Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
16 NOVEMBER 2004
GRUNWALD QC, MR
Q100 Chairman: Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Thank you very much indeed for coming this afternoon. Unfortunately,
one of the witnesses, Jagdeesh Singh, has not found his way here
as yet but I hope he will join us before the session extends too
far. As you know, this is the second hearing of the Committee
into the impact of terrorism on community relations. We did also
hold a one-off hearing last summer about the use of police stop
and search powers and we will be taking that into account in our
report. I wonder if briefly each of the witnesses could introduce
themselves for the record and explain the position they hold in
each organisation they are from.
Mr Whine: Michael Whine, defence
director of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and a director
of the Community Security Trust.
Mr Grunwald: Henry Grunwald, president
of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Mr Khan: Sadiq Khan, chair of
the legal affairs committee of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Mr Sofi: Khalid Sofi, vice-chair,
legal affairs committee of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Q101 Chairman: Can I start by asking
each of the organisations a fairly general question? What is your
own assessment of what has happened to social cohesion in this
country since international terrorism achieved such a high profile
on 9/11 and then obviously the subsequent events in Bali and Madrid?
Mr Grunwald: We are very grateful
for the opportunity of coming along to give oral evidence to you
this afternoon. We are concerned about the effects of the incidents
that you have mentioned on social cohesion, on relations between
the faith communities. We as the Jewish community are committed
to maintaining good relations and we do all that we can to ensure
that problems that might impact from other parts of the world
do not get in the way of maintaining those good relations here.
It is probably right to say that there have been divisions amongst
faith communities since 9/11. The Jewish community has felt particularly
apprehensive and concerned. We, as I am sure some of your members
will know, have had to increase the security measures at many
of our communal buildings, synagogues and schools, although unfortunately
we have become all too used to living in one sense in a fortress
condition because we have had to have security at our synagogues,
our schools and our buildings for a long time now. There is no
doubt that there has been an increased need for that since 9/11
and since the threats from international terrorism have grown.
Mr Khan: There is in a perverse
way a positive result as well as a negative one. In positive terms,
there has been greater inter-faith dialogue and working relations
post the incidents you referred to previously. It has also led
to mature discussions within communities and good relations being
built with the government and respective Parliaments. It has led
to better relations than we have had hitherto with the police,
a dialogue with the security services, more open systems of accountability
with various bodies, so there has definitely been a positive side
to the horrific incidents you referred to. On the negative side,
as far as we in particular are concerned, quite clearly there
has been a well documented increase in criminal acts against the
visible Muslim community and those who get mistaken as Muslims
as well in the UK post 9/11. Islamophobia is on the rise and there
is clearly a link between reprisals and other incidents. There
has also been the impact of some of the terrorist legislation
on the perception in the Muslim community about the way they are
policed and the relationship they have with the authorities. There
is both a positive and a negative consequence of the things you
Q102 Chairman: What would you say were
the reasons where there has been a rise in tensions for that rise
to take place? At the previous evidence session two types of phenomena
were described to us. One was the impact of what government and
the police had done and the other was the influence of groups
active in the community. Sometimes accusations were pointed at
particular faith groups who were seen to be responsible for aggressive
actions against another faith group. Far right organisations were
also blamed for being active in that way. In your own assessment,
where would you say the balance of problem lay, where there has
been a problem, between the things the government has been responsible
for causing or for doing and those that have been other members
of the community, other community organisations or other community
Mr Khan: Our starting point is
a recognition that there is a positive duty on the government
to look after its citizens. We think that is only right. You will
be awareI have some copies with methat the MCB produced
a rights and responsibilities card which recognises and understands
the responsibilities on the government. As far as the rise in
tension is concerned, there are two issues. One is the real concern
about a community feeling they are being targeted rightly or wrongly
by legislation passed by a government seeking to protect it, especially
in the context that victims of terrorism are likely to be Muslims
in this country, Bali, Istanbul or elsewhere. You know of the
increase in stop and searches in the Muslim community. You know
of those who are detained indefinitely and what their faith is.
You know also the disparity between the figures for those who
have been arrested and the very small number of convictions. Out
of 14 convictions, only three are of the Islamic faith. There
are issues regarding actions of the Government/police. As far
as community activities are concerned, we have seen far right
groups being far more sophisticated than they ever have been before.
