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.