Category: Equality

Religious Persecution

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for introducing this important and timely debate. Religious persecution has, unfortunately, been a recurring theme in societies throughout history. Historically, people of faith have been targets for persecution and discriminatory practices.

Although the title of this debate refers to the extent of persecution in this century, I will first touch on an event which occurred in the 20th century but which has had a lasting impact. When discussing religious persecution, I must draw upon the horrors of the Holocaust. This was the state-sponsored killing of 6 million people of the Jewish faith. We must not allow anything like this ever to happen again. I fully support the setting up of a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens.

I have previously spoken in your Lordships’ House about the abhorrence of anti-Semitism. The fact that anti-Semitism is still prevalent in many societies is a great cause for concern. It suggests that there remains more work to be done in educating communities about historical injustices that must never be repeated. I was disturbed to learn that the Equality and Human Rights Commission felt it necessary to launch a formal investigation into reports of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Any such behaviour in a political party is totally unacceptable. Something is not quite right in the Labour Party if three Members of your Lordships’ House have recently resigned from it. The party must take remedial action immediately.

In December 2018, I led a debate in your Lordships’ house on Islamophobia in the UK. Shortage of time means that I cannot go into the details here. I simply ask the Minister whether the Government now accept the definition of Islamophobia proposed by the APPG on British Muslims, to ensure that we can make meaningful change for Muslims in the UK. The Balkan wars of the 1990s were driven by nationalism and culminated in the enforced deportation and senseless bloodshed of civilians, and the destruction of religious sites such as the 16th century Ferhadija mosque in Bosnia. This week is the UK’s Srebrenica memorial week, and we should always remember the Srebrenica massacre.

We can draw parallels between past events in the Balkans and the present situation in Myanmar. The Rohingya have been brutally persecuted in Myanmar and driven out of their homes in Rakhine State. The Burmese army has led a pogrom against the Rohingya, and has been accused of raping, torturing and killing citizens while systematically burning Rohingya villages. This has led to the displacement of more than 1 million citizens. The United Nations Human Rights Council has referred to the treatment of the Rohingya as genocide. I would be grateful if the Minister informed your Lordships’ House whether Her Majesty’s Government would support efforts by the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

I have spoken in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere against the persecution of minorities. Most recently, I spoke in a debate in the Moses Room regarding the rights of minorities, in particular of Christians in ?Pakistan. What are we doing to provide assistance to Pakistan to improve the position of minorities in that country? Unfortunately, some people have hateful ideologies and discriminate against anyone who is different from them in any way. The plight of the Uighurs in China has worsened, with estimates of the number who have been detained without trial in so-called vocational and educational training camps varying from several hundred thousand to more than 1 million citizens. What representations have the Government made, alongside international partners, to the Chinese authorities in this regard?

Christians in China have been subjected to harassment and intimidation by the authorities, and there has been interference with where and how they can worship. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro detailed in his recent report the extent of the increased discrimination against the Chinese Christian community, and commented on discrimination against Christians in several other countries. What steps are the Government proposing to take to implement the recommendations made by the right reverend Prelate?

I wholeheartedly support the efforts and investments made by the Government to defend the right to religious freedom. I also welcome the fact that the UN General Assembly has recently adopted a resolution for an international day commemorating the victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief. It is vital that we parliamentarians show leadership, stand in solidarity against all types of faith-based discrimination and adopt a societal philosophy that an attack on one group is an attack on us all.

I end with a famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”. There is a powerful message in this poem.

International Women’s Day

 My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Stowell for securing this timely debate. We are here to pay homage to the achievements of women all over the world, as marked by this annual celebration, as well as to emphasise the progress that needs to be made and the challenges that lie ahead.

Women play a central part in keeping families and communities together. There is a strong link between achieving peace and the sustained development and advancement of gender equality. Earlier this week I spoke in a debate on the plans to mark the centenary of the First World War. This was a key influence in thedevelopment of women’s rights in the United Kingdom as women often replaced the millions of men who had been called up to fight on the front line. During this time, approximately 1.6 million women joined the workforce across government departments and in business administration, and played an invaluable role in our munitions factories.

The past 100 years are full of numerous examples of the contributions to world history made by remarkable women, such as the suffragettes, led by the Pankhurst sisters. In that time we have covered a great deal of ground, particularly in respect of voting rights, the opening up of various professions, opportunities in higher education and positions in businesses. I am heartened by the progress that we have made in increasing the number of female Members of Parliament in recent years, although the House is united in acknowledging that more needs to be done.

