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Islam: Extremism

Volume 768: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made by the review into funding for extremist interpretations of Islam within the United Kingdom, including from overseas sources, announced by the Prime Minister on 2 December 2015 with the declared intention that it would report by the spring of 2016.

My Lords, the review into the funding of extremist interpretations of Islamic ideology, including funds that come from overseas, has made good progress. Analysts from across government are working on the review, led by the extremism analysis unit. It will report to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary in the spring of this year.

My Lords, we understand that the Charities Commission has been doing some work on domestic sources, looking particularly at the role of Muslim charities. Foreign funding is entirely legitimate but it should be transparent, whether it comes from government or private sources. We have indications that some Governments have been supporting Muslim education in this country, but of course it should be directed to legitimate ends and not to the support of extremist versions of Islam.

I totally agree with the noble Lord that any source of funding that seeks to divide or disrupt what we have here in the United Kingdom should be looked upon, and the full force of the law for anyone seeking to create such divisions will be imposed. The noble Lord mentioned the review by the Charities Commission. That is very much factored into the review that is currently being carried out and I am speaking to colleagues in the Cabinet Office very closely on this subject.

My Lords, what are the Government proposing to do about the Muslim Brotherhood, considering that the report that the Government commissioned, which was published in December, concludes with the words:

“Muslim Brotherhood ideology and tactics, in this country and overseas, are contrary to our values and have been contrary to our national interests and our national security”?

Will the Government at least arrange for a debate in your Lordships’ House on the matter?

The issue of a debate is very much for the usual channels. If my noble friend wishes to table such a debate, it will of course be taken forward in the normal way. On the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is of course quite right: the Government published their findings in the review. The whole issue around the Muslim Brotherhood is something that the Government are watching very closely.

My Lords, when we talk about Islamic extremism, should we not attempt to be more precise in what we are talking about? There are passages in the Koran that might have been relevant to the time when the infant Muslim community was under siege from all sides but may not be so relevant today. It is important that those passages be put in the context of today. Should the Government not be working with Muslim leaders to that end?

It is not the Government’s role to decide on which interpretation of Islam is correct, but I assure the noble Lord that we work with all Muslim organisations, and indeed all faith institutions across the board, to ensure that we not only sustain what we have in our country today but build the resilience, strength and indeed the harmony and diversity of faith across our country that is a source of great strength for this nation.

My Lords, it is widely agreed that all statements that tend towards causing hatred, contempt and violence towards other faiths should not be permitted, but does the Minister nevertheless agree that it is not extremist in any way, and should in fact be encouraged, for there to be statements that are frank and categorical assertions of faith or no faith, and that there is no right not to be offended or hurt by such statements?

I agree on the whole issue of interpretations and the right not to be offended, because after all that is what we are protecting here in our country. I think that there is a distinct line to be drawn when it comes to any conservative practice of a particular religion. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is on record, when referring to Islam in particular, as saying that anyone who is devout of faith can be anything but an extremist. The right to offend someone and not to be offended remains a value that we wish to protect, but we need to stand up to those who seek to divide us and to create division between society and faiths. That is certainly what our counterextremism strategy is all about.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have tried four times to get a straight answer to a Parliamentary Question about whether, in countering extremist ideology, the Government are concerned about the preaching and teaching of Wahhabism in mosques and Muslim education bodies in Britain that are funded from overseas? Could he please answer that question with a yes or no?

We are concerned as a Government—as we all are—about any kind of funding which seeks to harm and disturb the nature of our society. The noble Lord referred to a particular issue; the review that has been set up was set up with that very intention: to look at all forms of extremism that seek to influence or distort Islam in a way which is not conducive to the fundamental shared values we enjoy in Britain today.

My Lords, does the Government’s analysis of extremist interpretations of Islam include what is preached in our mosques, madrassahs and prisons by imams and extremists speaking in Arabic and other languages? How many reliable interpreters do we have, and should we not fund quite a few more from our own resources?

It is not the Government’s role, as I said earlier, to start adjudicating on different interpretations of Islam. The Government’s role—and this is exactly what they are doing—is to protect and secure all our citizens and protect the fundamental values we enjoy, which include the ability to profess, propagate and practise your faith with the basic and fundamental value of respect for all faiths and none in our country. That is what the Government seek to do, and I believe that we all subscribe to that principle.

Has it been possible to engage mainstream Muslim communities in this review so that any definition of extremism which is used will have widespread agreement—or as widespread as possible?

That is not only the Government’s intention but what we are doing, including myself as the Minister responsible. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, as well as other members of the Cabinet, are directly engaged. Indeed, the engagement forum, which the Prime Minister has himself led on a couple of occasions, alongside the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, has been about engaging with all denominations across the wide spectrum of Islam in Britain today.