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Terrorism: Terminology

Volume 773: debated on Monday 27 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of whether action to combat the threat of terrorism could be helped by a clearer use of language, for example by explaining the actual meaning of words such as “extremism”, “radicalisation” and “fundamentalism”.

My Lords, since 2011, we have introduced the Prevent duty and trained more than 450,000 people, including front-line workers, to spot the signs of radicalisation. We also published the counterextremism strategy last year, which explains how we are working with communities to build an understanding of the threat of extremism and the challenges that it poses.

I thank the Minister for the reply explaining the Government’s position. However, for years we have had a Prevent programme, as he mentioned, without clearly defining what we are trying to prevent. Words such as “radical”, “deradicalise”, “fundamentalist” and “extremist” are totally devoid of meaning, while the terms “political Islam” and “Islamist” are considered by many Muslims to be derogatory to Islam. Does the Minister agree that what we are really trying to prevent is the out-of-context use of religious texts that advocate the killing or ill-treatment of people of other faiths? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that to suggest that such behaviour is sanctioned by the one God of us all is the ultimate blasphemy? Finally, will the Government help Muslim leaders to present Islam in the context of today’s society?

Picking up on a couple of the noble Lord’s points, I am sure that I speak for everyone across the House when I totally agree that no true religion in any sense sanctions the kind of extremist, and indeed terrorist, activity that we see, and Islam is no exception. Indeed, we have seen Muslim leaders of every denomination condemn unequivocally such heinous actions. In his final point, the noble Lord talked about the understanding of Islam. It is very much for the Muslim community and the leaders within it to have a discourse about Islam. Islam is a religion that is practised not just in this country but by almost 1 billion people around the world, and is practised peacefully.

My Lords, the Government maintain that the programme to prevent people being drawn into violent extremism is focused not on the Muslim community but on all types of extremism, wherever it occurs. If that is the case, can the Minister tell the House why the Prevent programme is not implemented in Northern Ireland and why, as part of the programme, the Government are conducting a survey among the Muslim community only?

Taking the noble Lord’s second point, the Government are not conducting a survey with the Muslim communities only. That has been the media speculation, but it is not the case. On his first point about Northern Ireland, he mentioned Prevent, but other initiatives have been taken in Northern Ireland that deal with the quite unique circumstances on the ground there.

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, has previously said that elements of the Government’s Prevent programme are,

“ineffective or being applied in an insensitive or discriminatory manner”,

and that the programme could benefit from an independent review. The programme’s intention is to address all forms of terrorism and non-violent extremism. However, the climate of the last few weeks has done nothing to ease the situation that Prevent is intended to address, and unfortunately there is all-too-clear evidence that that climate is continuing in the wake of the referendum result. Do the Government now intend to carry out a full review of the Prevent strategy in the light of David Anderson’s comments?

This Government have focused, as previous Governments have, on the importance of Prevent, which has seen much success. As I said, 450,000 people have been trained. More importantly, what has it delivered? There have been more than 50,000 interventions, and 180,000 pieces of terrorism material have been removed from the internet. Of course, every strategy and policy needs to be reviewed, and the Government continue to do so. I share the noble Lord’s sentiments. In any environment, particularly the one in which we currently operate, no extremist and no person who seeks to use an opportunity should build on the fears of communities and society or target any community in Britain.

My Lords, nobody in this House is better equipped than the noble Lord to get people to understand that the present version of the Muslim religion arises largely from a dispute within that religion and that it is a gross perversion of the Muslim religion practised in the 13th and 14th centuries, for example. We should all remember that, just as we should all remember that there are very few places where one can feel safer in the face of extremism in this country than in the company of a large number of Sikhs, who have always shown by their great loyalty and understanding of this society that they have their place here.

There are many advocates across all faiths who stand up for faith, and indeed for no faith, and they do so for other faiths as well. That is the beauty of our country. I am proud of Britain. I believe that this country is the best place to be a Muslim, a Hindu, a Sikh, a Jew or a person of no faith. That is because it is based not just on tolerance but on understanding and building mutual respect, and long may that last.

Did the noble and learned Baroness give way to the noble Lord? The House was calling for the noble and learned Baroness, but if she has given way she has given way.

I thank the noble Baroness. I had not given way; I just thought it was polite to sit down. I am the chairman of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. Across the country we have discovered the importance of talking to people with whom we do not agree. Will the Minister make sure that the Government talk to groups of whom they do not approve and who have very different views? Communication and dialogue are crucial in these matters.

I assure the noble and learned Baroness that I am often in conversation with people with whom I disagree. Going back to my earlier answer, I think that our society is based on mutual respect. That is born out of the fact that people may have contrary opinions but we sit down with them, listen to those opinions and find a solution. The Government have been instrumental in building and strengthening partnerships with all faith communities, including the Muslim community of all denominations, to meet the challenge that we currently face.