the challenge of our age.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, for introducing this debate and giving us an opportunity to debate this important topic. However, having said that, the wording of the question, although not the content of the noble Baroness’s speech, is wrong. The premise behind it is wrong, as indeed are the premises behind so much of the Government’s counterextremism strategy. “Fostering links between communities” in this country is the right policy, but it should not be seen as just a by-product of counterterrorism strategy. It should be seen as part of building a harmonious society. It will be counterproductive if it is seen as only a response to terrorism.
I spent 24 years as an elected politician in Haringey, where two-thirds of the population and 70% of the young people come from ethnic minority backgrounds—collectively they are not a minority, they are the overwhelming majority. I was an elected member of the London Assembly representing two other London boroughs: Brent, which at the time was the most ethnically diverse local authority area in the country; and Harrow, which was the most religiously diverse. Indeed, most of my life has been spent trying to foster and nurture positive relationships between communities. That is something all of us in public life should do all the time, and all public agencies should see it as part of their duty. It should be part of that duty not just in the immediate aftermath of, or as a response to, a terrorist atrocity, whether here or elsewhere.
Seven years ago, I led a major inquiry into public attitudes to counterterrorism policing. Some memories from that inquiry stand out very strongly in my mind, such as the message—repeated in different contexts and different groups—from students and young people who said, “Don’t just take an interest in us and come to us when you want information about terrorism. You need to be there all the time supporting us with our problems”. The lesson for police and politicians is that they must not be fair-weather friends to particular communities. They should not just make contact when they need the help of that community. They should be there all the time, whatever the circumstances.
What is more, the only way that the police will be able to build community confidence, so they have the trust of the community that will bring intelligence and support when action has to be taken, is through that constant presence and investment of time and energy—sorting out the ordinary day-to-day problems of particular communities. The police must not be an occupying force, whizzing about in cars and responding to incidents. They should be there for the day-to-day concerns of communities—the problems in the corner shops and on the streets, or perhaps thefts from student lodgings.
That is why neighbourhood policing has been so important. It is so tragic that it has been almost dismantled in London in the past year or so. Before the Minister dusts off the quotation from the Prime Minister the other day, I should say that I think he was presented with misleading statistics about the extent of neighbourhood policing and the numbers involved. In the Metropolitan Police area, which has dominated the statistics across the country, the definition of what is a neighbourhood police officer has been dramatically changed to include all the response police officers concerned.
The message is very clear. If we want community confidence, if we want communities to have links and be part of a harmonious wider community and society, we have to be there all the time for them, supporting those interests and working with them all the time. That goes for the police and all of us in public life.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, for securing this important and timely debate. I have a few comments about some things she touched on. Over the years, Muslims in Britain have spoken out against terrorism with one voice, even though many of us feel very strongly that we cannot possibly have any responsibility for or connection with barbaric ideologies like Daesh. However, every time there is another atrocity, the UK’s 2.7 million Muslims are put under greater scrutiny and held somehow responsible. That is tragic.
Articles are written, often by rational, eminent people, calling on Muslim leaders and the community to condemn these attacks. I condemn them. We all do. Any rational person would, like the vast majority of people from my background and others. But I condemn them as a member of our society, community and the human race, not because of my faith or background, whatever that may be. If I am asked to apologise or condemn these attacks, that tells me there must be a suspicion that I am somehow sympathetic. That is a growing problem within the wider Muslim communities. These terrorists have no faith. They have no humanity and no religion. Let us be clear about that.
As the noble Baroness said, unlike other European countries, we have an excellent record in good community cohesion and inter-faith work. We have a very positive record, unlike France, where 70% of the prison population is Muslim.
If we are to talk about counterterrorism, we have consistently argued that the best counterterrorism strategy involves upholding our values, freedoms and civil liberties, but at the same time promoting greater community cohesion, without turning the spotlight on minority communities in a way our enemies would like us to do. Doing so risks alienating those already vulnerable and more socially excluded members of society, and their being groomed and drawn into those fringe ideologies.
