Select Committee on Home Affairs Sixth Report

Conclusions and recommendations

Community relations: existing problems and policies

1.  We believe that the analysis in the Cantle report remains valid. Key issues in the report, such as the importance of leadership, especially at a local level, the need to overcome segregation, the role of schools and the importance of opportunities for young people and the need for clarity over what it means to be British, are central to the problems discussed in this inquiry. The threat of international terrorism brings a new dimension to existing issues, and perhaps makes their resolution even more pressingit does not change them. (Paragraph 13)

2.  We are aware that the police, and particularly the Metropolitan Police Service, have made significant efforts to overcome the institutionalised racism criticised in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. But we are concerned by continuing gaps between the police and minority communities in perceptions of police work and by evidence that there is still much work on diversity to be done in the police. We have made recommendations on diversity in the police in our recent report on Police Reform. (Paragraph 35)

Developments since 9/11

3.  Despite the current lack of information about terrorist cases, it is our view that in due course the majority will probably prove to have been related to international terrorism. (Paragraph 58)

Britain's communities and community relations

4.  We conclude that community relations have deteriorated, although the picture is by no means uniform, and that there are many positive examples to set against our overall assessment. International terrorism and the response to it have contributed to this deterioration, particularly in relations between the majority community and the Muslim community. However, the problems are by no means only associated with these communities or with international terrorism; we have seen that international events, such as communal violence in India, the Kashmir dispute and the Israel-Palestine conflict can be reflected in deepening tensions in this country. (Paragraph 88)

5.  Much greater recognition should be given to the problem of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. All communities, including the majority community, have a responsibility to tackle such problems, condemning without reservation prejudice, discrimination and violence against other communities. Whilst all communities will be sensitive to attacks upon them, no community should turn a blind eye to prejudicial actions by members of its own community. (Paragraph 89)

6.  Islamophobic incidents should be treated as seriously as any other form of racism. Islamophobia is not only an issue for Muslims: it is a problem that can only be resolved by the majority community in this country, who must acknowledge its existence. (Paragraph 90)

7.  It is unfortunate that there is as yet no reliable central collection of data on Islamophobia. We urge the Muslim community to follow the example of the Hindu Forum in seeking to draw on the experience gained by the Community Security Trust in monitoring anti-Semitism. (Paragraph 91)

8.  The rise in anti-Semitic incidents since September 2001 is extremely disturbing and should be acknowledged as such by all. Anti-Semitism among some members of the Muslim community is also worrying. We welcome the condemnation of anti-Semitic attacks by leaders of the Muslim community: it is important that they should continue to do so, forcefully and unequivocally. (Paragraph 92)

9.  We are also concerned by anti-Semitism on campuses. We urge university authorities to act swiftly when cases are brought to their attention. The duty to promote good race relations imposed on other bodies by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 should also apply to student unions, subject to the provisions on free speech at universities of the Education Act (No 2) 1986. (Paragraph 93)

10.  We note that the allegations that either the Neasden Hindu Temple or the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission, or both, are associated with terrorism have not been substantiated. These allegations are new to the Home Office and are disputed by a wide range of authoritative witnesses, both in the Neasden area and nationally. (Paragraph 94)

11.   It is clear that the problems faced by France and the Netherlands have both similarities and differences to those faced here. (Paragraph 105)

12.  On the positive side, this country has a long tradition of race relations legislation and reasonably frank and open discussion of community and race relations. At local and national level there is a habit of dialogue, if sometimes patchy, on which solutions can be constructed. Our impression was that neither France nor the Netherlands have explicitly considered these issues in the recent past (though for different reasons) and this meant that, at national level at least, there was some real uncertainty about the most effective way forward. (Paragraph 106)

13.  On the other hand, in both countries there was a more explicit willingness, particularly at local level, to recognise the central importance of the Muslim communities and their future development within national society. In France, too, counter-terrorism powers were more developed than our ownpossibly because of their longer experience of dealing with this form of international terrorism. (Paragraph 107)