We have seen on the BNP website and in the language used by far
right groups targeting of Muslims as opposed to what has historically
been the case: ethnic minorities, blacks and Jews to an extent.
I am not suggesting that anti-Semitism is on the decrease but
the BNP is now far more sophisticated, as are far right groups,
than they have been. You will be aware that the government is
trying to close the loopholes with regard to far right groups
who use the English language deliberately so they are inciting
hatred against persons associated with the Islamic faith but not
inciting hatred against a race. Up until recently, the duties
that exist on public authorities against discrimination in the
provision of goods and services existed to prohibit discrimination
on the grounds of race but not on the grounds of religion which
was a real problem with regard to the police and immigration services.
That loophole also is going to be closed with, hopefully, an announcement
in the Queen's Speech.
Mr Grunwald: Our concerns are
not so much against any actions of the Government that might have
heightened tension. The concerns of the Jewish community are really
coming from threats that have been madelet me be specificby
al-Qaeda to attack Jews anywhere in the world. That is not just
an inchoate threat, an unfulfilled threat. The concerns of our
community in relation to terrorism are real and stem from attacks
that there have been in Djerba in April 2002, in Casablanca in
May 2003, in Istanbul just over a year agothe one year
anniversary has just passed of the attack on the synagogueand
foiled attacks on Jewish targets in Berlin and Düsseldorf
in September of last year. Because the threats have been made
and carried out elsewhere, there has been a heightened concern
and apprehension here that the same thing will happen to this
community. That has nothing to do with the acts of our Government.
We welcome what the Government does to deal with the threat from
Q103 Chairman: Would it be fair to say
that your main concern, as far as the Board of Deputies is concerned,
is about organised international terrorism of that sort rather
than what might be described as more random acts by individuals
who think they are following the same philosophy but are acting
as individuals in local communities and have a deep strand of
Mr Grunwald: There are two separate
issues. There is the international threat which is of concern
to us and the concern that some British citizens might be caught
up in those threats and therefore carry out attacks on Jewish
targets in this country. The second issue, I suppose, is the other
one that you refer to and that is the increase in anti-Semitism
which we refer to in our submission. We have given you the figures
for recent years. We are not at the end of this year and the figures
for this year will not come out until some time next year because
we collate and check them very carefully, but it looks as if there
has been a continuing increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic
incidents here this year. Those are carried out by people from
within British society. Whether they have any proper place in
British society is another question. They are not necessarily
just random acts. It is nice to think that somebody just wakes
up in the morning and decides, "I am going to carry out something."
Our concern is that it is more than that. We do not point the
finger at any particular community. We have concerns obviously
about far right anti-Semitism. We also have concerns about some
elements from within the Muslim community, not the Muslim community
as a whole. We have no doubt that the Muslim community as a whole
want nothing more than to live their lives in this country in
peace as British citizens, enjoying good relations with the rest
of us, but there are some groups which are fed by anti-Semitic
literature and material that comes into this country from abroad.
There is real concern that that feeding leads and has led to the
increase in anti-Semitic incidents.
Q104 Chairman: Mr Khan, you have been
very forthright as the Muslim Council in condemning terrorism,
al-Qaeda and those groups. Mr Grunwald is perhaps describing a
wider group of people who are not organised as part of the al-Qaeda
network but who may within the Muslim community as a small minority
of it advocate an extremist point of view in relation to Jewish
people. Do you acknowledge that as an issue or a problem and how
big a problem do you think it is for your community as a whole?
Mr Khan: Anti-Semitic attacks?
Q105 Chairman: Yes, the extent to which
that is coming from sections of the Muslim community. It may not
be in any organisational way or tied to al-Qaeda.
Mr Khan: I think you would need
to be wearing blinkers not to recognise that there is an issue,
especially on campuses. I do some work with an organisation called
Alif-Aleph which is trying to foster really good relations between
those of the Muslim and Jewish faiths on campuses. We recognise
there has been a problem on campuses with some of the bigotry
you are talking about. We continue to seek to work with various
communities. Anti-Semitism is a problem for us as well. Nobody
likes citizens being verbally or physically abused but I think
it is unfair to blame an entire faith for the actions of some
members. Just like I would not dare to say that all whites are
racist murderers because of the Stephen Lawrence killing, nor
can it be fair to hold Muslim organisations to account for the
stupid actions of people who follow the Muslim faith on campuses.
