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The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12934, in the name of Hanzala Malik, on growing Islamophobia in Scotland and graffiti on the new Central gurdwara Glasgow. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament is concerned at the reported growing Islamophobia in Scotland and notes calls for cross-party action to ensure community cohesion, with funding made available to enable a range of outreach events that will help communities live together; understands that Sikhs are often victimised by extremists who believe that they are Muslims, which causes a divide between Muslims and other ethnic minorities, and notes calls for all faiths to come together with a view to cleaning the racist graffiti from what it considers the gorgeous new Central Gurdwara Glasgow and all other religious buildings in Scotland.
It is an honour to bring this motion for debate, as the vandalism of the Central gurdwara in Glasgow was a deeply hurtful incident for many reasons.
At the end of March, the Sikh religious building was defaced by vandals with the words, “No Shariah”, a Nazi symbol and another anti-Islam message that would be inappropriate to repeat here today. All the communities were in complete shock that such disgraceful words were put on the walls of this great Glasgow gurdwara. The Sikh community behaved with great dignity. Charandeep Singh commented that there is a “climate of rampant Islamophobia”.
Today, out of respect to our Sikh community, I wear the siropa that was presented to me by the ministers of the holy gurdwara of Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak in Pakistani Punjab, as a mark of respect to the delegation from Scotland that was in Pakistan for the Glasgow to Lahore cycle challenge to raise funds for the sick children’s hospital in Glasgow.
Calls to have dialogue with the police and local and national politicians to create an inclusive society and to celebrate the contributions that are made by Scottish ethnic minorities went out to the country. It is shameful that the iconic gurdwara has been vandalised. However, it is not an unusual case. I still remember the fire-bombing of a gurdwara in Kent after the 7/7 London terrorist attacks, and the jeers at turban-wearing Sikh men from racists at the time.
As a Muslim, I totally condemn this hateful attack on the beautiful new Central gurdwara in Glasgow, as it is a place of Sikh worship and community engagement. The attack totally disrespects places of worship. The gurdwara has also been a most welcome addition to the religious, cultural and architectural life of Glasgow.
It is clear that the targeting of Muslim communities by bigots and propagators of hate should be challenged by all of us. No community should suffer from or be at the end of hate crime. I fully agreed with Alex Neil’s statement in the wake of the incident. He said:
“Acts like this only reveal the ignorance of a few individuals who do not respect or appreciate Scotland’s rich diversity.”
However, actions are needed to minimise the chance of this kind of incident happening again in the future. As Mr Neil has equalities as part of his portfolio, I would like to know what he is doing to root out racism and racial discrimination in Scottish society. In 2013, I asked a parliamentary question about when the Scottish Government would update its 2008 to 2011 race equality statement. At that point, Mr Neil said that it would be published at the end of the summer of 2013. Two years later, I am still waiting for the statement—I do not know who is writing it. Not only am I waiting for it; the communities are, too.
That pretty much sums up how much of a priority the current Scottish Government gives to the racial equality agenda, which is already a step down from actually talking about racism. Please note that my criticism of the Scottish Government is just and is based on evidence, not hearsay—I am not plucking these views out of the sky.
This episode is a sad reminder that religious and ethnic minorities face public ridicule and criminal attacks, as well as many indirect acts of discrimination. We must recognise the severity of this issue.
The public and politicians need to follow up and root out discrimination of all kinds, at any stage and at any level; otherwise, we will continue to witness such heartless incidents up and down Scotland. Racists do not care whether someone is Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or Sikh: to them, if you are different, you will do. They use any excuse.
Once again, I call upon the Scottish Government to step up to its responsibilities and actually do its duty to protect all its citizens equally. The Government has a responsibility. It needs to be aware that many people, particularly shopkeepers, taxi drivers and others who are working at the front line face regular incidents of racism. Many of them have given up reporting incidents because they feel that the police do not take them seriously. Many people have complained that, when they phone the police to complain about racial discrimination or racist incidents, the police do not turn up for days because it is not an emergency.
Such an attitude means that people lose confidence while the people who perpetrate such acts gain in confidence. Therefore, on the one hand, people are getting disheartened and losing confidence and, on the other hand, we are encouraging people to continue to perpetrate those crimes because there is no comeback on them and they think that they can walk away. It is therefore imperative that we deal with the issues in our communities rather than just talking about them.
