Category: Speeches

Prevent Strategy

Lord Sheikh to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for the review of the Prevent strategy.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her reply. I am pleased that Her Majesty’s Government have agreed to undertake an independent review of the Prevent strategy; this has been very well received in the Muslim community. Will the review have sufficiently broad terms of reference, including community engagement, public consultation and full government disclosure? To what extent will Her Majesty’s Government commit to the recommendations in the review when it is completed?

Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill

My Lords, I will talk about the Prevent strategy in greater detail when we discuss Amendment 57. At this stage, I would like to say that there is disquiet among Muslims regarding the application of the Prevent strategy and it is felt that a review is necessary.

The Home Office should gather and publish figures to see whether the strategy is disproportionately affecting any particular ethnic group or religion. I understand ?that the Government publish data on the age, gender and region of residence of those referred under the Prevent programme, together with the type of concerns raised. It is important that there is complete transparency and people are given all the appropriate information, including details regarding ethnicity and religion. This will enable us not only to have a complete understanding of all the issues but to take appropriate remedial action. As regards Muslims, we need to involve members and leaders of the community, the mosques, the imams, Muslim centres and the media. We can then make arrangements for all the people to get involved and provide the necessary guidance and support.

Islam is indeed a religion of peace and forbids any form of suicidal act or terrorism. We need to explain to people who are misled about the true principles of Islam, once we have examined the total extent of the problem. I therefore support the amendment.

My Lords, I want to make some comments relating to the Muslim community in the United Kingdom. There are more than 3 million Muslims in the country, who have come here from different parts of the world. The population is youthful in comparison with other communities. Muslims have done well in every walk of life and contributed to the advancement and well-being of the country. Nearly all of them are law-abiding people, but unfortunately a tiny minority has caused problems. They have been radicalised and committed terrorist acts.

What those misguided persons are doing and have done is totally un-Islamic. They have misunderstood our glorious religion and what they have done is not in accordance with Islamic principles. In the Holy Koran it is written: “Whoever kills an innocent person it is though he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a life it is as though he has saved all mankind”. It is therefore imperative that we guide such people and tell them about the true principles of Islam. The Muslim community has a role to play in this regard, and I shall expand on this point later.

I have been actively involved in combating radicalisation among the community. In this regard, I prepared a report setting out the various problems and suggesting my recommendations. It was sent to the Prime Minister and a number of Muslim centres and mosques. In addition, I have had numerous meetings and conversations with members and leaders of the community, imams, teachers, parents and the media.?

I want to emphasise that I support the Prevent strategy in principle but it is necessary for a review to be undertaken. I therefore support the amendment. To deal with issues concerning radicalisation, we need input and participation from local authorities, the police, schools, prisons and members of the community at all levels. I am trying to raise awareness that the onus is on the Muslim community to be honest and to realise that there are problems among a tiny minority and that it is therefore necessary to take positive action to remedy the issues. This means that a holistic approach must be taken by the community in conjunction with others. The involvement of the community is imperative. We must secure its co-operation to make the Prevent strategy work without problems.

I have travelled to various parts of the country and talked to leaders of mosques, imams, heads of community centres and members of the communities. The Prevent strategy has caused concerns and raised objections. Some critics of the strategy have said that there is racial profiling, excessive spying and the removal of basic civil liberties from innocent individuals.

It has also been mentioned to me that Prevent is perhaps a toxic brand. Not everyone in the community is convinced that the strategy is right, and the concept is difficult to sell to them. It has also been said that only self-appointed community leaders have been involved rather than members of groups which represent the community. The community therefore feels that it needs to be a part of the strategy in whatever form it may be constructed.

I said earlier that Islam is a religion of peace and that any form of terrorism is unacceptable in it. It is therefore imperative that Muslim leaders and imams guide people who may have been misled and are confused about Islamic values. The community therefore has a role to play.

At one of its annual conferences, the National Union of Teachers asked the Government to withdraw the Prevent strategy with regard to schools and colleges and to develop an alternative scheme to safeguard children and identify risks posed to young people. Teachers have said that the strategy causes, “suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom”.

It has also been mentioned that Prevent is affecting education and undermining trust between teachers and pupils. It appears that about 65% of a total of some 5,000 Prevent referrals are Muslims. Muslims have a one-in-500 chance of being referred, hence the chances are 40 times greater than for someone who is not a Muslim. Furthermore, a very small number of referrals are acted on. These figures indicate that there is perhaps over-referral of Muslims, which needs to be looked into thoroughly. I have been made aware of some unpleasant incidents in schools where it was proven that Muslim children had been picked on for no good reason. This has led to anguish and anger. School authorities may have acted in good faith, but their actions were wrong. It appears that the total cost of the Prevent strategy is more than £40 million. One needs to examine whether the money is spent effectively and we are getting proper value for our expenditure. The amount spent ?may be excessive and perhaps lucrative for some people. Furthermore, it is important that we apply suitable criteria before an organisation receives a contract for undertaking the work. We should ensure that proper checks and balances are applied to organisations granted contracts. My Lords, I will talk about the Prevent strategy in greater detail when we discuss Amendment 57. At this stage, I would like to say that there is disquiet among Muslims regarding the application of the Prevent strategy and it is felt that a review is necessary.