Since Nancy Astor took her seat in 1919, we have seen female representation in the House of Commons increase to 22%, which is a significant step forward, but we must move faster. We have a similar situation here in the House of Lords. It is, however, encouraging that the numbers are much healthier among our younger politicians, with women consisting of half of the 28 MPs under the age of 30. It is accepted nonetheless that women are still underrepresented in many aspects of political, corporate and cultural life, and in the media.

I believe that this Government appreciate and understand the challenges that we face. On a visit to Mumbai two weeks ago, the Prime Minister stated that there are not enough women in boardrooms, or indeed around the Cabinet table, and that companies and political parties need to be more proactive in attracting women. We have already seen a number of measures over the past two years that have helped women in various respects. One of the most notable has been the establishment of the Women’s Business Council. This looks to challenge the barriers that women face in playing a fuller part in business and the workplace. As a businessman, I am particularly excited by the potential benefits for economic growth in addition to the further female empowerment that could come from this. As an employer, I have always promoted my staff on merit, irrespective of gender.

Better appreciating and harnessing the skills women have to offer will only accelerate our economic recovery and it is estimated that such action could deliver benefits of between £15 billion and £21 billion per year. The Government should be congratulated on their introduction of flexible parental leave, allowing new mothers to share their maternity leave with their partners and giving them ultimate flexibility over how and when it is taken.

The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day 2013 is ending violence against women. Domestic violence against women often takes place in households where children are present, and in some cases these children are also victims of abuse. There should be an increase in support services for children who have witnessed abuse and for those who are victims of domestic violence. Research suggests that a number of adults who witnessed domestic violence as children are perpetrators of violence against their partners. It isalso thought that the current economic climate could have the effect of increasing acts of domestic violence in households that are struggling to make ends meet. Does the Minister agree that more attention should be given to identifying those who are most vulnerable and dealing with this disturbing trend?

Human trafficking is also an issue that is of great concern to me. I have raised it on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House. I believe that this immoral practice is the equivalent of modern-day slavery. I am proud that the United Kingdom has ratified the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Women tend to be the main targets of the predatory gangs who engage in this immoral trade. What plans do the Government have to ensure that victims of human trafficking are given adequate support to rebuild their lives?

As a former visiting lecturer, I value the importance of education in giving people greater opportunities. Women have historically been deprived of chances to gain access to further education, and this has contributed to further inequality in the workplace. I am pleased to note that there has been a marked rise in the number of young women who are entering higher education in Britain. Last week, I was asked by the high commissioner of Bangladesh to present awards to British Bangladeshi school leavers who had attained very good results, and I was pleased to note that more girls than boys had been given the awards. However, these improvements are not reflected in the poorer parts of the world. It is imperative that we focus on regions and countries that have lacked progress and do all we can to educate and empower women in these places.

I care about the well-being of women, and I have spoken in your Lordships’ House on issues relating to female genital mutilation and forced marriages. Eighty per cent of cases of forced marriage involve girls. The Government have taken some positive steps on these issues, but it is important that we continue to address them through education and by encouraging the involvement of leaders and members of the communities in which these practices are taking place.

We are also very concerned about the use of rape as a weapon of war, which was debated in your Lordships’ House yesterday. I spoke then, and I shall reiterate a point that I made then. I am pleased that this Government have formed a UK team of 73 experts dedicated to combating and preventing sexual violence in armed conflict.

We should continue to lead by example, encouraging other countries to embrace the empowerment of women in the way that we have and inspiring our women, and indeed men, to continue extending and celebrating the reach and impact women can make in every facet of our lives.

Promoting Equality, Diversity & Community Cohesion

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at your AGM tonight. Your group’s aims are ones that I fully support, and your work is invaluable to our local communities. It is essential that Government, the community and organisations work together to eliminate discrimination and create a cohesive and equal society.

It is on these issues which I wish to speak tonight, on society’s role in promoting equality, diversity and community cohesion with special relevance to the Muslim community and I will also speak on some international issues.

Firstly, I would like to talk a little about my own life. I was born in Kenya and raised in Uganda. My family was expelled from there in 1972 and we came to the United Kingdom.   My formulative years were spent in a multi-faith and multi-cultural environment and I do promote this.   I am a practising Muslim and my faith is very dear to my heart.

I have studied and worked hard and I feel I have been successful in my profession. When my family came to the UK we were penniless. We were given refuge here, and flourished. I started with my company as an employee and today I am its Chairman and Chief Executive.

I was elected President of the Chartered Insurance Institute and Chairman of the British Insurance Brokers Association and I have held high positions in several other organisations.  I and my company have been presented with a number of awards.   I am mentioning this as I have always believed that I needed to became part of the establishment and also aim to achieve some success.

