Motion to Take Note
To move that this House takes note of the impact of Islamophobia in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I am very glad that we are having this timely discussion on Islamophobia today. I am also very pleased that recently there was a debate in your Lordships’ House relating to anti-Semitism. I am totally against anti-Semitism and feel that we should all get together and combat it in every way we can. Unfortunately, xenophobia has to some extent crept into different walks of life in this country and certain people behave very badly towards minorities. Whether it is deliberate or based on misunderstandings, we must all make an effort to combat this trend.
I am proud to live in a country where there are numerous communities, and all races and religions are tolerated and in fact accepted. Xenophobic attacks are increasing in regularity, and some people feel it is fair game to engage in nastiness towards people who are different from them. I believe there are more similarities than differences between people, and I am very keen on promoting harmony between all communities. I might add that I am a patron of Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that work towards achieving that goal. That is the reason why I have tabled this debate today.
Furthermore, I have submitted an application to the House of Lords Liaison Committee asking for a special inquiry to be undertaken on the subject of Islamophobia. I hope that my application is successful, as Islamophobia needs an in-depth study. A poll by ComRes in October found that 58% of people agreed with the statement:
“Islamophobia is a real problem in today’s society”.
It is crucial that we combat all forms of Islamophobia, from subtle and institutional Islamophobia to discrimination and hate crime.
Discrimination in the workplace creates economic insecurity. Muslim women, for instance, are 85% less likely to be offered a job if they wear a veil. Muslim women face further prejudice, which was seen in August where women wearing the burqa or niqab were compared to letterboxes and bank robbers by a prominent politician. I spoke against those unsavoury remarks, but unfortunately I was subjected to hate mail and harassment. We parliamentarians should not create divisions by using inflammatory language. Instead we should encourage the discussion of contentious topics in a considered and inoffensive way. Does my noble friend the Minister agree? Furthermore, does he agree that discriminatory remarks should not be used as a platform to gain political advantage?
Unfortunately, I feel that elements of Islamophobia have crept into the political parties. I have written and spoken about this issue, and have gone public regarding the problem. I feel that political parties must hold an inquiry to establish if there is such an issue and the extent of the problem. The parties can then look into any remedial action that needs to be taken. Does the Minister have any view regarding that?
The Home Office recently published figures that reveal that 52% of reported hate crime victims overall were Muslim. In fact, last month I hosted an event for Tell MAMA due to the increase in hate-crimes. Hate crimes include physical assault, verbal abuse and incitement to hatred. Between January and June 2018, Tell MAMA recorded 608 reports that were verified as being anti-Muslim or Islamophobic in nature. Two-thirds of those verified incidents occurred on the streets, with the majority being towards Muslim women, with one-third being online. The level of hate crime is of great concern to me, and these figures are just the tip of the iceberg, as many incidents go unreported. The actual numbers are much higher and on the increase.
It has also been noted that Islamophobia is an issue for people of other religions and ethnicities. For example, Sikhs have been subjected to hate crimes on the basis that they were perceived to be Muslims. This is totally wrong and we must get together to combat hate crime.
Does the Minister feel that the police are doing enough to combat hate crime and can anything else be done? Can the police be provided with extra resources to deal with the problem? Institutional Islamophobia also has a great impact on the lives of British Muslims. For instance, I believe that the media must seek to become more balanced in its coverage, basing reporting around facts rather than predetermined narratives.
I strongly believe in upholding freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but these must be exercised with a great deal of care and responsibility. The news media has become increasingly fixated by attention-grabbing, often outrageous headlines at the expense of accurate reporting. There is an association of Islam with crime and terror, which serves only to spread and normalise Islamophobia. Crimes are committed by people of all religions and races.
We must remember and respect the positive aspects of British Muslims in this country. There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom who have come here from different parts of the world. Muslims have done well in every walk of life and contribute significantly to the advancement and well-being of the country.
I add that Muslim charities undertake good work in various parts of the world and provide aid to Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Muslims provide support to people of all races, colour and religion all over the world. In July, I referred in your Lordships’ House to the fact that British Muslims gave more than £100 million to charity during the month of Ramadan last year. This figure equates to £38 a second. In his reply, my noble friend Lord Bates referred to the generosity of British Muslims and queried why there was an absence of media coverage of such charitable acts. I am most grateful to him, as he made a valid point.
Furthermore, I recently hosted an event to discuss the contribution of Muslims to the First World War, and spoke in your Lordships’ House on the matter. That significant role is not widely acknowledged and has been historically undervalued. In fact, at least 2.5 million Muslim soldiers and labourers from all over the world fought in the allied forces with dignity and honour. In this respect, I have written a letter to the Minister asking whether the Government would consider putting up a memorial to them. Has he had time to consider my request?
The contribution of Muslims to society must be appreciated, as it sets out the philosophy of Muslims and of Islam itself. Having said that, I realise that Muslims are going through a critical phase and that there are problems associated with some sections of the community. A tiny minority of people practise and promote ideas which are totally un-Islamic. They have misunderstood our glorious religion, and what they do and have done is not in accordance with Islamic principles. It is wrong to condemn the entire community for the actions of a misguided minority. I add that terrorism radicalisation needs a holistic approach and should involve contributions from many, including local authorities, the police, schools, prisons and members of the Muslim community itself. I emphasise that the Muslim community has an important role in combating radicalisation, but the community needs to be fully consulted. Does the Minister agree with the point I am making?
Sometimes, problems arise because of a misunder- standing of Islamic principles, so we should all work together to alleviate these misunderstandings. However, an issue that has to some extent impacted dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims is the rise of populism and the existence of extreme right-wing groups, some of which have promoted negative perceptions of Muslims. The rise of populism in some parts of Europe also worries me. Earlier this year, a “Punish a Muslim Day” letter threatened violence against Muslim MPs, mosques and ordinary Muslims, and I am pleased that this was condemned by right-thinking people. Muslims can be seen as un-British by extreme far-right groups, yet in 2016, it was established that 93% of British Muslims felt that they belonged to Britain.
It is true that the United Kingdom has fared better than other countries in terms of resilience against far-right groups, which has lessened their impact. In fact, we can celebrate that we have now had Muslim Cabinet members, a Muslim is mayor of our capital city, and we hold positions both in national and local politics. However, we cannot forget the impact of Islamophobia in this country. Indeed, 70% of British Muslims in 2018 reported that they had faced religious-based discrimination and prejudice. I am sure that your Lordships are aware of the recent incident of a Muslim refugee boy being physically abused and bullied at school. I add that the British people abhorred this abuse and raised a fund for the family. This reaction by the people must be appreciated.
It is imperative that we create a definition of Islamophobia to make a meaningful change. The APPG on British Muslims recently launched a definition of Islamophobia, drawing inspiration from the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. This definition reads:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.
I believe the definition is clear and lucid. It was developed over six months, with input from a wide range of sources, academics, parliamentarians, community- based organisations, and government-supported and funded NGOs. It has also received a great deal of support across the community. In fact, it has been supported by over 750 British Muslim organisations, 80 academics from different background and over 60 cross-party parliamentarians. Will the Minister consider the acceptance of this definition and schedule a meeting where we can discuss the way forward?
Finally, I thank all noble Lords in advance for taking part in this important and topical debate.
My Lords, I start where the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has finished. I am grateful to him for having tabled this debate and wholeheartedly endorse both his comments and his asks of the Minister.
This is a take-note debate on the impact of Islamophobia in the UK. So we could take note of the breadth of Islamophobia in Britain today: from murder—the killing of Maz Saleem, a grandfather from Birmingham—to violent crime, much of it targeted at women and children; from discrimination in the workplace to bullying in the playground; from demonising in the tabloids to distasteful coalitions between fascists and other religious minorities; from the perpetuating of myths by the far right to the political hosting of Islamophobes by Members of this House. This has far surpassed the “dinner table test” that I laid out in 2011: it is, sadly, Britain’s bigotry blind spot.
I could give you statistics on hate crime and appalling polling figures on attitudes towards Muslims from my nearly two decades of work in this space, or I could simply read out the vile, daily Islamophobic messages that I receive some 80 years after both my grandfathers served to defend this country in the Second World War, and 60 years after they and my parents came here, having given up their former lives to create new lives for themselves and opportunities for others. Having served my country at the top table, with children serving to keep this country safe, these messages tell me that, despite all that, I am the enemy within, that the likes of me are not to be trusted and that I do not belong in Britain today. Or I could make a personal plea that I worry about whether my grandchildren will call Britain their home, but that would become a very long debate.
I note the 10-minute time recommendation, although some noble Lords have indicated to me that they will not take their full allocated time, so I hope noble Lords will bear with me if I take an extra minute or so. My ask today is simply that the Government adopt the definition of Islamophobia put forward by the APPG on British Muslims.
I start with a warning that poachers, who have hunted, hounded and harmed Muslim communities for years, have no credibility on a definition of Islamophobia. They may profess to be gamekeepers, but they have no intention to protect. Individuals and organisations who, at any and every possible juncture, have demonised, undermined and attacked practising British Muslims in public life now, ironically, purport to critique a definition on the basis that it would isolate British Muslims and make them the object of continuing hostility. This is a climate these individuals and organisations created. Enough is enough. We do not put racists in charge of race relations, we do not make anti-Semites the arbiters of anti-Semitism, and we should not hail those who have sought to malign Muslims as voices of reason on a definition of Islamophobia.