Global terrorism-related events cause a sharp spike in hate crime and physical attacks on members of our communities. We have seen yet again a rise in race attacks on people of the Muslim faith, post the terrible events in Paris. I felt anger and then dread when I heard what had happened in Paris. I felt anger at the terrorist attacks against all those ordinary people who were murdered there—and then dread came at the predictable and almost certain ripple effect and backlash against Muslim communities here in the UK.
We rightly say that our values—promoting the rule of law, participation in and acceptance of democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities—are very important; they underpin our society. However, we put that at risk if we do not do more to ensure that everyone who is a citizen feels that they belong and do not feel ostracised. Tell MAMA is a helpline which records that attacks against British Muslims since 13 November have gone up by a reported 300%. The majority of those are women and girls, and sadly, they report that most people look on and do very little to intervene.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, mentioned some of the reporting in the media. Noble Lords may have seen the cartoon in the Daily Mail depicting Syrian refugees—gun-toting women in Burkas—surrounded by rats coming into Europe. Does the Minister condemn that kind of reporting and those depictions of refugees—human beings? How does it help our society when the media behave that way? How have we come to this?
Time is pressing, so I shall end by quoting President Obama:
“We will not give in to fear, or start turning on each other, or treating some people differently because of religion or race or background”.
He also said:
“That’s precisely what terrorists like Daesh want, because ultimately, that is the only way that they can win”.
I hope the Government, working with faith groups, communities, and NGOs, will also keep this message at the forefront in the difficult weeks and months ahead.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the charity Near Neighbours. There is no doubt that we are living in worrying and distressing times, and I thank my noble friend Lady Mobarik for facilitating this debate today.
It is, of course, important that where necessary there is a military response to violent extremism and that we build robust security and intelligence services. But we also need to do the work of building relationships between communities in neighbourhoods. Integration is the best antidote to radicalisation, with all communities and individuals having a sense of being able to invest in building British society.
Previous policies, such as multiculturalism, have created a climate of separation. We now need actively to build relationships across communities with different views of living together well. There is a significant consensus on integration that is contrary to the commonly held view that suggests that there is great opposition to it. This consensus on integration is held across the country, so we need to see integration as an important policy objective. In Sunder Katwala’s research, The Integration Consensus: British Future 2014, 83% fully agreed and only 3% disagreed with the following statement:
“To belong to our shared society, everyone must speak our language, obey our laws and pay their taxes—so that everyone who plays by the rules counts as equally British, and should be able to reach their potential”.
The Church of England’s Near Neighbours programme, supported by the Department for Communities and Local Government, has been building links across communities for the past five years. The Near Neighbours programme has reached more than 1.3 million people, encouraging the individuals taking part to work together on social action projects in their community. Such community projects create trust between individuals. When individuals in communities trust each other, it becomes possible to tackle extreme voices. It strengthens the capacity of local people and communities to respond to their own needs, building up social cohesion using relational methods. This approach builds relationships and attracts and uses co-option to bring about change.
I would like to share just a few brief examples of Near Neighbours projects with your Lordships. Rabbi Tanya and Sajid together teamed up a synagogue and a Muslim charity to feed the homeless in Nottingham; a Muslim and a Jew are prospering in peace as they work to make their community stronger.
In east London, the programme has brought together a rabbi and a group of young Muslim men to talk about Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. In Bradford, the synagogue was about to close as the roof needed repairs. The congregation did not have the money to pay for the work. The members of the mosque and the synagogue met through a Near Neighbours project. Now, the local mosque has funded the repairing of the synagogue roof, which I think must be one of the most unusual combinations to imagine—but it has happened, much to our delight. There are many other projects, involving Christians, Hindus and people of other faiths and none, but there is not time to mention them all.
Community approaches such as Near Neighbours tackle the root of the problem of extremism. They are about changing hearts and minds. They therefore create a sustainable way forward and need to be part of the response to the Paris attacks. It is separation that makes hate possible, because people do not have a real human interaction with others who are different, and it is hate that makes violence possible: it allows people to dehumanise others. We have to tackle the violence through security measures, but we need also to tackle the hate and separation. It is much better when it is tackled through good community relations, where myths can be challenged and human encounter can do its work, helping people to recognise that they may have differences but that they have a great deal in common, not least sharing a common humanity.
