It is a pleasure to participate in the debate—well, I think it is—and it is certainly a pleasure to follow Mr Mahmood. I found myself agreeing with a great deal of what he had to say, although I was struck by the fact that, I think, he had misunderstood something I had written as part of the foreword to the APPG report.
I was not involved in some of the initial stages of the APPG report, but its members came to me—I was a member in any event—and asked for my input, because they knew that I had participated in and indeed chaired the Citizens UK commission that produced “The Missing Muslims”, a document that looked at Muslim participation in the public life of our country. For that, we went around the country and took extensive evidence in a large number of locations. It was wide-ranging and dealt with problems in mosque management and discrimination against women. A great many difficult subjects were touched on in the course of that inquiry, but one thing that emerged with absolute, complete clarity was the fact that Islamophobia—and I shall return to that word in a moment—exists in this country in ways that are having a significant impact on the daily lives of British Muslims, and, indeed, as was pointed out by Mr Dhesi, those who may be mistaken for Muslims. Both his constituency and mine contain substantial Sikh communities.
Much of this behaviour falls well short of criminality. Indeed, I should make it clear that I do not believe that any useful purpose would be served by trying to criminalise it, because at that point one would embark on an endless cycle which I think would have no benefit at all. Some Members who were around more than 10 years ago will remember that I was rather active when the legislation on incitement to religious hatred was introduced, arguing strongly in the House that the way in which the then Government were seeking to word it risked placing a fetter on free speech because it was too broadly drafted and included such terms as “ridicule”. I considered that it was within the tenets of a free society to express ridicule for another person’s religious beliefs. As a Christian, I encounter people who express ridicule for my beliefs, and I just have to live with it.
That having been said, I live, and have the benefit of living, in what is, in a sense, part of what would be seen as a majority community in this country, and I do not think we should underestimate the adverse impact that what I call Islamophobia is having on our society. It is acting as a preventer of integration, and we in the House should be paying some attention to it, because as leaders in our communities—which is what we are seen to be—we ought to be showing a lead in trying to eradicate it as much as possible. That does not mean preventing people from expressing perfectly reasoned criticisms, or, indeed, sometimes unreasonable criticisms, of other people’s religious beliefs; but human society cannot thrive unless we treat other human beings with respect, and lack of respect can have a corrosive impact.