It appears that the total cost of the Prevent strategy is more than £40 million. One needs to examine whether the money is spent effectively and we are getting proper value for our expenditure. The amount spent ?may be excessive and perhaps lucrative for some people. Furthermore, it is important that we apply suitable criteria before an organisation receives a contract for undertaking the work. We should ensure that proper checks and balances are applied to organisations granted contracts.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

I have been listening with great care to what the noble Lord has said—he obviously has great knowledge. Can he give the Committee some examples, first, of Prevent projects which have given rise specifically to the kinds of mistrust and poor reputation that he has referred to; and, secondly, of Prevent projects which have been, as he describes them, a waste of money?

Lord Sheikh

These comments have been made to me in general. What I am trying to say to your Lordships’ House is what I have been told. When I go up and down the country and talk to people, I find disquiet and unhappiness about the strategy, so I feel that we need to undertake a review of it.

There is to some extent a lack of transparency about the strategy which has led to mistrust and is affecting its effectiveness.

I have identified a number of issues which are relevant and believe that there are good reasons for an independent review to be undertaken. The review must be a thorough examination and it must be undertaken after discussions with everyone involved, including relevant organisations and members of the community. The review must arrive at a conclusion which I hope will have the agreement of everyone, as much as possible. I end by emphasising, as I said at the outset, that I agree with the strategy in principle but it needs to be reviewed and an alternative must be found after appropriate consultation and discussion.

Link to Full Debate on Hansard

Sri Lanka

My Lords, I thank my noble friend, Lord Naseby, for this timely debate regarding Sri Lanka and Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1.?

I have visited Sri Lanka on three occasions. I have travelled to various parts of the country and met Sri Lanka’s leadership and other senior figures. My travels to and around Sri Lanka also allowed me to see first-hand the situation on the ground. Sri Lanka suffered a 26 year-long civil war that produced a great deal of suffering. The conflict ended 10 years ago and Sri Lankans are well on their way to reconcile, rebuild and reform.

During my visits to Sri Lanka I visited the Northern and Eastern provinces, where some of the land was occupied by the security services. The Tamil politicians were against the Government. I visited the Menik Farm camp for displaced Tamils. While much of the propaganda at the time was that they were confined to the camps, I observed that even at that time the displaced persons could come and go as they wished, and in fact I spoke to some of them. It is important that the displaced persons should be settled and rehabilitated. During my discussions with various Sri Lankans, I was made aware that there was a great deal of concern about missing persons.

I went to Kilinochchi, where demining was being undertaken by the HALO Trust, and I noted that it was indeed a very slow process. In Jaffna, I talked to ex-combatants who were being trained by the Government to obtain skills. Even today I closely follow the developments in Sri Lanka, and I cannot help noting the tremendous progress that the country has made to tackle burning issues, especially over the last three years.

I shall outline some of the key achievements of the country since then. The UK has now become the sponsor of the resolutions, which makes it imperative for us to take stock of those developments. The Sri Lankan Government have now declared that the country will be free of landmines by 2020, and Sri Lanka is part of the landmine ban convention signed in Ottawa in September 1997, which was supported by the UK as well. Over 880,000 displaced persons have been resettled since the end of the conflict in 2009. Sri Lankan security forces have returned 90% of the state and private land they had been occupying and the remaining figure is less than 10%. Over 12,000 ex-combatants, including around 600 child soldiers, have been rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, with some pursuing higher studies or other vocations.

As I said earlier, I have spoken to some of the ex-combatants. Sri Lanka has now taken ownership of mechanisms created under the four pillars of transitional justice: truth, reconciliation, accountability and guarantees of non-recurrence. This includes the Office on Missing Persons, which has been set up and is now functioning well. It is due to open 12 regional offices. Sri Lanka has also ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances and, incidentally, the country is now party to all nine core United Nations human rights instruments.

Another mechanism of transitional justice is the Office for Reparations, established and passed in Parliament on 10 October 2018. Today, the commissioners are in the course of being appointed. The draft framework for a truth and reconciliation commission has been submitted to the Cabinet Ministers by the Prime Minister.?

An area for reform which has had national and international attention is the review and repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This will be replaced by the counter terrorism Act, which is in line with human rights standards. A Bill was presented in Parliament last year, after which it was challenged by some parties in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the country has proposed some amendments which are now being considered at the committee stage in Parliament.