I welcome the government initiatives to tackle Islamophobia: many were established by me in government and many spearheaded on a daily basis by my noble friend the Minister. But if the rows of the last year have confirmed anything, it is that we have all acknowledged that initiatives in the absence of an adopted definition are half-hearted. The Government and our political parties have rightly adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in clear knowledge that endeavours to tackle anti-Semitism begin with an agreed definition. By the same token, the initiatives proposed in the hate crime plan will simply fail, and fail miserably, in the absence of an agreed definition of Islamophobia.
I am aware of a small number of very vocal critics who have contacted the Home Secretary and other Secretaries of State, urging them not to adopt the definition of Islamophobia proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. The evidence sessions took over six months of written and oral evidence. It was supported by over 80 academics and over 800 individual Muslim organisations and institutions. It was signed by over 50 parliamentarians from across this House. Every day the support is growing.
To those who criticise it, I say this: first, in evidence heard by the APPG, some of those urging the non-adoption of the definition of Islamophobia were equally reticent about adopting a definition of anti-Semitism—the Southall Black Sisters, for example. I can safely say that the Government and Home Secretary would justifiably give short shrift to arguments against the IHRA definition. British Muslims would expect nothing less.
Secondly, the definition proposed by the APPG emerged from a wide-ranging consultation involving politicians, lawyers, academics, victims groups, British Muslim women’s groups, community advocates and local Muslim communities. It is rooted in communities, under- pinned by academics and framed by parliamentarians. Those who have taken aim at the definition possess neither credibility in nor the confidence of the communities this definition seeks to protect. So I return to the definition of anti-Semitism and reiterate that instrumental to its adoption was the agency of British Jewish communities. British Muslims expect nothing less.
Thirdly, to those who raise criticisms in respect of freedom of speech and freedom to criticise Islam, I simply say this: read the report. No aspect of the APPG report envisages protection of religion. We are not concerned with limiting or eliminating criticism of Islam any more than the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism limits or eliminates criticism of Israel. The same misguided arguments which were raised against that IHRA definition are being rehearsed in relation to the Islamophobia definition. We hear siren voices claiming it will curtail speech or criticism of Islam or Islamism. I am amused that those raising these concerns have been ostensibly silent on anti-Semitism, despite the Islamophobia definition mirroring the IHRA guidelines. Dare I say it, their arguments betray the same hyperbole of those whose contention against the anti-Semitism definition is that it would rightly call them out for anti-Semitic sentiments.
Those raising false flags about the Islamophobia definition do so to avoid being named and shamed. It only serves to demonstrate the necessity of the definition itself—to call out those anti-Semites or Islamophobes who poison our politics and society. In the case of one such critic, for example, Sunday Times journalist Andrew Gilligan, I can only say that the sheer number of libel cases he has lost and the huge amounts of compensation paid to Muslim victims of his particular brand of journalism is evidence more of self-preservation than any palpable concern for victims of Islamophobia.
Those in positions of authority carry the burden of responsibility. I am grateful to the right honourable Yvette Cooper MP for her attendance and support at the launch of the APPG definition and also as chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee in initiating an inquiry into Islamophobia, whose terms of reference have now been extended to include the role of politics.
While I could give many examples of Members of the other place, including Boris Johnson and his dog-whistle remarks, for which he is currently being investigated by my party, it goes much deeper than that. From the Islamophobic London mayoral campaign against Sadiq Khan to this House, where noble Lords have hosted Geert Wilders. A Member of our House referred to Wilders as “a very great man”. Wilders was subsequently found guilty of inciting racial hatred in the Netherlands. Then there is the hosting of Stephen Yaxley—Tommy Robinson or whatever name he may go by this week—whom even members of UKIP consider to be divisive and Islamophobic, during the weeks when parliamentarians were receiving “Punish a Muslim Day” letters and on the day of his court hearing for contempt of court.
This association between mainstream politicians and anti-Muslim extremists was raised during evidence heard by the APPG as the process of making Islamophobia “respectable”. The APPG also heard evidence of the rising problem of associations between think tanks in the UK and far-right movements across the world. We heard concerns that:
“Neoconservative think tanks are attempting to influence government … policies”,
and it is through these activities that they establish the,
“practical means by which policies that discriminate against Muslims are created and implemented”.
It is therefore no surprise that think tanks such as Policy Exchange at the more respectable end and the Gatestone Institute at the other are quick to criticise the framing of a definition of Islamophobia in light of their own history. For example, the Hijacking of British Islam report by Policy Exchange was found by BBC’s “Newsnight” to have used fabricated evidence to falsely accuse British mosques of selling extremist material. The al-Manaar mosque in west London—the mosque that provided support after the Grenfell fire—was successful in obtaining an apology from Policy Exchange and the disgraced report was eventually removed from its website.
There are associations by Members of this House with think tanks such as: the Gatestone Institute, which has portrayed Muslims as an existential threat to the West; and the Henry Jackson Society, which openly shares platforms with the likes of Katie Hopkins and alt-right activists in the US, including those who have been excluded from the UK by successive Home Secretaries, and which has as its executive director one Douglas Murray, who, among his many divisive comments, has said:
“Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition”.
He is succeeding somewhat. He was considered by my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones as too divisive and extreme to be associated with the Conservative Party.
I gave notice of my intervention today to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, because I feel that if you are to mention a noble Lord, it is appropriate to let them know beforehand. I raised these issues with him in some detail last year because he has, sadly, lent his name to these organisations’ publications and events in this House—publications authored by Douglas Murray and a researcher by the name of Hannah Stuart. Hannah is someone whom I have met and, as an individual, find personable, but her journey from the Henry Jackson Society via Policy Exchange to, now, head of research at the Government’s extremism commission is deeply worrying. This web of connection between individuals and institutions which have published and promoted inaccurate and extremist views about Muslims is of grave concern and, ironically, leads to the door of the extremism commission itself. I urge my noble friend to advise the extremism commissioner that the battle to root out extremism should start with rooting out extremism from within the extremism commission.
I note that my noble friend is indicating that I have used up my time, but I will take 30 seconds more. I concluded my book two years ago with these words and I end with them today:
“The fog of fascism is once more spreading across our continent, xenophobic views are drifting in from the east and west … It starts with words, and if the ‘respectable’ justification of hatred is left unchecked it ends with actions. How Britain responds to this new environment will determine whether we succeed in remaining a tolerant, diverse, liberal inclusive democracy, and the canaries in the coal mine are British Muslims”.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on securing this debate. It is to be expected that more than half of the speakers are from the ethnic minorities, and this is one of the very few debates where this has been the case.
It is a real pleasure to follow the very eloquent and passionately argued presentation from the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. If I disagree with her from time to time, it is not out of disrespect but simply to explicate further what she has been saying.
The word Islamophobia comes to us from the Runnymede Trust report of 1997, with which I was associated. The report began to make it clear that the word Islamophobia is useful but also risky. It is useful for all kinds of reasons, which the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, mentioned, but it is risky for two reasons. First, it confuses Islam with Muslims. To talk about “Islamophobia” simply means that I resent Islam while taking a different attitude towards Muslims. Secondly and more importantly, “phobia” absolves the agent of responsibility—for example, one might say, “I suffer from agoraphobia”, or say that they have a fear of heights or of speaking in public. If someone says, “I have this phobia; there is nothing I can do about it; it is an irrational, deeply ingrained fear”, it gives them a get-out. As the report argues, one therefore needs to think of an alternative explanation that captures the idea of Islamophobia while not remaining restricted to it.
The expression it used was “anti-Muslim racism”. That also does not quite work, because I do not know what “racism” is doing there. It looks like verbal obesity, using an extra word when “anti-Muslim” would convey what you wish to convey. It also fails to capture the specificity of Islamophobia. I therefore suggest that, rather than talk about “anti-Muslim racism”, one simply says that something has to be done about anti-Muslim hostility and discrimination in all areas of life.
This discrimination also occurs towards other minorities, but in addition Muslims have been subjected to something unique—a kind of irrational, instinctive fear. Whenever somebody talks about Muslims in a university or elsewhere, the feeling is: “Oh my God; keep it out”. Where does this irrational antipathy, this refusal to talk about it and closure of the mind, come from? This is peculiar to Muslims; it does not extend to black people or others. In that sense, I want to retain the word Islamophobia while recognising that it does not capture the full range of anti-Muslim discrimination.
If you recognise that there are two realities—anti-Muslim discrimination and Islamophobia, as I have just defined it—you require a dual strategy. One strategy should counter anti-Muslim discrimination, hence the useful repertoire of anti-discriminatory mechanisms we have developed. A very different strategy is required for Islamophobia, and I will spend most of my time talking about that, because I think it is very subtle, very deceptive and, if we are not careful, extremely dangerous.
When does Islamophobia in that sense arise in our society? I trace its origins to the Iranian revolution. When the ayatollah appears on the scene, Muslims in Iran and elsewhere acquire a tremendous sense of power and the feeling that what was done in Iran could also be done elsewhere. There is therefore an enormous growth in self-confidence, a desire not to be taken for granted or marginalised and to stand up for their rights. It is in this context that Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses appears, followed by an approach to the ayatollah and resulting in the fatwa. That is the seed, the origin of Islamophobia—the combination of the Iranian revolution, the ayatollah’s fatwa and Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. If you look at these, four things come together.
First is extraterritorial loyalty, the feeling that Muslims are somehow more loyal to the ayatollah than to their own sovereign—reminding them of the Pope asking the British people to revolt against Elizabeth I. Secondly, the argument arises that Muslims are somehow against liberal values, freedom of speech or gender equality. Thirdly, and increasingly importantly in recent years, is the idea that somehow minority identities—in this case, Muslim identity—are valued more and that the identity of the majority community in society as a whole is being systematically undermined. Finally, there is the argument that Muslims are keen to introduce religion into public life and question the secular settlement.