Q106 David Winnick: In the evidence that
your organisation has given to us on page 15 there is a rather
kind reference to the cleric whose visit to this country was and
remains the subject of a good deal of controversy. You know who
I am referring to.
Mr Khan: Yes. You referred to
him last time I was here as well.
Q107 David Winnick: He was quoted on
Qatar TV as saying the following: "Oh God, deal with your
enemies, the enemies of Islam. Oh God, deal with the usurpers
and oppressors and tyrannical Jews. Oh God, deal with the plotters
and rancorous crusaders". Say someone was trying to come
from Israel who made the same sort of remarks about the Islam
religion. Would we want such a person in our country as a visitor?
Mr Khan: This dialogue is taking
place at the moment. You will probably have seen it in the letters
page of The Guardian and there is a debate about the balancing
exercise between the rights and responsibilities of freedom of
speech that we have in this country and the importance of having
an open dialogue. I cannot comment on the specific quote you have
given but there is a consensus among Islamic scholars that Mr
Al-Qardawi is not the extremist that he is painted as being by
selective quotations from his remarks. If there was a concern
that his entry to the UK would not be conducive to the public
good and would lead to public disorder, the Home Secretary has
the right to have an exclusion order placed on him to prevent
him coming into the UK. The reality is that this man has been
to the UK on more than 25 occasions in the last X years and we
know the Home Secretary has used his power, for example, to exclude
many others from the UK on that premise. If it is good enough
for the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London to allow him into
the UK, I am not going to have a theological debate about selective
quotes that he may or may not have said in the particular context,
but what I do know, for example, is in a very long interview he
gave to the BBC a few months ago a 15 second snippet was used
to try and demonise him. I cannot defend him. It is for him to
defend himself, but it does not help foster an open relationship
if you are selecting quotes to do with what this man may or may
not have said.
Q108 David Winnick: Does it help race
relations for someone to be welcomed into this country who, as
far as I know, has not denied saying what I quoted a moment ago?
All religions have extremists. I have read one or two comments
from rabbis in Israel which to me are equally disgusting as the
remarks of this person. My question is if someone, an Israeli
cleric, rabbi or whatever, a scholar as he may be, had made those
remarks about the Islam religion and about Muslims, would we not
be right in trying to prevent such a person from coming into our
country, whatever the Home Secretary of the day may or may not
wish to do?
Mr Khan: If you want to use a
hypothetical example, the answer is yes, of course. We have a
real life example of what happened in this particular case and
it went through both the Mayor of London, upon whom there is a
positive duty under the Race Relations Act to foster good relations,
and the Home Secretary. I think it is unfair for the MCB to be
held to account for actions taken by the Home Secretary and the
Mayor of London. There is a consensus amongst Islamic scholars
that this man is not the extremist he is painted to be by certain
Q109 Mr Clappison: There are issues where
you and the Jewish community would have a common interest in putting
forward the same points of view. It seems clear there is also
a need for leadership within both communities in the light of
some of the things which we have heard about and to try and give
a good lead to the sort of elements which you were describing,
who are not representing the Muslim community. Do you have meetings
at a high level between the Muslim Council and the Board of Deputies?
Mr Khan: We have regular, quarterly
meetings. I am not at those meetings but my understanding is that
we have bilateral meetings on a regular basis.
Mr Whine: We have been meeting
the Muslim Council for some time, although our relationship is
a little bit fractured as a consequence of international events,
but there are any number of venues and means by which we are meetingthat
is, the Board of Deputies and representatives of the Muslim community,
both of a bilateral nature like our joint meetings with the MCB,
and through multilateral organisations of which we are both members.
Q110 Mr Clappison: You mentioned certain
tensions which there have been but when was the last time there
was a meeting between the two leaderships?