The Government have also become party to the optional protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which shows that they are taking allegations of torture very seriously and remain committed to carrying out investigations and prosecuting perpetrators. Sri Lanka has also retained a moratorium on the death penalty since 1976; I very much appreciate this action, as I am totally against the use of the death penalty.

These are some of the steps Sri Lanka has undertaken to engage fully with UN conventions on human rights. Sri Lanka respects the UN’s systems and processes, has transparent processes and legislation regarding human rights and welcomes UN investigations into compliance. Furthermore, there is reconciliation between political parties where moderate Tamil parties play a significant role in democracy and government. As I mentioned earlier, the Tamil politicians were previously totally against the Government. I also add that, during the recent constitutional problems, the Tamil National Alliance played a key role and supported the democratic institutions in the country.

After 10 years of conflict, I feel it is fair to say that Sri Lanka is now graduating to upper middle income status. It is a recipient of the GSP+ tariff concessions of the European Union, which are based on adherence to core UN conventions on human rights, labour rights and the environment. Lonely Planet has termed Sri Lanka the best destination to visit for 2019, and I hope to visit as soon as I can. With the upcoming Port City on its western coast, it is fast becoming a hub in the Indian Ocean. It will bring more trade to the country and wealth and prosperity to all Sri Lankans.

Last October, I had the pleasure of receiving a personal briefing on Sri Lanka’s development plans from the Minister in charge, Mr Ranawaka. I have developed a good relationship with the Sri Lankan High Commission here in London and I would like to make a personal comment on Sri Lanka’s spirit for reconciliation between the communities. Throughout the year, the high commission holds different functions to celebrate religious holidays. Last year, I attended and spoke at the Christmas celebration held at the high commission. Even though Christians are a minority in Sri Lanka, making up 8% of the population, Christmas is celebrated in the country and at the high commission in London. It was significant that the diaspora attended the function at the Sri Lanka High Commission; it was a good example of promoting reconciliation, with the Sinhalese and Tamil chaplains of the Catholic Church in attendance.

Finally, I ask the Minister whether the Government appreciate the important progress Sri Lanka has made. What is being done to help Sri Lanka and what more can be done? I also ask whether there is any point in the resolutions being continued. Can there now be closure??

Link to Full Debate on Hansard

Offensive Weapons Bill

My Lords, I begin by saying that I agree with Amendment 70. The amendment seeks to protect the tradition of the kirpan and those who possess it. It permits individuals to possess the kirpan for, “religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons”.

There is disquiet among those in the Sikh community, who feel that their right to possess a kirpan is being threatened, and they need assurances to be able to do so. There needs to be a comprehensive solution which is acceptable to the Sikh community.

I was born and brought up in east Africa, where there were people of different religions and racial backgrounds. I learned to speak several languages and developed an understanding and respect for all religions. I am actively involved in promoting harmony and peace between various racial and religious groups. Although I am a Muslim, I am a patron of non-Muslim associations, including the Sikh Forum and the British Sikh Association. I am also the chairman of Guru Nanak Worldwide, which promotes the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh religion.

I have a strong connection with the Sikhs and have visited their temples, which are called gurdwaras, on numerous occasions. I have studied Sikhism and have written a book on the life and times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In this book, I have included some principles of the Sikh religion and also mentioned the teachings of the 10 Sikh gurus. The 10th and last human guru was Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who transformed the Sikh faith. In 1699, he created the Khalsa, a community of the faithful who wore visible symbols of his faith and trained as warriors. Today, the Khalsa community comprises a significant proportion of the Sikh community. As has been mentioned, Guru Gobind Singh Ji also proclaimed five kakars, which were kacha, karha, kesh, kanga and kirpan.

Sikhs are proud of the five Ks and therefore comply with what has been proclaimed. The kirpan represents the values of the Sikh faith and is an essential article of faith for the Khalsa Sikhs. The kirpan is curved, contained in a sheath. It is often made of steel or iron and can be of varying sizes. It is normally worn in a strap, which is called a gatra. In the Sikh community, the kirpan is used for ceremonial and cultural practices such as during weddings and processions. It is also used in martial arts and can be given as a gift. In fact, I was presented with a kirpan in Amritsar when I visited the Golden Temple. My family’s connection with Amritsar goes back nearly 200 years, so I was privileged to be presented with a kirpan, among other items, in the Golden Temple.?

The UK as a whole has a long history with the Sikhs, stemming from colonial India and the World Wars. We recently celebrated the centenary of the Armistice ending the First World War, and I have spoken in your Lordships’ House on the contribution of the soldiers from the sub-continent of India. India raised an army of over 1 million soldiers, 20% of whom were Sikhs. We owe gratitude to the Sikhs for the sacrifices they have made to preserve our way of life. This amendment is an opportunity to provide a specific defence for those who possess—I emphasise “possess”, as they do not necessarily wear it—the kirpan.

