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Terrorism: Perpetrator Creed

Volume 785: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of official announcements relating to terrorism focussing on the perpetrator's creed rather than the crime committed; and whether any such assessment has informed their practice in such cases.

I thank the Minister for her helpful reply. Given that at the moment terrorists are defined by their religion, does that not create an atmosphere in which the label “Muslim” becomes a badge of honour for criminals such as Khalid Masood, who attacked Parliament? He converted to Islam a few months before his attack. He already had a long track record of misdeeds—in fact he converted in prison—and knew nothing about Islam. However, attacking Parliament in the name of Islam made him a hero and made him feel like a martyr, rather than the criminal that he really was.

My Lords, we do not have a policy on announcing the creed of attackers instead of the actual attack details. In fact, to this end OSCT has gone through all statements made by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Security Minister where we have found reference to attacks and not one mentions the attackers’ backgrounds, except possibly by inference when they are named.

My Lords, confusion is caused by the use by the Government not of the term “terrorism”, which has an intelligible meaning, but of the term “radicalism”, which has almost no meaning at all, as in the Government’s Prevent strategy. Should not this be changed?

The term “radicalism” actually has a lot of meaning in the sense of the approach towards terrorist activity beyond that which is extremism. I do not think the term “radicalisation”, a term that is used all over the world, is going to be changed.

Why do the Government, the BBC and so on regularly describe them as “Asian men”? Is this not insulting to all the Asian men in the world who are not even Muslims, let alone Islamists?

I do not know which part of that question I should disagree with first. It is not the case that all terrorists are Islamists; we have had some examples recently of far-right terrorism. And to describe someone as Asian would be entirely inaccurate: just because you are a Muslim, that does not mean you are Asian.

My Lords, according to more in-depth research than we just heard about, psychiatrists and others who have interviewed so-called jihadists in prison cells and on battlefields all agree that faith, Islamic or otherwise, is not the key driver for what these people have done. Does the noble Baroness agree with those who know something about this: that terrorists want to legitimise their criminality and violence and that it is quite wrong that the rest of society should help or validate them? These are not people of any faith.

As ever, the noble Baroness makes sensible points in this regard. Faith is certainly not the key driver or the initial driver. As she says, it can be a hook on which to justify the actions of a very few people.

My Lords, the difficulty for those of us on the ground, Muslim and Christian, who are trying to work at good community relations is that reportage of these crimes against humanity in the media can fuel hate crime against Muslim people and destroy the trust that we are trying to build in our communities. Does the Minister agree that we need to develop language that learns some lessons from the man who witnessed the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015, who said: “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv”—language that does not incriminate the entire Muslim community, despite their rejection of violent terrorists as not true Muslims—so that we can all stand together under the same banner of peace?

I totally agree with the right reverend Prelate, and commend the Church, as I often do, for the work that it does to inspire community cohesion. In my previous role, I was aware of its work on projects such as Near Neighbours. The right reverend Prelate makes the point about the responsibility of the media. Of course, we will absolutely stick up for a free press, but I certainly think that, as he says, the press needs to become more religiously literate in how it reports. I loved the comment that he made about the chap on the tube—I had forgotten that—who said, “You ain’t no Muslim, bro”, because it symbolised what we all think: that we are standing together, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Sikh and Hindu, against the forces of evil in society.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while we should deplore the linking of the evil behaviour of a few people with the whole of that religious community, it is equally important to condemn the behaviour of extremist clerics who use out-of-context religious texts to promote hatred of other communities?

As always, the noble Lord makes a very good point. It is the responsibility of leaders in our society to lead by example, and some clerical teachings somewhat stray from that at times. As I said, the free press is something that we hold precious, but we all have a responsibility in our own way, whether as the leader of a church, a Sikh gurdwara or a mosque, to promote cohesive messages, not divisive ones.

Does the Minister consider that the results of forced migration from major religious persecution in the Middle East in particular might give rise to greater participation by the UK’s judicial services in helping justice on the ground, which is so badly needed?

Justice on the ground is badly needed, my noble friend is absolutely right. I can only concur with her views in terms of some of the migratory effects and the change in our society.