Mr Grunwald: It is several months
ago. We have been trying to fix a date for a meeting now for several
months. We are waiting for suggested dates to come to us from
the Muslim Council. There ought to be more frequent and regular
meetings and at those meetings we ought to agree to differ on
certain issues on which we are never going to reach agreement
but there is a whole range of issues on which we can and ought
to work together. The will is certainly there on our part. Mike
has referred to a slightly fractured relationship and, if I can
pick up on what Mr Winnick has said in relation to the visit made
by Al-Qardawi, we feltand we were not the only group that
feltthat this was not a man who should be given a public
platform in the way that he was. A whole coalition of moderate
Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Sikhs have been seeking to meet the
Mayor of London to discuss this visit. So far he has not agreed
to such a meeting taking place. When we raised our concerns at
the time of the visit, we were a little upset at being accused
of being the Zionist lobby in calling for this man not to be given
a public platform in the way that he was. We were called that
by the Muslim Council. The relationship is a bit fractured. I
would like to see it mended. I would like to see it healthy because
I think it is important not only for our individual communities;
it is important for British society that we work together on all
those issues where we can.
Q111 Mr Clappison: I understand entirely
the desire to have spiritual leadership and also to exercise freedom
of speech that we all enjoy but, without going into particular
quotes, when a coalition like that comes together representing
different issues, is that something you would be prepared to reflect
Mr Khan: A spin on a coalition
is not quite a coalition. Let us not get into how big or moderate
a coalition is. As far as our relations with other faiths are
concerned, in addition to the meetings that are had where there
are many other faiths present, we also have regular meetings with
the Hindu Forum. That is very relevant on issues in Kashmir and
tensions there. Problems that occur overseas should stay overseas
and we have regular contacts. We are seeking to start meetings
with the leader of the Sikh community, although that has not happened
yet. In addition, we have good relations with the churches. We
are giving joint submissions on issues to do with religious hatred
and other issues as well. We are working with the CTBI [Churches
Together in Britain and Ireland] and other committees so it would
be unfair to leave you with the impression that we are some sort
of isolationist group that does not meet with our brothers and
sisters from other faiths and those who are not in our faith.
For example, we work with the inter-faith network and there is
the work that the DTI is doing on the issues of Equality and the
Human Rights Commission. I do not want to leave you with the impression
that the hand is put out by other faiths and is not being taken
by us. We meet regularly with other communities. I am afraid I
am not senior enough to meet with the board in the MCB so I cannot
give personal experience.
Q112 Mr Clappison: There is one other
avenue I would like to explore with you on that arising out of
the evidence we heard last week. As you may know, Gerry Gable
gave evidence to us and he was talking about the aftermath of
9/11. Like him, I was very concerned after 9/11 that there would
be attacks upon the Muslim community. He told us that after 9/11,
in his experience, whilst undoubtedly there were tensions and
problems for the community, there was not the rise in attacks
which perhaps we might have thought there would be. You may have
some views on that. What he did say was that there were increases
in attacks on the Jewish community following 9/11 and some of
the propaganda which came into the country. Have you any reflections
on that and on the question of leadership to lead people away
from that sort of attack?
Mr Khan: I think it is all documented
that there has been an increase in anti-Semitic attacks. There
is also quite clear evidence that there has also been an increase
in Islamophobic attacks on the visible Muslim community and that
includes Sikhs and Hindus as well because obviously if somebody
is going to attack you they do not ask whether you are a Muslim,
a Hindu or a Sikh. There have been quite a few attacks on mosques,
attacks to human bodies, cemeteries and all sorts of other examples.
There are really good examples of police forces, local police
commanders and communities working in partnership to prevent reprisal
attacks. Where I live in Tooting we had a really good example
of the local police showing leadership at the local council and
the local mosque straight after 9/11. There was high visibility
policing outside the mosque, up and down Tooting High Street,
and advice given by the police on how to check bins near the mosque
because of the experience of the David Copeland incident, where
to place CCTV cameras and all the rest of it. I am afraid there
has been an increase in Islamophobic incidents and, secondly,
we should not forget the really good work that police forces up
and down the country have done, working with the community to
avoid those increases being higher than they otherwise may have
Q113 Mr Clappison: I completely accept
what you say about Islamophobia and the need for anybody in a
community or in authority in the police force to bear down on
that sort of attack and deal with it, but going back to my original
point about the increase in attacks in the Jewish community, do
you accept there is a need in the Muslim community for vigorous
leadership on their part to try and prevent that sort of attack
from taking place?
