Middle East and North Africa

My Lords, today I would like to focus particularly on the role of Islam in the conflicts we are seeing in the Middle East. I believe that it is important for the honest, peace-seeking, law-abiding majority of Muslims in this country and overseas to speak out against those who commit evil in the name of our religion. The so-called jihadists in Iraq and Syria do not understand the principles of Islam. They are harming women and children, forcibly converting people of other religions to Islam and committing barbaric acts. There are clear rules of engagement in Islam relating to warfare, which were laid down by Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—and Caliph Abu Bakr.

Those rules include the following: give diplomacy a chance before battle starts; respect treaties; do not harm women, children, the elderly and religious persons; do not destroy crops and trees; protect all places of worship; treat well all prisoners of war; and allow the bodies of soldiers slain in battle to be buried in dignity. These rules of engagement were laid down well before the Geneva conventions. The acts of the so-called jihadists are totally unIslamic and we utterly condemn what they have done and are doing.

In the 7th century when Muslims conquered Jerusalem, Caliph Omar signed the first Jerusalem declaration, which preserved the rights of existence and ensured the well-being of everyone in Jerusalem. Subsequently, when Saladin conquered Jerusalem in 1187, he allowed people of all faiths to live in peace. Before him, when Christians conquered Jerusalem in 1099, they mercilessly massacred all Muslims and Jews. In time of warfare Muslims should follow the examples set by Caliph Omar and Saladin.

The so-called jihadists are forcibly converting people to Islam. That is not allowed in Islam. It is written in the Holy Koran that there is no compulsion in religion. In regard to treatment of non-Muslims by the so-called jihadists and our relationship with other communities, I emphasise that it is written in the Holy Koran that Allah says:

“O mankind! We created you male and female and made you nations and tribes, that you may know one another”.

We live in the United Kingdom, which is very much a multicultural society, and it is important that we maintain and strengthen relationships with everyone in the country. Unfortunately there is a tiny minority of Muslims who have committed acts of terrorism in the United Kingdom and also countries overseas. Islam forbids act of terrorism and suicide bombings. It is written in the Holy Koran:

“If anyone killed a person … it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind”.

In regard to our military involvement in Iraq and Syria we must have a clear plan about what we should do when the conflict is over. Defeating an enemy is not enough; we must have a strategy to win the hearts and minds of people and create peace after the conflict. We invaded Iraq without an effective plan to be put in practice when Saddam Hussein was defeated. What was the result? The result was that a million people have died and we have created fragmentation and division between different communities and religious groups. It has led also to infighting between the Iraqis and the involvement of outsiders. I am pleased that we now have an inclusive Government in Iraq.

In regard to the present military conflict, we need to be careful who we supply the arms to. The situation is complex and the scenario is changing. The arms may fall into the hands of people who may create further problems in Syria, Iraq and friendly countries such as Turkey. In regard to Libya, there was no clear strategy after Gaddafi was toppled, and infighting and chaotic conditions prevail at the present time.

A tiny minority of young Muslims in the United Kingdom have chosen to join terrorist groups overseas. These young people have been radicalised. Parents, community and religious leaders have a role to play in ensuring that individuals do not fall prey to extremists’ teachings. We must listen and communicate with the younger generation and gently put them right in order that they can follow the right path. We need to ensure that the imams are appropriately trained and can effectively communicate with the young. In this regard, I commend the courses being started by the University of East London.

A pattern has emerged whereby a growing number of individuals are being radicalised via the internet. Scotland Yard deserves praise for creating an internet referral unit that liaises directly with online companies such as Google in removing extremist material from the web. There also needs to be constructive parental involvement in the education of Muslim children. The students must receive well rounded education in order to succeed in their future careers in the country.

We must maintain and strengthen the harmonious relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslim community. I am actively involved in promoting this, both on the ground and at the various meetings that I have addressed. I am committed to this cause; in fact, I am wearing a Royal Navy tie given to me by Commander Richard Moss after a recent talk I gave at HMS “President”. I am also hosting a meeting on this subject in this House in three weeks’ time.

Finally, on a different subject, I should like the British Government to now recognise the statehood of Palestine as a prelude to achieving peace in the region. I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on this point.

Updated: 05/11/2014 — 5:57 PM