– in the House of Lords at 11:26 am on 5th November 2015.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, as part of their counter-extremism strategy, they will encourage a national debate about the nature of Islam, including whether the Muslim tenet of abrogation remains valid today.
My Lords, the Government’s approach and strategy to countering extremism is firmly based on further strengthening our relationships and work with the communities and organisations across the United Kingdom and together confronting, challenging and disrupting extremism in all its ugly guises.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that fairly helpful reply. Some noble Lords may not be aware that abrogation means that, where there is contradiction in the Koran, its later and more violent verses outweigh its admirably peaceful early texts. Is the noble Lord aware that, together with some Koranic scholars, I have written a short summary of Islam, which I will send him, and that we are asking the Guardian newspaper to hold an open debate as to its accuracy? Secondly, given the seriousness of our domestic situation, could not the Government themselves sponsor a council of our Muslim leaders in which they could clarify the modern meaning of their religion and cast the extremists out of Islam?
My Lords, I look forward to receiving the noble Lord’s summary of the great religion of Islam. Perhaps during his reflection he will also have noted that, with the exception of one verse in the holy Koran, every verse starts with the words: “In the name of God, the gracious, most merciful”, which underlines the true sentiments and principle of that religion. The Government have very much been engaging in debate across Muslim communities. Indeed, the Prime Minister recently launched an engagement forum where he is meeting with people of all denominations from across the Muslim community and beyond to ensure that we confront extremism, as I said earlier, in all its ugly guises.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that while it is appropriate for the Government to sponsor good community relations and to promote British values in citizenship courses and in schools, and while it is right that civil society should debate the merits, perhaps, of each religion, surely it would be totally inappropriate for the state to be involved, as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has suggested, in a critique of one of the world’s great religions, which is followed by 1.2 billion people throughout the world?
Suffice it to say that I totally agree with my noble friend.
My Lords, does the noble Lord think it is helpful or constructive that any religious text—be it from the Koran, the Old Testament or even the Hebrew scriptures; taken and quoted selectively—should be used in a negative, divisive and political way to put whole communities on trial?
I totally agree with the noble Baroness. No community should be on trial in our great country. There are extremists of every guise who take noble faiths and seek to hijack them. That is the challenge that we face within Islam today, but I am pleased to say that it is the Muslim communities of Britain and beyond who are at the forefront of challenging that.
My Lords, what are the Government’s views of the following comments: “Most Nigerians are generally bad people”; “Jewish bankers financed Hitler”; “Islam is a cancer”? What should be our response to a political party that holds such views?
The views that the noble Lord has just articulated, which he is reporting to the House, are abhorrent, and I think I speak for the whole House.
My Lords, first, I was not aware that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, was a scholar of Islamic theology. I do not profess to have any such expertise, but I am concerned that such a debate as he advocates could be divisive and further exacerbate the current rise in Islamophobia. I, like the vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, was taught that peace, compassion and obeying the law of the land are fundamental. To me, that is the nature of Islam. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that such a debate would be unhelpful for interfaith relations and social cohesion?
I agree with my noble friend. This Government, and indeed the previous coalition Government, have built on the previous opposition Governments’ work in bringing communities together. It is about fighting hate in every guise in which it is found. I am therefore delighted that in October the Prime Minister himself announced—I am sure many noble Lords followed it—that, from April 2016, along with anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim crime will be recorded as a specific hate crime by all 43 police forces across England and Wales.
My Lords, I strongly agree with the question raised by the previous speaker and the Minister’s reply. Does the Minister agree that encouraging education and dialogue across a broad front should be a key part of our strategy, including: encouraging relationships not only between the faith communities but between all the faith communities and civil society; encouraging agencies such as the Islamic Society of Britain—which does such powerful good work in education in schools and other areas; raising the levels of religious literacy at all levels; further analysis of why people of faith do, in a minority of cases, resort to violence; and building on the excellent work of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, in his recent book Not in God’s Name?
The right reverend Prelate raises a very important issue about education. I think that education is the cornerstone of all progressive societies. The Near Neighbours scheme, for example, run by the Church of England, is a great scheme which brings communities together, irrespective of faith and denomination, to ensure that good and sensible values—the prevailing values; we often talk about British values but ultimately they are the human values we all share—prevail in a modern, progressive Britain.
The Minister made reference to a comment by the Prime Minister. Does the Minister accept that the Prime Minister made a comment about sections of the Muslim community quietly condoning extremism, and that that risks causing division and fuelling resentment which will be counterproductive to the Government’s recently published counter-extremism strategy, which quite rightly focuses on building cohesive communities?
I am sure the noble Lord has read the strategy; its foreword is by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the one leading on this strategy of countering extremism. It is about bringing together people of all communities, of all faiths and none, to ensure that we can tackle extremism in all its ugly guises—whether it is those who seek to hijack a noble religion, as we currently find in the religion of Islam, or those who use race and religion to divide society. We must unite against all such extremism.