House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
HOME AFFAIRS committee
Tuesday 14 December 2004
REV KATEI KIRBY, DR DON HORROCKS, MR RICHARD ZIPFEL,
FATHER PHILIP SUMNER, REV CHRISTOPHER JONES
and CANON GUY WILKINSON
MR DANNY STONE, MS LUCIANA BERGER, MR RAJA MIAH MBE,
MS CAROLYN GOMM, MS JOSIE TYAS and MS KARINE BAILEY
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
2. The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 14 December 2004
Rt Hon John Denham, in the Chair
Mr James Clappison
Mrs Janet Dean
Mr Damian Green
Mr Gwyn Prosser
Mr Marsha Singh
Memorandum submitted by Church of England, Evangelical Alliance
and Catholic Bishops Conference
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Christopher Jones, Policy Adviser for Home Affairs, Guy Wilkinson, Interfaith Relations Adviser, Church of England, Dr Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs, Rev Katei Kirby, African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance, Mr Richard Zipfel, Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, and Father Philip Sumner, Parish Priest, Oldham, Catholic Bishops Conference, examined.
Q173 Chairman: Good afternoon. Thank you very much indeed for coming this afternoon and responding to our request to give evidence to the Committee. As you will know, I think, this is the third hearing that the Select Committee has held on the subject of terrorism and community relations. As you will have seen, we do have a very packed agenda this afternoon which will almost certainly be disrupted by one or more votes on the Mental Incapacity Bill, so we will need to keep quite strictly to time. Although the issues are complex and important I would be grateful, firstly, if you could keep your answers as short as you can and, secondly, not to reinforce a point unnecessarily which has been made already by another witness. Perhaps we can start by each of the witnesses introducing themselves and then I will begin the questioning.
Rev Kirby: Good afternoon. I am Reverend Katei Kirby and I am the General Manager for the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance.
Dr Horrocks: My name is Don Horrocks. I am head of Public Affairs at the Evangelical Alliance.
Mr Zipfel: I am Richard Zipfel and I am a policy adviser for the Catholic Bishops Conference.
Father Sumner: Father Philip Sumner, a Catholic priest from Oldham. I am on the Oldham Community Cohesion Partnership and the Oldham Voluntary Community and Faith Sector Partnership.
Mr Jones: I am Christopher Jones, policy adviser for Home Affairs in the Mission and Public Affairs division of the Church of England.
Q174 Chairman: We understand that The Revd Wilkinson from the Church of England will be with us very shortly. If I could start with a general question perhaps to each of the Christian faith groups which are represented here. Are you able, from the experience of your own part of the church, to give specific examples in your own experience or that of your members of the way in which the threat of terror has affected the lives of minority groups or of social cohesion? Can we start with the Evangelical Alliance, either of the witnesses.
Dr Horrocks: Not specific examples, no, but I can make some more general comments on that.
Q175 Chairman: We will come back to more general comments in just a moment but for the Catholic church, Father Sumner?
Father Sumner: Certainly from my experience in Oldham, every time there has been some terror attack a number of people refer to me, whether in confidential situations or outside confidential situations, who almost presume that whatever happens on their television screens is happening on a much wider basis than it actually is. So the presumption that terrorists are everywhere, that it is very prevalent, and the level of tension within a community does rise. There are other things which have happened as well in our community in places like Oldham but that has been one element. When something is put on the television screen I hear far more comments from my own parishioners, for example, concerning the Muslim community, the presumption being that terrorism is everywhere and that the Muslim communities are responsible.
Q176 Chairman: Just to press you on that point, which is interesting, if it is television coverage then that is not necessarily slanted or biased coverage. It is simply people translate a factual report from somewhere else in the world to the streets around?
Father Sumner: Except that very often those reports are slanted and the word terrorism is associated with Islam and they are put too closely together so often, unfortunately.
Q177 Chairman: We will come back and explore the media issues a little later on. Mr Jones?
Mr Jones: We have some examples of the threat of terrorism raising suspicion in the community when people are not acquainted with the ways of different religious groups. For instance we know about a devout Sufi in Bury who suffered a bereavement and as is the custom quite a lot of people came to visit the house at this time of bereavement. A neighbour seeing these bearded men arriving telephoned the police and the police arrested this man at night and it caused quite a lot of reverberation in the community. In a way this was because there was insufficient understanding of Sufi bereavement practices.
Q178 Chairman: Again to each of the groups of witnesses, are you able to give a broad assessment of the extent to which you think social cohesion has got worse in the years since 9/11 in a way which might be related to the impact of terrorism?
Rev Kirby: I think I would want to bounce back a question about the whole understanding of cohesion actually. Certainly for Christians we did not wait necessarily until 9/11 to pull together. Our message is not about waiting for a crisis but responding to need anyway. In terms of whether it is better or worse, I think that is quite subjective, it depends on who you talk to and which area of the country you are in. For some people it seems still quite recent and raw, if I can put it that way, but for others it is about getting on with life and doing the best they can in the aftermath of it.
Mr Zipfel: Our impression is that especially among individual members of Asian communities they feel more vulnerable and alienated. If you move up to people who are more active in the community who meet one another across communities, there does not seem to have been as much of a sense of things getting worse. So vulnerability at the very grass roots level but an attempt to keep things steady at more of an inter-community level.
Mr Jones: I think I would agree with what Mr Zipfel has just said and perhaps observe that there may be a difference in the affect on people who never have contact with other minority groups and who are reacting at second hand to what they perceive and to what is going on in local communities which are more mixed. I think there the picture is very patchy, some good things are happening as well as these problems of suspicion and vulnerability and tension.
