Religious Intolerance and Prejudice - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:18 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord Suri Lord Suri Conservative 9:18 pm, 17th October 2018

My Lords, we are all fortunate to live in a country that is relatively far less prone to religious intolerance and injustice than many of our peers. In Europe we compare favourably to our neighbours and we have cultivated a strong global position as a pluralistic and multicultural nation. When I first came to this country as an immigrant, I knew that I was coming to the country which had passed race relations Acts and celebrated the Notting Hill carnival. I worked hard when I first arrived to set up forums and spaces for interfaith understanding and reconciliation, and this country has increasingly accommodated the needs of minority groups. Today, I am proud that more of our public buildings have prayer rooms, and that we enjoy the right to express our beliefs. We should rightly champion all of these achievements, but there is a rot in our society. Two awful prejudices have started to creep back into mainstream discourse, and they must be stamped out before they get worse.

I will start with Islamophobia. Hatred of Muslims is nothing new, but under the new leadership of UKIP, there appears to be a renewed attempt to push it into the mainstream. Tommy Robinson has repeatedly called for actual violence against Muslims, but when he is invited on to news programmes he is not challenged hard enough on his past statements. Giving racists a platform on respectable channels legitimises their points of view and helps them spread their hatred through the internet. The places where racists organise now are mainly online, and I have seen barely any effort from large social media companies to address their obligations to society to shut these spaces down.

These companies kid themselves if they think the pressure is just from politicians. Ordinary people are growing increasingly frustrated with what they see as foot-dragging and shirking of responsibilities. If social media companies committed to working with the DCMS to police spaces where hatred is rampant, it might go some way to addressing those concerns.

Across the hard left, anti-Semitism also seems to be making a comeback. Labour’s summer of denying the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism gave succour to extremists who would use the actions of the Israeli state to attack and demonise British Jews who have no part in the conflict in the Middle East. Sadly, the leader of the Opposition in the other place has a long history of these statements. Repeatedly, he has blamed Israel for events that are not directly attributable to it, and has long associated with those who have made anti-Semitic comments. His comment that some British Zionists did not understand English irony despite,

“having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives”,

was worrying and ought to be condemned by all right-thinking people. There is nothing wrong with criticism of Israel’s actions, and a robust debate is part of a healthy civic society; but the tone and actions of the Labour leadership have created a climate of fear for British Jews. Many Members, both here and in the other place, have made this point. I despair that the Labour leadership are not listening, or that they might not even care, but they should. Anti-Semitism is the first of many evils in society, and Jews are the canary in the coalmine for waves of incoming prejudice. We dismiss concerns at our peril.

I urge Ministers to make it clear that all types of crime—hate crimes and others—against Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other faiths must be stopped. Human beings are the image of our maker. They should be respected and not hated. As the most reverend Primate said, love thy neighbour.

Sant Kabir was born in India near the holy river Ganga. As a newly-born baby, he was left at a pond. Nobody knew who his parents were. He was picked up by a Muslim weaver. As he grew up with him, he became a saintly person, because the holy river Ganga is in the holy city of Varanasi. His sayings are included in the holy books of Siri Guru Granth Sahib, so we can see what the difference means—Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian.

A Muslim, a Hindu or a Sikh—they are all the same; there is no difference. Kabir believed in one God and other people the same. As I have said, his sayings are included in Guru Granth Sahib. We should practise that method: that we are all children of God; there is nobody bad and nobody good. They are all the same.