I cannot recall any occasion where a Sikh possessing the kirpan has used it as an offensive weapon and caused physical harm to anyone. This afternoon, in fact, I spoke to an ex-commander of the Metropolitan Police who verified what I say; it has not been used as an offensive weapon by the Sikhs. I therefore feel that a kirpan should not be deemed an offensive weapon and provision must be made for that in this legislation. As has been mentioned, the Sikhs are law-abiding people. The kirpan needs to be exempted from the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

I have had representations from various Sikhs in the past few days—not members of the association but ordinary Sikhs—asking me to speak on this subject. They feel very strongly about it. What is being asked for is reasonable. As I said, there is great disquiet among Sikhs that this is happening. I therefore suggest to my noble friend that she enter dialogue and not close the door. That would be greatly appreciated by the community—I do not necessarily mean the association; the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has already alluded to that. Let us have a discussion with the community to see whether an amicable settlement can be reached that is acceptable to it. I speak as a Muslim and not as a Sikh.

Baroness Barran

I hear the concerns of several noble Lords. I reassure them again that we will enter the conversation with a very open mind.

Link to Full Debate on Hansard

Offensive Weapons Bill

My Lords, I begin by saying that I agree with Amendment 70. The amendment seeks to protect the tradition of the kirpan and those who possess it. It permits individuals to possess the kirpan for, “religious, ceremonial, sporting or historical reasons”. There is disquiet among those in the Sikh community, who feel that their right to possess a kirpan is being threatened, and they need assurances to be able to do so. There needs to be a comprehensive solution which is acceptable to the Sikh community.

I was born and brought up in east Africa, where there were people of different religions and racial backgrounds. I learned to speak several languages and developed an understanding and respect for all religions. I am actively involved in promoting harmony and peace between various racial and religious groups. Although I am a Muslim, I am a patron of non-Muslim associations, including the Sikh Forum and the British Sikh Association. I am also the chairman of Guru Nanak Worldwide, which promotes the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh religion.

I have a strong connection with the Sikhs and have visited their temples, which are called gurdwaras, on numerous occasions. I have studied Sikhism and have written a book on the life and times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. In this book, I have included some principles of the Sikh religion and also mentioned the teachings of the 10 Sikh gurus. The 10th and last human guru was Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who transformed the Sikh faith. In 1699, he created the Khalsa, a community of the faithful who wore visible symbols of his faith and trained as warriors. Today, the Khalsa community comprises a significant proportion of the Sikh community. As has been mentioned, Guru Gobind Singh Ji also proclaimed five kakars, which were kacha, karha, kesh, kanga and kirpan.

Sikhs are proud of the five Ks and therefore comply with what has been proclaimed. The kirpan represents the values of the Sikh faith and is an essential article of faith for the Khalsa Sikhs. The kirpan is curved, contained in a sheath. It is often made of steel or iron and can be of varying sizes. It is normally worn in a strap, which is called a gatra. In the Sikh community, the kirpan is used for ceremonial and cultural practices such as during weddings and processions. It is also used in martial arts and can be given as a gift. In fact, I was presented with a kirpan in Amritsar when I visited the Golden Temple. My family’s connection with Amritsar goes back nearly 200 years, so I was privileged to be presented with a kirpan, among other items, in the Golden Temple.

? The UK as a whole has a long history with the Sikhs, stemming from colonial India and the World Wars. We recently celebrated the centenary of the Armistice ending the First World War, and I have spoken in your Lordships’ House on the contribution of the soldiers from the sub-continent of India. India raised an army of over 1 million soldiers, 20% of whom were Sikhs. We owe gratitude to the Sikhs for the sacrifices they have made to preserve our way of life. This amendment is an opportunity to provide a specific defence for those who possess—I emphasise “possess”, as they do not necessarily wear it—the kirpan.?

I cannot recall any occasion where a Sikh possessing the kirpan has used it as an offensive weapon and caused physical harm to anyone. This afternoon, in fact, I spoke to an ex-commander of the Metropolitan Police who verified what I say; it has not been used as an offensive weapon by the Sikhs. I therefore feel that a kirpan should not be deemed an offensive weapon and provision must be made for that in this legislation. As has been mentioned, the Sikhs are law-abiding people. The kirpan needs to be exempted from the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.

Lord Sheikh in response to Baroness Barran: I have had representations from various Sikhs in the past few days—not members of the association but ordinary Sikhs—asking me to speak on this subject. They feel very strongly about it. What is being asked for is reasonable. As I said, there is great disquiet among Sikhs that this is happening. I therefore suggest to my noble friend that she enter dialogue and not close the door. That would be greatly appreciated by the community—I do not necessarily mean the association; the noble Lord, Lord Singh, has already alluded to that. Let us have a discussion with the community to see whether an amicable settlement can be reached that is acceptable to it. I speak as a Muslim and not as a Sikh.