Q179 Chairman: The final question in this opening session - I will not come to you, Mr Jones, you have given an example already but to the other groups of witnesses - in relation to counter-terrorist activities, the measures that the Government, and perhaps particularly the police, have taken to try to protect the country from terrorism, do you have clear experience and examples of whether that has caused problems in community relations? It is widely reported that it has but I wonder if in the experience of your organisation you have been able to assess the extent to which that is true?
Father Sumner: I have an interfaith worker for whom I am his line manager and he reports on quite a few occasions, within his own Muslim community in Oldham, how there are people, although they are working, doing an ordinary job, they really have a fear that the knock on the door could come and they could be arrested on suspicion of something and their name be ruined overnight without any real grounds for that to happen. That is a real fear that has happened because of the number of people who have been arrested.
Q180 Chairman: You say that is something that is present in the community of which you are a part?
Father Sumner: He is reporting that to me. That is a real fear for himself and for other members of his community. Certainly I know as well from the figures of stop and search that have taken place, the massive rise in stop and search, and yet the low number of people who have either been arrested as a result of those searches or eventually convicted. This proportion has affected the black communities and now also the Muslim community so badly over the years.
Dr Horrocks: I could agree with that and make a more general comment. I want to be careful not to make stereotypical comments in this particular area. One could understand in the context of good practice the police would look at particular groups, if they perceive there to be a threat, as being of more likelihood of being suspects. Our point would be more general in this regard, the whole point about the police tending to be more reactive rather than proactive in communities. In other words, one could see the response to 9/11 as featuring in that context, being reactive to something happening, like incidents of crime, then the police appear in the community and carrying out stop and search, similarly, with 9/11, suddenly the police are looking particularly at communities. We have been stressing more the need for community safety and for police to take a proactive role in communities whether there is a threat or not.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. That is very helpful.
Q181 Mr Singh: This is a question for all witnesses. Do you think that communities are working together enough? Should they be doing more? In terms of interfaith dialogue, do we need more of that and is there enough going on or is there too little interfaith dialogue going on?
Rev Kirby: My initial response would be that I think there is a role and a place for it in terms of us understanding the different people who make up our society and being able to respect and understand each other. In terms of enabling understanding of communities, I think it is absolutely important. My experience of it is that it is fragmented and only happens in areas where there is a strong faith presence and it is driven by the faith communities, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. This does happen across the country, so you see areas of good practice where there is interfaith dialogue, and real working together, and others where it is quite separate and quite fragmented. In terms of working together enough, no, I do not think so; does it have a role, absolutely.
Q182 Mr Singh: Dr Horrocks, would you echo that?
Dr Horrocks: Yes. I have got a slightly different angle. There are two questions there really. Are we working together enough? I think the churches are working very actively with minority communities. A very good example is the Peace Alliance in Haringey, which I would commend as a model for the promotion of peace community and anti-crime activity as well, youth crime, gun crime, that kind of area, they are a model for community working together. This is really very helpful indeed. I think, though, there are two kinds of interfaith activities; one is interfaith dialogue and another which the Government seems to like is multifaith activity, and I differentiate between the two. Interfaith dialogue perhaps is more where local communities themselves, by their own initiative, explore one another's understanding in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance whereas multifaith activity tends to be for a specific purpose, to make representations to the Government or, indeed, in response to 9/11. I think that happened in the Central Hall immediately after 9/11. Do I think there is enough? I think what there is is good and to be welcomed. I think enough is being done and I would suggest rather than looking to create new initiatives the Government could do more to support the ones which do exist already and build them up. One or two other things which are worth mentioning that we have heard are representations from other groups than Muslims, notably Hindus and Sikhs who because of the prevalence for dialogue with Muslims particularly feel themselves to be being sidelined to some extent and that if there are any new initiatives it should involve them rather than opening doors necessarily solely for Muslims. Another comment worth making is we do not seem to hear terribly much about inter-Islam dialogue, exploration of Muslim with Muslim, radical with moderate, trying to get dialogue within Islam itself together within the British context which would seem to make a lot of sense also.
Mr Zipfel: We are aware of quite a lot going on and the people we spoke to specifically for this, in most places there were things going on, in some cases initiated within the last year or two; I think Father Philip can speak about that. We were interested especially in the success of broad-based community organising in London and especially East London which brings together not just those who enter professionally into dialogue often, but numbers of people, young and old, middle-aged and ordinary practitioners in their faith, which is just to work together, not to enter into a sophisticated religious dialogue necessarily and in some ways that seems to work very well.
Father Sumner: My first point would be I think it is always important that any sort of interfaith dialogue which takes place on a town basis should be strategic rather than it being bitty: like minded people getting together to do little bits of things here and there. In my context, in Oldham, it has become strategic, so you can begin to look at a whole town together, at the issues, and be seen to be living a cohesive model for other people in the town. Within education, in our area we have worked with local authorities looking at the non-European perspective in education, taking every curriculum subject area and getting the subject area consultants to see how they can help the teachers of the subject areas to deliver their curriculum area from a non-European perspective, to nurture a sense of pride in the identity of a Muslim or a Sikh through delivery of maths or whatever. For example, the book by George Joseph, The Crest of a Peacock, talks about how you can deliver mathematics from a non-European perspective and other things like that, but to have the enthusiasm of the local area curriculum consultants. That enthusiasm passes on then to the teachers of the various curriculum areas and very quickly begins to get across the whole school area. We have just begun to do that in Oldham and I can see the importance of it. In other places like Leicester that is happening much better with their Young, Gifted and Equal document for monitoring and evaluating that sort of thing anyway and that needs, in my mind, to be rolled out much more. In terms of the celebration of festivals, a simple example, we have just had a Diwali, Hanukkah, Eid-ul-Fitr and Christmas celebration, "Festival of Light". We took over a hotel for the day, brought 350 people in from the local area to celebrate, having speakers from the various religious communities to say: "What are the similarities? What is this festival of light? What does light mean to you and your faith? What are the differences?" We had entertainment, dance, song together and then a meal together. Taking each of them, for example Eid-ul-Adha, the notion of sacrifice and pilgrimage, and developing that from different religious perspectives, also having entertainment and a meal. It is a simple thing but it enables us to celebrate the different festivals in an interfaith way across the town and brings people together. In terms of Ramadan, recently we put a request out to the Christian communities in Oldham: "Why not celebrate one day of fast with the Muslim community as an act of solidarity to find out what it is like for a little while at least for the Muslim community" and then to have iftar with the Muslim community in a local mosque that night. One of the local Catholic secondary schools in Oldham, the whole student council - two of them are here today from that school but not from the student council - decided that they were going to fast on behalf of the school to show solidarity with the Muslim community in Oldham. I was so proud of them that day that that sort of thing was happening. We have question time as we go around different community centres. There is an Iman, a priest ---
Q183 Chairman: Father Sumner, I think we need to stop you. We get the flavour of it, thank you very much indeed.
