Un International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:22 pm on 8th April 2019.

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Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull 8:22 pm, 8th April 2019

I too pay tribute to Faisal Rashid, who made a powerful speech. I congratulate him on securing this vital debate to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I know it was on 1 March—we have had to wait—but the debate is none the less worth while.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned his own welcoming town. I want to reflect briefly on my town and the way in which it is now a diverse community—very different from what it was. Many people look at Solihull from a west midlands perspective and think of it as quite well-to-do—there is a joke that a crash in Solihull is what someone has between two Land Rovers—and traditional, meaning white in that respect.

In reality, however, Solihull like so much of the west midlands is changing enormously. What tends to happen is that people do well in Birmingham and other places, then come to and are welcome in our town and add vibrancy to it, as it expands exponentially due to the influx of people. We now have a higher than national average of BAME—black, Asian and minority ethnic—communities, and strong and vibrant Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities, as well as Greek, Jewish, Jain and Zoroastrian ones. There are so many, I could almost take the remaining three and a half minutes of my speech mentioning them.

Solihull is a fantastic embodiment of diversity in the west midlands, and of success in that diversity, but we face our challenges. Of late, those challenges have been writ large in our town. Quite recently, we had the horror of pigs heads being left outside the Hub, a Muslim community and education centre on Hermitage Road in Solihull, by far-right activists, all because people of the same faith had decided to come together in order to bring about education and something positive in the community—absolutely shocking, as some of my hon. Friends have said.

We also have worries and concerns about antisemitism. Some in my Jewish community have spoken to me, often confidentially, about their fears right now about the rising tide of antisemitism. I will not indulge in anything party political on that—I trust, I know and I am sure that every Member of this House is absolutely horrified by the twin pillars of evil, Islamophobia and antisemitism. We stand with our communities on that.

What do I think is at the root of those changes in Solihull? Social media has been mentioned, and we had the White Paper today. That will be only a part of a broad, patchwork approach that we will have to take as a Government and across western civilisation to managing something that is as great as the creation of the printing press. I am reminded of the fact that after the invention of the printing press in the 15th century Europe indulged in two centuries of civil wars, partly as a result of that greater communication and the way ideas could be communicated, often disturbing to the status quo.

That is the challenge that we face with some of the keyboard warriors in our society who let dark thoughts come out of the darkest recesses of their minds. Also, as groups become more empowered, the counter-stroke becomes sharper, and people react more violently in their language and behaviour.

What do we do to counter that? First, we need education, not just in our schools and colleges but in our communities—in places such as the Hub in Solihull and the Shree community centre in Sparkbrook near my constituency. We also need to say to each other, to say as a society, “I will not let racism pass. I will not stand there when these comments are made. I will tackle it, and I will do what is right.” Frankly, that is what will make our society work, and work in the long term.