My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, for initiating the debate and for the opportunity to speak in it. I am grateful, too, to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, for saying some of the things about Near Neighbours that I might have said. That will save me having to do it. It is good to have other advocates of these things.
The point has been made already, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the important issues raised in the debate, although perhaps prompted by part of the current world situation, have been there for many generations. Many of us have been working away at them for a good many years. None the less, one of the strands in the Government’s counterterrorism strategy, published last month, has been the building and strengthening of community links within and between communities. It is a very important strand that clearly builds on things that many of us have been involved in before. In many ways it is the most difficult strand, because it requires perseverance and hard work over many years. It requires commitment in local communities and all the things that lead to fruitful engagement.
This is an area of life in which the language of religious faith and identity are often used, even when, as has been pointed out already, the connection with any true religion is somewhat tenuous at best. The rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, commented on this very cogently in his recent book Not in God’s Name, which I commend to noble Lords if they have time to read it. Religious beliefs may, in some cases, be stated as givens, but religious practice, including what we might call deviant religious practice, is actually nurtured within our communities—in families, in neighbourhoods and in other settings. Therefore, as has already been said, it is this local work in communities and neighbourhoods that is key in dealing with this dimension of these issues.
As we know, the challenges are significant: issues of segregation and separation, not least in some of our cities, are still there, with the need to break down barriers of mistrust. There are some very real issues of leadership capacity in some of our communities. That is an area where investment, not so much of money but of training and development and those kinds of things, could reap benefits; it already does in some instances. Particular attention has already been given to the invidious position in which some of the leaders of our Muslim communities are put at times. Proper support and development of the skills of leaders such as those is important.
I do not think that anyone has yet mentioned the particular issues around young people. Again, that is clearly something of huge importance. Investment in that, not just of money but of time and attention at the local level, is very important in addressing the matters before us.
These issues are tackled most fruitfully and effectively at local levels, where time and commitment can be given to building trust, often over generations as people live alongside one another and as they get to know one another. The Near Neighbours initiative, to which the noble Baroness has already referred, is one such example which the Church of England has been pleased to sponsor through the Church Urban Fund and which would welcome support from the Government. That initiative is having an effect in many different places in the country; some examples of its work have already been given.
I will also mention the work of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Birmingham, who has taken the initiative to convene regular conversations between the leading faith leaders in the city of Birmingham. Clearly, that is a city where that kind of work is really important. I worked there myself for 18 years and it is close to my heart.
We on these Benches assure this House of our continuing commitment to work for the building of trust, understanding and practical collaboration within and between communities throughout our land. We will play our continuing part in building strong communities between people of different faiths and backgrounds.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Mobarik for initiating this very important debate. I have met and spoken with many people across the Muslim community in recent months, and subsequently prepared a detailed report setting out various issues affecting the Muslim community and suggesting appropriate action to be taken. The report has been sent to my noble friend the Minister as well as my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
There are various factors that lead to someone becoming radicalised. They include alienation, socioeconomic factors, objections to foreign policy and a warped grasp of ideology. The small minority of young people who are radicalised are on the fringes of society. We must tackle youth alienation and give young Muslims a stake in society. Around 50% of Muslims are under the age of 25. It is imperative that we set up a mechanism to engage with them. In my report, I talked about the best ways of engaging with the young, but because of time constraints I cannot elaborate on these points further.
There are prevailing concerns posed to us by the radicalisation of a tiny minority of young Muslims and these need to be addressed on two fronts. We must do more to prevent such radicalisation to begin with; and for those who have been radicalised and then return from abroad, we must develop a mechanism for dealing with them. Mosques must become more than just a place of worship; they must be used as a tool of integration for the Muslim community. I have connections with mosques that are actively undertaking this.
The Government need to understand the Muslim community’s concern about the Prevent strategy and its effectiveness. Muslims are not convinced that the Government’s counterterrorism strategy is working. It needs to be overhauled, with participation from the Muslim community. Furthermore, I urge the Government to undertake adequate research before proscribing any individual or organisation.
There has been an increase in the number of hate crimes directed towards Muslims. I am a patron of an organisation that is taking measures to combat this. We much appreciate what the police have started to do, but the Government need to reassure the community that they are tackling this problem. They must take a holistic approach and work in conjunction with the community, local authorities, schools, universities, prison authorities and the police to deal with issues concerning Muslim communities.