This combination of four different ideas generates a kind of instinctive, morbid and irrational fear of Muslims. How do we get rid of this? How do we counter this deep-seated, irrational fear? When you have a phobia of this kind, when one simply refuses to counter or even face something, it is a case for a kind of political psychoanalysis. One needs to refute it step by step. We must show that this is wrong, as I have done in my writings, and as others, such as my friends Tariq Modood and Varun Uberoi, have done. There is quite a lot of literature showing this. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, has talked about it as well. We need to show that the four different values and combinations are wrong. For example, on extraterritorial loyalty, it is argued that there is no sense in it as 95% of Muslims say that they are absolutely loyal to this country. They are not questioning secularism but simply want to redefine it to make it more hospitable to religion, but not to religionise public life. They are not hostile to liberal values. In short, one has systematically to unpack and attack this knot of values that is held against Muslims.
The other thing that is very important is for Muslims to be in positions of power where they are seen as responsible members, standing up for society as a whole. That, happily, has been happening. I cannot remember a situation before now when a Muslim has been talked about as a possible Prime Minister of this country. That is a great achievement, and if we look at many walks of life, a Muslim presence is seen, which is being recognised.
Then there is the question of creating a situation in which Muslims in their day-to-day context are accepted as a part of life. Sometimes I fear the Muslim rhetoric—the rhetoric of young Muslims who are angry needs to be toned down so that there is a better space for communication between them and the rest of society.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the amazing speakers that we have heard so far. I feel quite humbled.
As I understand it, the point of this extremely important debate today is to assess the impact of Islamophobia in the UK, although there has been much discussion in getting to a definition of what Islamophobia actually is.
There is a point in establishing this, since if we cannot say what something is, how can we measure its prevalence? The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, has already referred to the Runnymede Trust definition of “unfounded hostility towards Islam”, but I do not feel that that goes far enough. For me, it is more than that: it is giving expression to the underlying hostility that some in this country feel towards people or beliefs that are “not like us”—the “other”, for which marking characteristics such as the hijab are a useful identification on which to hang this insular feeling.
Of course, this applies to women and other racial groups too, but the presence of terrorist groups purporting to act in the name of Islam has enabled some to feel greater justification for their prejudice. Why people feel this way, and why we suffer spikes in racism after events like the Brexit referendum, is a subject for a whole other debate; sadly, we do not have enough time for that today.
Islam is blamed for many things but in truth, pure Islam, and most other religions, are innocent of the malign characteristics sometimes ascribed to them. It is those who seek power over others to interpret the words of Allah—or the name of any other God—and bend them to their own ends who are to blame for many of the injustices in this world.
The all-party group’s short definition says:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism, and is a form of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.
I was really impressed with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who argued very persuasively for this definition.
My first question to the Minister was also asked by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh: do the Government intend to adapt the APPG definition? I expect that my noble friend Lady Falkner will have a word or two to say about definitions —and she is not the only one. The National Secular Society calls this definition “vague and unworkable”, and says that it conflates,
“hatred of, and discrimination against, Muslims … with criticism of Islam”.
Criticising Islam, like criticising any religion, is quite legitimate, of course. As a Liberal, I would be the first to ensure that this precious freedom should never be sacrificed for fear of offending any group in society. Fear of criticism leads to some bizarre decisions. An appropriate example at this time of year is the complete rubbish spoken about using the term “Christmas”, as if saying “Christmas holidays” or “Happy Christmas” is going to offend those of other religions. The worst term, in my view, is “winterval”. We disrespect those of other faiths by imagining they might be offended by our expressions, any more than we would choose not to say “Happy Eid”, or “Happy Hanukkah”.
Whatever definition we use, it is the effects of this unreasonable and irrational view of Muslims and Islam that are damaging the fabric of our society and the lives of so many thousands of people. While researching for this debate I was intrigued to learn about Tell MAMA, which the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has already mentioned. MAMA stands for measuring anti-Muslim attacks. The number of attacks has increased each year, and about 70% were offline, at street level. The majority of the victims were Muslim women—most easily identifiable through their clothing—and the majority of the perpetrators were white men. That does not paint a very attractive picture, does it?
This is a worry, because according to the Runnymede Trust, British Muslims are the most economically deprived group in the UK. Half of British Muslims experience household poverty, compared with a national average of 18%. Only one in five is in full-time employment. The Social Mobility Commission says that young Muslims face considerable barriers to progression in schools, education and the labour market. What a waste of talent to society.
What are the Government doing about this? Apparently they launched a nationwide public awareness campaign this autumn to educate the public about what hate crime is. I must have missed it, unfortunately. Since the last action plan in 2016 they have “engaged” with 17,000 young people to challenge beliefs and attitudes. For my second question, could I ask the Minister what form this challenge took, and whether he believes that engaging with 17,000 young people is sufficient to achieve a meaningful change in the perceptions of our youth?
There are several other measures in the hate crime action plan, both from 2016 and announced in the update this year. I am glad that two of those measures were to require police forces to disaggregate crime—presumably hate crime—statistics by faith, and to give Tell MAMA £2.5 million to help with its work in encouraging reporting of Islamophobic and anti-Muslim incidents, and supporting victims. What we do not measure, we cannot manage.
I suggest that the Government quickly implement for ethnicity the equivalent of pay gap reporting for women. For my third and final question, I ask the Minister: is that on the cards? It would make a big difference to the way in which many companies think about how inclusive they are and who they have on the payroll. We know that more ethnically diverse and inclusive businesses do better because they have a wider talent and ideas pool on which to draw.
Whatever definition of Islamophobia we choose to use, we need only look at the rising statistics for Islamophobic attacks every year, and our wasting of natural talent and lack of productivity as a country, to understand that we have to do more to celebrate the diversity and talents of all our citizens.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. We all sympathise with the suffering of the Muslim community, encapsulated in the word “Islamophobia”. It is our common responsibility to tackle it but we have to be clear about its meaning to do so. To me, the suggested definitions are still woolly and vague; I will try to give a more precise one. If we do not have a clear definition, “Islamophobia” risks being seen as an emotive word intended to get public sympathy and government resources—a concern raised by the APPG on British Muslims.
Unfortunately, it is a fact that some communities use government funding to produce questionable statistics to show that they are more hated than others; groups without a culture of complaint, such as Sikhs, fall off the Government’s radar. We have had debates on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, but what about other communities? Should we not be thinking about all communities, not just those in more powerful positions? I believe that the Government must be even-handed.
The result of that effective lobbying is seen in the half-term report on the Government’s hate crime strategy, which gives some 20 government initiatives to protect Abrahamic faiths from hate crimes. However, it is totally silent on hate crimes against other communities. We have heard mention of statistics being plucked out of thin air or provided by Muslim groups. In the report, there is no common statistical basis for comparing hate crimes suffered by one community against those suffered by others. Figures produced by organisations such as Tell MAMA are based on perception and include attacks on Sikhs and others. I appeal to the Government to start treating all vulnerable groups in an even-handed way, using common statistical evidence with clear definitions of what we are measuring.
To my mind, there are four distinct aspects of hate crime against Muslims that are collectively known as Islamophobia: hate crime arising from common prejudice; hate crime arising from assumptions about the teachings of Islam; hate crime arising from perceptions of Muslim behaviour; and hate crime against non-Muslims due to mistaken identity. Let us start with the common prejudice experienced by those “not like us” and not of the majority, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, referred to. It is easy to assume that prejudice is found in only a small number of people. That is not true. We all have our prejudices. We are all hard-wired to be suspicious or wary of those we see as different. It is only through education and social contact with others that we begin to see that superficial differences such as skin colour, appearance, language or national or geographical origin obscure all too easily the reality that we are equal members of one human race.
Perversely, group identity is strengthened by negative perceptions of others, even when groups are not real. Some years back, New Scientist magazine reported on an opinion poll in the States asking respondents about their views on Jews, Negros, Asians, Darnerians and Wallerians. Although the last two groups were entirely fictitious, they were hated none the less. Even today it is common to refer to Germans as “Huns” and the French as “frogs”—to say nothing of the bureaucrats in Brussels wasting all our money.
Today the one-time distant foreigner with a different culture and religion, whom we could safely ridicule at a distance to give us a greater sense of cohesion, is now very often our next-door neighbour. For a harmon- ious society we must work to remove the distorting fog of ignorance and prejudice, and see others as they really are: equal members of our one human family. This can be done only through much greater emphasis on teaching of respect for different religions and cultures.
I turn to the second aspect of hate crime against Muslims: negative perceptions of Muslim teachings. What generally passes for religion is, in fact, a complex mix of superstitions, rituals, culture, group history and uplifting ethical teachings. Negative attitudes to others found in general society are often seen in a more virulent form in the recorded history embedded in some religious texts and in claims of an exclusive access to the one God of all—even God is suggested to have prejudices.
Texts condoning the killing or ill-treatment of the innocent, taken out of the context of the time when they were written, lead to horrendous crimes and savagery, not only between faiths but even within the same faith, and to increasingly familiar terrorist outrages in the name of religion. Negative perceptions of Muslims can be removed only by members of that religion doing some drastic spring cleaning—we all need to do this—explaining dated social and cultural practices in the context of today’s times.
The third aspect of Islamophobia is negative perceptions of Muslim behaviour. Political discrimination and misunderstanding of Islam cannot justify the unacceptable behaviour of some Muslims in the UK and abroad. Terrorist outrages and the behaviour of Muslim grooming gangs inevitably lead to negative images of the Muslim community. Again, only the Muslim community can address them.