Central and local government

14.  We welcome the positive comments about the role of the Home Office, but we fear that the absence of a direct reference to community cohesion in their evidence to this inquiry suggests that the Home Office does not yet appreciate that the implementation of its community cohesion strategy is central to its ability to deal with the community impact of international terrorism. We recommend that the Home Office review the links between its work on community cohesion and anti-terrorism. (Paragraph 111)

15.  We are impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm of a number of young people we met, including those who worked with PeaceMaker. We agree with their view that schools have a vital role to play in the building of tolerant and cohesive communities. (Paragraph 117)

16.  But if Peacemaker's small consultation proves representative of young people across the country there is clearly a major problem of perception and understanding to be tackled. We are alarmed that some schools are reluctant to discuss these issues. We are also concerned by the absence of explicit central Government support that would enable and encourage schools to promote discussion about these sensitive issues. Both the Home Office and the DfES should share responsibility for developing a coherent cross-Government approach. (Paragraph 118)

17.  We were struck by the energy and imagination shown by some local councils in this country and in France and the Netherlands. Their readiness to confront difficult issues is to be applauded and we detected an optimism sometimes lacking at the national level. But such readiness should be reinforced by a concerted central Government strategy to explain national policy and to encourage local discussion, including discussion of challenging issues such as the response to terrorism. We did not see clear evidence of such a strategy. Indeed it appears some of the necessary actions of central authorities, such as raids by anti-terrorist police, are carried out without a proper appreciation of the effect on local communities and organisations, such as the local police. (Paragraph 127)

18.  One of the issues frequently raised in this inquiry, and stressed by the Cantle report, is the importance of local leadership. As the Chief Executive of Leicester City Council put it, "the role of community leadersformal, informal, civic, faith, the mediais critical". We believe that this holds true on the national level as well. Community leaders should support each other and seek to build bridges with other communities: in some cases this will mean giving up defensive and reactive stances in order to create a climate of tolerance and mutual respect. (Paragraph 128)

19.  Faith leaders have an important role to play in community relations. Although it is clear that in some places this responsibility has been accepted, whether through inter-faith work or by educating their own communities about other faiths, much more needs to be done both to bring such work to all areas and to ensure that larger numbers of people are involved. We encourage them to develop these activities and to challenge prejudice and encourage tolerance both locally and nationally. (Paragraph 131)

20.  Diversity is important in police forces, local authorities and the media, not only for its own sake, but because it can provide clear evidence that ethnic and religious minorities are valued in this country. The presence of individuals from minority backgrounds at all levels in such organisationsand, indeed, in political partiesalso provides role models for young people and thus helps integration. (Paragraph 135)

21.  Public policy which recognises the common identity of British Muslims but which does not recognise or respond to their diverse backgrounds is unlikely to be successful in developing full community cohesion. (Paragraph 140)

Use of the anti-terrorism powers

22.  We note that the stop and search powers under the Terrorism Act have been used very varyingly by forces across England and Wales and that the large majority of such stops and searches have been carried out by the Metropolitan Police Service: in these cases the proportion of Asians stopped and searched is very close to their proportion in the population of London. We also note that the proportion of Asians stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act fell in 2003-04. We do not believe that the Asian community is being unreasonably targeted by the police in their application of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act or of the other legislation enabling stops and searches. (Paragraph 152)

23.  Nonetheless, we accept that there is a clear perception among all our Muslim witnesses that Muslims are being stigmatised by the operation of the Terrorism Act: this is extremely harmful to community relations. We recognise the efforts being made by police forces, notably by the Metropolitan Police Diversity Directorate, to engage with minority communities. But we believe that special efforts should be made by the police and Government to reassure Muslims that they are not being singled out unfairly. (Paragraph 153)

24.  We have no doubt that this perception is fuelled by the high profile reporting of some police raids and arrests. Such coverage also helps to fuel more widespread fears of the Muslim community. It is particularly damaging when little coverage is given when suspects are subsequently released without trial. It seems clear that some of the most sensational coverage has sometimes been caused by unauthorised briefing from within the police service. It is essential that police forces take firm action against any officers or staff involved. (Paragraph 154)