Islamophobia

My Lords, I am very glad that we are having this timely discussion on Islamophobia today. I am also very pleased that recently there was a debate in your Lordships’ House relating to anti-Semitism. I am totally against anti-Semitism and feel that we should all get together and combat it in every way we can. Unfortunately, xenophobia has to some extent crept into different walks of life in this country and certain people behave very badly towards minorities. Whether it is deliberate or based on misunderstandings, we must all make an effort to combat this trend.

I am proud to live in a country where there are numerous communities, and all races and religions are tolerated and in fact accepted. Xenophobic attacks are increasing in regularity, and some people feel it is fair game to engage in nastiness towards people who are different from them. I believe there are more similarities than differences between people, and I am very keen on promoting harmony between all communities. I might add that I am a patron of Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that work towards achieving that goal. That is the reason why I have tabled this debate today.

Furthermore, I have submitted an application to the House of Lords Liaison Committee asking for a special inquiry to be undertaken on the subject of Islamophobia. I hope that my application is successful, as Islamophobia needs an in-depth study. A poll by ComRes in October found that 58% of people agreed with the statement: “Islamophobia is a real problem in today’s society”. It is crucial that we combat all forms of Islamophobia, from subtle and institutional Islamophobia to discrimination and hate crime.

Discrimination in the workplace creates economic insecurity. Muslim women, for instance, are 85% less likely to be offered a job if they wear a veil. Muslim women face further prejudice, which was seen in August where women wearing the burqa or niqab were compared to letterboxes and bank robbers by a prominent politician. I spoke against those unsavoury remarks, but unfortunately I was subjected to hate mail and harassment. We parliamentarians should not create divisions by using inflammatory language. Instead we should encourage the discussion of contentious topics in a considered and inoffensive way. Does my noble friend the Minister agree? Furthermore, does he agree that discriminatory remarks should not be used as a platform to gain political advantage?

Unfortunately, I feel that elements of Islamophobia have crept into the political parties. I have written and spoken about this issue, and have gone public regarding the problem. I feel that political parties must hold an inquiry to establish if there is such an issue and the extent of the problem. The parties can then look into any remedial action that needs to be taken. Does the Minister have any view regarding that?

The Home Office recently published figures that reveal that 52% of reported hate crime victims overall were Muslim. In fact, last month I hosted an event for Tell MAMA due to the increase in hate-crimes. Hate crimes include physical assault, verbal abuse and incitement to hatred. Between January and June 2018, Tell MAMA recorded 608 reports that were verified as ?being anti-Muslim or Islamophobic in nature. Two-thirds of those verified incidents occurred on the streets, with the majority being towards Muslim women, with one-third being online. The level of hate crime is of great concern to me, and these figures are just the tip of the iceberg, as many incidents go unreported. The actual numbers are much higher and on the increase.

It has also been noted that Islamophobia is an issue for people of other religions and ethnicities. For example, Sikhs have been subjected to hate crimes on the basis that they were perceived to be Muslims. This is totally wrong and we must get together to combat hate crime.

Does the Minister feel that the police are doing enough to combat hate crime and can anything else be done? Can the police be provided with extra resources to deal with the problem? Institutional Islamophobia also has a great impact on the lives of British Muslims. For instance, I believe that the media must seek to become more balanced in its coverage, basing reporting around facts rather than predetermined narratives.

I strongly believe in upholding freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but these must be exercised with a great deal of care and responsibility. The news media has become increasingly fixated by attention-grabbing, often outrageous headlines at the expense of accurate reporting. There is an association of Islam with crime and terror, which serves only to spread and normalise Islamophobia. Crimes are committed by people of all religions and races.

We must remember and respect the positive aspects of British Muslims in this country. There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom who have come here from different parts of the world. Muslims have done well in every walk of life and contribute significantly to the advancement and well-being of the country.

I add that Muslim charities undertake good work in various parts of the world and provide aid to Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Muslims provide support to people of all races, colour and religion all over the world. In July, I referred in your Lordships’ House to the fact that British Muslims gave more than £100 million to charity during the month of Ramadan last year. This figure equates to £38 a second. In his reply, my noble friend Lord Bates referred to the generosity of British Muslims and queried why there was an absence of media coverage of such charitable acts. I am most grateful to him, as he made a valid point.

Furthermore, I recently hosted an event to discuss the contribution of Muslims to the First World War, and spoke in your Lordships’ House on the matter. That significant role is not widely acknowledged and has been historically undervalued. In fact, at least 2.5 million Muslim soldiers and labourers from all over the world fought in the allied forces with dignity and honour. In this respect, I have written a letter to the Minister asking whether the Government would consider putting up a memorial to them. Has he had time to consider my request?