The fourth and last component of the amalgam of unacceptable behaviour collectively referred to as Islamophobia is the hate and physical violence experienced by Sikhs and others who are mistaken for Muslims, and which is recorded as Islamophobia. Several Sikhs were killed in mistaken identity attacks in the United States following 9/11—the first person killed was a Sikh. Similar incidents have occurred in this country. Again, religious literacy would help make such attacks less likely.
In summary, while I sympathise with the suffering of the Muslim community from hate crimes arising out of common prejudice, there is no statistical evidence whatever to suggest that this is greater or less than that suffered by other communities. To my mind, we need to do a little disaggregating. The only components of hate crime that justify the term “Islamophobia” are those arising from negative perceptions of Islam, or what is seen as inappropriate behaviour by members of the Muslim community. It is again a task for the Muslim community. It is not an easy one. The Muslim leaders and clerics deserve our full support in this.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for his patient and insightful speech and to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for securing this debate. As a Christian minister, I hope that I can contribute with humility and sensitivity in this vital matter.
As extremists attempt to divide our communities, and even seek to hijack Christian symbols to do so, it is important to state clearly and loudly that it is the duty of all Christians in this country to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who suffer hate speech, violence or prejudice.
This duty falls particularly, but by no means exclusively, on the Church of England. Her Majesty the Queen, in a speech to faith leaders at Lambeth Palace in 2012, gave an eloquent reminder that the role of the established church is,
“not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country”.
We stand, therefore, resolutely for freedom of conscience and for a society in which the open and public practice of faith is rigorously protected.
The greatest impact of Islamophobia is of course felt within our Muslim communities, especially perhaps by Muslim women. We have heard moving accounts, especially from the noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi and Lady Burt, of the reality of the personal impact of bigotry on the lives of our fellow citizens. We should also remember that hatred which isolates us from one another impoverishes us all, socially, economically and culturally. As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, has argued, a society that values integration without assimilation allows us all to bring our particular gifts as contributions to the common good,
“not to ourselves and our communities alone but to all of us and the life we share”.
Freedom of conscience also implies a fundamental freedom to dissent from and to criticise religious beliefs. That is one reason why attempts to build a consensus about how we define Islamophobia need to recognise that when we are talking about the impact of anti-Muslim hatred we are also concerned with adherence to a faith tradition and not simply to a political ideology such as communism. Just as Christianity has so deeply influenced the laws, culture and modes of life in this country over the centuries, so, too, the Muslim faith has been integrated into and shaped cultures in ways that affect the various social and legal identities of other countries.
There is a real distinction to be drawn between, on the one hand, discourse that seeks to argue with or dispute particular beliefs or assertions and, on the other, attempts to attack, ostracise or belittle our neighbours for their faith and way of life.
Prejudice, discrimination and hatred of Muslims must not be treated as a concern voiced by the Muslim community alone. It is the duty of us all to ensure that Islamophobia is given no hiding place in our national life and to seek to build an open society in which the varied and significant contribution of our Muslim brothers and sisters is recognised and celebrated.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Sheikh for initiating this debate and for all he does to support British Muslims in public life.
I wish to focus on an area in which I have some experience; namely, gender. When I co-founded Women2Win in 2005, we simply had the goal of upping our game on women’s representation from the 17 Conservative MPs we had then, representing only 9% of the parliamentary party. Today, there are 67 Conservative women MPs. which is more than 21%, but four out of five are still male—so this is not good enough. However, we now have six female MPs of ethnic-minority origin, not least the first female Muslim Minister to speak at the Dispatch Box, Nusrat Ghani, who told “Woman’s Hour” last week that her mother is illiterate and even today has to have Nusrat’s words and speeches on television and in Parliament translated for her.
I am proud to support 50:50 Parliament’s cross-party #AskHerToStand campaign, which over the past year has brought forward hundreds of women from all backgrounds and religions to start their journey. Last month, I was honoured to join the board of the Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights.
As a team at Women2Win—I include both present and past co-chairs and directors—we have learned a great deal about the barriers facing women from all walks of life, not least class and race. A number of women candidates of Muslim background are currently active in Women2Win and in the Conservative Party. A big learning experience for me has been to listen to some of the challenges faced and fears felt by Muslim women. While resilience is crucial in politics and there will be personal challenges for everyone entering public life, there some issues where we must speak out and say, “This is not good enough”.
It is not good enough that Muslim women can today still feel isolated as a result of their religion, and this makes them question their place in public life. My party has implemented a zero-tolerance policy and a formal complaints system, but some female Muslim candidates have said that they also need support and mentoring in light of some of the unique issues they face. That is why I have encouraged my party to look at creating a sister organisation alongside Women2Win focused on supporting ethnic-minority candidates.
It is not good enough that Amnesty International research has found that women of colour in public life are 84% more likely to get abusive tweets than white women. After the 2017 general election, the Committee on Standards in Public Life found that intimidation of parliamentary candidates was accentuated if they were women, LGBT or from a religious or ethnic minority—clearly, Muslim woman fall into three of these categories. We need to be mindful of the ratcheted-up abuse that Muslim women can face and create an environment where they feel comfortable talking to people within our party who might be able to help.
It is not good enough that Muslim women enter politics with a constant battle raging over what they wear or what type of Muslim they are. No one has a right to tell a woman what she can or cannot wear.
Speaking from a background that many would consider privileged and as someone who is not a Muslim or from an ethnic minority, I cannot of course expect to understand all the nuances. However, I can listen. I do what I can to be a strong ally to Muslim women, to equip Muslim female candidates in the best way possible to combat the barriers to public life and to raise awareness of the issues faced by Muslim women in society more generally.
I wish to highlight three policy areas affecting Muslim women where I am proud that my party in government has taken or supported action. First, for the past decade, more Muslim women than men are going into higher education. However, a new report published this month by the Institute for Public Policy Research highlights that Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim women struggle to enter the labour market. White women have an employment rate of 73.3%, while women of Bangladeshi ethnicity have an employment rate of just 32.8%.
I welcome the fact that, last month, Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Women and Equalities, committed to transforming the Government Equalities Office into an equalities hub permanently based in the Cabinet Office alongside the Race Disparity Audit. It will focus more on small businesses, part-time work, women from all parts of the UK, low-paid women, women with multiple barriers to reaching their full potential, older women, financially fragile women and women who are not easy to reach, measure or sometimes even to see.
Secondly, a report by the monitoring group mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, Tell MAMA, found that a record number of anti-Muslim attacks were reported in the UK last year. Anti-Muslim attacks rose by 26% last year, with most occurring face to face rather than on social media. Moreover, women are disproportionately targeted. I acknowledge the work in this area being done by my noble friend Lord Bourne in supporting the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group.
Thirdly, efforts to place gender at the heart of policy must include intersectional issues. I am proud to hear of the work undertaken by Akeela Ahmed MBE as chair of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Women’s Group and I have seen how women such as Nimco Ali and Leyla Hussein have been at the forefront of efforts to tackle FGM. I have seen how a group of Muslim social activists—Amina Lone, Henna Rai, Zehra Zaidi and others—lobbied the Government to include far more of a gendered perspective in counterterrorism policy. Let us support these women who have entered public discourse and those who follow them. Let us listen to their concern that our gendered approach does not always include their and wider intersectional perspectives.
Finally, people often say that we must find what we have in common. That is true, but sometimes we must also see the value in our differences and how we interconnect to make this country great.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for securing this significant debate. I begin by saying that I have the utmost regard for the motives of those behind the report and I do not intend any disrespect in my remarks today. I do not like to be self-referential in public debates but as this topic is so defined by identity, I find that I have to share a little of my experience as context for the remarks I will make.
I am familiar with the problems described by the witnesses in the report. As an ethnic and religious-minority woman, I tick three of the protected characteristics of hate crime, but my experience of discrimination is a very long tale. My family experienced discrimination on their move from India to Pakistan in 1947 and I have experienced discrimination, been denied rights and been routinely verbally abused—all in Muslim-majority countries, at the hands of other Muslims, in Pakistan, where I grew up, and subsequently in other Muslim countries in the Middle East. This happens still today. It was probably because my family were not sons of the soil; because I was educated at an elite convent school, which was deemed suspicious, despite the fact that Pakistan’s only female Prime Minister went to the same school; and because we fought for what in those countries are called liberal values, such as women’s rights and human rights.
The discrimination was palpable and was shown to us for being “insufficiently Muslim”, but that experience was as nothing compared to the discrimination that Ahmadiyyas, Shias and various others still face today at the hands of other Muslims. My point is that there is great diversity within Islam in terms of its different traditions and the composition and practice of its adherents, as well as their ethnicity and geographical backgrounds. It is an error to speak of the Muslim experience in the West as one of a homogenous group, with “them” against “us”, the victims. The identity of Muslims from east Asia is profoundly different from that of south-east Asian Muslims, or from Turkic, central Asian or west African Muslims, leaving aside Europeans and other converts to Islam. So a community of global adherents to a particular religion, particularly one which is so diverse, does not lend itself well to being set up as a group with distinct and superior collective rights in a European context, in opposition to the majority population, which is what I find this report is mainly about.
Will the noble Baroness give way?
I will give way only very briefly, because my time is limited.
I take it that the noble Baroness has decided not to intervene. I am grateful to her for that. I am always open to have a discussion with her, but time is limited and I have quite a lot to say.