25.  We believe that there should be independent scrutiny, involving the Muslim community, of police intelligence and its use as a basis for stops and searches and arrests. We do not recommend adding religion to extensive information already required on stops and searches, but do believe that some additional research could be carried out into the impact of these police tactics on different religious groups. (Paragraph 155)

26.  It may also be the case that stops and searches of Asians under legislation other than the Terrorism Act are nonetheless perceived by Muslimsbut not by Hindus or Sikhsas being related to terrorism. This possibility should be examined by the Home Office's Stop and Search Action Team. (Paragraph 156)

27.  We believe that statistics on the length of time that individuals are held under the Terrorism Act before being released without charge should be collated centrally and published as soon as possible, since they will be an important indicator of whether the counter-terrorism detention powers are being misused. They should also show whether the extension of the period of detention without charge to 14 days, permitted since early 2004, is being used. (Paragraph 158)

28.  We are concerned by the lack of detailed information about arrests under the Terrorism Act. To maintain public trust, it is vital that statistics about arrests, charges and convictions under the counter-terrorism legislation be as detailed and reliable as possible. In particular, cases involving domestic terrorism should be clearly distinguished from those arising from international terrorism. (Paragraph 161)

29.  Within the constraints of the sub judice rule and any reporting restrictions, the Government should also examine ways of publicising the number of current trials for terrorism-related offences. (Paragraph 162)

30.  There is no doubt that the authorities face a real challenge in acting against terrorist suspects from within particular communities, without been seen as targetingor stigmatisingthat community. We do not believe that the Government has yet found an answer to this question, as the reaction to the Minister's comments illustrates. More needs to be done to reach agreement both on tactics and strategy and the way in which these are to be described. (Paragraph 169)

Tackling international terrorism, building cohesive communities

31.  The Government has now made a commitment to new anti-terrorism legislation and a review of existing powers. It is essential, in our view, that British Muslims are engaged fully in this review from the earliest possible moment. We believe that this should be made an explicit responsibility of the reviewer of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. In parallel, the Home Office should initiate its own consultations. (Paragraph 174)

32.  However, it is not clear that there is a coherent strategy, developed with the Muslim community for tackling extremism, still less that these issues have been addressed with other communities. We can contrast this, perhaps, with the broad consensus that exists amongst the police, political parties and local and national government in tackling a terrorist organisation like the Provisional IRA or a racist organisation like the BNP. (Paragraph 175)

33.  If recruitment of prisoners to extremist groups is a problem in both France and the Netherlands, it is likely to be one here. The Government should examine the issue as a matter of priority. (Paragraph 176)

34.   We reject any suggestion that Muslims are in some way more likely to turn to terrorism than followers of other religions. It is clear from the evidence presented to us that there are some individuals who advocate violence against others in the name of a number of faiths. Faith leaders must condemn, without equivocation, those of their co-religionists who advocate violence. It is perhaps important to note that there is a distinction to be made between the expression of what might be seen in a western European context as reactionary social views, but which falls within the bounds of free speech, and the advocacy of terrorism or other forms of violence. However, we are concerned that preachers from other countries, who have a reputation for extremist views, can during their visits to Britain harm community relations. (Paragraph 177)

35.  It follows from what we say that the new terrorism legislation cannot and must not simply be a set of police and judicial powers. It must be part of an explicit broader anti-terrorism strategy. In the context of international terrorism, it must explicitly and specifically set out how British Muslim leaders will be supported in assisting British Muslims in resisting extremist views. (Paragraph 179)

36.  It is clear that a number of issues need to be tackled. Among the first priorities are those organising and propagating extremist ideas sympathetic to terrorism. They must be identified and dealt with effectivelynot only by the authorities, but most importantly by the Muslim community itself. (Paragraph 180)

37.  The development of a deeper faith amongst young British Muslims should be entirely compatible with a secure and comfortable British identity (Paragraph 191)

38.  It is important to stress that this is not a debate for Muslims alone, nor, indeed, for other minority communities. Part of the problem is the racism and rejection which is experienced from some parts of the majority community in which unjustified fear, suspicion and simple lack of understanding play a large part. An inclusive British identity for the 21st century can only be created by the full participation of all parts of society. (Paragraph 192)