The contribution of Muslims to society must be appreciated, as it sets out the philosophy of Muslims and of Islam itself. Having said that, I realise that Muslims are going through a critical phase and that ?there are problems associated with some sections of the community. A tiny minority of people practise and promote ideas which are totally un-Islamic. They have misunderstood our glorious religion, and what they do and have done is not in accordance with Islamic principles. It is wrong to condemn the entire community for the actions of a misguided minority. I add that terrorism radicalisation needs a holistic approach and should involve contributions from many, including local authorities, the police, schools, prisons and members of the Muslim community itself. I emphasise that the Muslim community has an important role in combating radicalisation, but the community needs to be fully consulted. Does the Minister agree with the point I am making?

Sometimes, problems arise because of a misunder- standing of Islamic principles, so we should all work together to alleviate these misunderstandings. However, an issue that has to some extent impacted dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims is the rise of populism and the existence of extreme right-wing groups, some of which have promoted negative perceptions of Muslims. The rise of populism in some parts of Europe also worries me. Earlier this year, a “Punish a Muslim Day” letter threatened violence against Muslim MPs, mosques and ordinary Muslims, and I am pleased that this was condemned by right-thinking people. Muslims can be seen as un-British by extreme far-right groups, yet in 2016, it was established that 93% of British Muslims felt that they belonged to Britain.

It is true that the United Kingdom has fared better than other countries in terms of resilience against far-right groups, which has lessened their impact. In fact, we can celebrate that we have now had Muslim Cabinet members, a Muslim is mayor of our capital city, and we hold positions both in national and local politics. However, we cannot forget the impact of Islamophobia in this country. Indeed, 70% of British Muslims in 2018 reported that they had faced religious-based discrimination and prejudice. I am sure that your Lordships are aware of the recent incident of a Muslim refugee boy being physically abused and bullied at school. I add that the British people abhorred this abuse and raised a fund for the family. This reaction by the people must be appreciated.

It is imperative that we create a definition of Islamophobia to make a meaningful change. The APPG on British Muslims recently launched a definition of Islamophobia, drawing inspiration from the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. This definition reads: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

I believe the definition is clear and lucid. It was developed over six months, with input from a wide range of sources, academics, parliamentarians, community- based organisations, and government-supported and funded NGOs. It has also received a great deal of support across the community. In fact, it has been supported by over 750 British Muslim organisations, 80 academics from different background and over 60 cross-party parliamentarians. Will the Minister consider the acceptance of this definition and schedule a meeting where we can discuss the way forward?

Finally, I thank all noble Lords in advance for taking part in this important and topical debate.?

Lord Sheikh

My Lords, I again ask my noble friend whether he has any views regarding the erection of a memorial to commemorate the work done by Muslim soldiers and labourers.

Lord Bourne

apologise to my noble friend for not picking that up earlier. The first I heard about the letter was when he mentioned it. I will go back to the department, find out what has happened to the letter, take it very seriously and respond to him, but I did not know about it until he raised it, so I will follow that up, if I may. I shall say something about the government position on Islamophobia later, if I may.

Lord Sheikh

Is the Minister prepared to enter into dialogue with APPG members to discuss a definition? That would be a good start.

Lord Bourne

My Lords, I am always open to dialogue as an individual, but I want to clarify the Government’s position on where we stand. As I say, we need to look at the need for a definition and whether that will make things better. Consequent to that, we can move things forward. But I am of course always open to dialogue.

Lord Sheikh

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which I feel is timely and very important. I would also like to thank my noble friend the Minister for his excellent reply, and for the summing up that he has just concluded. I will pick up on some of the points made by noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Warsi spoke passionately about the need for a definition. I am grateful for the background she gave us regarding the work of the APPG. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, spoke at length about hate crimes against Muslims, in particular against women. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, made some relevant points regarding discrimination against all communities. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester made the point—I am so glad he said it—that Christians must stand by Muslims.

People will be celebrating Christmas very shortly. I point out that, in the Holy Koran, we have a chapter that talks about the birth of Jesus. We believe that ?Jesus is one of our prophets. My noble friend Lady Jenkin referred to the lack of Muslims in the field of employment. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, made some salient points about the demonisation of Muslims. She also talked about populism and the problems that Muslims face in Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, spoke about the injustice of discrimination. I am glad he referred to the point that in this country we have multiculturalism; people of all races and religions live here and are accepted.

The Minister made some relevant points, although he has not answered all the questions that I posed to him. Perhaps he would like to look at Hansard. I would very much appreciate a response to the points I raised. I was very pleased that he agreed to look at the question of definition, which we referred to. I am glad that he said that this will be done and I look forward to receiving the response of the Government.