It is just that the noble Baroness made a comment just then which is simply untrue; I want to put that on the record.
Since I do not know what comment the noble Baroness is referring to and since I cannot prove or disprove, in belief terms, what is or is not true, I think I will let that one go.
My other broad problem with the analysis is that, while it takes pot shots at other political ideologies, it is almost entirely silent on Islamism and political Islam. So while there is reference to incidents of hate crime and Islamophobia spiking after a terrorist incident, or after sustained negative media coverage of Muslims, the report does not contextualise those rises against the broader backdrop of the portrayal of Islam as being problematic due to Islamism. It seems hardly surprising that there has been a rise in Islamophobia over the last two decades when it is seen against the back- drop of the 9/11 attacks, our knowledge of the Taliban’s ideology during the Afghan conflict, and the sustained and ongoing nearly two decades of Islamist terrorism in the West, including the UK. We can add to this the rise of violent extremism within the UK—yes, right-wing extremism as well—and the identification of Pakistani men as a particular category in sexual grooming in the UK. To this long list let me add the necessary military intervention by the United Kingdom and its allies in the war against Islamic State. This causal relationship in the “normalisation” of Islamophobia that the report claims exists has taken place against a backdrop of the public being exposed to an unprecedented display of medieval savagery, entirely inimical to our values, in Islamic State’s actions in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, the fact that so many western Muslims have chosen to lay down their lives in that cause has come as a surprise to the public.
So context is important, and that is what is missing in the report. One could look at things the other way, as many of us do, and the report picks this up insufficiently: we are intensely loyal to Britain; we believe we absolutely belong here; and we are full and active citizens partaking of the opportunities this country offers. Despite the malign acts of our co-religionists and their impact on public perception, the majority of us get on and live our lives day in, day out without thinking of ourselves as victims of something undefinable. I think the dissonance between the report and what I have described lies in the narrow specialisation of the contributors of the evidence. In academia they are drawn mainly from sociology, criminology and geography, with a particular critical theory bent, while the rather more balanced view of Muslim ideology and its implications, which belongs to the mainstream of the political sciences, has been ignored. Hence the extremely narrow framing of the narrative as religious discrimination rooted in race, rather than anti-Muslim acts sitting in a western, liberal, rights-based, pluralistic national framework.
Missing are the thinkers of contemporary Islam: Ali Allawi, Bassam Tibi, Abdullahi An-Na’im, Reza Aslan, Olivier Roy, Gilles Keppel and even the problematic Tariq Ramadan. The few with dissenting voices who make it into the analysis, such as Rumy Hasan, are sadly dismissed. I should say that I have had the privilege of discussing these issues over many years with almost all of those I have mentioned. Instead we have Tahir Abbas describing the various typologies of Islamophobia so widely that it could encompass most people in this country: alongside hate crime we have failed multiculturalism discourses, ideology where the political right and left are hostile to Muslims, and organisations that are susceptible to Islamophobic groupthink. Intellectuals are included, as these influential right and left-leaning thinkers are in denial, according to him. The media gets it in the neck, as noble Lords would expect, while neoliberalism, which is an economic concept, is thrown in for blame too. Finally, in this net are other religions: so Christians, Jews, Hindus and others are hostile, he claims, to Muslim minorities. Moreover, to him Islamophobia is not just “an individual matter” but,
“part and parcel of a wider social, historical, political and cultural discourse that continues to evolve and grow”.
This, for him, leads to,
“an ecosystem in which anti-Muslim racism festers and manifests itself”.
The problem with indulging in a sweeping critique of all around you is that it trivialises what is undoubtedly a serious and growing problem that should concern us all. By portraying it as a deep-seated, racially motivated, institutionalised attempt to “keep Muslims down”, it risks dividing the very community it seeks to protect.
I have discussed the report with several people who are expert in this area and we share a dismay that the tangible problems relating to discrimination, respect and hatred have been subsumed into a well-intentioned but misguided cry for protection from intangibles such as culture and society. I accept that culture wars can be destructive but I also recognise that contestation is a necessary element of rubbing along together in a diverse society, and that we cannot legislate for human nature or indeed for prejudice where it is nebulous and subtle or “normalised”, as the report claims.
The definition says:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.
When you define a religion—in other words, a belief system—as an adjective and declare that this is rooted in race, which is biological, you ascribe to belief an immutability which cannot work. People live their lives on a spectrum of belief, at some points in a deeper sense and at others less so. Their visible and cultural identity will depend on where they are on this spectrum and may change over time. By basing Islamophobia on biological characteristics and saying that Muslims are a racially homogenous group, you are speaking to the plight of only a section of the BAME community. Where does that leave white European Muslims—Bosniaks, Kosovars and Albanians—as well as converts to Islam in Europe? One assumes that their protection would come under religious hate crime.
I could have gone on for rather longer but, in conclusion, Islamophobia is a problem for Muslim communities and needs to be monitored and counteracted. In my opinion, much of the response must come from existing criminal and civil law and guidance, rather than from the creation of new criminal definitions and categories. There is a role for government, and I commend the Government’s efforts in this regard, but it must also come from Muslims themselves, who need to actively use the law as they find it, individually and collectively where that is appropriate. What we should not do is live our lives in a narrative of victimhood, which holds us back from achieving our potential as active citizens of this country we all choose to call home.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for calling this timely debate. The urgency of addressing Islamophobia surely represents one of the key challenges of our times.
Since the Salman Rushdie affair in the 1980s and, more recently, the attacks on 9/11 and 7/7 and the subsequent “war on terror”, Muslims have become the suspect community. The evil acts of a small number of misguided individuals purporting to be acting in the name of Islam dramatically heightened an existing and long-standing fear and hatred of the “Muslim other”. The fear of Muslims and Islam dates back to the days of the Crusades, the Ottoman conquest of Europe and the Muslim empire which spread its influence, culture and values across south-east Europe, western Asia and north Africa for more than 600 years.
The 20th century witnessed the mass persecution and killing of millions of men, women and children who were identified, demonised and dehumanised because of their Jewish faith. The Holocaust was underpinned by a fever of fear and hatred, illogical persecution and misinformation. This fear and hatred of Muslims manifested itself in the psyche of Europe for more than a millennium, with anti-Islam narratives in history, the arts, literature and the wider culture of Europe also part of a pattern of fear and illogical hatred.
Centuries-old prejudice and fear have ignited the ever-rising demonisation of Muslims, as has the adoption of draconian anti-Muslim measures and knee-jerk policy reactions, which are a threat to the safety of Muslims in many parts of Europe. We have also seen the shocking growth of so-called populism and the rise in Greece, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands of political organisations whose principal mandate is to prevent what they call the “Islamisation” of their homelands.
From the time of Rushdie, the genie of anti-Muslim hatred was out of the bottle. In our country, even those working in the anti-racism sector to address discrimination and inequality failed to recognise the severity of anti-Muslim experiences and discrimination that were festering. This failure laid the ground for the social exclusion, the demonisation and eventually the securitisation of an entire community, including its surveillance from the cradle to the grave, as we have seen with the public sector equality duty. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, stated, the worry is not simply that the demonisation of Muslims has passed the dinner table test but that its pernicious effects have so profoundly influenced government policy.
I reflect on the words of the director of one prominent organisation—whose patrons include respected Members of this House—who gave a speech in the Dutch parliament headlined, “What are we to do about Islam?”. Having praised the virtues of the notorious Dutch Islamophobe, Geert Wilders, he stated:
“Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition”—
denying the fact that European Muslims, in their millions, are just as much citizens of Europe.
However, it is not just the words of far-right extremists and hostile secularists with which we should be concerned. Our own Prime Minister declared in her 2016 party conference speech:
“If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means”.
These sentiments raised widespread concern at the time, as was argued by the now Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, who said that the PM’s words were regrettably reminiscent of anti-Jewish hatred in the previous century. He shared the opinion of many in recognising that the PM’s blatant brand of post-Brexit nationalism ignored people with multiple nationalities and identities, including migrants with century-long ties here, living as British citizens.
The Prime Minister’s predecessor, David Cameron, said at a 2011 conference in Munich:
“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream”.
Alarmingly, in 2015, Mr Cameron displayed concerns about the submissiveness of Muslim women, implying that if Muslim women spoke more English, it would reduce extremism. He spoke of Muslim community leaders who,
“promote separatism by encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion”.
The notion was unequivocal: Muslims were largely pursuing an existence based on separatism, leading to non-violent extremism, which then leads to violent extremism—the so-called conveyor belt theory.
With this speech Mr Cameron ushered in the doctrine of non-violent extremism as the critical pathway to violent extremism. He was of course echoing now-accepted norms and ideology promoted by the same neocons and Islamophobes, including think tanks which glibly questioned, “What are we to do about Islam?”, reinforcing the proposition that conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harsher across the board. This new assault on Muslim values heralded new and old alliances and a wave of published attacks by prominent figures. Remarkably, these included the former chief of the equality commission, who utterly discredited the office for equality and social justice when he was content to assert at a Policy Exchange conference that Muslims,
“see the world differently from the rest of us”,
and that we are,
“in danger of sacrificing a generation of young British people to values that are antithetical to the beliefs of most of us”.
Urging a tougher approach to integration, he argued—despicably—that:
“Muslims who have separatist views about how they want to live in Britain are far more likely to support terrorism than those who do not”.
Once again there is the link: Muslims—separatists—terrorists.
It has not escaped the attention of those in the Muslim community, or the APPG’s new report defining Islamophobia, that the Government continue to seek counsel from many such reactionary organisations and misguided individuals and, worse still, to make funds available for sustaining a corrosive Islamophobic mechanism which has emerged in the form of repressive and backward discriminatory legislation and counter- terrorism programmes such as Prevent and Channel.
