Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-172)|
16 NOVEMBER 2004
GRUNWALD QC, MR
Q160 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: The Government
issued a document earlier on this year called Faith in the
Communities. Have you received it and what do you think of
it, given that it is first of its kind to be produced?
Mr Khan: Is this a few months
ago? Fiona MacTaggart? We did and we responded to it but I am
afraid I could not answer that specifically. What I can say is
that the relationship we have with the Home Office is infinitely
better now than it ever has been and that dialogue is fostered
by regular meetings with not just the Home Secretary but Fiona
MacTaggart and other ministers in the Home Office. I cannot comment
on that particular document. We do respond quite frequently to
Home Office documents and relationships are very good with the
Q161 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: I am very pleased
you said that.
Mr Grunwald: Is it the document
Q162 Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Yes, it is.
Mr Grunwald: Neville Nagler, who
is the Director General of the Board of Deputies and sits behind
me, sat on the working group to deal with that paper. We welcome
any initiatives that the Home Office takes to improve relations
between communities in this country.
Mrs Curtis-Thomas: Thank you very much.
Q163 Mr Green: Can we move on to the
international aspects because we have heard a lot of encouraging
evidence from all of you about efforts to promote harmony between
faiths, but reading your evidence, the brutal truth is that each
of you support the use of force in certain circumstances and you
support some actions which others sitting at the table would regard
as terrorism. How do you see your responsibility to try and avoid
those very, very difficult issues from becoming issues which may
seriously damage relations between your various communities on
the streets of this country? Mr Khan first?
Mr Sofi: We think that there should
be no impact from international conflict in the UK and that is
why MCB has been more into inter-faith work and other work with
communities. No way should it have an impact and we should work
with all partners, faith communities, government, and others to
make sure it does not happen. For example, conflict in Kashmir
sometimes has repercussions here and whenever there is an incident
there have been meetings between communities and we have made
sure it does not happen. We do not think the UK should have anything
to do with it internally. We live in the society, we live within
the community and that is how it should be.
Q164 Mr Green: Mr Singh?
Mr Jagdeesh Singh: Largely to
reiterate what has just been said by Khalid, we have gone through
that very experience post-1984 to 1995 and as a community we have
been heavily tested by conflict in the Punjab with the tensions
and the impact it has had on our families here. We have found
that despite being a very active community in engaging in the
disputes and the campaigns overseas that has not been a source
of conflict with any other community here. We have consciously
as a community encouraged ourselves not to make any issue a source
of conflict here on the streets or in the neighbourhoods or in
the general social cohesion of this country, and we have found
that to be the case. We do not know of any stream or cycle of
incidents that have erupted on the streets or in British society
or any part of Britain as a result of the conflict in Punjab and
therefore we can say with some confidence that disputes have occurred
over thereserious violent disputes, serious political disputes,
long-standing historical disputes which remain underway nowbut
they have not had a violent effect here. We would like to keep
it that way. One thing we would add, and add very forcefully,
is that in this country while the British Government has seen
it fit to do what it has done in terms of anti-terrorismbanning
various organisations and so forthone thing very puzzlingly
it consistently has done is to allow a prominent organisation,
the VHP, to continue to function from North London from a prominent
locationie the Neasden Hindu Temple. It is a well-known
organisation, well-known for advocating the murder of Muslims
in India, well-known for promoting sectarian violence in India
and well-known for arming its followers systematically and training
them in guerrilla violence in India. Its language of violence
and language of sectarianism is public record in India. It functions
from premises and not just any premises but the most prominent
Hindu premises you could find in the whole of Londonthe
Neasden Temple in London. This matter has been raised in round
table discussions with Home Office ministers again and again and
again, but it appears to be something that the British Government
does not want to do anything about.
Q165 Mr Green: Does the Muslim Council
share that view?
Mr Khan: In our submission we
mention them by name and there is obviously a concern about the
feeling of double standards, yes.
Mr Grunwald: We condemn terrorism
in all its forms and we would call upon other communities to do
exactly the same and not, as sometimes is given the appearance,
seek to draw a distinction between one form of terrorism and another
and to condemn some and not all. All terrorism is bad. All terrorism
targets innocent individuals and should be condemned by everyone
in this room.
Q166 Mr Green: Do you share that view?
Mr Khan: Absolutely.
Q167 Mr Green: One of the other interesting
things in your submission is that you say that tension in the
Middle East inevitably results in an increase in anti-Semitic
violence. "Inevitably" seems quite a strong word in
that context. Why do you think that it is inevitable?
Mr Whine: For two reasons and
we have illustrated that with the appendices to our submission.
It is not something that is unique to this country, it is a worldwide
phenomenon, meaning that whenever there is tension not just between
Israel and its Palestinian neighbours but general tension in the
Middle East we see an increase in anti-Semitic violence around
the world and in this country. Inevitable because that sort of
tension is often accompanied by calls from people in the Middle
Eastclerics, governments, non-governmental organisations,
a whole rangefor their support communities abroad to come
to their aid. Secondly, the police in this country, and now indeed
in other countries, recognise that tension in the Middle East
is a trigger point, so for some years now when tension builds
up in the Middle East we get called in by the police, as I am
sure other community leaders do as well, and told, "Right,
okay, what can we do to make sure that tension remains over there
and does not manifest itself on our streets?" What we did
in our submission at the back, if you remember, is that we gave
a couple of points of tensionviolence between Israel and
its neighbours or others in the Middle Eastand then traced
the spill-over effect in this country with the rise in incidents.