Father Sumner: There is one further thing, in terms of addressing the people who are responsible for hate crimes. We are putting on a course at the moment for probation workers who are working at the chalk face with those who have been responsible for hate crimes and using the whole notion of Ubuntu used in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by Desmond Tutu, and seeing the importance of telling and sharing the stories for those who have been involved in hate crimes and how that can bring about transforming prejudice. In terms of what goes on with peacemakers, some of that story telling, which you will hear about later on, is also transferring the way people see each other. It is such an important element and it is not just addressing those who are already converted, it is going to the heart of the people who have the hate.
Mr Jones: I would like to ask The Revd Wilkinson who is the national interfaith adviser for the Church of England to answer on this.
The Revd Guy Wilkinson: Whether or not there is enough effort going into interfaith dialogue and other approaches one could debate but certainly there is a great deal going on. Perhaps I could give three examples of that. The first is the Inter Faith Network UK's survey they have produced this year with Government funding which lists no less than 230 specific interfaith activities across the country, most of them initiated by local faith communities in one way or another. The second is the Church of England with other sister churches has undertaken this past year probably the biggest survey of what is happening in local parish neighbourhoods across the country that we have ever done. We have used the 2001 census, the religious identity question in there, combined with some rather clever software together with seven regional consultations and a questionnaire which went out to about 500 parish neighbourhoods to have a look at what is going on. Without going into the details, I think one can say there is a remarkably high level of interaction, much more than I expected, particularly at the local level between Christian and other faith communities in those areas, and one could give more detailed evidence of that material. The third thing is just to mention an initiative which is now bearing fruit after three years which we know as the Archbishops Listening Exercise which was a process to see whether it was useful to have a bilateral national forum between Christian and Muslim communities rather along the lines of the Council for Christians and Jews which was set up some years ago. There are other bilaterals but this would be a major new forum within which those two faith communities could address a variety of issues. Our hope is this will be put in place later this year drawing together leaders from the two communities at the highest levels.
Q184 Mr Singh: We are going to take evidence later on from the Forum against Islamophobia and Racism. They did a survey about the awareness of interfaith dialogue within communities and that survey showed a very low level of awareness. Would it be correct for me to say the interfaith dialogue that is going on is just between faith leaders and not between people of faiths?
The Revd Wilkinson: I do not think that is the case. This was a survey which covered in total from the census figures a thousand of our parishes and neighbourhoods where significant other than Christian faith communities are based and 500 from the questionnaire. The evidence was very clear from that survey that there is a multiplicity of day to day contacts. For example, we asked the question of both members of the congregations and local clergy "How many contacts do you have with people of other faiths in your locality in an average month?" "Many/some/few or none". Across the whole range over 80% put themselves in the "many" or "some" category. These are perceptions, and there is plenty more data of that kind but I want to argue at the local level, quite apart from the formal interfaith organisations, there is remarkably more contact than certainly I expected. I think it is fair to say the initiative for those, not at all surprisingly, given the long rootedness of Christian communities in these areas mainly comes from the Christian communities but also often there is a positive response to it from Muslim, Hindu or Sikh communities in the respective areas.
Q185 Mr Singh: We will come on to that area.
Father Sumner: Certainly I think it is very patchy and unfortunately I have to go around to many other places to try and convince them of the importance of interfaith dialogue and how it can be carried out. It does involve faith leaders and very often they tend to be men. One of the ways we got around that in Oldham has been to have a women's interfaith network that has the right of representation on the more general body, the interfaith forum. In fact, this year our chair is a representative of the women's interfaith network for the interfaith forum itself. This is one way we try to include other people. Yes, I think it is very patchy. I think there needs to be so many more people convinced. I had occasion recently in Bury to convince Churches Together to be involved in something like that, as I have done with the priests' body nationally for Catholic priests. "You sometimes initially" you have to fight off that sort of mentality, the defensiveness of getting involved in this sort of thing, and that is unfortunate but it is there.
Mr Zipfel: Can I make a quick point. If you ask people in Islington: "Are you aware of the interfaith forum" which involves mainly leaders, no-one would be aware of it, but in East London if you ask people "Do you know of Telco?" hundreds of people would be aware of Telco. They would not think of it as an interfaith dialogue but they would know that Christians, Muslims and churches and everybody was involved in it, and I think that is an important distinction.
Dr Horrocks: I agree, I think it is very patchy and in some cases there is a bit of an industry growing up for specialists who indulge in it, almost as a political activity. The vast majority of the faith subscribers have no idea who is conducting the discussions, apparently on their behalf. I think the Christian community has a particular problem there or particular reality because the Evangelical Alliance covers multiple denominations and by definition many of these are totally fragmented and independent. I have recent direct experience of this. I was in a major city fairly recently where a whole group of Christians from different denominations were speaking together about the local interfaith dialogue and nobody there knew who was speaking for the Christians at all. When we found out nobody had any clue who this was and what right they had to speak for Christians at all on that group. I would suggest that is not an infrequent experience.
