Un International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:51 pm on 8th April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Faisal Rashid Faisal Rashid Labour, Warrington South 7:51 pm, 8th April 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

First, I thank every member of the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate, as well as all those Members who indicated their support for it.

Every year on 21 March, the United Nations marks the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination through a series of worldwide events. That is because 21 March was the date of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid pass laws. The day was proclaimed six years later, through a United Nations resolution on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, adopted on 26 October 1966. Although the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination itself was a few weeks ago, I am delighted that the House is now able formally to mark it with a debate in this Chamber.

As a Muslim MP and a proud advocate of tolerance, peace and integration, the issue is close to my heart. As the first ever Muslim Mayor of Warrington and MP for Warrington South, I have always understood the value of embracing difference and bringing communities together. Almost 96% of Warrington’s inhabitants are white, but I have never been made to feel like an outsider. The people of Warrington have made me a welcome part of their community ever since I went to live there with my family more than 20 years ago. I have been proud to call Warrington my home ever since.

Sadly, we know that not all ethnic minorities are as fortunate as I have been to live in such a hospitable, tolerant environment. If all communities were as welcoming as Warrington, there would be no need for us to have this debate. As it is, many forms of racism and discrimination are on the rise. Disturbing, violent trends of antisemitism and Islamophobia have become more and more frequent. I have already mentioned the horrendous attack on the Muslim community in New Zealand last month. A Jewish place of worship in Pittsburgh was subject to a similar attack five months earlier—the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in US history. Both killers were clear in their hatred of both Jews and Muslims. Both subscribed to the far-right “great replacement” theory, which casts Muslims and other minorities as invaders of western societies and a threat to white, Christian majorities. It seems appropriate that the specific theme to mark this year’s UN international day for the elimination of racial discrimination is mitigating and countering rising national populism and extreme supremacist ideologies. In the wake of those horrific far-right attacks, I am sure that Members will agree that the theme could not be timelier.

Those are not just sporadic attacks in far-flung corners of the world; they represent part of a wider trend and their impact has been felt much closer to home. Just two weeks ago, the trial of a neo-Nazi who had plotted to kill a Member of this House was concluded. The plotter had been a member of the fascist National Action group. During the trial, the prosecution told the court that National Action had engaged in a campaign of

“racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic propaganda through which it sought to stir up a violent ‘race war’
against ethnic minorities and others it perceived as ‘race traitors’.”

I echo Mr Speaker’s sentiments last week in commending the courage and integrity of my hon. Friend Rosie Cooper when faced with that vile hatred. She has demonstrated that Members of this House will not be cowed by a violent and hateful creed.

In the face of such vile hatred, it is all too easy to give in to despair, but I recall the words of Jo Cox, who from these Benches insisted that

“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015;
Vol. 596, c. 675.]

Her words, and indeed her life, serve as an inspiration for us all. We saw Jo’s ethos in action even in the immediate aftermath of both the Christchurch and the Pittsburgh shootings. Muslim groups raised more than $200,000 for bereaved families at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is now raising money for the victims of the New Zealand mosque attacks. I cannot think of a more fitting illustration of Jo’s message, with diverse communities coming together to reject racism, bigotry and hatred.

In my own constituency, local people of all faiths and backgrounds also came together in a local mosque to commemorate the victims of the Christchurch shootings. I am sure that many Members are able to recount similar initiatives in their constituencies, with countless examples of communities coming together to reject evil and hatred. It is a reminder, even in the darkest of moments, that if we come together to promote peace, tolerance and mutual understanding, bigotry will never prevail.

If we are to counter this threat, we must seek to understand its origins and the conditions that allow it to flourish, for there can be no doubt that white nationalist, far-right violence is firmly on the rise. In the US in 2018, every single one of the 50 extremist-related murders were linked to the far right, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In the UK between 2017 and 2018, the number of white suspects arrested for terror offences outstripped those of any other ethnic group for the first time in more than a decade. In Germany, official figures suggest that nine in 10 antisemitic crimes in 2017 were carried out by members of far-right or neo-Nazi groups.

How are we to make sense of this phenomenon? The UN produced two reports in August 2018 that investigated on a global scale contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The reports argued that the “new forms of media” are partly responsible for the rise in nationalist populism and described how they

“aided or amplified the influence of nationalist populism”.

One study has suggested that American white nationalist movements saw their Twitter following grow by more than 600% between 2012 and 2016. These non-traditional media platforms have been used to revive fascist ideas thought to have been consigned to history.

We need to look again at the responsibility of large technology companies and how these platforms are regulated. Given the size of platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, they have an obligation to ensure that hatred, bigotry and misinformation—I emphasise that misinformation is the key—are not allowed to flourish on their watch. In recent years, we have seen the rise of far-right social media personalities who now have the ability to reach unprecedented numbers of people online. Not only are these individuals allowed to peddle their hatred to huge audiences, but they are able to profit from doing so.

Traditional forms of media have also been complicit in fuelling these racist narratives. During the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, at the very moment when African men, women and children were drowning in the Mediterranean, The Sun published a column describing these people as “cockroaches.” That is shocking and disgusting coming from a national newspaper. The columnist went on to argue:

“What we need are gunships sending these boats back to their own country.”

These were desperate people risking their lives, and often their children’s lives, to flee a desperate, desperate conflict. Nobody wants to leave their country unless they are desperate, and those people were desperate because of the conflict, because of the wars and because of the lack of input from the world. What kind of cruel, inhuman response is it to suggest meeting them with gunships?

Those comments were denounced by the UN’s human rights chief as akin to antisemitic Nazi propaganda. Indeed, this dehumanising rhetoric poisons public debate. For too long, ethnic minorities have been scapegoated in our national press. The media have an indispensable role in our democracy, but it must come with great public responsibility.

Racism in the workplace also continues to be a major problem in the UK. A recent survey by Prospect, the trade union, found that nearly half of ethnic minority workers have witnessed racism in their workplace, with a quarter of black and ethnic minority employees reporting that they have been racially abused.

Just this weekend there were four separate reported instances of alleged racial abuse before, during and after premier league and football league matches, which appears to emphasise a problem highlighted during the week by England international Danny Rose. Tragically, in 2019, Rose was forced to admit that he

“can’t wait to see the back of football” because he is so disgusted by the racism that blights the game. I commend the example of high-profile individuals like Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling for speaking out and taking a stand against this vile abuse, but it is not good enough for us simply to wring our hands whenever this issue is raised and depend on the courage of a vocal few.