Mosques and imams also have a role to play. We must take steps to understand and combat radicalisation, including utilising social media, and for this the Government must work with organisations that can do this effectively. Some imams need further training to be effective. I am supporting a programme that undertakes this.
Deprivation among the Muslim community is a key concern. Almost half the British Muslim population live in the 10% most deprived areas. Socioeconomic status plays an important role in determining outcomes of education, employment prospects and health. We need to address these issues of deprivation among Muslims.
There is also widespread misunderstanding about Islamic principles. We must set up an initiative to tackle misconceptions about Islam. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and I must emphasise that Islam is, indeed, a religion of peace. There are around 3 million Muslims in the UK and they have contributed significantly to our country in all walks of life. We must remember and respect the positive aspects of British Muslims.
I conclude by saying that we must all unite to combat extremism.
My Lords, only last week, I chaired a meeting here on the estate of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, where, for the first time, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and a senior imam of a major UK mosque shared a public platform. We discussed Jewish-Muslim relations with senior rabbis and imams, civic leaders from both communities, academics and university students. The atmosphere and fellowship were palpable and warm and we are now co-operating on many fronts.
Also, two years ago when, having been daubed with graffiti by the EDL, the north London community centre of the Bravanese Islamic community from south-east Somalia was burned down in an arson attack, Rabbi Miriam Berger’s community at Finchley synagogue agreed to host them throughout Ramadan. We here were able to make it safe for them, with the help of our noble friend Lord Dear and his security contacts. The communities, in coming together, got on so well that we asked a former colleague of mine from Marks & Spencer, Tom Nathan, who now manages Brent Cross shopping centre, to allow us to put on a bhaji and bagel party there for the two communities, who now happily shop as one.
On a broader platform involving young people, to counterbalance the hostility in social media, a Palestinian, Joana Osman, and an Israeli, Ronny Edry, founded Peace Factory to build communities online, particularly across borders where people cannot physically meet. They connect people, giving them a voice and a face in a safe space where they can become friends in their online world. These young people are showing us the way to foster links globally.
With the help of your Lordships, I would like to suggest a way to foster global links collectively at leadership level to promote a counterterrorism strategy. The terrorist issue involves economics, politics and security, yes, but, of course, religion and faith, whether genuine or distorted, are also involved. Recently, His Holiness the Dalai Lama clarified for me the three aspects or levels within all religions and faiths, and even secular mindfulness. First, there is a total agreement that the basis of humanity is compassion and we are all one. Secondly, there are mutually agreed differences of philosophy—for example, on the nature and existence of God and the afterlife. Thirdly, there are contentious cultural barriers and customs, such as Kashrut and halal in some, dress codes in others and varying moral standards.
Perhaps the leaders of all the major religions, philosophies and wisdoms could come together in one place urgently now, as a grand coalition if you like, to emphasise the mutual spiritual underpinning of all faiths, and then agree on their political differences but strive to find a consensus and agree on a joint statement that nullifies the claim that terrorism has a religious justification. So, on the first level, they declare their unanimity in the belief that we are all one, and all agree with the golden rule that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. On the second level, where there are subtle philosophical differences, each will explain how this golden rule is true but with a difference in their own philosophy. On the third level, where religion begins to impinge on politics and law and there is not agreement on cultural traditions, each religious leader, citing their own scripture and teachings of their own historical masters, can absolutely negate the cultural or political justification for terrorism. In this way, it can be made clear that we should all respect each other with our differences because we know that in reality we are all one. Perhaps a practical step might be for them to agree to build a world peace centre at the base of Mount Sinai, as the late President Anwar Sadat suggested. It might be a good place for them to have this meeting.
Her Majesty’s Government must foster global links between communities as part of a counterterrorism strategy. In times of terror we can choose to respond with fear or with compassion, and our response will determine our future and our freedom. To continue to survive, the human race should come together compassionately to reject any justification for terrorism.
My Lords, I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and my noble friend Lord Sheikh in thanking our noble friend who initiated this debate, and those who have participated in it.
