Religious Persecution - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:38 pm on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench 4:38 pm, 11th July 2019

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lady Cox. It is mind-boggling how much she has done, and is doing, and how much she knows. We should all listen to her with interest and see how we can help her.

I was born in Lahore, which is now in Pakistan but was then part of united India. I was born a Hindu but grew up close to a family of Muslims; it felt like one big family. We never thought about religion. We all did what we wanted to do. My mother, who was a very old-fashioned Hindu, did not mind when I went to the imambara—they were Shia—the place of worship where the lady went. So I went with her and there was no question of, “Why are you going there, what are you doing?”. It was a really amazing thing.

The other thing was that my great-grandfather was a very respected person in Lahore. Even now, people in Lahore call him the father of Lahore. So we had a wonderful life, but we became refugees after Pakistan happened, because Hindus really could not stay there, there was so much killing and so on, so we had to leave. It is awful to think that people just left their homes and went. As we have heard from other speakers, people just left everything. We also left everything: our home, our belongings, everything. But I cannot complain, because we were not in the same situation as many other people—we were better off—and things improved anyway.

That is enough about me, except that when I learned about the Holocaust I became a non-believer. I thought, if 6 million people, who prayed and were good people, had no response, I am not going to waste my time. I have never thought about changing, because when you rely on yourself you do better than relying on God. It is perhaps heretical to say that; I do not know if that still follows. I really believe that if you say to yourself, “I am responsible for myself”, it is quite strengthening and it makes you free as well. That is my personal story.

I have been thinking about all sorts of discrimination and the nasty things that happen to people. One of the worst things is faith to faith—the same faith and people being persecuted. We know about the Shia and the Sunnis, and countries that are Shia and Sunni and ready to fight one another. That is faith to faith, which is also appalling. Then there are also smaller groups of the faith who are treated like that. We have heard about the Ahmadiyyas, but noble Lords may not know—maybe I am not supposed to say—that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, is Ahmadiyya. Why is he here? Why is he sitting here as a Minister? Because he is of the Ahmadiyya tradition, which believes in education and participation. It would be good if everyone who came here, especially Muslims, believed in that. Ahmadiyyas believe in it, but everyone who comes to live in a country should believe in it. I believed in it. I was very lucky, I got a good education, but if you do not put yourself to do something in the country, why would you expect that everybody should fall over themselves to help you?

There is a real reluctance by the less educated Muslims to do anything to become any part of this country, and they never will. Some European countries have become much stricter; for example, Denmark says, “We will cut your benefits if you don’t learn Danish”. Everybody living in this country should be forced to learn English, because that is the only way they will participate in anything; otherwise, you are deaf and dumb. That is what is happening to so many people living in this country. We are just so soft, we never say to anybody, “You must do this”. Why should women cover their faces? It is not in the Koran, actually: the Koran does not say you have to cover your face. A headscarf is fine, but we ought to be able to see people’s faces. We ought to stop this sort of thing, because we are going the wrong way round—the other way round.

There is one last thing I want to bring up. My noble friend Lord Alton spoke very passionately. He is a very fine speaker; his voice rings through the Chamber. He has knowledge as well, but there is one thing he is not good on: he does not care about how women feel. I heard him yesterday—he cannot interrupt me now. They are not a minority but a huge number of people who are discriminated against by their own faiths. We should not forget that. Women have never been supported by their faith.

My noble friend Lord Singh said that the Sikh religion supports women. I agree with him; the Sikh religion is wonderful and supports women. But Sikhs do not. Somebody once asked me, “Does Hinduism discriminate against women?”, and I replied, “No, Hindus do”. You can have something in your faith and not follow it. Most people do not even properly know what is in their faith. Women have suffered, and, if you think about it, they are the great carriers of faith and religion; they are the ones who care; they are the ones who go to the temple; they really do believe, but they are treated appallingly by the men. While we are talking about discrimination, we also ought to keep in mind discrimination against women.

I mean, what did Asia Bibi do? She drank from a well, and was told that she was not allowed to. That is just amazing. She got five years in prison, and we did not take her. I want to make this a real point—I am ashamed that we did not take her. On that note, remember the women.