Protecting people’s religious freedom and ethnic background is important. Humza Yousaf and I are proud products of this country but, even today, we face discrimination. Humza has been through a high-profile incident recently. We therefore know for a fact that it is happening. We do not need additional evidence; we need the Government to roll up its sleeves, get some money and do some work.
We need to educate our communities. I assure members that we do not need to go to the schools and say that we need to teach our children because the schools are doing a wonderful job. It is us adults who need teaching.
I thank Hanzala Malik for bringing his motion to the chamber. He has an impeccable track record in pursuing such issues, although I take issue with some of his more political comments, which are, perhaps, undeserved. I occasionally disagree with the political position of many members on the left and the right, but we have always been united in condemning racism and Islamophobia. We did so after 9/11 and we do so today—that is how we stand. There are clearly issues to discuss, which is why we are here today. I am sure that Hanzala Malik will reflect on that.
I am, however, delighted to support Hanzala Malik today because his motion talks about two of our most vibrant and cherished communities—the Sikh community and the Islamic community. They are a long-standing part of Scotland, and we have to cherish and look after them. I know the Central gurdwara in Glasgow, and Hanzala Malik’s comments about its magnificence are quite correct. I have only visited it once so I do not know it as well as I know the gurdwara in Leith, which I visit regularly. I know the community in Edinburgh very well indeed, and attended the Vaisakhi ceremony a few weeks ago.
The Sikh community in Leith has not been here for just one or two generations; it is now into its fourth, fifth and sixth generations, and the community through on the west coast of Scotland probably has a longer lineage. The Sikh community in Edinburgh arose from two brothers and is now a vital part of communities throughout the city, especially in the Leith area, and we need to look after it.
The same—and more—applies to the Islamic community because of its greater numbers. Many in that community came from the Indian subcontinent, but others came from elsewhere. We need to look after and cherish them. They are as valid and vibrant a part of Scotland as I am, or as any member in the chamber is. That is how it has to be and why we need to ensure that action is taken. No doubt the minister will comment on that.
In Scotland, we do not have to be able to trace our lineage to 1314 to be able to claim Scottish ethnicity. The Islamic community and, indeed, the Sikh community perhaps have more of a lineage in Scotland than many white Christian communities that have come more recently. Whether people are Spanish, Polish, Italian or Indian, and whether they are able to claim their lineage back to 1314 or earlier, they are all equally as Scots—but no more so—as people from the Islamic or Sikh communities, and that is why we have to cherish them.
We face challenges with Islamophobia and racism, and Hanzala Malik is right to make sure that the Government is held to account. However, it is certainly my view that the Government and other authorities are doing everything that they can to address those challenges. That was accepted by the Sikh community with regard to the gurdwara, but we need to be ever vigilant.
The ignorance is unbounded. The tenor of the graffiti showed an inability to differentiate between Sikhism and Islam—never mind that it portrayed Nazi symbols. That is entirely unacceptable and, as a chamber, we must reiterate that and say that the full force and weight of the law will be brought down on those who carry out racist or Islamophobic hate crime. Equally, we must make it quite clear that the Sikh and Islamic communities are vital parts of Scotland. We cherish them and we hold them dear. They make Scotland a better place. We will not be divided in any way: we stand with them and for them, because they are us.
I congratulate Hanzala Malik on lodging the motion. I am sure that I speak for everyone in the chamber when I say that we all condemn the appalling combination of hatred and ignorance that we saw in the graffiti on the gurdwara in Glasgow. We must challenge that, and we must challenge all forms of racial and religious hatred. The motion focuses on Islamophobia, which we know has been a problem for several years.
Like Kenny MacAskill, I emphasise how much we value and celebrate the contribution of the Sikh and Muslim communities, and of all other ethnic minority communities living in Scotland today. I represent Leith, so I know about the Sikh community’s particular connection with Leith over many decades. I say, as I have said on many occasions, how much I value the contribution that that community has made to Scottish life.
The motion refers to Islamophobia in particular, so I will concentrate on that. In 2011, there was a very interesting and important report from the Scottish Government about the experience of being a Muslim living in Scotland. It is sobering, when we read that report, to realise the extent of the problems that Muslims confront every day in Scotland. The report found that, despite identifying as Scottish, Muslims living in Scotland experienced feelings of otherness and difference, resulting from experiences of religious and racial discrimination.
