No place for Islamophobia in British society; says Govt


LONDON: The House of Lords Tuesday discussed the sensitive issue of Islamophobia at the initiative of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi who asked the government whether they have a definition of Islamophobia and if so, what it is. Five other members of the Upper House Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB),Lord Bishop of Norwich,Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab) and Baroness Pinnock (LD) also took part in the debate.
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Northern Ireland Office) responded that we all are clear that hatred and intolerance against Muslims have absolutely no place in our society. Any criminal offence that is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s religion or perceived religion is a religious hate crime. The Government do not currently endorse a particular definition of Islamophobia. Previous attempts by others to define this term have not succeeded in attracting consensus or widespread acceptance.
Following this response, Baroness Warsi drew the attention of the House that the minister would be aware that it is 20 years since the Runnymede Trust published Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, which first tackled the issue of Islamophobia. Does he agree that it is high time for us to have a definition of Islamophobia? Does he agree that we cannot fundamentally challenge the hate that underpins hate crime unless we define what that hate is? Is he agreeable to meeting a cross-section of community organisations and individuals, including the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, to come to a definition?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth stated that he acknowledges the massive and continuing work that my noble friend does in this area. As to her last point, I am very happy to meet the all-party group and community organisations to discuss these issues. There is a definition, as my noble friend rightly says, used by the Runnymede Trust. There are many definitions, but we do not use a single definition of Islamophobia, and I do not accept that there is a need for a definitive one. It is clearly recognised, and we have very effective monitoring of race-hate crimes. As my noble friend knows, considerable work is done by Tell MAMA and the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group in these areas. We do that while understanding and being able to recognise Islamophobia, but perhaps not being able to define it precisely.
Expressing his views,Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)  stated that Baroness Warsi has rightly drawn our attention to the vagueness of the term Islamophobia. I add a point that concerns me: the culture of victimhood that it can easily lead to, which is not very healthy. There is also the way in which figures for crimes against other people are included in the statistics for Islamophobia—up to one-third, according to a freedom of information request. But the greatest concern is that this sort of thing does not really tackle the underlying issue of hate crime, which arises out of ignorance and prejudice. It is there at all levels of society, and we are doing very little to combat it.
At this juncture, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said that Lord Bourne is right about the general nature of the fact that we have a considerable body of hate crime based on race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age and so on. Any hate crime is a crime against us all; that is a starting point. It is worth noting that we have some very effective legislation in this country, which is—thank goodness—very much enforced on a routine and regular basis. I do not accept that we are unable to act on this because we have no particular definition of Islamophobia. As I said, considerable and very effective work is done by Tell MAMA and the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group in that area. We see the results of that every day through very effective reporting and enforcing, and considerable interfaith work done by groups coming together in that regard.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich asked that does the Minister agree that, whatever our definition of Islamophobia, one of the most effective ways of preventing it is by good relationships between the different faith communities, exemplified by the new church/mosque twinning programme promoted by the Christian Muslim Forum? That is already established in Oldham, Rochdale, Walsall and Wolverhampton. What can the Government do to encourage those local community initiatives, which can transform the way in which a local community views Muslims in their midst?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said that the right reverend Prelate is right about the many good examples on the ground, brought about by the Christian church, in conjunction with the Muslim religion and, often, with the Jewish religion. I have seen very effective partnerships, such as Nisa-Nashim, as well as the effective partnerships through virtually all our 42 cathedrals in England, where massive good work is done. Considerable good work, probably more effective than anything, is also done by prominent British Muslims through example. I am thinking of people such as Nadiya Hussain, Mo Farah and so on, who probably do far more by example than many of these programmes.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab) questioned  will the Minister give the House an undertaking that, given some statements by police authorities that they are unable to cover the following-up of hate crimes because of cuts in their staffing levels and budgets, the Government will act immediately to ensure that police budgets are made up to the point where hate crimes can be followed through?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said that we and the Home Office meet regularly with police forces to discuss these issues, and that issue has not been brought to my attention. If the noble Baroness has evidence of this, I would be very happy to look at it. Indeed, if any noble Lord has such evidence, please bring it forward, and I will certainly take a close look at it.
Baroness Pinnock (LD) observed that monitoring hate crimes is very important, but encouraging education programmes to counter hate crime is more so. Given that local government cuts have resulted in savage reductions in community cohesion programmes and young people’s services, will the Minister agree to explore ways in which more resources could be provided to enable local councils to provide those services to encourage greater cohesion and understanding between communities?
Referring the action against relevant outfits, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said that local authorities do an excellent job in ensuring that organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust get the message across about some of the dreadful events that have happened in the past and in ensuring that community cohesion, good interfaith relations and the importance of different religions is understood in schools. That is happening very effectively, as I see on a regular basis when I visit schools and other community organisations.