We cannot turn a blind eye to the culpability of our own senior political figures in contributing to the widespread growth of demonisation and discrimination and its likely consequences—the unprecedented level of hate attacks on Muslims in this country. The work of the APPG on Islamophobia is therefore timely. I acknowledge the effort that went into producing the report and its drive for consensus. It provides a good overview, with a range of perspectives and experiences, and shines a light on the nature of direct Islamophobia. More importantly, it has created momentum within and outside Parliament.
Although I can understand why the option of integrating Islamophobia under racism is appealing, I strongly suggest that legally defining religious discrimination as racism is an erroneous contradiction, given the distinction argued throughout the report itself. Further, the race industry has worked consistently to deny religious discrimination equal weight. As someone who has been at the forefront, and in the midst, of the anti-racist movement since the 1980s, I know that that is so. The virulent religious discrimination in Britain today demands detailed, national and structural policy responses and redress. As it is only a working definition, I expect that further consideration will be given to the matter and that Islamophobia will be removed from the restrictive box of racism. If it had fitted the standard racism test, it would have become part of our race narrative 20 or 30 years ago.
However, any doubts that I have about using racism to explain Islamophobia are in no way intended to resist the urgent need for the Government to accept and enact a definition. I fully accept that racism is still rife in all parts of our society. The full spectrum of Islamophobia continues to be a cancer in society. The corrosive scapegoating and “othering” of groups are often directed at the most vulnerable in society, often based on gender, sexual preference, age and, indeed, faith. For now, I seek further clarification on how the Government intend to adapt and respond and whether they intend to accept in all government institutions a definition such as that proposed by the APPG, and as they have accepted in relation to discrimination based on race, sex and disability.
Those of us who were there at the beginning of the anti-racist movement know that definitions have always been controversial. The definition of race as a concept was itself greeted with the same irrational counter- argument that now greets the definition of Islamophobia, regardless of whether it is seen as part of religious or race hatred. I commend the work that has gone into producing the report and look forward to continued work with the APPG to adjust and strengthen the format further.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for securing this debate. Due to a small, technical reason I have not been able to get my speech here, which means that I am not going to speak for too long and will make only one or two comments.
I came to this country as a teenager and have grown up here. I am proud of this multicultural, multireligious society that I have grown up in. I really admire this society’s openness and acceptance of people from different religions and cultures within this country, and for giving us all the opportunities to excel in the areas that we are good at. I am a prime example of somebody who came to this country without speaking much English and, after many years of course, joining this House. It was hard work, no doubt, but there is no ceiling in this country for anybody who excels.
However, during the 47 years that I have lived here—nearly half a century—I have witnessed racial discrimination and religious discrimination of all sorts, and I am not the only one. Thousands of others have done the same. Many people have tried to give names to discrimination, asking, “What kind of discrimination is this? Is it racial discrimination, religious discrimination or whatever?” But religious discrimination has worsened into the hatred that we have seen. I have been a recipient of the “Kill a Muslim” letters in the recent past. That is how far it has gone, and purely on religious grounds. It is about the colour of skin no more; it has gone further.
I very much appreciate the work of many who have tried to raise the issue of Islamophobia, or hate against Muslims or Islam. My friend the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, has done a tremendous amount of work in this regard and I appreciate her efforts in having the inquiry, on which I spent some hours sitting. We got very powerful testimonies from people who gave us their experiences and told, in their life stories, how they were discriminated against on the basis of religion. With that, I hope only that the definition of Islamophobia which the inquiry came up with, after consultation right across the country—I know of many Muslim organisations that were consulted—will be adopted by the Government. I also hope that it will be implemented and that the Muslims will get a recognition of their discrimination through this new definition of Islamophobia.
I think I heard the noble Lord say that he experienced discussions with many Muslims across the country who have been discriminated against on the basis of religion. If that is what I heard, that is precisely the point: if they are discriminated against on the basis of religion, that is a hate crime and the law exists to cover it.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for initiating this debate and would like to express my concern about defining the national approach to Islam as a phobia, whereas objections to other faiths are referred to as anti-Catholicism or anti-Zoroastrianism, or whatever. What is it about Islam that is phobic? What is so tarantula-like and all-encroaching about my faith that it has to be defined as a phobia?
Islam is a religion of peace and equity. As a matter of fact, the text of the Koran states clearly that Islam accepts and respects all religions of the book that have preceded it. The root for the word “Islam” is taslim, meaning surrender and submission; submission to the will of God and the teaching of the faith. For many of us, Islam provides not only a pathway to heaven but a prescription for living our lives well in this world. There is a fundamental concern for balance, moderation and compassion that must be observed. We fast during Ramadan so that we can celebrate at sunset by sharing our meal, iftar, with those less fortunate than us who would appreciate a good evening meal. We are expected to pay one-fifth of our income as khums, a religious tax paid to the less wealthy. In addition, the Shias demand that we donate zakat: the value of a fourth of the goods and chattels bought during each year.
Fourteen centuries ago, Islam gave women rights that are yet to be gained by feminists in the West. Some 40 years ago when I got married and chose to keep my own name, the notion was so extraordinary that the registrar had to leave the ceremony to find out whether it was legally possible for me to keep my own identity. My audacious move made headline news in the local papers: “Reluctant bride refuses to take husband’s name”. I am pleased that at long last the matter of name has been resolved in the UK and feminists have made huge strides towards achieving separate property rights, but there is still a way to go.
Far from being a religion of fear, the celebration of science and the pursuit of knowledge have made Islam a pathbreaker. Muslim scholars such as al-Khwarizmi opened the way to understanding mathematics. Known as the father of algebra, al-Khwarizmi’s quadratic equations facilitated groundbreaking mathematical advances that, along with Arabic numerals, remain in use to this day in the west and across the world. I am married to a mathematician, so my source is sound.
Sadly, although many individuals and scholars are all too aware of working across countries, cultures and languages, there are unfortunate crevices. Islamophobia is emerging in a country that has an exuberant history of celebrating differences and enjoying different foods, customs and ideas across the centuries. In this country with its wonderfully varied population curry and fish and chips are served by the same takeaways and are washed down with China tea. The UK, which imports 0.8 billion kilos of tea a year, is one of the top three consumers of tea as a national comfort drink, but it is a land where not many tea bushes are in sight. The British empire introduced Britain to wonderful varieties of foods, faiths and factories and paved the way for an industrial revolution on the back of textiles in a land where a head of cotton had never been grown. This country has been part of, and a pioneer in, opening doors and benefiting from interactions with others.
It is therefore a matter of deep regret that we are experiencing a sad tendency by some people to create barriers and label some of us as “not one of us”. Rather than building bridges, we are seen in terms of stereotypical caricatures that demonise us and deny our identity. When I say that I am a Muslim, a surprising number of people look me in the eyes and say, “No you are not!” Stereotypes are stronger than the reality. I fear that instead of celebrating differences, there has been a labelling of us by our faith and the demonisation of Muslims and that we are being otherised. Many young people born and raised in this country find themselves labelled as the enemy within simply because their nominal faith is Islam. Many of them do not know much about it, and I have been trying to teach some of them.
Surely it is time that the Government stepped in, ceased to define us by our religion but referred to us in terms of our professions, marital status or whatever is used to refer to other people. Since we do not talk about Christian or Zoroastrian citizens, why talk about Muslim citizens as a single category when in reality we are as diverse as the continents that we come from? In the light of recent events, will the Minister say what measures the Government are taking to prevent further violence against Muslims perpetuated by demonising us in the name of religion? In future public and official statements and legislation, will the Government undertake not to refer to us as a single community defined by our creed any more than they would define us by our race or colour?
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I rise in the gap before the Front-Benchers speak to explain a material point that was raised in my speech. I have sought the permission of the Front-Benchers and the clerk. I said that the definition proposed by the APPG emerged from a wide-ranging consultation involving politicians, lawyers, academics and victims’ groups. An issue has been raised about who did not give evidence to that APPG inquiry. I want to make it clear that the call for evidence was an open call. It was widely publicised. The APPG did not make a decision about who would and would not be heard. Anybody who submitted written evidence was acknowledged in the report, whether or not the parliamentarians agreed with that submission, anybody who asked to come to give oral evidence was given the opportunity to do so and parliamentarians from both Houses were given the opportunity to come along to take part in those evidence sessions.
My Lords, while evidence was accepted, not all evidence was agreed in the definition.
Of course. That is the point that I make. I agree with the noble Lord that ultimately once all the written evidence—and there was reams of it— was received, after all the days of evidence, after the consultation with communities across four cities at which hundreds of ordinary citizens attended, after many academics had come to the table because they wanted to give evidence and after people who felt they were experts in this area came to give evidence, parliamentarians took the decision about what the report and definition would look like.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in a thoughtful and important debate. I have the words of the right reverend Prelate about the importance of humility and sensitivity in matters such as this ringing in my ears. Even though this is our last working day before Christmas, a debate about hatred of British Muslims is particularly important as so many British Muslims will celebrate Christmas with their friends and wider communities, and many British Muslims alongside British Jews and members of other faith communities will be working in vital emergency services and doing other important work to allow their friends and neighbours to have a break over Christmas. That is worth remembering and recognising.