Q168 Mr Green: One last point, again
a sort of clearing up point for Mr Singh. You call for transparency
in the handling of allegations of links with terrorist activities
overseas. What would that mean in practice?
Mr Jagdeesh Singh: Let me cite
a live example. We have with us currently the case of Balbir Singh
Bains in our submission. In a nutshell, Mr Singh has lived in
this country for 25 years. He is an active Sikh linked to the
Active Sikh Campaign based in the Punjab but living and working
from here. He goes home, is arrested, is incarcerated for three
years, is tortured in prison, is accused of all manner of terrorism.
The Indian courts vindicated him very clearly and they said the
entire allegations against him by the Indian government were completely
unfounded. He then tries to return home, having cleared his name.
The British Government refuses to allow him back home. He spends
two years fighting, going through the procedures, going through
the whole rigmarole of trying to return home to his family. In
contrast, with that we have the revealing case of Peter Bleach.
Peter Bleach is a prominent British arms dealer convicted in the
late 1990s of terrorism in India, having been found dropping arms
in certain parts of India. Peter Bleach is sentenced to something
like 20 years in prison in India by the Indian courts. He is put
into prison and spends six years in prison. During the course
of his six-year imprisonment the British Prime Minister, the British
Home Secretary and the British Foreign Secretary make consistent
and frequent calls directed to the Indian Prime Minister to release
Peter Bleach. They circumvent the legal system of India and circumvent
his legal conviction to send him back home. There is a clear favouritism
for Peter Bleach, a convicted terrorist. In contrast, a Sikh activist
who has not even been legally convicted continues to be accused
of terrorism by the British Government even after his vindication
is denied for two years in a rigmarole of process and bureaucracy
permission to return home. He has now finally returned home last
month. He had to go through this whole process of delays and double
standards and lack of information and lack of transparency. In
contrast Peter Bleach gets special treatment.
Q169 Chairman: Thank you, Mr Singh.
Mr Jagdeesh Singh: The treatment
he is subjected to is quite revealing.
Q170 David Winnick: We know, Mr Grunwald,
the poisonous nature of anti-Semitism which your organisation
plays a leading part in combating. Can I put this point to you
regarding the Middle East. Is there not a danger that some in
the Jewish community, perhaps a minority but be that as it may,
consider that any acute criticism of Israeli policy really amounts
to anti-Semitism? It is quite likely not a view of the Board collectively,
one hopes not, but is there not a danger in using the term anti-Semitism
lightly (and we know in the Second World War anti-Semitism led
to the destruction of six million people) and to those who disagree,
as many of us do, very sharply indeed with Israeli policy, the
tag of anti-Semitism can come lightly when I am sure you do not
believe that such a tag should be used?
Mr Grunwald: We are extremely
careful before alleging that anybody or anything is anti-Semitic.
Criticism of the policies of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitism.
The most vocal critics of the policies of the Israeli government
often come from within Israel itself, and that is one of the strengths
of that country.
Q171 David Winnick: I am talking about
some, I am not talking about all. Do you try as a Board to persuade
people that they should be very careful in using such terms when,
as you have just indicated, there is no justification for it?
Mr Grunwald: We do not bandy the
allegation of anti-Semitism lightly. We take it very, very seriously.
Where we do have a concern is where trenchant criticism of an
Israeli government, whatever its political hue, turns into a denial
of the very existence of the State of Israel and the right of
the State of Israel to exist, and that, we say, is a form of anti-Semitism.
When people seek to deny to the Jews alone of all of people in
the world a right to their own homeland, then, yes, we at the
Board and the community generally would consider that to be anti-Semitism.
David Winnick: I understand the distinction.
Q172 Mr Clappison: Very briefly to be
clear on the terms we are talking about here, when we are talking
about the repercussions of what happens in the Middle Eastand
nobody can control that and people are entitled to different points
of viewand the anti-Semitism which the community suffers,
are we talking there about people saying things or is it a question
of physical attacks upon people, of people being attacked because
they appear to be Jewish, synagogues and cemeteries being desecrated
and so forth?
Mr Grunwald: It is physical attacks
on buildings, on cemeteries and on people. I have every sympathy
with Mr Singh when he described his experience before. Coming
back to Mr Winnick's point, criticism of an Israeli Government
is acceptable but when Jews, who are visibly Jewish because of
their garb if they are Orthodox Jews and they are wearing their
head covering in the street or they are wearing distinctive clothing
because it is the Sabbath or a festival, are attacked in the street
by people who accuse them of being dirty Zionists (because all
too often now the phrase "dirty Zionist" is used when
they mean "dirty Jew") they do not bother to ask that
person (a) if they would have any right to vote on an Israeli
government or (b) if they did, whether they would support the
policies of a particular government. They do not bother because
it is not in their minds. They see a Jew and in their mind they
make a linkage which is completely unacceptable and they are attacked.
That is the concern we have and that is why it is so important
to all of us to try to decrease the tension which gives rise to
that sort of incident happening.
Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much
indeed for a session. You have given us a great deal to think
about. Also thank you in your individual capacities for the leadership
roles that you are obviously playing within your communities and
between communities, so thank you very much.