I became actively involved in politics in 2003, and formed the Conservative Muslim Forum in January 2005 and I was also asked to chair The Ethnic Diversity Council of the Conservative Party. We aim to increase involvement in politics of the ethnic minorities and also look at issues that affect the communities.

I was appointed a Peer by the Conservative Party in 2006 and I have been very active in the House of Lords and have spoken on a variety of debates.

I always say that the ethnic minorities must join a political party of their choice, whatever it may be and we should have more parliamentary and council candidates from the ethnic minorities.

The ethnic minorities represent over 8% of the British population and there should be relative numbers in the Houses of Parliament and in the Local Councils.

Britain is a land of opportunity. This country provided me with the environment and circumstances where my hard work and initiative paid off.

However, not everyone is as driven as I was, nor has the support from their families that I did.  We need to look hard at how we – all of us – can work together to open up opportunities to young people of ethnic minorities so that they may each be the change which they wish to see in this world.

I have always believed that the best way to be successful is to be part of the community and part of the establishment.   I have already referred that I have personally done this.   This land of opportunity, with its freedom of worship and speech is one to be treasured.

There are nearly 2 million Muslims in the UK, representing about 3% of the population. There are thousands of Muslims who are multi-millionaires, and a significant number of businesses are owned by Muslims.

A significant number of persons from the ethnic minorities are successful in their respective fields and we need to be better at projecting their achievements to our young people. We need to look at people such as Commodore Amjad Hussain, who was recently appointed to the rank of Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy – the most senior Muslim in the service. Monty Penasar attracts our young people to cricket, and Lakshmi Mittal makes them wonder at the possibilities of being a success in the business world.

There are several organisation which give awards to Muslims and other members of the Ethnic Minority Communities for outstanding successes in different walks of life.   These persons are role models who others need to emulate.   I would like to particularly mention the awards given by Muslim News Publication which were are made at a grand dinner held at the Grosvenor House Hotel annually.   This year I was asked to be Co-Chairman of the panel of judges.

Muslims have made huge contributions to the well-being of this country. Unfortunately they are not always given the same start in life as other people in the United Kingdom.

A number of Muslims live in deprived areas and their children historically under-achieve in schools. Unemployment amongst Muslims is high and the level of home ownership is low.

All of us – Government, local authorities, groups such as yours, business, and the media need to find a way to encourage young people to be an active part of the society which they live in. Be it through the cheerleading of role-models, or through community involvement, this initiative is paramount.

Muslims first came to Britain when it was an industrial nation, settling in the heartlands and urban areas. Now that Britain has transformed itself into a modern service economy, many young Muslims of the second and third generation struggle to compete in the job market.

Education is the silver bullet. Study after study proves that if you are well educated you are more likely to contribute to society in a meaningful way. We need to encourage education to stop the slide of impressionable young people, who are disillusioned by the few opportunities open to them.

We need to look seriously at education. We need to look at social justice. We need to look at health care. Our communities have a duty to help piece together Britain’s broken society.

Many young Muslims face an identity crisis. Most regard themselves as British, but struggle to bridge the gap between the older generation and the wider British public.  There is also a problem relating to some Imams who are brought here with not adequate knowledge of the English language and British culture.

The Muslim community must accept that there are problems in their midst, and take positive steps to tackle the issues. Local community associations must tend to the younger generations who feel distanced from the activities of the mosques.

Sermons must be in English, and not in the language of another country. We must offer encouragement and resources to the Imams, and mosques should actively engage with the younger community.

Proposals need to be thought out, and communities consulted before any action is taken. This inclusive approach will help to stop mistakes from happening and not alienate the more vulnerable members of our communities who it is important we reach out to.

We cannot rely solely on the Government to tackle these problems. Policing and legislation is one ointment we can apply to this pain, but surely the best method is to take a holistic solution in combating crime and extremism?

This holistic approach requires that the local authorities, communities, Government and police work together to find solutions. In this spirit of solidarity we can ensure that the tack taken is the balanced, correct one. It is essential that we learn from the mistakes of the past.

The Muslim community is rightly worried about the words used in the media by figures from the police and politics to describe terrorists.

To describe a terrorist as a ‘Muslim terrorist’ or ‘Islamic terrorist’ is simply wrong. We did not refer to the IRA as ‘Catholic terrorists’ and so we should not do the same for those who follow a distorted belief that bares no relation to the Islam which I and many others follow.   Any act of terrorism is a criminal activity and the perpetrator should be referred to as a criminal with no religious reference.

Islam is a religion of peace. It entirely forbids any act of extremism. It forbids terrorism. Extremists have sought to link their evil ideology to a religion that teaches its followers to be merciful to mankind.