Terrorism strategy is not an easy task. The Government are doing their best to tackle this issue. But the attacks in Paris on 13 November show that this is getting worse and getting out of hand. To foster links between the communities is a step in the right direction, but we have to think deeper. Why is terrorism spreading like wildfire and not being controlled?
There are many examples in the world of people who have resolved conflicts by peaceful means, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and many more such noble persons. I happened to meet the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, on his recent visit to the UK. He invited questions from the guests at the reception. I sent him a short written question: how can we see the end of terrorism? His thoughtful one-word reply was, “Education”. Education starts at home and a child can start learning while in his mother’s womb.
Last week, a reader’s comment on the Daily Telegraph website said that,
“not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims”.
Islam is a peaceful religion. In Arabic, “Islam” means peace—like “shalom” in Hebrew or “shanti” in Hindi. The Muslim community should take a lead in talking to these people and should educate them to stop treading on this dangerous path and lead a good life. If they have any concerns, they should come forward and talk to the community or to their parents.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, said five and a half centuries ago that the human race is the image of God—our maker, whatever name you may call it. He is not locked in any cupboard or anywhere. He lives in you. Search your heart and try to find who you are. Why kill the image of God? Why kill innocent people? He preached that we should always pray for the welfare of the whole of mankind.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for giving us this opportunity. Like others, I do not link the components of the title of the debate in the way that they might be read.
Inevitably, events in Paris and Brussels have a greater impact than those in, say, Beirut or Tunis—or Nigeria, which saw almost a quarter of the deaths caused by terrorist activity last year. One of the impacts is how “others” in the UK are perceived. I heard yesterday of a teenage boy at a football club who was found by his coach in tears. He had been abused because of Paris. The language of anti-Muslim prejudice seems to have changed from “groomers” and “paedos” post-Rotherham to “terrorists” and “bombers”. That was a boy who, with his family, had managed to get out of Syria. It seems to me that any non-white person is now liable to be categorised as a Muslim and to be abused on that basis.
I am not aware that the counterterrorism strategy embraces support for teachers and others in that sort of situation, as distinct from using them as a reporting and enforcement agency. Nor am I aware that it is capable of identifying vulnerable young people who may be victims of grooming for different purposes, of which terrorism is one. At this point, I say, too, that I am concerned about issues of trust and confidentiality, and about information gained under Prevent being used for prosecutions. I am sure that this point and others got a very good airing in the previous debate.
Attacks are mainly against visible Muslim women in traditional dress. Is it that men perceive that women can be very influential? I think we are. I recently attended the launch of an organisation called Nisa-Nashim, a Jewish-Muslim women’s network supported by the Government. I, too, pay tribute to the various women’s and other community groups that work towards community cohesion. Maintaining grass-roots and community activity will be all the more important if or when the UK’s activity in the Middle East increases.
I think it is unhelpful to talk of “British values”, and I say that very seriously. According to the Government, extremism is vocal or active opposition to British values. The values listed are by no means exclusively British, and I believe that the phrase turns this into a political definition. “British” in this context is not cohesive.
I am no psychologist but I should like the Minister to assure me that the Government are putting effort and energy into analysing why different individuals and perhaps cohorts are susceptible to being attracted to extremism—especially extremist action. This is intrinsically important, of course, but it is important, too, because we know that alienation is such a good recruiting sergeant.
I think that I just have time to say that there was a time when, in my circles, being labelled as “radical” was a compliment.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, on securing this Question for Short Debate.
All of us were appalled at what we witnessed in Paris recently. We stand in solidarity with the French people and fully support the British Government and the full remit of the security services in their efforts to assist the French authorities and ensure that we are protected here in Britain.
The noble Baroness’s Question is important because it is about the fostering of good community links and the celebration of difference. It is also about being a multiracial, multifaith democracy where you can live in freedom, make a contribution to your community and be respected for who you are, no matter what the colour of your skin is or which faith you are of, including being of no faith. The noble Baroness was right to talk about all of us speaking out against intolerance and having a duty to understand different points of view. By coming together we will face down extremism wherever it comes from, be it neo-Nazism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or Islamist extremism. Strong institutions in the public and voluntary sectors and in civil society in general are vital in challenging extremism in all forms and preventing people being drawn into terrorism. My noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey was right when he spoke of the need for the police and others to work with communities on a day-to-day basis to build confidence and not just to appear when information is needed.