With that, I thank everybody for their contribution. It has certainly been an interesting and lively debate. Motion agreed.

Link to Full Debate on Hansard

Armistice Day: Centenary

My Lords, we all know that this year marks the centenary of the First World War Armistice. The centenary reminds us of the pivotal role that our Armed Forces have played in shaping our country’s history. This was a conflict that resulted in suffering on an unprecedented scale.

I pay tribute to the contribution of Muslims during the First World War. The significant part played in the First World War by Muslims is not widely acknowledged and has been historically undervalued. Efforts must be made to redress that. I hope that today’s debate will inform others and help to address this imbalance.

At least 2.5 million Muslim soldiers and labourers from all over the world fought with the allied forces with dignity and honour. They came from many different countries, including Algeria, Canada, China, Egypt, France, India, Morocco, Russia, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia and the United States. A million soldiers and labourers came from Egypt, 80,000 soldiers came from Tunisia, 63,000 soldiers came from Morocco, 173,000 soldiers came from Algeria and 5,000 soldiers ?came from the United States. In fact, 10% of the Russian army’s total strength was Muslim, about 1.5 million soldiers.

Muslims were recognised with decorations for their bravery and valour in combat during the First World War. The Légion d’honneur was awarded to the Moroccan Division. During the Battle of the Marne, these brave soldiers were successful in halting the German troops’ advance on Paris. This incredible feat was called the miracle on the Marne. However, only 800 of the 4,000 Moroccan soldiers survived the battle. Furthermore, in British West Africa, 30% of African Distinguished Conduct Medals awarded to those who served were given to Nigerian Muslims who fought in Cameroon.

Muslim contributions were not only confined to military activities. Muslims also served in army nursing units, and in fact the Hui—the Chinese Muslims— were a substantial part of the Chinese labour force in Europe, on the eastern front, in Africa and in Mesopotamia.

Muslim soldiers shared their food with locals who were suffering from the famine in Europe. Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—and Caliph Abu Bakr laid down clear rules of engagement in warfare. One of the tenets in Islam is that Muslims should treat enemy soldiers with respect and look after them. In view of this belief, Muslim soldiers asked their officers to ensure that captured prisoners of war be taken to a place that had been prepared for them, and that they be properly fed and not harmed or tortured. Muslim soldiers felt that prisoners of war should be treated with mercy and kindness. Furthermore, Muslims shared their native traditional medical knowledge with nurses and doctors who had run out of medical supplies at the battlefront.

I turn now to Muslims from India. Although I was born in east Africa, I have Indian heritage. My grandfather joined the British Indian Army and fought in Palestine. This subject, therefore, is of personal interest to me. India raised the world’s largest volunteer army, with a total of 1.5 million soldiers during the First World War. This was greater than the combined total of all volunteers from Scotland, Wales and Ireland. There were 400,000 Muslims from India who were part of the British Volunteer Army. They fought out of love and loyalty to the King-Emperor and the Empire. They felt honour in fighting for their King, and it was this sense of loyalty and dedication that endeared them to many of their British comrades.

The First World War marked the first time that Muslim soldiers ever fought on European ground. They were originally called upon for help when British forces were suffering heavy casualties. This demonstrates just how historically important their role was. There were seven Indian Expeditionary Forces that included Muslims and they provided crucial support, fighting directly alongside British forces in Europe. In fact, at the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle, they provided half the attacking force. A British general described them as a magnificent body that performed the most useful and valuable service.

The Indian forces also saw action in east Africa, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Gallipoli and Palestine. More than 74,000 Indian troops, including Muslims, were ?killed or declared missing in action during the First World War, a number that is testament to the level of sacrifice and loyalty shown by the Indians in supporting the allied forces. Indian troops were awarded 13,000 medals for gallantry, including 11 Victoria Crosses. Sepoy Khudadad Khan was the first non-white person to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the face of overwhelming numbers. He was a Muslim who came from a place called Chakwal in present-day Pakistan. He served in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment. He fought in Belgium in 1914 and single-handedly kept German forces at bay in the Battle of Ypres after all his comrades had been killed, right up to the point where his position was overrun. It is thought that his actions helped to ensure that two vital ports used to supply British troops remained in allied hands. Two other Muslims were awarded the Victoria Cross: Mir Dast and Shahamad Khan. Such stories are significant as they personalise the efforts of Muslims in the armed forces, allowing us to see beyond statistics and into the hearts of these brave soldiers.

A number of Muslims who died as a result of injuries sustained in action in the First World War were buried on Horsell Common in Woking. The Muslim soldiers were able to prove that it was possible to be loyal both to their faith and to a country simultaneously. For many Muslims, religious observances were crucial for coping with the hardships and challenges on the battlefront.