I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for bringing forward this Motion and for his courage in calling out unhelpful behaviour in his party. It is not easy in any party to call out hateful behaviours; I know that. At the outset of my—I hope—not-too-lengthy remarks, I say to the Minister that while his noble friend will have said some uncomfortable things, I am sure he will listen to them. I want to approach these matters in a truly bipartisan way, not least because I know from my experience over the past couple of years that, when issues of this kind become weaponised by rival political parties, it makes it harder to deal with any problems we have in our own political parties and across politics and society. I shall approach my contribution in that vein.
I am sorry to say it, but everyone has acknowledged that racism is on the rise, not just in our country, or just on the continent of Europe, but across the world in an manner that I would never have predicted in my teenage years in the 1980s. By the mid-1990s, I thought we were in a much better place when it came to matters of race and faith, but sadly, in the light of subsequent events, I was wrong about that. While racism generally is on the rise, I think Islamophobia in particular is too often minimised, ignored and even denied in our politics and our media, including as compared with other manifestations of racism. That is not to set up a competition for victimhood but to acknowledge that a real problem has perhaps not been given sufficient space.
This is not easy to say because, generally speaking, the tenor of debate in your Lordships’ House is a lot more comfortable than in other places, including the other place, but over the last couple of years I have heard Islamophobic remarks even in this Chamber and your Lordships’ House. This has not been on a daily or routine basis but I have heard them, and I think it is important to acknowledge that.
I give special thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi. I want to be clear that while it is in the best traditions of your Lordships’ House to refer to people on one’s own Benches as noble friends—a fine tradition of political camaraderie—she is both noble and my friend. Furthermore she is an incredibly distinguished politician, the first Muslim Cabinet Minister and the former chair of her party. She is a great role model, not just for British Muslims but for British people and for young women in particular. I say that by way of also recognising the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, about the importance of encouraging, not discouraging, women in public life and in politics in particular, and in recognition of her important contribution about the extra venom that political women experience, and when they are at the intersection of other groupings that experience hate it is even worse. With all that in mind, I want to say that some remarks made about the contribution by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to a counterterrorism debate earlier in the week were patronising, completely mistaken and, in my view, unnecessary.
I thank the APPG for doing such important work. The work is difficult and sensitive as people are always going to have differences of principle and of detail. I have read the report with some care and think it is very good, even if it cites rival views. It has made an incredibly important contribution to examining the considerable weight of evidence, and it will take us a little further forward towards a working definition of Islamophobia. Why are such definitions important? Not because hate is not hate, not because human rights abuses are not indivisible and not because there is a hierarchy of races or other hate, but because in combating human rights abuses of any kind there is value in trying to articulate particular manifestations of abuse as experienced by groups that are subject to that abuse. That is why it is particularly important to hear from those who experience anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny or any hatred that is directed at a group. That does not mean that other voices are not important in the debate or in defining the manifestation of that hate, but one has to give particular recognition to the victims, the people who are experiencing hatred in all its manifestations on a daily basis.
It is important, again in the spirit of political bipartisanship, to thank the co-chairs of that APPG for their work, the Members of Parliament for Broxtowe and Ilford North, and to say from these Benches on behalf of my party, which now has well over half a million members, that even though the word is tricky and has a complicated history—I defer to academics and historians on this—we accept the concept and existence of Islamophobia per se. I understand why some people have an instinctive and intellectual problem with the word. Of course people should be able to criticise Islam, or particular strands of it, as they should be able to criticise any other faith or belief system. However, Islamophobia as we understand it is not about criticising Islam; it is about the hatred of those who practise that faith or who are mistakenly perceived to be doing so. Hating people is not the same as hating ideas, let alone critiquing them. It is not helpful and it is completely unacceptable, particularly when that hatred translates into discrimination, persecution and worse.
As for the work on the definition itself, my party is a mass movement and a democratic one, as I say, and it is conducting its own consultation on what would be a working definition for the purposes of the Labour Party. However, I think the work done by the APPG is a good start and something that we will take incredibly seriously, including the proposed definition itself. Why do I think it is a really useful place to start? Because it talks about Islamophobia being rooted in racism. I say to some of the speakers in this debate that that is not to suggest that Islam is a race—frankly, scientists will critique the notion of race as real at all—but rather to identify that Islamophobia is coming from the same engine room as racism. The hatred is rooted in racism, even though the members of a Muslim community can be of many different races.
The other useful aspect of this proposal is that it acknowledges that this is about targeting expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness, and therefore it can be of real benefit to other communities and other people, including British Sikhs, who are—because bigotry is by definition ill-informed—misperceived on a routine basis as being Muslim. So people who are not Muslim can still be the victims of Islamophobia. I was once called the most dangerous woman in Britain. Obviously that was a badge of honour and greatly inflating to the ego, but it was probably in part founded on a misunderstanding—that I was Muslim. I almost do not like to tell that story because I should say, “I am Spartacus”; we are all Muslims together if we are going to be branded and abused in that way, and one wants to give solidarity. However, that is a useful aspect of this proposal: that you do not have to get your hatred right to be criticised for that hatred. It is plain English and I do not think it is woolly.
The issues about a phobia being innocent are not right. Homophobia, like Islamophobia, is long-established now, in the practical language of ordinary people, as hatred—in its case, of gay people. Let us not be too academic or perfect in our semantics. We have to go with a working word that people have come to understand increasingly over the past 20 years.
Finally, the statistics are real. The Home Office statistics now point to 52% of religious hate crimes—which are recorded as religious hate crimes—being directed at 5% of the population. That is a real worry and, with underreporting, the figures may be even worse than that.
This is not a competition for victimhood, and no political party or any part of society has a monopoly of virtue in this area, so I hope that in the new year, after your Lordships have all had happy holidays and a happy Christmas, we can take forward the thinking and work in the report together.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in an excellent debate, full of people’s experience of different aspects and bringing together many different strands. I am, first, grateful to my noble friend Lord Sheikh for so powerfully introducing this important debate, covering many different aspects.
Interestingly, in noting, as my noble friend Lady Jenkin said, the importance of Muslim women and women generally in this area, it was interesting that more than half the speakers—a majority—were female. That is interesting, and we had some good contributions, both male and female, from all sides of the House.
Islamophobia, racial and religious hatred is an issue that must concern us all—that came out from around the House. In closing today’s debate, I emphasise some of the points raised. I begin by noting some of the excellent work that some of our governmental bodies and projects do. Tell MAMA was referred to by my noble friend Lord Sheikh and others, who talked about the excellent work it does to monitor anti-Muslim hatred—I think that is what MAMA stands for—and support victims. I have had the opportunity to speak to Iman Atta this week. She is the director of Tell MAMA and we have regular meetings to review its progress. It has a massive job of work to do and does it extremely well.
I also pay tribute to the excellent work of the cross-government working group to tackle anti-Muslim hatred, which, since 2012, has been leading our response to Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred. Reference has been made to its director, Akeela Ahmed, who is a great role model doing excellent work. During the debate, many referred to the importance of role models from minority communities in public life, not just in politics but in many other aspects of life. That is a point very well made. I often say, only half-jokingly—perhaps not jokingly at all—that much more good is done for race relations in this country by the likes of Nadiya Hussain and Mo Farah than government initiatives. Both are important, but role models are extremely important. We are coming to the end of a refresh of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, which will take place in the new year. I have been working other Ministers in the department and the executive members, including Akeela, of course, as the director.
I shall try to deal with contributions made by noble Lords and then pull things together at the end, given some fair questions asked about where we go next. My noble friend Lord Sheikh referred to the importance of charitable work done by the Muslim community. One thinks of Nisa-Nashim, the Penny Appeal, the work done through Iftars and the work done by the Muslim community to help with the floods a couple of years ago—I saw with my own eyes the work done there. This is repeated in communities up and down the country daily, and we should reference and celebrate it. The media has a role in getting that message across more than sometimes happens.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh also spoke about the efforts of Muslim communities in World War I and World War II. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, who is not in his place at the moment, asked about that a couple of weeks ago. They are absolutely right, and it is something that we very much celebrated this year when we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. That was a great coming together of different communities across the whole nation. We were pleased to be able to broaden representation at the Cenotaph this year to include other religious groups who had not previously been included—I think of the Jains, the Baha’is, the Zoroastrians, the Coptic Christians and other communities.
My noble friend Lady Warsi spoke very movingly about the contribution of both her grandfathers and what a matter of pride it was that they had helped in the war effort. We need to recognise that this is true of so many communities and so many people up and down the country who have personal experience of their families fighting in the war and losing members of their families. As I said, that was commemorated recently.
My Lords, I again ask my noble friend whether he has any views regarding the erection of a memorial to commemorate the work done by Muslim soldiers and labourers.
I apologise to my noble friend for not picking that up earlier. The first I heard about the letter was when he mentioned it. I will go back to the department, find out what has happened to the letter, take it very seriously and respond to him, but I did not know about it until he raised it, so I will follow that up, if I may. I shall say something about the government position on Islamophobia later, if I may.
My noble friend Lady Warsi has been for many years a friend, as well as a friend in this place. I must say how much work she has done in this area in general and how valuable it is. I noted one thing she said, which was, “Read the report”. The Government are certainly doing that and I urge others to do so as well. It is a great contribution to the debate, but I shall say something more about that later, if I may.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, spoke about the definition and traced back work done by the Runnymede Trust, which is also an important contribution. He spoke about role models and the fact that someone of Muslim heritage is a potential Prime Minister—at some stage, I should say, before it looks as though I am declaring that there is a vacancy, which there is not. It is important to make the point that there are senior political figures of Muslim heritage and Muslim faith—there is Sadiq Khan in the Labour Party, as well.