Rev Kirby: I agree with almost everything that has been said on the table already. I would just add though that I think the critical issue is about being mature enough to share. Often the issue with faith communities is they are very protective of their own and want to maintain their beliefs, values and so on. It is a really good sign of maturity when any faith can integrate, welcome and be open to learning and sharing with others. It does not mean you lose sight of your identity or what you hold to be true but when you can open your doors, your arms, your organisations, and say "Come and do stuff with us", I think that sends a louder message to the community than small interfaith dialogue groups that nobody knows about.
Q186 Mrs Dean: Just looking at my constituency in Burton I have got an interfaith network and a very mixed community, in other parts of my constituency it is predominantly Christian and very little ethnic minority communities. Have you got any messages as to how we can bring influence into interfaith working within those communities that do not have a mix of faiths within them?
Father Sumner: Certainly you have a situation in Oldham where there are pockets that are almost completely white and schools which are almost completely white and then schools which are almost completely Pakistani or Bangladeshi or whichever. There has been a very definite decision at times to partner up places. At Saddleworth Civic Hall, we had a celebration, people from the centre of town went out to celebrate the differences together in other parts of town to make people aware, whichever school they go to and whichever workplace they take part in, that we might not be living in that section of the community for the rest of our lives, we may be working with people from very different backgrounds, so we need to be opening ourselves up to people of all different backgrounds and faiths in any way we possibly can.
Dr Horrocks: I would recommend the recent survey by the Interfaith Network that is absolutely packed full of projects which have worked or been successful and ideas for how to start groups up and that kind of thing. It is very good research.
Q187 Mr Singh: My other question, Chairman, is to the representative of the Evangelical Alliance. In your evidence to us you stated that you believe that leaders of the Muslim community in the UK should do more to condemn terrorism carried out by Islamic groups. Also you comment on the restrictions in some Islamic countries on the practice of other religions. Do you not think that the Muslim Council of Britain, for example, have been clear in their condemnation of terrorism? Do you think that statement is justified?
Dr Horrocks: I would not have made it if I did not think it was justified. I am not saying that the Muslim Council have not made statements, I think they could make more statements and louder ones. I do not think it is enough to distance themselves from the radicals, which is what I tend to hear when they do speak. I think it would be helpful for moderates to be asking questions of the Islamic religion itself and being self-critical and engaging in dialogue with the various extremes within Islam, tackling what tend to be taboo subjects of Islamic hermeneutics, for example is Islam peaceful or is it violent, really opening up a debate within itself and being public about it as well. You tend to get the feeling still that it is a taboo subject. I do feel, also, that when we do hear statements from, say, for example, the Muslim Council about the experience of Christians being oppressed in Muslim countries in ways which are incomparably worse than Moslims in Britain the statements tend to be half-hearted and they do not come out with strong condemnation and highlight these issues and make their own positions clear. Again, in my view, there is a reluctance to deal with taboo questions like, for example, the issue of Apostasy in Islam, Muslims who convert, for example, to the Christian faith being guilty of Apostasy and, therefore, justifying death. I think these taboo questions need to form part of a public dialogue. I am not saying that the Muslim Council do not speak, I am saying that the dialogue tends to be very monochrome and does not range wide enough and include self-criticism.
Q188 Mr Singh: I would agree and support your tight to raise questions like that. Everybody should have the right to raise issues which are important. Are you equally as articulate in your understanding or condemnation of some of the causes of anguish to the Muslim community on the international scale? Are you equally as articulate on understanding some of the causes of terror?
Dr Horrocks: I would hope we are and if we are asked to be so we would do so. We made very clear statements at the time of 9/11. We have come out publicly in support of Muslims wearing the headscarf in France. I have joined with Muslims in public statements on that front. I think we have done more than enough to show there are many areas of commonality. What I tend to be highlighting here is that so very often when statements are forthcoming from the Muslim side they tend to be very restricted in their scope. They tend to focus on the suffering from Islamophobia which is a term which has been identified and which I regret because I now see a burgeoning industry of phobias: Christophobia, Judaophobia, Westophobia. I would like to see a much more serious debate about these kinds of issues rather than labels being attached to determine strong positions which are not going to be constructive if we wish to avoid hostility between communities. We need much more engagement and respectful dialogue. I do feel the Muslim Council could be more helpful in that regard.
Q189 Chairman: As the Evangelical Alliance, have you approached the Muslim Council of Britain to discuss those concerns?
Dr Horrocks: I have personally and we do have many contacts with the Muslim Council and with individual Muslims. We are in constant regular with them, yes.
Q190 Chairman: You are in discussion about these issues?
Dr Horrocks: About these particular issues, I have discussed them myself with the Muslim Council. Dr Zaki Badawi explained to me himself the problems that the Muslim Council itself has. Being the representative voice it feels limited itself as to what it can address to its own community and is very conscious of not causing strife within its own community. I got the impression from Dr Badawi that he has to be very careful what he says himself, which is very sad. Clearly there is a restrictive dialogue going on within Islam which is what I have been trying to point to. If you like, some of my views today have been informed directly from the Muslim Council dialogue I have had.
Q191 David Winnick: Recognising that all religions should be able to practise, be it in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, without fear of persecution, that is absolutely essential, and if countries do not they should be condemned, would I be right, Dr Horrocks, to say that your organisation in particular is very keen to campaign for conversion in various parts of the world?
Dr Horrocks: I would hope any Christian organisation is keen to campaign for conversion in all parts of the world, that is the essence of the Christian message, that there is a good news gospel message which should be taken to all the world.
