Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, Her Majesty, in her most gracious Speech, said that measures will be brought forward to promote social cohesion and protect people by tackling extremism. Any proposed provisions will affect the Muslim community, so I will focus my comments today on issues relating to our community. I wish to make several points about the Muslim community, and I ask that your Lordships kindly permit me to speak for more than seven minutes. I hope to speak for about 10 minutes.
There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, and they have contributed significantly to Britain in all walks of life. We must remember and respect the positive aspects of British Muslims. There are Muslim philanthropists and entrepreneurs, and we also have successful Muslims in the professions, politics, academia, in the media and on the sports field. Having said that, I realise that Muslims are going through a critical phase, and there are problems associated with some sections of the community.
Muslims have been severely criticised in some quarters. Some of the criticism is not at all justified but is either deliberate or based on misunderstandings. We have been and are subjected to Islamophobia in some parts of the media and by a few politicians and organisations—I believe they have their own agenda. The attacks on us are now regular, and some people feel that it is fair game to have a go at Muslims.
I have been active in community and charitable work for many years, and am a patron of six Muslim and non-Muslim organisations. I founded and chair the Conservative Muslim Forum, which is now an active and robust organisation. I was approached by several Muslim leaders to look at the current problems affecting the Muslim community, and have decided to be actively involved with the Muslim community and work out solutions. I have researched many statistics, but as the time is limited I will mention just three findings. Some 75% of Muslims believe that they are integrating into British society, whereas only 47% of British people opine that they are doing so. Muslims in Britain are overwhelmingly young, and the performance of some Muslims at schools is low. Some 46% of British Muslims live in the most deprived 10% of areas in the United Kingdom.
Over the past year I have travelled to various parts of the country and talked to leaders of mosques, imams, heads of community centres and members of the community. About two weeks ago I was the keynote speaker at a gathering of more than 2,000 Muslims in Birmingham, many of whom spoke to me afterwards. I have now identified a number of issues, which total 23 points, and have prepared a report on them. I do not have time to mention them all today, but I will state five—radicalisation, education standards, lack of engagement with the young, deprivation, and the Prevent strategy not being effective.
I have been asked by several Muslims to make it known to the Government that they have not engaged adequately with the community. I, too, feel that that has been lacking. We feel that the Government should do more to interact with the right people, look at the various problems and help the community to take positive actions. In addressing the problems we need the involvement of the Muslim community, the Government, the police, schools, local authorities and the relevant agencies. We are trying to raise awareness that there is also an onus on the Muslim community to be honest and realise that there are problems, and to take positive actions to remedy the issues as part of a holistic approach in conjunction with others.
In assessing radicalisation we must realise that this has been partly brought about by the actions of the West, including the United Kingdom, overseas. The action of a tiny minority of the young in being radicalised could be born out of frustration, but we must do what we can to allay these feelings. When the United Kingdom, together with the United States, decided unilaterally to invade Iraq, there was no adequate plan for action to be taken after Saddam Hussein was toppled. A vacuum was created that led subsequently to violence, death and destruction, and to al-Qaeda in Iraq taking root in the country. It also created a severe rift between the Sunnis and the Shias.
We bombed Libya without an adequate plan to be implemented after Gaddafi was got rid of. We invaded Afghanistan without realising the consequences. In future, the United Kingdom must have an adequate plan and think of all the consequences and implications before glibly invading any territory. We also have double standards when looking at the issues of Gaza and Palestine, and this is causing disquiet among Muslims. We need a more balanced and equitable approach to these issues, and we could begin by recognising Palestine as an independent state.
Over the last year we have seen the rise of ISIS—or Daesh, as I prefer to call them. What they are doing is not at all Islamic, and their interpretation of our glorious religion is totally wrong. It is imperative for the imams, Muslim leaders and parents, together with everyone in the community, to explain to the young the true values of Islam. In order to combat radicalisation, we must also use social media effectively to block information that unduly influences young people, and to convey the true message of Islam. Both the media and politicians should not refer to terrorism as Islamic, because Islam does not permit terrorism. They must use appropriate language. The word jihad is misused, as jihad involves internal and external struggle to do one’s utmost for good.
In deciding on measures to combat extremism, we must undertake extensive and balanced research. The Government must understand the challenging issues facing the Muslim community. The Prevent agenda has created some problems and needs to be reappraised. Some have even described it as toxic. Sometimes, the Government are ill advised in taking action. For example, I was told that the letter written to mosques in January of this year by the right honourable Eric Pickles was not well received by some members of the community. I agree that counterextremism measures must be firm, but they should not be fierce and should not alienate the community. The Government must win the support of the Muslim community and must not be seen as the big brother wielding a stick. Otherwise, we will get a negative reaction. We must also respect freedom of speech, as we in this country take pride in our democratic values. The Muslim community will listen and take appropriate action, as part of the holistic approach we need to implement.
I understand that measures may be introduced such as banning orders, extremism disruption orders and powers to close premises. I suggest that before any powers are approved and implemented, adequate research and consultation with the community should be undertaken. The community will co-operate if there is appropriate engagement. We need to be very careful before interfering or applying any form of restriction on the activities of Muslim charities, which do very valuable humanitarian work across the world.
Finally, I would like to make the further point that we need to look at other issues concerning the community, including the education of the young and deprivation. I will be taking part in the proceedings on the proposed legislation and will make suggestions where I feel that these are appropriate.