I also pay tribute to other Indian soldiers in the British Army who were Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian and from other religions. As mentioned earlier, there were 1.5 million soldiers from undivided India. We should never forget their contribution. The union jack meant a lot to them and a number of them paid the ultimate price. Will the Minister comment on the contribution of Muslims during the First World War? Last week I arranged a meeting in the House of Lords to discuss that contribution, which was attended by several parliamentarians, including my noble friend Lord Lexden. The event created a great deal of interest and was very much oversubscribed.

Ethical Finance and Community Development Forum

Lord Sheikh attended the Ethical Finance and Community Development Forum on 8th September 2018 at Edinburgh Napier University’s Business School.

Lord Sheikh Is Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamic Finance and gave the keynote speech at the forum.

Lord Sheikh commended the university for establishing the International Centre for Management and Governance Research and supports its aim of bringing together academic and professional knowledge on international management and governance. Lord Sheikh spoke of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamic Finance and their work. He then talked about ethical finance developments in the UK, especially in Scotland where there is a long history of financial services, including ethical finance.

The Forum was an important platform to discuss the role of ethical finance towards the development of community and people across races, religions and backgrounds.

 

 

 

Safeguarding in the Aid Sector

Lord Sheikh (Con)
My Lords, I note that letters have been sent to charities which have received UK aid. I am a patron and supporter of a charity which is undertaking work in 12 countries. I had a long meeting with the trustees yesterday, and we decided to tighten and toughen our safeguards. My point is: could charities which have not received such aid be written to to ask them to tighten up? I am deeply concerned about what can go on, and if they are not UK-aided there are possible concerns and problems.

Lord Bates
That is a really good idea and I am happy to take it away and think about it. It may be something for the Charity Commission to take leadership on, but if there is anything we can do to support and strengthen safeguarding, particularly for charities working overseas, we will want to consider it.

Lord Sheikh
Would my noble friend consider taking further action?

Lord Bates
As I said, I am happy to take back that suggestion about what more could be done, but the very fact that my noble friend as a trustee is now asking those searching questions of his organisation, although it is not in receipt of government funding, bodes well for the approach which is being taken more generally to improve safeguarding across the sector.

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Russia

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for initiating the debate. I will specifically talk about the UK’s relations with Tatarstan and how we can strengthen our ties with it.  Tatarstan is a semi-autonomous republic in Russia located in the center of a large industrial region of the Russian Federation. I have been to Kazan, which is the capital of Tatarstan, and spent a few days there. I spoke to the people of Kazan, both Tartars, and Russians, and I found that the relationship between Muslims, Christians, and others are extremely friendly and cordial. In Kazan there is a place called the Kremlin, where a mosque and a cathedral face each other. This is symbolic of the friendship between all the communities in the region. As someone who is interested in promoting interfaith dialogue, that pleased me a great deal.

The President of Tatarstan visited the United Kingdom in November last year and met with us in the House of Lords. He was indeed very friendly and requested that I attend a business conference in Kazan. He also invited us to send a trade delegation from the United Kingdom to Tatarstan. I will attend the conference in May, and I hope that we will be able to arrange a trade delegation of British businessmen to Kazan. The president is very keen to strengthen trade and educational and cultural ties between Tatarstan and the United Kingdom. We should actively pursue these and achieve the right results, which will be mutually beneficial.

I will mention some details about Tatarstan and the opportunities that we can pursue. Tatarstan is one of the leading and most economically developed regions in Russia, rich in natural resources. It is prosperous in many ways, presenting opportunities for us to be involved in. At a conference held in London in November last year, His Excellency Mr. Rustam Minnikhanov, the President of Tatarstan, said that Tatarstan is interested in attracting British businesses, technology, and investments to the region and that they will readily provide support for these activities. The president further said that there are opportunities for British companies to be involved in areas such as power engineering, the automotive industry, production of auto components, IT, agro-industrial activities, engineering, pharmaceuticals, aircraft construction, the oil and gas industry and the transport sector. In addition, they would like to develop and expand their Islamic finance market. That was music to my ears as I am actively involved in promoting our expertise and knowledge in Islamic finance overseas.

President Minnikhanov also noted that Tatarstan is an innovative region which ranked first in the Russian national rating for investment for the third year in a row. In addition, the Russian Federation Government have launched a project in which special economic zones have been created for businesses to manufacture, manage or invest. We can get involved in those zones.

Tatarstan would also like to strengthen and forge educational links with British institutions in the UK. Given that there is only one university partnership with Tatarstan—with Cardiff University—this is an area that is worth looking into. I hope very much that we can look seriously at expanding our links with Tatarstan, and there is certainly an appetite in Tatarstan to do so. I ask my noble friend the Minister if she would like to comment on our relations with Tatarstan.

Link to Full Debate on Hansard