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, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for securing this significant debate. I begin by saying that I have the utmost regard for the motives of those behind the report and I do not intend any disrespect in my remarks today. I do not like to be self-referential in public debates but as this topic is so defined by identity, I find that I have to share a little of my experience as context for the remarks I will make.
I am familiar with the problems described by the witnesses in the report. As an ethnic and religious-minority woman, I tick three of the protected characteristics of hate crime, but my experience of discrimination is a very long tale. My family experienced discrimination on their move from India to Pakistan in 1947 and I have experienced discrimination, been denied rights and been routinely verbally abused—all in Muslim-majority countries, at the hands of other Muslims, in Pakistan, where I grew up, and subsequently in other Muslim countries in the Middle East. This happens still today. It was probably because my family were not sons of the soil; because I was educated at an elite convent school, which was deemed suspicious, despite the fact that Pakistan’s only female Prime Minister went to the same school; and because we fought for what in those countries are called liberal values, such as women’s rights and human rights.
The discrimination was palpable and was shown to us for being “insufficiently Muslim”, but that experience was as nothing compared to the discrimination that Ahmadiyyas, Shias and various others still face today at the hands of other Muslims. My point is that there is great diversity within Islam in terms of its different traditions and the composition and practice of its adherents, as well as their ethnicity and geographical backgrounds. It is an error to speak of the Muslim experience in the West as one of a homogenous group, with “them” against “us”, the victims. The identity of Muslims from east Asia is profoundly different from that of south-east Asian Muslims, or from Turkic, central Asian or west African Muslims, leaving aside Europeans and other converts to Islam. So a community of global adherents to a particular religion, particularly one which is so diverse, does not lend itself well to being set up as a group with distinct and superior collective rights in a European context, in opposition to the majority population, which is what I find this report is mainly about.