Mr Khan: The Muslim community
must and does seek to provide leadership to prevent attacks on
any community. Hate crime is hate crime. It would be unfair for
you to be left with the impression that we only look after our
own. We are concerned about hate crime against any community.
We seek to do whatever we can to prevent that happening, just
like our brothers and sisters in other faiths also speak out eloquently
when there is a Muslim under attack. Jewish, Sikh and Hindu leaders
have also been at the forefront in saying Islamophobia is wrong
and those on the left also have been saying it is wrong. Hate
crime is wrong, full stop.
Mr Whine: Whilst the top down
leadership dialogue is there but is fractured, the bottom up dialogue
is probably more effective and continuing, less subject to strains
as a consequence of international affairs. We do not control it
and half the time we do not necessarily know what is going on.
We receive reports continuously of synagogue/mosque longstanding
relationships. There are half a dozen continuing initiatives at
street level, one in Stamford Hill where you have a strictly orthodox
community rubbing up against a growing north African community
which has been working for some years, a very effective one in
Manchester and any number of other local initiatives between Jews
and Muslims which I think are probably more effective in the long
run because they are creating real bonds of contact and friendship
at that local level, rather than something imposed from the top
down by people like ourselves.
Q114 David Winnick: Do you sometimes
consider the possibility of inviting representatives of the Muslim
community to speak at meetings of the Board of Deputies, if not
in the present atmosphere which you have mentioned, when matters
perhaps are more relaxed?
Mr Grunwald: There is no problem
with that at all.
Q115 David Winnick: Has that been considered?
Mr Grunwald: We have on occasions
invited representatives from the Muslim community to events that
we have organised at the Board of Deputies. I have no problem
with that. None at all.
Q116 David Winnick: There have been questions,
mine included today and on previous occasions, about parts of
the Muslim community being affected by anti-Semitism. Do you not
feel that there are a number of people in the Jewish community
who are not necessarily anti-Muslim as such but have very little
understanding of Islam and have a prejudiced view, if only of
what is happening in the Middle East? Do you not think more could
be done by the organised Jewish community to try and get your
people, your community, to understand what Islam is, where it
springs from and its practices which in so many respects, as I
understand it, are akin to the Jewish religion?
Mr Grunwald: I fear that you are
right in this sense and you are equally right about an understanding
on the part of members of many minority groups and religions about
other people. Within the organised Jewish community, stemming
from people who have been long serving members of the Board of
Deputies, we have the Three Faiths Forum. Sir Sigmund Sternberg
founded that together with Sheikh Zaki Badawi and others a while
ago. It is designed specifically to foster understanding and conversation
between Muslims, Jews and Christians. We have the Indian Jewish
Association, which again stems from the work of the Board of Deputies,
to get away from the misunderstanding, the ignorance, to which
you have referred. Alif-Aleph that Sadiq mentioned is a very important
initiative to try and take away the blinkers that many people
in both groups but in all religious groups have about other people.
We are very staunch members of the inter-faith network. We are
involved in lots of inter-faith initiatives with all the different
religious groups in this country because ignorance is at the root
of so many problems.
Chairman: Can I welcome Mr Singh? I will
bring you into the discussion in a moment.
Q117 David Winnick: Mr Khan, would your
organisation at its top level invite the Board of Deputies to
make a presentation of its views and so on?
Mr Khan: I agree with everything
Henry has said, but there has been an increase in grass roots
activity at regional levels as well. You are right: there need
to be even more cordial and open relations between the two faiths.
Q118 Chairman: Mr Singh, would you introduce
yourself and the organisation you come from? Perhaps you could
say what, from the point of view of the Sikh community, you have
seen as the impact on community relations and the change in community
relations since 9/11 and the other terrorist events.