Q192 David Winnick: Dr Horrocks, no doubt other Christian denominations represented here also want people to see, as they see it, a true picture. Islam and Jews all believe that they have got the true picture and non believers equally so. Dr Horrocks, I am not condemning or criticising, I just want an answer, and I am sorry if the impression is otherwise coming from me. Your Alliance is in the business, is it not, of promoting Christianity and converting people the whole world over, more so than other Christian denominations?
Dr Horrocks: I would just respond to that by saying my organisation is in the business of preserving religious liberty around the world for everybody.
Q193 Mr Green: Can I move the discussion on to media coverage because clearly one of the ways in which terrorist incidents or arrests arising out of suspicions of potential terrorist activity can have an impact on minority communities, and obviously the Muslim community in particular, is through the media, in particular the TV and tabloid press. Perhaps a question for each of the groups is what do you think the media is doing that it should not be doing and what do you think they should be doing that they are not doing?
Mr Jones: If I may respond. Clearly one does not want to restrict media freedom and one does not want to insist that particular editorial lines are taken but I think it is a matter of promoting good journalistic practice, that is to say seeking to provide coverage on the basis of accurate information, to approach a representative range of people involved in particular issues. I think one of the problems that we have sometimes is that a rather narrow group of Muslim representatives is quoted whose views are not necessarily those of the whole Muslim community. It is to do with selectivity in reporting and how that can be counter-balanced and obviously journalistic practice will follow, also, general social and cultural trends and the more awareness there is of different faith communities, the greater sensitivity perhaps there will be on the part of journalists to many of these issues. I think it is a question of chipping away on a whole number of fronts to promote responsible coverage and representative reporting.
Father Sumner: I think there is little doubt that the media has been part of the problem. In fact, in my home town of Oldham, the Oldham Chronicle offices were attacked at the time of the riots in Oldham. They were an object for the attack precisely because they were seen to be part of the problem in the way that they reported the various events, especially to do with Islam and the way that the words Islamic and terrorism are linked together all too closely and unnecessarily so. One thing that happened in our area was that Mediation Northern Ireland came in and worked with our community and to that extent the editor of the Oldham Chronicle was involved in their workshops and apparently did an about turn, whether he had a conversion of some sort I do not know, but just before the elections of last year he wrote a front page article on the wonderful vision for Oldham as a multicultural, multifaith town and, therefore, it was seen, again, that they were becoming part of the solution rather than just part of the problem. It is what can be done at times like that to make a statement. Also, the use by the community of the media. We have heard about the Muslim Council of Britain, and they have given very useful examples to us in our communities of when we can use, say, for example, Friday prayers to publicise and to get the support of the Muslim community for policing in a town against terrorism, against extremism of one sort or another. I have examples here of how the Oldham press has allowed the Muslim communities to speak out in the town against terrorism, and, I think, very effectively. Also when an attack has taken place by Asian young lads against a young white lad in the town, immediately, because we have the strategic groups there, we have been able to get the Muslim communities to work together to make a statement in the process to say that they completely are against any behaviour like that and that it is not typical of their communities. There are many times when we use the press precisely to put across a different image, and that can be done so much more than has been done at the moment.
Q194 Mr Green: That is a really interesting example about how a local newspaper has clearly thought very deeply about the coverage and changed because of terrible events. Do you get the impression that the national press is going through the same educational process?
Father Sumner: Yes and no. It is patchy again, is it not? There are tendencies now to change the phrase "Islamic terrorist" to other things, so there is some sort of change taking place, but there needs to be a much more positive vision for cohesion that is put across at different times by editors of newspapers than the ones that we get. I will not mention which papers. I am sure you know which ones I am referring to.
Dr Horrocks: I think Katei may well say something about the use of language, which I think is clearly an important thing. The national newspapers are going to report terrorism as terrorism, and I am not sure that we can necessarily complain about that. I think that the national newspapers have probably reacted to criticism by trying to go to the other extreme. If one has a look at television programming and newspapers over the last few months, I think there has been a move to the other extreme. The papers, the television, have been awash with pro‑Islamic programmes in the last few months in an endeavour to react, I suppose, to the kind of negative image of Islam that has been presented. I have got a whole long list of pro‑Islamic programmes that have appeared fairly lately. One very good example that many British people would know is the testimony of Cat Stevens as to his conversion to Islam, but when did we actually last hear a programme concentrating on the conversion of a Muslim to Christianity, for example, in the media? I feel that we are in danger now of going too much to the other extreme; in other words, the national press tend to gut‑react and we suddenly get a wholesale change, and no doubt they will go back again in the future. That is just an observation I would make.
Q195 Mr Green: Reverend Kirby, do you want to say something about language.
Rev Kirby: Yes. I agree with Don and others who have said we need to get the balance right and the knee‑jerk reaction needs to be moderated a bit. In terms of language, I think the media plays a huge part in shaping the language we use to describe things we see or hear. It has been in the questions this afternoon: we talk about minorities an awful lot. I do not think that is a really good way to describe people who are making a key positive contribution to this society. I think the media can do a lot to help us reposition in our minds what part religions play in this country. I have to say, the younger generation that I work with through the organisation of the church that I am with only have negative views from the media of what faith groups do; and I think to change the balance the media need to ensure that they report the good stuff as well as the negative stuff, not just the crises but actually the good practice, the real newsworthy stuff that can get out there, but also be careful of the terminology that they use and use words that uplift rather than put people down.
Q196 Mr Green: Specifically for the representatives of the Evangelical Alliance: in your evidence you say that Islam seems to suffer from a lower threshold of critical tolerance than Christians. What do you suggest they should do? How should they behave differently?