The report also cited research by Hussain and Miller in 2006, which found that almost half the majority community in Scotland were identified as holding Islamophobic attitudes. That shocked me. I remember 2006 well, because I was Minister for Communities then, as I was in 2005. I did quite a lot on the issue in the wake of the London bombings in 2005. We know that there was an increase in Islamophobia at that time, which other events since have perhaps reinforced. We must challenge Islamophobia wherever we find it.
The words of David Haines’s brother are very inspiring. Members may remember that David Haines was a British hostage who was murdered by Islamic State militants. The important point that his brother emphasised was that Islam was not to blame. We have to keep saying that. It is obvious to us and to the majority of people in Scotland that the atrocities that are committed by a few are used as part of the campaign against Muslims in Scotland. David Haines’s brother said:
“The Muslim is not to blame for Isil, nor is it the fault of people of Middle Eastern descent. The attraction of complete control and the use of terror as an implement of population control has widespread appeal to many disenfranchised throughout society. I have become aware of a number of verses in the Koran that I feel particularly apt at this time: ‘Since good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou evil with something that is better’.”
We need to challenge the ignorance about the Muslim religion that is shown—not least by the graffiti—when many of the people who are filled with that hatred cannot even tell the difference between Islam and the Sikh religion. We have to tell the truth about the Muslim religion, because every Muslim who I know—and it does not surprise me to say this—is of course absolutely as appalled by acts of terrorism as anybody else in society.
Hanzala Malik emphasised education, and he is probably right: there are a lot of positive things going on in schools. However, in preparation for the debate I read a report by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers on equality matters and the steps that should be taken to tackle Islamophobia in educational settings. It emphasised that
“school and college leaders have a critical role to play in ensuring that issues related to Islamophobia are identified and addressed appropriately and effectively.”
Nobody is born a racist. We all know that people learn those attitudes as they grow up in society. Challenging them in school is absolutely fundamental, because it is in schools that people can be challenged when they are young.
Yet clearly, we as politicians have a responsibility as well. As my time is up, I end by quoting the secretary of the Glasgow gurdwara, Charandeep Singh, who said of the incident that triggered this debate:
“This sad incident should energise our political leaders and fellow citizens to continue to campaign to root out such hateful beliefs.”
Thank you. Before we move on with the debate, I remind members to lift their microphones and speak into them, otherwise there is difficulty hearing in the chamber, and I do not like to interrupt members’ speeches.
I congratulate Hanzala Malik on securing this evening’s debate. I pay tribute to him for the good work that he does in consistently speaking out against Islamophobia and, indeed, religious intolerance more broadly, and for raising issues that some wish would just disappear without a debate.
It is our job in this place to meet racism head on. Bad things happen when bullies are left to run riot. The people who do such things display a brutish ignorance that is similar to the Nazi gangs in their treatment of the Jews in the 1930s.
Let me begin, on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, by joining in the strong condemnation of the perpetrators of the racist graffiti on the Central gurdwara Glasgow and, indeed, by condemning any incidents of racist or religiously intolerant graffiti on any religious building. I note from the news yesterday the dreadful anti-Catholic graffiti that has been sprayed on St Andrew’s Roman Catholic church in Livingston.
Members from across the political spectrum can rightly unite in our condemnation of such behaviour, and the police should be robust in trying to apprehend those responsible, as I am sure that they will do, and in ensuring that their crimes are subject to due legal process. I agree with the sentiments of Hanzala Malik’s motion in relation to the particular victimisation of those in our Sikh communities who are targeted by extremists who are so ignorant that they cannot even tell the difference between Muslims and Sikhs.
I recognise the concerns about growing Islamophobia in Scotland and note the many organisations, including the Church of Scotland, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, that have spoken out against it. All of us as MSPs have a role to play in speaking out and informing our constituents that the extremists who give Islam a bad name, and in doing so attract significant media coverage, are a tiny, unrepresentative minority who simply do not speak for or represent the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims who live and work in our communities.
