HOME AFFAIRS – TERRORISM & THE COMMUNITY – 27 October 2005

Dr Julian Lewis: Before the right hon. Gentleman [John Denham] leaves this topic, does he agree that there is a difference between a community fearing that its relationship with the main community in the country has been worsened as a result of terrorist outrages by a tiny minority, and the actual worsening of those relations? I cannot think of any instances of brutality or retaliation against individual innocent Muslims since 7/7 by members of the non-Muslim community that have been reported. Perhaps I am wrong about that, but fear is subjective, and the reality of worsening community relations might not be so extensive, or, indeed, may not exist.

[Mr Denham: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. It is true that the violent crime statistics do not necessarily bear out such concerns. The available statistics, some of which have been gathered by community organisations, show, for example, an increase in anti-Semitic attacks that is at least as high as any reported increase in anti-Muslim attacks. The issue is complex.]

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Dr Lewis: I endorse warmly what my hon. Friend [James Clappison] has said. It is not lost on the majority community that many of the victims of 7/7 were Muslim citizens.

[Mr Clappison: Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, which deserves wide circulation. If Islamophobic attacks are happening they must be dealt with very severely, but I do not feel that that is the general picture. Others may take a different view, but that is my feeling.]

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Dr Lewis: I agree with the hon. Gentleman [Greg Mulholland], but does he agree that it is absolutely essential that when people come to this country without a good command of English, they should recognise that they will be at a disadvantage? Does he agree that people in that situation should not be pandered to in schools by having their children taught in the language of the country from which they have come, rather than that of the country that they have come to? My grandparents were at a disadvantage all their lives because of their, at best, moderate command of English, but their children and grandchildren were not, because schools taught them English, not the language of the country that my grandparents had chosen to leave.

[Greg Mulholland: I absolutely agree. That is a strong, well made point ... ]

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[Dominic Grieve: The statistics clearly show that, even among the ethnic minorities in Britain, Muslims remain a small group, yet they seem somehow to be driving an agenda of change that others resent.

Dr Lewis: I never know when I read the Daily Telegraph whether I am reading fantasy or fact. None the less, one often reads of local authorities that appear, for instance, to have been coerced into removing piggybanks from their offices because of a Muslim objection – not, I suspect, an objection approved by the religious authority. Professor Sir Zaki Badawi would have laughed his head off when he heard about it, yet at the official level we appear to be dancing to those tunes. That is not helpful. Far from contributing to the building of good relations, it seems to be digging the ditch of incomprehension deeper and deeper.]

One of the most striking examples was of a prison officer being suspended from duty and disciplined because, when hurling some keys down a chute, he called down, "Pity there isn't a picture of Osama bin Laden at the bottom". That was deemed to be offensive to Muslim prisoners. I would expect most Muslim prisoners to be affronted by the suggestion that they would be offended by such a derogatory comment. That case went the full distance. It was eventually settled by the Home Office.

[For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here.]