Dr Horrocks: I think I hinted at this before. I think there is an issue that perhaps Muslims have to face in that Christianity, and perhaps some other religions, have been exposed to two centuries and more of post enlightenment and critique. Therefore, Christianity has become relatively immune to criticism. We have seen plenty of things that Christians could react to quite strongly this very week, yet you have not heard great condemnations coming out from the Evangelical Alliance about Posh and Becks in the nativity scene, I can assure you, and there is much worse than that that I deal with every day. We are more restrained; we are willing to engage in critique; we have been used to academic critique. There is a different view with Islam. They have not got a centuries' old tradition of having their sacred books and their doctrines examined in this kind of way. I appreciate there is a cultural issue there that perhaps has to be come to terms with and an adjustment that needs to be made to the realities of post‑enlightenment culture. What should Muslims do? I think that one of the things that they could do, as I have hinted previously, is have a willingness to acknowledge their own mistakes as much as non‑Muslims have to acknowledge their mistakes, and perhaps not to have an incessant blaming of all the ills on western society as such, which is what I call the monochrome message that we tend to hear all the time. Let me make it clear, not all Muslims are saying things like that. Many Muslims I read and could quote from are indicating how Islam has to come to terms to some extent with the cultural breadth of the West, to live with it and to be a blessing to western society rather than to see it as a threat. I would endorse those Islamic comments.
Q197 David Winnick: As regards incitement to religious hatred, that has invoked a good deal of controversy, and I do not believe that the organisations represented here are altogether enthusiastic about it. Perhaps if I can put the question to you, Canon Wilkinson, Church of England, the established church: what disadvantage would there be? One can obviously see the many advantages of such a change in the law, particularly for the Muslim religion. They have argued for it and are clearly in favour, but what about the disadvantage, Canon?
The Revd Guy Wilkinson: I think the potential disadvantage probably lies in use being made of such a law for polemical reasons. It seems to me that, of course, it is hard to disagree with the notion that nobody should be involved in inciting religious hatred. Clearly that is a common position.
Q198 David Winnick: All civilised people would agree that it is wrong, to say the least.
The Revd Guy Wilkinson: But I think what is perfectly imaginable is that whilst certainly from the Church of England point of view broadly we think there is a touch more advantage than a touch less advantage, the sort of disadvantage that would come along, quite possibly, would be a situation where an organisation, perhaps a religious organisation, whether Christian or Muslim, or Sikh, or whatever it might be, which would seek to provoke an issue for someone to have themselves arrested under that legislation and to use it as a platform for the promotion of their particular perspective and views. I do not think that is a helpful use of the law.
Q199 David Winnick: That is a pitfall, as far as you see it?
The Revd Guy Wilkinson: I think that is a potential disadvantage.
Q200 David Winnick: That is a very fair reply. Whoever wishes to respond on behalf of the Catholics? Father?
Father Sumner: I would agree with that and see that there are potentials on Friday prayers or at Catholic churches on a Sunday for comments to be made to a group of people in public that could be taken out of context and used to suggest that you are inciting religious hatred. We are not sure how that sort of thing would turn out with regard to the law itself, but it would open ourselves up to all sorts of other situations which could add to the tension in contradistinction to aid the reducing of tension between communities. A suggestion recently that I thought was interesting was about religion rather than race. Race, or ethnic background, is something you do not have any choice about ‑ you are born into it - whereas with religion you choose it, and so there should be a difference in terms of how we legislate for it as well.
Dr Horrocks: Our position on this has been fairly clear. We welcome any legislation that would outlaw hatred ‑ no‑one is going to quarrel with that ‑ but our feeling at this moment (and, to be fair, we do not know what the Government's precise plans are; we are yet to see them) is that the price could well be too high, because we think that the restriction on fundamental freedoms is too high here; and, in fact, we worry that by bringing in this kind of legislation community hostility will be created where it does not exist now and that there will be a propensity to look for opportunities to see hate speech. There is a very good example in today's press, as a matter of interest, that at the weekend Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph wrote an article in which he was expressing similar views and he referred to a rather nasty view of Islam that somebody could hold, an argument that they may put forward. He said, "I do not agree with this. I think it is terrible that they would advance it, but I would nevertheless defend their right to say it."
Q201 David Winnick: Can I put this point to you, Dr Horrocks? As I understand it - and I am not a Muslim ‑ Mohammed is looked upon as the prophet not the saviour. To all of you representing the Christian religion, Jesus Christ is the same thing. If some offensive remark was made about your saviour, would you not consider that highly offensive?
Dr Horrocks: Could I finish what I was about to answer and then make my point by giving an illustration of that. The Muslim Association of Britain this morning has called for Charles Moore's sacking. They have asked for the Telegraph to be boycotted. They have seen this as a clear incitement to religious hatred, and Charles Moore, when being tackled on this, has said, "I see this as very threatening." It seems to me that this gets at the heart of the matter.
Q202 David Winnick: You have not really answered my question, Mr Horrocks, with respect?
Dr Horrocks: I was going to come on to the point: is Christianity threatened? All the time. In fact there is a very popular threat going around at the moment, like the Da Vinci Code, which is going to be made into a film, which is a total parody of Christianity, but our response to that will be a careful, academic response and already has been. We do not call for the author of that book to be restrained in some kind of way. No. We do not like the book; we are offended by it; we are insulted by it in some cases; but our response is to give it a proper answer that stands up in the public sphere.
Chairman: Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. We are going to need to draw the session to an end because we are running slightly late, but can I thank you all very much indeed for your very helpful responses to our huge range of questions.
Memoranda submitted by The Hindu Forum of [Great] Britain and FAIR
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ms Samar Mashadi, Director, and Mr Imran Khan, Forum against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR), Mr Ramesh Kallidai, Secretary General, and Mr Venilal Vaghela, Vice President, the Hindu Forum of Britain, examined.