Mr Jagdeesh Singh: There is a
great deal I can say but I will endeavour to summarise it into
a few sharp points. The most immediate issue that has come up
for the Sikh community following 9/11 has been the very visible
and very ongoing cycle of racist attacks that Sikhs have been
subjected to immediately following 9/11 and continuously so as
international affairs continued in a state of abeyance and have
gone from high to low and so forth following 9/11. We would definitely
say 9/11 represents the opening up of a new phase of racialism,
a new phase of racism, vocal racism and physical racism that the
Sikh community has definitely experienced. We are aware that other
visible minorities like Sikhs, in the sense that Sikhs are very
visible as you can clearly see, have equally at various levels
also suffered following 9/11. Certainly for the Sikhs, for the
first time in their history in this country they have suffered
what appears to be a very deliberate, very random, very fashionableI
underline the word "fashionable"form of racism
in that a Sikh person could walk down a street and will often
be referred to as, "There is Bin Laden. Let's have a shout
at Bin Laden. Let's throw something at Bin Laden. Hey, Mr Bin
Laden, why don't you fuck off back to your own country."
These are quite casual, quite random, quite daily, quite ordinary
words that Sikhs are being subjected to, not by every person,
but by that section of society that considers it quite okay to
select its victims and launch attacks at them. Sikhs feel that
9/11 has been a trigger for that section of our society, that
very tragic, small, factional section of our society, very much
a sore part of our society, that racist part of our society, that
racist, thuggish part of our society, to go out and randomly,
casually pick out people with beards and turbans and randomly
swear at them, abuse them and so forth. That cycle of attacks
has not receded. If anything, it has continued at a consistent
pace and there have been instances of Sikhs being not only sworn
at in a very virulent way, vulgar, racist language, but Sikhs
being savagely beaten up. I had the pleasure of being beaten up
on 26 September earlier this year, around the very time that Ken
Bigley's case was very much in the headlines. As I walked home
one evening at eight o'clock I was told that we Pakis were causing
a great deal of problems in Iraq. I was told it was because of
us that Ken Bigley was in trouble in Iraq. As I chose to walk
on, I was then savagely attacked. That particular incident epitomises
the kind of verbal brutality and physical brutality, the verbal
aggression and the physical aggression, that members of the Sikh
community are suffering. The point is: are we to treat this as
part of life? Are we to treat this as part of an ongoing situation?
As a community we feel very much exposed, very vulnerable but
even more so we feel that the British government has done next
to nothing in terms of putting into place any form of measure
by way of public statements of support.
Chairman: I am going to stop you there
because there will be plenty of opportunities in the questions
that arise to all witnesses to move on to what should be done.
You have set out your experiences and perspective very powerfully.
Q119 Mr Prosser: I want to ask you some
questions about the media and the effect media coverage of events
has had on minorities, especially Islam. What practical suggestions
can you make to improve the media coverage of these matters in
this country without infringing on freedom of speech and freedom
Mr Grunwald: There should be more
good news stories. There are many instances of good community
relations in many parts of the country, not just in synagogues
and mosquesthere should certainly be more of thatbut
between synagogues and churches, between synagogues and temples.
They are initiatives that we support and that we want our members
to become involved in, but good news does not make the front pages.
You are much more likely to find a newspaper showing a story of
a broken window in a synagogue than you are of a meeting that
might have taken place the night before between members of different
faiths in that same building. Frankly, I do not know how you get
more good news stories into the media, but that would go a long
way towards making people see that it is not all bad; it is not
all something to be condemned, but there is good stuff to be promoted.
Mr Khan: We recognise from the
way newspapers report about the Government that the Government
has very little control about what newspapers print and what the
TV shows. We recognise there is a limit about what can be done.
There are things that can be done. The use of language is very
important. Hate crime is hate crime and similarly terrorism is
terrorism. We find it offensive when before the word "terrorism"
the word "Islamic" or "Muslim" is inserted.
It does not help. There is an issue about leadership being provided
by the government or people with power and influence. I would
query whether the PCC does enough when it comes to, for example,
high profile arrests or arrests made of "Muslim extremists"
but if you are lucky it will get a line a week later or 14 days
later when those eight people have been released without charge.
There is also an issue about police tip-offs. For example, how
could it be that the press could report so soon after the arrests
in Manchester inside the premises of those Kurdish people that
programmes were found for Old Trafford games? There are issues
about whether there is any tip-off going on between people in
positions of knowledge and the press.