Faith groups provide vital leadership in combating extremism, promoting dialogue between different groups and bringing people together. I recall the excellent work undertaken by Reverend Graham Shaw at St Paul’s in Walworth when I was a councillor in Southwark many years ago. As someone brought up in the Catholic faith, I can say I saw first-hand the excellent work that the Church of England and Reverend Shaw undertook in bringing the community together and challenging attitudes. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester referred to the work that he had undertaken over many years, which had led to fruitful engagement. I have been impressed by the work of the Inter Faith Network, which works to advance public knowledge, the mutual understanding of different faith communities and the promotion of good relations between people of different faiths in the country at national and local level.
Faith groups themselves need good governance programmes to develop resilience to extremism and deliver proper engagement with young people. It will be helpful to the House if the Minister can explain the work that the Government are doing in this area to support faith communities, as they are a vital part of an overall plan to fight against terrorism and extremism. What specific support did the Government give in Inter Faith Week, which was held last week?
Schools are a focal point in our communities where young people come together to learn, and they must be places where good values are in evidence. The school community can help to build a strong and safe wider community that protects vulnerable people. There have been examples where this has not been the case, and we must be on guard against the influence of extremists in future. Does the Minister believe that we have got the balance right in protecting young people at school, or is there possibly more work that needs to be done?
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, that social media has been an area where extremist views have grown. The Government must take firm action there.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, when she said that the depiction of the Muslim community by some national newspapers was wrong, untrue and unhelpful in bringing communities together and making us all safer. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, that coming from an Irish Catholic family and growing up in London in the 1970s brought its own challenges. I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this Question before the House for debate today.
My Lords, I am pleased to respond to this debate on behalf of the Government. I thank my noble friend Lady Mobarik for raising this important issue at a very appropriate time, and congratulate her not only on securing this debate but on her excellent contribution. It reflected the quality of the debate that we have had today, albeit briefly, and I am sure that this is a subject that we will return to.
I am sure that I speak for every Member of this House and beyond when I say that at this juncture our thoughts go out to all those who have been affected by the horrific attacks we have seen recently in Paris, Beirut, Mali and, most recently, Tunisia, and indeed to all those who have suffered from terrorist attacks across the world. We in Britain, across the country, irrespective of who we are, where we came from or what religion we are, stand together in condemning these attacks. We stand as one community, one nation, united with one another.
Following the attacks in Paris, I personally spoke to many members of different communities to reassure them that the Government stand with them, and I know that the police and local authorities have been engaging with communities who may live in fear of right-wing reprisals. Those communities need to be provided with reassurance. I praise all those who have worked very hard to continue to bring communities together and condemn any attempts to divide our society.
Let me be very clear that, as other noble Lords have said, not least my noble friends Lady Mobarik and Lord Sheikh, that the attacks we have seen across the world, and across the Channel, have nothing to do with Islam, a religion that is followed peacefully by millions of people around the world. Those attacks have been rightly and strongly condemned; the heinous acts that we saw in Paris and Africa and that we see in the Middle East have been rightly condemned by all—yes, including Muslims, not just in Britain but beyond. As the Home Secretary and indeed the Prime Minister have made clear, none of us want to see, and none of us will tolerate, any sort of backlash against any part of the community as a result of the attacks. The terrorists may seek to divide us, but they will fail.
Before I go any further, a number of noble Lords have drawn attention to the point that my noble friend asked about: the Government’s counterterrorism strategy, Contest. Our counterterrorism work aims to reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from terrorism, including from the extremist views on which terrorism draws. The Prevent strategy, which has been talked about, was clear that this work must be done in conjunction with the communities. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the work that was done previously continues with this Government. To give noble Lords some insight, and to answer the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about the level of government support, last year alone the Government and local authorities worked together with just under 40,000 people, reaching those targeted by extremists and terrorist ideologies. Many others throughout the communities work tirelessly without financial support.