Q203 Chairman: Good afternoon. Can I ask each of the witnesses to introduce themselves and the organisation they are from briefly?
Mr Khan: My name is Imran Khan. I am an adviser to the Forum against Islamophobia and Racism.
Ms Mashadi: My name is Samar Mashadi. I am the Director of the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism.
Mr Kallidai: I am Ramesh Kallidai from the Hindu Forum of Britain.
Mr Vaghela: I am Venilal Vaghela from the Hindu Forum of Britain and also Chairman of the Hindu Council of Brent.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Mr Winnick.
Q204 David Winnick: To the representative of the Hindu Forum. A witness in a previous session claimed that the Hindu temple in Neasden harboured a terrorist organisation, and understandably the temple were furious and strenuously denied such accusations that in any way they are involved in harbouring terrorism. What is the response of your Forum?
Mr Kallidai: The Hindu Forum is the largest body for Hindus and represents 250 organisations; and we have contacted a number of Hindu organisations and they were outraged by that claim, and not only the Hindu community, but also the Sikh community in general have expressed outrage about Mr Jagdeesh Singh's claim. Our talks with the Sikh representatives and national bodies of the Sikh organisations informed us that this person did not represent anyone in the community, he represented a fringe group, which, of course, brings us to the question of how this Committee selects people to give evidence in one sense. The temple itself has been a haven of peace. It has propagated a very peaceful religion and has inspired millions of people throughout the world. It has no links with any terrorist organisations. It has been visited by Prince Charles and Diana and everyone has been there. Everyone is convinced, including the police forces, that the temple does not harbour any terrorist activity, and we feel that such insinuations should be carefully monitored.
Q205 David Winnick: I understand, well, I more than understand, because I have, like my colleagues here, a copy of a letter from the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain in which he accepts that the organisation is not involved in terrorism and ends by saying, "We are pleased to note the excellent work carried out by the Neasden temple in promoting understanding and community relations in the country." Hopefully that clears up that aspect as far as the Muslim Council are concerned, but they never made the accusation in the first place. VHP, as I understand it, is an organisation of Hindu extremists. Would that be right?
Mr Kallidai: No, that, of course, we would vehemently deny. There have been a lot of media reports about the VHP, of course.
Q206 David Winnick: What is the VHP?
Mr Kallidai: The VHP is an organisation that works with social and moral upliftment of Hindus and the VHP UK is a totally autonomous body from VHP India. The VHP had issued a public statement in 2002 saying that terrorism of any form is to be condemned. I think it is wrong, on the basis of media reports, to adjudicate an organisation. I have here with me, for instance, reports from the Times and the Daily Telegraph saying that the Markfield Institute of Higher Education and Islamic Foundation had academics who have links to Hamas, but that, of course, is not proved; it is just a media report. The Hindu community have not clamoured for that organisation to be labelled a terrorist organisation, because we think it is important to get the facts right, not just on the basis of media reports; and I think to have or feel or actually label an organisation a terrorist simply because of media reports is not helpful for interfaith relations. Similarly, the VHP has never had in any court of law any evidence proved or provided to link them to a terrorist organisation. So, on the basis of media reports, we should not quickly judge and label an organisation.
Q207 David Winnick: It is simply a bona fide organisation concerned with the welfare of Hindus?
Mr Kallidai: Most of the Hindu community in the UK and the world consider the VHP to be a peaceful organisation.
Q208 David Winnick: The Hindu Forum list a number of attacks on Hindus by Muslims in this country. What evidence do you have of that and how serious do you consider the problem to be?
Mr Kallidai: Many of these, of course, are from police reports and from newspaper reports as well.
Chairman: Mr Kallidai, can I explain. There is certainly one vote now; there may be more than one. If there is one vote only then we will reconvene at 3.45, if there are two votes, with members' support, we will be back by 3.55.
The Committee suspended from 3.30 p.m. to 3.55 p.m. for a division in the House of Commons
Chairman: Many apologies, the division was delayed longer then we expected so some members will be making their way back, but we are quorate. David will continue, if that is alright.
Q209 David Winnick: I think we have had enough questions on the VHP. I think we can leave that aside. Can I turn to you, Mr Khan, and ask: what do you feel, with all your experience, can be done to build into minority interfaith contacts?
Mr Khan: I think the critical issue is about education. I think when we get to the stage where leaders are talking; and my discussions with some of the people here today suggest that there is interfaith communication at senior level, between leaders of organisations and so on, and the evidence from FAIR, the survey, indicates that there is not that inter-reaction, interfaith communication at ground level. In my view, and this comes out of other inquiries I have been involved in, fundamental to any recommendation to the future, is education at a very young age. I do not know if I am correct in this, and others may be more experienced, but it seems to us as an organisation that the issue of respecting all religions has to take place at a very early age. I do not know whether that is primary school, secondary school, or at what age. We live in a secular society. If it is to be a truly secular society, then, as one of my colleagues said, all religions have to be equidistant in terms of the perception that young people have; and, simply from my experience of nephews and nieces who go to school, my understanding, and this is not to say that this is wrong but it does provide a perception, is that the Christian religion is seen as central with others at the periphery. The argument, of course, is that this is a majority Christian community and, therefore, that is how the system operates, but we are in unusual circumstances post 9/11 and, if we are to deal with some of the issues that have arisen since then, there needs to be an investment at a very early stage in making sure that the perception of other religions is as clear to young people as the Christian religion is, being the main focus of the school curriculum.
Q210 David Winnick: Would the other witnesses agree?
Mr Vaghela: I would agree with him on education from an early stage, especially when you look at the curriculum that is set aside by the standing advisory body on religious education. The amount of education that is taught in an average school is 80% Christianity, while 20% is divided between Hindu, Muslim, Sikhism and different ethnic religions. Especially in a school which is 80% ethnic community, it sounds ridiculous. We need to justify the teaching of all the religions on an equal level.