We also need British Muslims at all levels to continue to speak out in support of democracy, moderation and tolerance, as the Muslim Council of Britain consistently seeks to do. I am pleased that at the recent general election in the United Kingdom we saw an increase in the number of British Muslims being elected as MPs and, significantly, more Muslim women being elected. They have a very important role as we go forward.
Tackling the causes of Islamophobia will involve many approaches and long-term strategies, including education—which is crucial—and, of course, international co-operation and working to resolve the many international challenges that we continue to face in the middle east and elsewhere.
Those are massive challenges with no quick or easy solutions, and Hanzala Malik is right to call in his motion for “community cohesion” and “outreach events”, which can be really important in local communities. His motion talks of “growing Islamophobia”, and it is all the more disappointing that that should exist when we Scots now have our own Scottish Parliament whose basic principles are all about fairness, tolerance and equal opportunities. In the past, the UK has had a worldwide reputation for religious tolerance compared with much of the rest of the world, so in the new Scotland we should be enhancing and improving things rather than the reverse.
I again commend Hanzala Malik for bringing this debate to the Parliament, and I wish those from the Sikh community who are involved in the Central gurdwara every success as they prepare for its official opening later in the summer.
I, too, congratulate Hanzala Malik on securing this debate and bringing the subject to the chamber tonight. I welcome the debate because, on one level, it is our opportunity to show solidarity with the Sikh community and to stand shoulder to shoulder with it against the horrendous abuse that it has faced with the defacing of the Central gurdwara in Glasgow. The debate is also important because the issue affects many of our constituents in their day-to-day lives. Our response has to be a statement about what kind of society we are and the kind of society we should strive to build, with community cohesion, respect between communities, understanding between people of different faiths and none, and understanding of the contributions of people from different ethnic communities.
We must all stand against the racist graffiti. It is a symptom of intolerance and a lack of knowledge, and it is abuse that must not be tolerated. Whether it is Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or anti-Catholic abuse, it is important that we challenge ignorance and stand up for the communities that have been attacked.
The cross-party action that is referred to in Hanzala Malik’s motion is symbolic on one level, but it must be backed by action. We are all leaders in our communities and we all have the opportunity to support a range of groups that work hard in our communities—whether they are racial equality groups or interfaith groups—to promote community cohesion, respect, understanding and friendship between different communities.
I consulted community leaders and representatives in advance of this debate because I wanted some of my constituents’ views to be heard. A common thread was that the state, whether at the Scottish or local council level, needs to do more to support the work of interfaith and racial equality groups. Their observation is that less resource is available and that the financial pressures and cutbacks are making their work harder—not necessarily for one-off events, but in their long-term, day-to-day work to build cohesion.
Suggestions included more interfaith events to bring together people of different faith groups to work with each other, but also broadening that out to the general public so that more people understand the great religions that we have represented in Scotland and how they are changing with time in response to links in society. Another suggestion was support for interfaith groups and investment in the skills that they bring, so that we can build that cohesion together.
I also heard that there should be support for the work of racial equality councils so that people from different religious faiths and ethnic communities can be supported in their work. There are lots of great initiatives across the country. If I just talk about the pride that we have in Edinburgh, we have the Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council, the Welcoming Association, the Edinburgh Mela, the Just Festival and the Edinburgh Interfaith Association, and I could name others across the different religious communities. It is important that we support those organisations, but also that we make more demands on our mainstream public services so that they take leadership in being anti-racist and against the discrimination that people from different faiths experience.
We need more work in schools so that people from different faiths are brought into schools to meet pupils at a much younger age. I do not know whether the minister saw the article in The Guardian last week about racial and religious intolerance among schoolchildren. It would be interesting to parallel that work in Scotland, because I sometimes think that we imagine that attitudes are much more liberal than they often are in practice.
We need more work with the police so that people are protected from racist intimidation and violence, and hate crimes are acted against. For example, there are shop workers in my constituency who experience racist abuse and assaults. A price needs to be paid for such acts and we need to ensure that they are given more attention.
I will finish on our culture. One of my constituents asked, “What about our soaps? What about the dramas that are shown on television and how the news reports conflicts?” Much more could be done to promote religious tolerance, more knowledge and support for our faith communities in what can be a difficult world. There are lots of good ideas, but the issue needs us to work together across the parties and it needs more funding. Political support is also needed, not just at parliamentary level but at local authority level, so that all our communities feel that they are part of our Scotland and have a place here, and are respected and included in everything that we do.