However, terrorism is not the only harm caused by extremism. The Government have been clear to make that distinction with the launch of our counter-extremism strategy. To those who wish to see the intent behind the strategy, I give the following quote:
“Whether you are Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian or Sikh, whether you were born here or born abroad, we can all feel part of this country and we must now all come together and stand up for our values with confidence and pride”.
Those are the words of the Prime Minister, spoken in July of this year. The Government continue to emphasise the important work that we are doing with faith and civic communities. We must do everything we can to protect the society we have built together. As my noble friend Lady Eaton rightly pointed out, a project such as Near Neighbours is a shining example of how communities of different faiths can come together to ensure that the society in which they live benefits from the actions of all.
Our country is built on values. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about stating British values. Our strategy and the words of all Ministers reflect the fact that these are shared human values: respect, tolerance and democracy. These unite us and help our society to thrive. But let us accept the basic fact that they are increasingly challenged by extremists who seek to spread hatred and division. That is why the Government launched their counter-extremism strategy in October. It is our intention to protect society and safeguard individuals from the influence of extremists, in partnership—I emphasise this—with communities.
As the Minister responsible for this at the Home Office, let me assure noble Lords that our strategy is based on these fundamental pillars: building a partnership with all those opposed to extremism, both at home and abroad; disrupting the activities of extremists; countering extremist ideology; and building and continuing to strengthen our cohesive communities. It will challenge extremism in all its forms, violent and non-violent—those who seek to hijack Islam and those neo-Nazis who seek to divide societies. Let us be quite clear: tragically, when we see terrorist acts it is the Muslims, not just in this country but overseas, who are too often the victims of extremism and terrorism. We are determined to take direct action to protect British Muslims and everyone in society.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, condemned the media images that she saw. I join with her in condemning such images. These are the very images which I am sure we all condemn. Indeed, in the light of the events which have taken place in Paris, the Home Secretary has once again emphasised that this should not reflect on our role in helping those who need help. I am proud of the role that Britain plays in helping refugees, not just from the Syrian crisis but from the crises that we have seen before. We have done this historically—it is our legacy—and we continue to do it today, as we will in future.
My noble friends Lord Sheikh and Lady Mobarik also mentioned rising anti-Muslim hatred. I assure noble Lords that the Government, as many will know, recently announced that anti-Muslim hate crime will be recorded as a specific hate crime by the police, across all forces in England and Wales, from April next year. This will help us to focus attention on that important issue, but it is important that that message resonates across all communities. We have to be intolerant of intolerance.
We know that extremists, whoever they are, use a twisted narrative of grievance and conflict to draw people in. Those who hijack Islam supposedly present a view that there is an incompatibility between liberal democracy and their perverse interpretation of Islam. They promote an idea of “the war on Islam”, while the neo-Nazis try to drive a core hatred of minorities. In the counter-extremism strategy, we have stated that we will challenge those perverse ideologies head on, showing them for what they are: baseless and inaccurate.
I am pushed for time because of the notable contributions that we have had. The right reverend Prelate talked about the excellent work being done in Birmingham, which I have seen first-hand. I have seen that at the Joseph Interfaith Foundation. The noble Lord, Lord Stone, always speaks in positive terms, which I think we all welcome, about the experiences of faith groups and how we share those together. To counter extremist ideologies, we must confront and challenge extremist propaganda. I assure noble Lords we are committed to working with individuals and groups across the country which are already speaking out against extremism, and we will support them to increase their impact within the community. Finally, I assure noble Lords that we will consult on all the measures within the proposed counter-extremism strategy. A cornerstone of this is partnership and building cohesive communities.
Once again, I thank my noble friend Lady Mobarik for securing this debate. The Government welcome any opportunity to debate this important subject. To defeat extremists, we must stand together and work in partnership with communities. In doing that, let us also celebrate the country we are: from the Big Iftar to Sadaqa Day, from Mitzvah Day to Sevah Day, from the minarets of mosques to the steeples of churches, to the gurdwaras and mandhirs that we see today in Britain. That is a celebration of what we are as a nation. Against those who seek to divide us, we will unite as one nation. As the Prime Minister himself has said, we will face this challenge head on and we will prevail.