TERRORISM AND COMMUNITY RELATIONS – 27 October 2005
Dr Julian Lewis: I am neither an expert on community relations, nor, indeed, a member of the Committee and I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue various thoughts that have been stimulated by the uniformly excellent contributions of those hon. Members who are experts in community relations and members of the Committee.
I start, optimistically, with a single rough statistic. There are well over 1 million Muslims in the United Kingdom. Yet as far as I know, the grand total of Muslim individuals who have been involved in terrorism or arrested for activities that were expected to get them involved in terrorism is not yet in more than double figures. That comparison speaks for itself. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) who said, in her first intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (James Clappison), that those people should be seen not as Muslims per se but as a tiny minority of criminals in the Muslim community.
The problem, however, is not, as the hon. Lady suggested, that members of wider British society tend to characterise those murderous individuals by their Muslim faith. It is that the people who subscribe to those extreme views and carry out the atrocities describe themselves as doing it in the name of Islam. Although they may be lacking in many qualities, they and those who send them on their mission possess in abundance one quality above all – that of expert propagandists.
Those people do what they do precisely because they know that by operating beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in a free society against a free society they will have a good chance of subverting the pillars of that free society and driving wedges between the different communities that make it up.
Insufficient stress has so far been given in the debate to two ways of tackling the problem. The first I have already mentioned: propaganda. If the people in question are such expert propagandists we need to set up the machinery of counter-propaganda, with the full support and essential co-operation of the leaders of the moderate Muslim community. How is it that young people may be brainwashed into sacrificing their lives in a belief that there is a religious basis for the view that they will be rewarded in the afterlife in some exaggerated way? They hold those views because someone has indoctrinated them.
We need, desperately soon, people from the Muslim community – religious leaders with impeccable qualifications and immense depth of religious knowledge – to put forward the true interpretation of their religion, and to undermine the false vision that is given to impressionable young people capable of being indoctrinated.
Secondly, an important factor that has not yet been mentioned is the accessibility of the political process. I am sure that all hon. Members look forward to the day when there will be as many Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament who are Muslims as there are Members in those parties who are Roman Catholic.
Mrs Ann Cryer: The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned Muslim women MPs.
Dr Lewis: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention and I look forward to her speech. I salute the work that she has done to stress the importance of members of ethnic communities accepting the values and language of British society, to which they belong, and in which we want them to participate fully.
David Winnick: I noted what the hon. Gentleman said. Perhaps that will happen, in time, on both sides. We already have Muslim MPs on my side, although obviously there will be many more. When I first came to the House – 39 years ago, for a different constituency – there were just two Jewish Members of Parliament. That was simply because it was difficult for anyone who was not white – and, probably, a Protestant, although there were a few Catholics – to be selected for a winnable seat, and therefore to sit on the Tory Benches. Now, of course, the situation is totally different. That shows that the Tory party can make progress, but very slowly.
Dr Lewis: Apart from the partisan twist at the end, I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman made those comments because he anticipated precisely what I was about to say. Coming from a Jewish background, I am well aware of the history of representation in the British political process, and I am delighted to say that when I see in Parliament someone from a religious background similar to mine, it makes not a scrap of difference: if they are on the opposite side of the House, they will do everything they can to defeat me in argument, and I will do the same, because our religion is secondary.
Dominic Grieve: I cannot allow the comment of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr Winnick) to pass without adding that when Mr Gorbachev first visited London in 1984 and met Mrs. Thatcher, his reaction, on being introduced to her Cabinet, was to say:
"But they are all Jews,"
and he was not altogether incorrect – a substantial percentage of the Cabinet were.
Dr Lewis: That is enough of that. The essential point is that at this stage of political development in this country – a fortiori in the United States – whether one is Jewish is almost completely irrelevant to one's views.
Mr Winnick: Is the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) aware that in about 1958, a year before the election, the retiring MP for Finchley said to his friends at the House of Commons:
"Do you know what's happening in my constituency? They've shortlisted two people; one's a Jew and one's a woman."
The woman, of course, was Mrs. Thatcher.
Dr Lewis: Indeed. No doubt in the blinkered view of someone like that, the person who got the nomination would, in any case, qualify as an honorary man.
I return to the essential point. We must hope that it will not be too long before political debate is carried on between members of the Muslim community in different parties with total disregard for their common religion. It is essential for any incoming ethnic minority community – even more so for their descendants who are born and brought up in this country – to realise that the political process is wide open to them. If people in the Muslim community feel that a double standard is applied to Muslim societies abroad in comparison with Israeli society, the answer is not to go around attacking Jews in this country, but to get themselves into the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties, or any other party that appeals to them, and get themselves elected to this place.
We are experiencing the perennial problem of how a tolerant society should deal with intolerant minorities, without debasing its own values. I have quoted, and will continue to quote, the wise words of the late Sir Karl Popper, who said, in his Paradox of Tolerance, that we should tolerate all but the intolerant, because if we tolerate the intolerant, the conditions for toleration disappear and the tolerant go with them. That is why parties such as ours have had reluctantly to give our approval to certain measures, introduced in the House only yesterday, that we would normally never dream of implementing in a free society. We have to remember that a minority of fanatics have declared war on our free society, and that when a war is declared, some freedoms have to be limited to ensure that that war is not lost, and that all freedoms are not abrogated.
We should be considering how the Muslim community in this country can learn from how the Jewish community in this country gradually evolved, got itself involved with the political process and was able to strike a balance between understandable historic links with the background of certain countries and cultures and the decision taken by its people to make their lives in British society of the present and future.
Finally, if the threat is to be defeated, that will have to be through a combination of resilience by society, a refusal by the majority Muslim community to be seduced by the fanatics, and security work by the intelligence agencies. Those agencies can succeed only if members of the Muslim community who share liberal values and love freedom get involved in intelligence work to ensure that their good name and the good name of their community are not further sullied by the activities of a fanatical minority.