I, too, congratulate Hanzala Malik on bringing the debate to the chamber.
Islamophobia is not an issue that can be glossed over or sidelined. Since 9/11, Islamophobic attacks—verbal and physical—have been on the rise. Islamophobia can affect many people, not just those who are practising Muslims, and it provides a gateway for racist ideologies to generalise and for far-right groups to grow. However, Islamophobia as a phenomenon cannot be reduced to the fantasies of racists trying to stir conflict in our communities; rather, it is something that has been at work in various ways and undertaken by a range of actors.
We have seen a process of demonisation that has left a legacy of discrimination and the spreading of false ideas about Islam. Sections of the media have been vociferous in their negative portrayal of Muslims. In 2007, a study commissioned by the then London mayor, Ken Livingstone, found that in just one week’s news coverage, 91 per cent of articles in national newspapers about Muslims were negative. In many ways, Islamophobia has become institutionalised as part of the war on terror narrative. The cycle of blame and generalisation must be broken. The rise in hate crime is closely linked to the war on terror and the associated rhetoric. That has been shown by screeds of research and evidence gathering. For example, research conducted by the University of Exeter showed that
“the major motivating factor for violence against Muslims is a negative and false belief that Muslims pose a security or terrorist threat.”
To combat that, we need a combination of education and ideological opposition to those who seek to exploit international tensions, often driven by western foreign policy, to suit their own ends, whether that be to incite racism, divide our communities or build the case for cutting our civil liberties. A survey sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust found that 80 per cent of British Muslims had experienced discrimination, up from 45 per cent in the late 1990s. Discrimination against Muslims in Britain is going from bad to worse. Unemployment among Muslims in Britain is 17 per cent, against a national average of 8 per cent, which is higher than the rate for people of any other religion. In addition, more than 1,000 Muslims in the UK have been detained without charge under antiterror laws, but only a handful of those have been convicted of terrorist offences.
Here in Scotland, we also have challenges regarding Islamophobia. Alastair McIntosh, who is a fellow at the Centre for Human Ecology and co-author of studies into racism in Scotland, has said that Islamophobia is also a problem in Scotland. He says:
“Muslims in particular are having a hard time ... and they all seem to get tarred with the same brush. It would be true to say Islamophobia is a problem in this country.”
However, this is an area that we should be looking to take a lead on in UK terms. While recognising that we face big hurdles to get to a place where Muslims are free from worry about receiving threats or suffering prejudice from others, whether that be from other members of the community, in the workplace, from the media or, indeed, from certain politicians, we should be looking to positively combat that by building strong intercommunity bonds. Muslims play a huge role in Scotland and are firmly part of our culture, economy and society. I have to say that the Muslim community in the Western Isles, which is largely Gaelic-speaking, is a fine example and makes a massive contribution to the Highlands and Islands area that I represent.
We must stand as one in the face of all prejudice, and that means standing shoulder to shoulder with Scottish Muslims in what has been a very difficult period in which they have suffered unjust slander and widespread discrimination.
I support Hanzala Malik’s motion, particularly because it is cross-party and is not about attacking the Scottish Government. Let the Parliament—let all of us—support it and deal with the problem that he has cited.
I, too, thank my colleague Hanzala Malik for bringing forward this important debate.
In some ways, we are all proud of the progress that Scotland has made in tackling Islamophobia, racism and prejudice, certainly over the course of my lifetime. However, I suspect that, although many of us would like to take more pride in Scotland’s reputation for tolerance and understanding, we are equally mindful of the harsh day-to-day reality for many Muslims, Sikhs and other ethnic communities in this country. Abuse, name calling, assaults and racist graffiti are, unfortunately, the all-too-common experience for many of our fellow citizens, and an atmosphere of worry, anxiety and fear is the all-too-common result.
Residents of my local authority area, East Renfrewshire, for example, are proud of our good community relations. We are home to a small but long-established Sikh community as well as a more substantial and growing Muslim community. For the most part, we enjoy the benefits of living in a vibrant, multicultural neighbourhood, but we are not blind to our failings.
