Select Committee on Home Affairs Sixth Report


Summary


In this report we consider how the threat of international terrorism has affected relations between communities in this country.

We outline existing problems of community relations, examining developments since the riots in the summer of 2001. We recall government policy initiatives based on analyses such as the Cantle report, as well as issues such as asylum and immigration, which although separate from community relations, have frequently been confused with them. We also note efforts to tackle racism in police forces, following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

We look at developments since 9/11, briefly recalling terrorism-related incidents, such as arrests, in this country and abroad, before setting out the anti-terrorism powers created by recent legislation and the way in which they have been used. We make clear that we deliberately did not examine the detention powers created by the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 or the control orders brought in by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, since for the period of the inquiry they were the subject both of other official inquiries and of parliamentary debate.

We stress that although, after a brief overview of minorities in the United Kingdom, we focus on issue affecting the Muslim community, we do not wish to add to the stereotyping of this community: but Muslims in Britain are more likely than other groups to feel that they are suffering as a result of the response to international terrorism. We consider whether community relations have got worse since 9/11, looking at Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other issues of minority relations. We conclude that community relations have indeed deteriorated, although not universally and that there are positive elements. We call for much greater recognition for the problems of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and for all communities to tackle them. In comparison with France and the Netherlands, this country's experience of discussion of community issues is a strength; on the other hand, those countries seem more ready to recognise the central importance of Muslim communities and their future development.

We look at what central and local government can and should do. The Home Office should review the links between its work on community cohesion and anti-terrorism. Schools have a vital role. We were impressed by the energy and imagination shown by some local councils and stress the importance of central Government reinforcing their work through a strategy to explain national policy and encourage local discussion. Community leaders, including faith leaders, can make an important contribution: we call on them to build bridges to other communities, including by dropping defensive and reactive stances to create a climate of tolerance and mutual respect. Diversity in police forces, local government and the media is important for its own sake, because it shows minorities are valued and because it provides role models. We note that public policy affecting British Muslims must recognise both their common identity and their diverse backgrounds.

We consider reactions from minority communities to the application of the anti-terrorism legislation. We do not believe that the Asian community is being unreasonably targeted by stops and searches, but accept that Muslims perceive that they are being stigmatised by the legislation. The police and Government should make special efforts to reassure Muslims and the Muslim community should be involved in independent scrutiny of police intelligence. We call for detailed and accurate statistics and information on terrorism-related detentions, arrests, charges and trials.

We examine issues that need to be addressed in order to combat terrorism and build cohesive communities. It is essential that British Muslims are engaged as soon as possible in the review of new and existing anti-terrorism powers and that a coherent strategy be developed with them and other communities for tackling extremism. A broader anti-terrorism strategy should include measures to support British Muslim leaders to resist extremists. We reject any suggestion that that Muslims are in some way more likely to turn to terrorism. We endorse the Cantle report's conclusion that there should be a national debate about a modern British identity

We examined how media coverage has affected issues of international terrorism and community relations: the overwhelming evidence was that it had had a powerful and often negative impact. Representatives of the media appeared unaware or dismissive of this. We believe that the media must live up to their responsibilities to report fairly and accurately. We also conclude that suggestions that there has been a Government strategy to manipulate media coverage of terrorism are unfounded. The Government should develop a strategy to ensure that the extent and limitations of the proposed offence of incitement to religious hatred are understood by all.

Overall, we conclude that the United Kingdom is well placed to deal with the issues we considered. But this will require active leadership at all levels.



 
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Prepared 6 April 2005