I give a plug for an interesting, very important project that runs across government is Operation Black Vote, which I attended earlier this week, when there was a graduation ceremony for people who have completed internships for MPs of all parties, and at which all parties were represented. It was powerful to see how important and successful that is. Simon Woolley is to be congratulated on the work he does promoting Operation Black Vote so successfully. It was good to see them coming to Westminster this week.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. She is right that the essence of discrimination is often “not like us”. People will see someone who is different and that is often how discrimination starts. We have to tackle that. That said, as other noble Lords said—this is interesting in the context of Islamophobia—there are Muslim converts and Bosniaks who are not visibly different from us, so it is a little more complex than one would immediately identify.
The noble Baroness asked me several questions about what we are doing to counter hate crime attitudes. A lot of work is being done: for example, through the Anne Frank Trust, which we fund; the Stand Up! project, which counters Islamophobic and anti-Semitic notions; and, although it is not strictly within the hate crime programme, we work with schools through the Linking Network. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been privileged to see linking in Luton and Blackburn between schools with different racial and religious backgrounds, which has been very successful.
The Minister mentioned work that is being done to tackle Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crime. Is any similar work being done for other faiths?
The noble Lord raises an interesting point, but the project I was just talking about, schools linking, does that for all faiths. I recently visited schools in both Luton and Blackburn. One is in a predominantly white area of the town, or has predominantly white pupils, while another has pupils of different religions and races. It has had a beneficial effect on all religions and races, including on pupils in an essentially Christian-based, white school. I was going on to say that the children positively look forward to meetings between the two schools after they have had one or two. It is important to get in early in people’s lives to try to combat discrimination and prejudice. People are not born with prejudice and discrimination—it is something that grows. I hope that linking schools in that way will have benefits for older family members as well.
The noble Baroness also asked me about the diverse ethnicity and integration policy and what we were doing on that, and about recording the ethnicity divide on pay. We are certainly looking at that in the context of the Race Disparity Audit, which the noble Baroness will know that the Prime Minister has driven hard. That is now going forward, led by the Cabinet Office.
It was interesting to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Singh, said about people being asked about their attitudes to certain groups, including groups that did not exist, and because they sounded as if they could be racial minorities, people said that they did not like them. That is indicative of the ignorance that is behind a lot of this. I thank the noble Lord very much for highlighting that and for what he does. He says, to paraphrase him slightly, that Sikhs are not good at fighting their corner or complaining—but he always brings forward important matters so that we cannot forget the dimensions that exist there.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester made a point about Muslim women in particular being subject to discrimination and bigotry. It is awful that it occurs at all, but it is often even more appalling in relation to women, who can be isolated if they do not speak the English language well. That makes it particularly insidious, so it is important that we act. I thank him for that.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Jenkin—I had not known about this—on her election to the board of the Fawcett Society and for all the work she has done on Women2Win over many years, and the success she has had. Yes, there is more work to be done, but she has done a terrific amount. She talked also about higher education and made a good point about the need for continuing support for women in Parliament. Going back to Operation Black Vote, it is interesting that there was a high proportion of women on that scheme—I did not count, but it was certainly at least 50%—so that is perhaps good news for the future.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, very much for a powerful description of the situation within Islam; there is certainly great diversity there, as I have found out in this job. There are the Ahmadiyya Muslims and other sects, and great national differences—the Bosniak Muslims often have different interpretations of Islam—and I agree with her that we need to take these things on board. She also stressed that the great mass of Muslims—the vast majority—are loyal to this country and play an active role as citizens of this country, which is not always appreciated and which, again, the media has a role in ensuring is carried forward much more.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, very much; she spoke about the urgency of the task, and I know about the work that she has done over many years and commend it. She also put this in the wider context of anti-Islamism in Europe, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in closing. This is of course not just about Britain. That is bound to be our main focus, but it is horrific to see that this is becoming a worldwide problem, and certainly a Europe-wide problem. We can see some of the discrimination and the results of it across Europe.
The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, again spoke of the proud role of the vast majority of British Muslims, including himself: he is a good example of a powerful role model. As I say, role models are extremely important. He also touched, as did others, on the dreadful anti-Muslim letters that we saw. I commend the community, who showed incredible courage, bravery and dignity during that period. It is difficult for me to appreciate what that must have been like, and I am sure that it was dreadful for somebody who was prominent in public life. However, it must have been far worse for people who are isolated. I am sure that Akeela Ahmed will not mind me saying that she, a prominent person, was not as fearful as other people in her family and people she knew, who she said were reluctant to come out that day. For that to happen in our country is dreadful. We should all feel a sense of shame about that and should work to counter it.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, very much for a very analytic description of the position and how we need to celebrate differences. Largely, we do; it is important to remind ourselves that the great mass of people get on with their lives, celebrate diversity in many aspects, and recognise the great diversity and benefits we have had from immigration in this country. We should now stand as one united nation, which is very much the message we should all carry forward. For people to talk about immigrant communities and their descendants as if they were the enemy within is distinctly un-British and shameful, and the Government are totally intolerant of it and will act on it.
In closing, I will try to encapsulate where we are. A great deal of work has been done. The Government’s position is fairly clear. First, if anyone asks the Government or indeed a political party, “Are you against anti-Semitic behaviour or anti-Islamic statements?”, of course any Government will say, “Yes; of course we’re against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism”. The question then is what we do. The first thing we need to look at—we will be looking to work done within government—is establishing a definition that will make things better. That is the start, and I think people will understand that. It may be that there is a swift resolution of that question, but we do not want to make things more difficult. We have seen today that there are different strands of opinion on how that definition should roll out; I appreciate that that is a slightly different aspect of the issue, but it means that the more potential definitions there are, the more you need to be reassured that you will not make matters worse.
Secondly, in parallel with that, we will certainly study the APPG report. It was thorough and well researched, and there are aspects to it that clearly anybody would want to take on board. That is the position we are in, and it is very much the position of the ministerial team in the department. This debate is important, and it will certainly be shared by the ministerial team to underline the importance of taking this forward.
I thank my noble friend for giving way. I am sure he will agree that both he and other ministerial colleagues have indicated, from the Front Bench here and in the other place, that the problem the Government had with adopting a definition of Islamophobia was that they did not feel that the matter had been properly engaged with and agreed on. That was one of the reasons why the APPG went away to conduct this inquiry—particularly because, as the Minister is aware, government is much more hesitant about engaging with all aspects of British Muslim communities.
This report clearly had to engage with all aspects of British Muslim communities: those with which we in government agree and those with which we disagree. As the Government have curtailed their engagement with Muslim communities over the years—there is now a very small number of people and organisations that they continue to engage with—it was important to ensure a definition that would have agency with Muslim communities. It had to be one that was properly rooted in all communities, not just those aspects that the Government favour.
My noble friend is understandably very protective of the report, which I fully understand; the APPG does much great work but, as we have heard in this debate, there are differences that attach to the definition. No Government would want to rush in and say, “Right, this is what we do”. We need to do two things: first, determine that a definition will make things better—that is step one; and secondly, look at the various definitions. It may be that my noble friend is right and the definition that the APPG has come up with is the best one. But that is something noble Lords would expect us to test by consulting with Muslim communities up and down the country, and with others. I am somebody who speaks a lot to Muslim communities around the country. I frequently visit mosques and talk to people about these things. It is not all one-way traffic, as my noble friend will know. For example, TellMAMA is not convinced of the need for a definition. We need to get this right and I am determined that there should be a thoroughgoing discussion before we move things forward.
Is the Minister prepared to enter into dialogue with APPG members to discuss a definition? That would be a good start.
My Lords, I am always open to dialogue as an individual, but I want to clarify the Government’s position on where we stand. As I say, we need to look at the need for a definition and whether that will make things better. Consequent to that, we can move things forward. But I am of course always open to dialogue.
Before the Minister sits down, I made a plea to the Government to be more even-handed to all communities. Do the Government intend to move in that direction? For example, if the term “phobia” is attached to discrimination against one religious group, should it not be there for all religious groups?
My Lords, not surprisingly, I do not agree with the premise that the Government are not even-handed in relation to all religious groups; all religious discrimination is wrong and that is the Government’s position, as I have made clear on many occasions. The noble Lord’s contribution perhaps indicates why we have to move sensitively to ensure that we get this right. It is important; we need to get it right.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which I feel is timely and very important. I would also like to thank my noble friend the Minister for his excellent reply, and for the summing up that he has just concluded. I will pick up on some of the points made by noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Warsi spoke passionately about the need for a definition. I am grateful for the background she gave us regarding the work of the APPG. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, spoke at length about hate crimes against Muslims, in particular against women. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, made some relevant points regarding discrimination against all communities. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester made the point—I am so glad he said it—that Christians must stand by Muslims.
People will be celebrating Christmas very shortly. I point out that, in the Holy Koran, we have a chapter that talks about the birth of Jesus. We believe that Jesus is one of our prophets. My noble friend Lady Jenkin referred to the lack of Muslims in the field of employment. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, made some salient points about the demonisation of Muslims. She also talked about populism and the problems that Muslims face in Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, spoke about the injustice of discrimination. I am glad he referred to the point that in this country we have multiculturalism; people of all races and religions live here and are accepted.
The Minister made some relevant points, although he has not answered all the questions that I posed to him. Perhaps he would like to look at Hansard. I would very much appreciate a response to the points I raised. I was very pleased that he agreed to look at the question of definition, which we referred to. I am glad that he said that this will be done and I look forward to receiving the response of the Government.
With that, I thank everybody for their contribution. It has certainly been an interesting and lively debate.