One of my biggest frustrations in 16 years of serving the local community is the difficulty that we have encountered, which we still face, in building a new mosque to meet the needs of residents. We have the groundbreaking Woodfarm education centre and the more recent facilities in Newton Mearns and the Hurlet, but so far every attempt to agree on a new purpose-built facility has run into the sand.
There are many and varied reasons why each of those separate projects has so far failed to deliver, but in each and every case, there has been at least an element of cultural, ethnic or racial prejudice and hostility. If I feel politically frustrated at having my hopes thwarted, it is not difficult to imagine how a peaceful, law-abiding and hard-working Muslim who lives in East Renfrewshire and is made even in some small way to feel unwanted and unsupported must feel.
The hostility can be far more explicit than that. Three months ago, following strong political backing from the leader of East Renfrewshire Council, Jim Fletcher, we were able to open the first Muslim cemetery in the area to meet the long-standing and growing need of local families. Within a matter of weeks, the sign that indicated the location of the new Muslim burial lairs was covered in racist graffiti.
Such incidents are not just offensive; they are deeply worrying. I am sure that I do not have to convince anyone in the chamber that we have to root out that kind of behaviour. We have a long way to go in doing so both locally and nationally, and I, for one, would like our Parliament and our Government to lead by example. I have no doubt whatsoever that, across party lines, we share the same agenda and the same desire to build a tolerant, compassionate and understanding society, but taking on deep-seated prejudices is challenging. It requires drive and energy. As my colleague Hanzala Malik pointed out, the Government is still consulting on the new framework for race equality in Scotland. It does not send out a strong signal if we have allowed the previous framework to lapse.
I recently met tell mama, which records anti-Muslim bigotry and specifically aims to tackle online hate speech and intolerance. It does not receive any Scottish Government funding, and I am not trying to argue any special case for it, but when I raised that question, the cabinet secretary replied instead that there are currently more than 300 organisations in Scotland that are registered as third-party reporting centres with Police Scotland. On the one hand, I think that we would all find that encouraging, but my worry is that, despite the large number of centres, many people do not have the confidence to report incidents and, when they do, they are not sure that they are followed up. People need the reassurance that their concerns are taken seriously.
I am sure that I do not have to tell the minister that our public sector equality duty includes a general duty to foster good relations in our society. The Scotland-specific duties are the most comprehensive in the UK in terms of the information that is required, but we need to act on that information. Now that the first two-yearly progress reports have been published by all listed public bodies, is this not a good time for the Scottish Government to review whether the equality duties are working in the way that was envisaged? I would welcome the minister’s comments on my request. I assure him that the Government can whole-heartedly rely on Scottish Labour’s support in pushing that issue up the political agenda and in turning our good intentions into firm actions.
I thank my colleague Hanzala Malik once more for bringing forward the debate, and I hope that, across the chamber, we are able to work together to tackle Islamophobia and racism in our society.
I, too, join the chorus of members commending Hanzala Malik for lodging this motion and bringing this debate to the chamber. It gives us once again a chance to stand united—which is when, of course, the chamber is at its best—to say that together we must do everything we can to ensure that Scotland is Islamophobia free and, indeed, free of any prejudice that is based on religious hatred.
All of us here value Scotland’s Muslim, Sikh and other faith communities and the really important role that they all play in making our nation safe, strong and diverse. The Parliament’s record will give solace to anyone who looks at our debates because they are concerned about the leadership of the country that across the parties and our political leadership we are sending out a clear message of zero tolerance against religious prejudice.
The question that has been raised is: what are we doing as individuals, as politicians and as a Government to ensure that the attitudes of tolerance of diversity that we express in the chamber prevail out in the country? We have a collective responsibility to challenge prejudice; any form of racial or religious prejudice, including Islamophobia, must be opposed and called out. Hate crimes not only target all those who share a particular characteristic but embarrass society as a whole.
Everyone has the right to be safe and to feel safe in their communities, and everyone should take responsibility for their actions and how they affect others. As politicians, we have a responsibility to ensure that, when we talk about Islam and issues affecting our Muslim communities, we do so accurately and we are clear in our language and intentions. Across society, all individuals have that same responsibility, as do organisations, not least the media.
It is alarming that, as Mr Malik has noted, we are hearing growing numbers of reports of Islamophobia. International incidents can have a negative impact on our diverse communities and their feelings of security here in Scotland, and we must also guard against stories masquerading as news that perpetuate stereotypes against a collective group, whether that be a religion or any other community. I welcome the participation of all members and political parties in challenging such views. After all, we are all ambassadors.
