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Islamophobia - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:00 pm on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:00 pm, 20th December 2018

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in an excellent debate, full of people’s experience of different aspects and bringing together many different strands. I am, first, grateful to my noble friend Lord Sheikh for so powerfully introducing this important debate, covering many different aspects.

Interestingly, in noting, as my noble friend Lady Jenkin said, the importance of Muslim women and women generally in this area, it was interesting that more than half the speakers—a majority—were female. That is interesting, and we had some good contributions, both male and female, from all sides of the House.

Islamophobia, racial and religious hatred is an issue that must concern us all—that came out from around the House. In closing today’s debate, I emphasise some of the points raised. I begin by noting some of the excellent work that some of our governmental bodies and projects do. Tell MAMA was referred to by my noble friend Lord Sheikh and others, who talked about the excellent work it does to monitor anti-Muslim hatred—I think that is what MAMA stands for—and support victims. I have had the opportunity to speak to Iman Atta this week. She is the director of Tell MAMA and we have regular meetings to review its progress. It has a massive job of work to do and does it extremely well.

I also pay tribute to the excellent work of the cross-government working group to tackle anti-Muslim hatred, which, since 2012, has been leading our response to Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred. Reference has been made to its director, Akeela Ahmed, who is a great role model doing excellent work. During the debate, many referred to the importance of role models from minority communities in public life, not just in politics but in many other aspects of life. That is a point very well made. I often say, only half-jokingly—perhaps not jokingly at all—that much more good is done for race relations in this country by the likes of Nadiya Hussain and Mo Farah than government initiatives. Both are important, but role models are extremely important. We are coming to the end of a refresh of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, which will take place in the new year. I have been working other Ministers in the department and the executive members, including Akeela, of course, as the director.

I shall try to deal with contributions made by noble Lords and then pull things together at the end, given some fair questions asked about where we go next. My noble friend Lord Sheikh referred to the importance of charitable work done by the Muslim community. One thinks of Nisa-Nashim, the Penny Appeal, the work done through Iftars and the work done by the Muslim community to help with the floods a couple of years ago—I saw with my own eyes the work done there. This is repeated in communities up and down the country daily, and we should reference and celebrate it. The media has a role in getting that message across more than sometimes happens.

My noble friend Lord Sheikh also spoke about the efforts of Muslim communities in World War I and World War II. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, who is not in his place at the moment, asked about that a couple of weeks ago. They are absolutely right, and it is something that we very much celebrated this year when we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. That was a great coming together of different communities across the whole nation. We were pleased to be able to broaden representation at the Cenotaph this year to include other religious groups who had not previously been included—I think of the Jains, the Baha’is, the Zoroastrians, the Coptic Christians and other communities.

My noble friend Lady Warsi spoke very movingly about the contribution of both her grandfathers and what a matter of pride it was that they had helped in the war effort. We need to recognise that this is true of so many communities and so many people up and down the country who have personal experience of their families fighting in the war and losing members of their families. As I said, that was commemorated recently.