Even the term used by terrorists to describe justify their actions is a distortion of true Islam. Jihad is an Arabic word which means to try one’s utmost. It means that a Muslim must control his desires and carry out good deeds. It also refers to taking action to remove evil in one’s life and society – in other words doing good and preventing evil deeds.

The media needs to show restraint in the choice of words they use when describing the Muslim community.

We are rightly proud of our free press in Britain. We applaud its freedom, which is a key part of our democracy. However, we need to exercise this freedom with care and responsibility. The press must be mindful of the beliefs of all the communities in this country.

The media also needs to be careful to give a balanced view of the Muslim community in the United Kingdom. Too often it seems that it reports widely the problems caused by the minority, but does not give enough coverage to the good deeds done.  It is important to highlight their successes and these persons must be projected as role models.

We must remember that what happens overseas has a profound effect on our local communities.  I would now like to discuss several international issues.

As we have seen in the significant turn-out at the anti-war marches before we sent troops into Iraq, our communities were profoundly affected by our military involvement in the Gulf.

We invaded Iraq as the USA’s junior partner. Our Government told us that there was a serious threat from the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein held, and that to invade would be to liberate a welcoming populace.

We know now that the intelligence was wrong.

We liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s grip, but it is clear that America had no plan for how to run the country after his fall. The Muslim lives lost, the squalor and poverty that Iraqis now find themselves in, is awful.

It is right that we accept our share of the responsibility for the situation that Iraq is now in. I believe that the British troops, informed by years working in Northern Ireland, have been effective in Basra. I welcome the recent decision to pull back, and to allow Iraqis stand on their own two feet in the province.

However, we cannot forget the pain and suffering caused by our support of this war. We cannot forget how this has affected our communities at home.

Britain’s tacit support of the Israeli action in Lebanon has alienated further our communities at home. Israel’s action was neither fair nor proportionate. In destroying Lebanon and its infrastructure, Israel went too far. Nearly a million people were displaced and hundreds of civilians, men, women and children, were killed.

We need to ask ourselves what affect these actions have in radicalising impressionable young Muslims. We need to ask ourselves if our country’s support for Iraq and for Israel’s actions in Lebanon is driving some persons to take extreme action.

If we believe that this is the case, then we need to let the Government know.

It is now widely recognised that Israel’s retaliation was disproportionate. We should not be afraid to disagree with Israel, and we should not be slavish to America.

The US and Britain are close friends. From before the Second World War we have worked together as friends, redefining the world through the shared vision of many great leaders. Churchill and Roosevelt led the world in fighting the tides of injustice and oppression during the Second World War, whist Thatcher and Reagan rolled down the walls of communism in the 80s.

Personally I agree that Israel has a right to exist, and to protect her country and people. It is my belief that the only solution to the Israel / Palestine crisis is a properly enacted two state solution. Our Government should use its position as a friend of America and a member of the EU in pushing for this.

Our Government, on all levels, should support inter-faith dialogue. There is far more that unites us than divides us.

Our actions in Iraq have undoubtedly increased the threat of terrorism at home. If our Government, if all of us, work towards community cohesion for people of all ethnic and religious groups, there will be nowhere for terror cells to hide. It seems simple to say this, but yet not enough is being done.

In the case of Iran and North Korea, it is right that we use dialogue as our weapon. We need to show these countries a united front. Our single largest mistake in invading Iraq was to not have a UN mandate in regard to Afghanistan we should push for more involvement by the EU countries.  At the moment there is considerable burden on us and we must also appreciate that our forces and resources are over stretched.

Our actions abroad ripple home and affect our local communities. The ill-chosen words sometimes spoken by politicians and the media are noticed. Progress is too slow in reaching out and integrating our communities.   Isolation breeds extremism.

Everything is connected in our modern world. The reason that groups such as yours are invaluable is that you help to fill the gaps that appear. If those that are weary have an advocate they integrate far better, and far faster. But there is more to be done.

I believe that the best way to change society is to become part of it. This is why I formed the Conservative Muslim Forum and chair The Ethnic Diversity Council of the Conservative Party.   I encourage everyone I meet to execute their hard won right to vote and join a political party of their choice.

Islam has much to teach us about peace, and of using the opportunities which are given to us. I would like to speak for longer, and touch on other issues, but instead I shall leave you with a quote from the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, who said:

“The world is beautiful and green, and verily God, be he exalted, has made you His custodians over it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves”.

It is our responsibility to look after this world, and each other. We must put aside our differences and work together.

Thank you very much for giving me the honour of speaking to you tonight.