As the Government of a country containing people from all of these diverse faiths and backgrounds, the Scottish Government has a duty to create as safe a society as it can. It has made great efforts to engage with all communities, including all religious communities. Indeed, I have a list here showing four ministerial engagements over the past year with Sikh communities, including two visits to the gurdwara in Glasgow, and 17 engagements with the larger Islamic community, including visits to places of worship in Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and so on. We value our relationship with the Islamic communities and with the Muslim Council of Scotland.
We are also putting our money where our mouth is. For example, we are investing over £3.1 million in 2015-16 in organisations that are working to tackle racist and religious intolerance.
Of course, a significant investment is the investment in the police service, but there are issues of perception to deal with. That the police take racist incidents lightly is certainly not my understanding—indeed, quite the reverse—and I hope that that is a perception rather than the reality, but will the minister undertake to discuss with his Cabinet colleagues the police’s response to the racist incidents that have been highlighted?
Indeed. I had intended to mention the 300 third-party reporting centres, which are clearly part of an initiative to make it easier to report these kinds of difficulties. In order to maintain people’s confidence, we have to give them the confidence that, if they report such incidents, those reports will be acted on.
I was about to highlight the example of Islam Information Scotland, which has received a grant of £25,000. As a training and resource provider on Islam, it offers individuals and companies that work with or have employees from the Muslim community an insight into Islamic culture, beliefs and practices. It also helps mosques and faith groups to develop their interfaith work. We know from our funding of Interfaith Scotland how important that can be, and that funding, too, has risen quite substantially in 2015-16.
We recognise that there are times when, sadly, raising community awareness of diversity will not be enough. There are incidents in which individuals do not respect difference. I was appalled to hear of what had happened at the Central gurdwara Glasgow. Alex Neil rightly highlighted that the act reflected
“the ignorance of a few individuals”.
Police Scotland implemented its approach for dealing with hate crimes. It followed lines of inquiry, carried out a closed-circuit television check, circulated photos of the vandalism around the community and made a call for evidence. Unfortunately, to date no one has been identified for the crime, but the positive engagement that followed the incident and the fact that its reporting resulted in a very serious response built people’s confidence.
We know that misidentification is a serious issue for the Sikh community, and we are working with the community to address the discrimination that people sadly experience.
We recognise that there is underreporting of Islamophobia, and we urge everyone who has witnessed or experienced hate crime to report the incident to Police Scotland. Some people may not feel able to approach the police directly—that is why it has been so valuable to have the third-party reporting centres, where staff can report incidents on a person’s behalf. The more information we have about the levels of Islamophobia, the more effectively we can target the prejudice behind it and ensure that individual incidents are brought to court.
Our courts have long-standing powers to tackle hate crime.
I certainly back the sentiment that we must get the message out that those avenues are there and that, if people report an incident, it will be investigated and action will be taken.
The Scottish Parliament legislated to ensure that offences that are aggravated by prejudice are directly brought to the attention of the courts. Those offences include the communication of threats of serious violence and threats that are intended to incite religious hatred.
Legislation and Government funding on their own are not enough. Attitudinal change takes time. Schools give us an opportunity to tackle prejudice. We continue to support the national anti-bullying service, respectme, and schools and local authorities have a role to play in this area through curriculum for excellence. I will investigate the article in The Guardian that Sarah Boyack mentioned—that could be an interesting piece of work to look at.
Not everyone is in school, so we need to have broader awareness-raising campaigns. The speak up against hate crime campaign urged people to report incidents to Police Scotland, and the one Scotland campaign used a variety of media to promote the message that Scotland believes in equality. That broad message, which has been taken to all corners of society, must continue to be spread by all of us, because everyone in Scotland should feel free to express their faith or belief openly and freely without fear for their security.
I take the fact that the gurdwara—a new building that will house 1,500 worshippers—is flourishing as a sign of the positivity of Scotland. Mr Malik said of the building of the gurdwara:
“Letters of support have been sent in from a whole host of communities, not just the Sikh community, who are keen to see this go forward.”
That is the kind of Scotland that we all want to live in.
Meeting closed at 18:49.