39.  Questions of identity may be inextricably linked with the reasons which may lead a small number of well-educated and apparently integrated young British people to turn to terrorism. No one should be forced to choose between being British and being Muslim and we do not believe the two are in any way incompatible. The relationship between rights and responsibilities and opportunities in this country cannot be separated from the concept of Britishness. These issues were raised by the Cantle Report in 2001. They have not lost their relevance today, and we endorse the Cantle Report's conclusion that a wider debate, in which young people must play a leading role, about a modern British identity should be developed. (Paragraph 193)

40.  We welcome the Government's efforts so far to ensure that foreign ministers of religion have the language skills and knowledge of this country to make a contribution to communities here. The success of these efforts should be kept under review and, if necessary, ideas from other countries should be studied. (Paragraph 195)

The media

41.  The Committee believes that the loose use of terms like "Islamic terrorism" should be discouraged and care taken to distinguish between the claims made by the terrorist groups and the faith of the vast majority of Muslims. (Paragraph 210)

42.  Of course we reject the idea that British Muslims are not actively opposed to terrorism. It is clear that extreme views are challenged every day of every week within Muslim communities. Nonetheless, this work needs to be developed in the years to come and it is important that public policy supports those people who will shoulder the responsibility of doing so. (Paragraph 212)

43.  It is also clear that some anti-Semitic attacks are being perpetrated by young Muslims. This is almost certainly quite a distinct phenomenon from international terrorism but must also be tackled: leadership from within Muslim communities will again be key, and those leaders must be supported in that work. (Paragraph 213)

44.  We have sympathy with the view that everyone, and not just minority communities, should be more tolerant of comment they dislike. But the concerns about media coverage of terrorism and community relations expressed forcibly by a wide range of witnesses should not be ignored. (Paragraph 214)

45.  We received overwhelming evidence that media coverage of international terrorism and community relations has a powerful and often negative impact. Whilst some criticism was directed at particular publications, it is also clear that television coverage has a significant impact. We found representatives of the media unaware or dismissive of their importance in this issue. We believe that the media must live up to their responsibilities to report fairly and accurately. In particular, to link terrorists, asylum seekers and Muslims, whether explicitly or implicitly, cannot be a useful contribution to debate. (Paragraph 215)

46.  We are satisfied that there is no Government strategy to manipulate media coverage of terrorism, whether to foster a climate of fear or to divert attention from other issues. (Paragraph 218)

47.  We are concerned that, although leaders of the Muslim community may have an accurate appreciation of the limits of the proposed legislation on incitement to religious hatred, this is not shared by their community as a whole. It is vitally important not to raise unrealisable expectations in minority communities, and rather than trusting to dialogue with leaders of faith groups, the Government should develop a strategy to ensure that the extent and limitations of the proposed offence are fully understood by all. We suspect that the extent of the legislation, and how often it is likely to be used, may also be misunderstood by some who oppose it. It is of course important to emphasise, as Ministers have tried to do, that such a change in the law should not be seen as a ban on criticism of any particular religion. The right to practice a religion, to criticise religious practices or to propagate non-religious belief is a basic right in a free society. (Paragraph 223)

Overall conclusions

48.  The United Kingdom is well placed to deal with the issues covered by this report. Our acceptance of religious and ethnic communities is a strength, not a weakness. Issues of integration and diversity have been part of our political discourse for longer than in some other EU countries and we believe that this country is further down the road to accepting that Britons of all faiths and none and of all ethnic backgrounds have a part to play in our society. But experience shows that to reach this goal will require active leadership at all levels: crossing our fingers and hoping for the best will not work. (Paragraph 224)

49.  We saw greater confidence at local levels than nationally. The task now is to create an infrastructure for dialogue that will enable that confidence, and that experience of tackling difficult problems together, to make a difference on a national scale. The Government's proposals for action on community cohesion should be implemented with vigour. A forward looking programme should include measures to ensure that central policy is properly understood at local levels, as well as work to establish what may be the causes of a very small number of young Britons turning to violently extremist groups and measures to address them and a programme to engage schools and young people in discussion of these issues. In particular, the Government must engage British Muslims in its anti-terrorist strategy. (Paragraph 225)

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