Mr Khan: Can I add to that, because there is some research, but this is to do with racism. I do not whether this is indicative, but my understanding from research conducted is that children as young as three start to get an idea of differences and making racist comments; so we are talking about research that suggests that the formative years are the most fundamental ones. By particularly my age and some of the people I see around me, by our ages, we are fairly set in our ways. We can have that dialogue, but it is at a very early age, the formative years, where there has to be an intervention.
Q211 David Winnick: Mr Khan, if you look back at the dislike, rivalry and discrimination of the kind between Catholics and Protestants in certain parts, leaving aside Northern Ireland, but Northern Ireland in particular, and certain parts of Scotland and the rest, it does not give one too much hope, does it, that if the two main Christian denominations had so much difficulty over time what about the new arrivals - Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs - in Britain?
Mr Khan: No, it does not, and what you see in the schools ends up in the football terraces, and so on and so forth. You see that going all the way through at a young age. I do remember watching a television programme, I think last night, where parents with their young child at a football match were being racist towards footballers. It is what the parents say to the child which is obviously influential and if the parents are not being responsible, at least at the schools there can be intervention, because as a curriculum the laws are applicable, etcetera, and so on and so forth. That is where the state, the Government, can probably intervene. It is much more difficult to police inside the home, but outside it within the school context, I think we can. If we get them early, if we get them at a very early age, then it is possible to have hope for the future and not end up having the same problems as in the past.
David Winnick: Without wishing to introduce a jarring note, before we were interrupted by the divisions, I did ask you, Mr Khan - I now remember - about attacks on Hindus. I do not believe I got your answer on that. To finalise that particular set of questions, perhaps you would respond?
Q212 Chairman: Could I add a supplementary to save me coming in. Could you be clear as to whether you think things have got worse since international terrorism has had a higher public profile. I am sure, if you like, this is the background level of the problem?
Mr Kallidai: There are two or three types of attacks on Hindus documented in this country, and some of them stem from extreme religious views and also politically extreme views as well. In our document we have listed both types of attacks, and certainly, I think, in terms of extreme news propagated by religion, there seems to be a slight increase in attacks on Hindus. We do not have very exact statistics at the moment of other Hindu communities, simply because attacks on the basis of religion are not monitored by the police, attacks are monitored on the basis of ethnicity and race; so I think it would make better sense, since religiously aggravated crimes are as much of importance as racially motivated crime, for the police to start monitoring religious crime on the basis of the victim's faith just as much as race, which I think will add to our understanding of whether these crimes have increased or decreased.
Q213 David Winnick: You are clearly in favour of incitement to religious hatred?
Mr Kallidai: Yes, that is right.
Q214 David Winnick: You have no reservations on that?
Mr Kallidai: The only reservation would be where do you draw the line between freedom of speech and incitement to religious hatred. It is not quite clear at the moment how the Government proposes to deal with that issue.
Q215 Chairman: We will come back to religious hatred. Before I bring Mr Clappison in, can I ask a question to FAIR? The Hindu Forum have listed a number of attacks which, amongst others, include some attacks which they believe to be by Muslims on Hindus. You answered Mr Winnick's question earlier about the sorts of things that by implication would help to reduce attacks against Muslims. Is it the same measures, the education measures, the early age education that you talked about, that you think would help deal with any problems where, in fact, the Muslim community is the perpetrator against other faiths, or are there any differences in the way the issue should be approached?
Mr Khan: I think it is similar. There is a point at which the state intervenes in a child's life or in the home life. At the early stages it is very difficult for the state to intervene within the home, but it can do so at school. As the child grows older and as the age of responsibility becomes nearer, the state can bring in legislation which prevents certain action being taken by an individual. Certainly there is a two‑stage approach for the state. One is the critical ages for the state to say, "We will educate in a particular way in respect of all religions equally, and beyond that, if by the age of criminal responsibility there is no change in that, then there have got to be criminal sanctions. Given my experience in the past with other areas, I am a firm believer that you have to have sanctions for there to be change; and so, whilst legislation is important in some respects, the concern that we have is that it has to be enforced in a way which is seen as non‑discriminatory, which is what we see as being a problem at the moment with some of the legislation that is in existence.
Q216 Mr Clappison: Could I ask the Hindu Forum particularly about the question of security of Hindu temples, because it is my understanding that traditionally Hindu temples have open to people of other faiths and open to other communities, but am I right in thinking from your evidence that there have been some problems with attacks on temples and you have had to take some particular measures as a result of it?
Mr Kallidai: Absolutely. There have been two or three types of attacks. In the 1990s 21 Hindu temples were burnt, two of them completely.
Q217 Mr Clappison: In Britain.
Mr Kallidai: In Britain, and not a single perpetrator has so far been caught. This was, of course, in direct reaction to certain events in India about a mosque: there was an incident in a mosque, and in retaliation these temples were actually burnt. There are a lot of arson attacks. Then you have the second type of attacks that happen where you have graffiti and things being thrown, like eggs and so on, into these temples and things being stolen, a lot of vandalism as well, a lot of attacks by people with political views. A year ago for the Hindu festival of Diwali ‑ because generally the Hindu temples are very open now, as James rightly said ‑ two Christians vandals went into a temple on Ealing Road and they shouted to the people assembled there that everyone ought to convert to Christianity. They went straight into the shrine and shook the Deity of Lord Rama, and He fell to the floor and He was broken; and the police did not consult the community to find out the level of outrage and the seriousness of the crime. The case was rushed through in three weeks, and one of them was awarded £500 as a fine. There was a general outcry in the community, because we felt that the community had not been consulted enough. There are many types of attacks of this sort continuously taking place. Even when we have festivals like Diwali and Navratri, more often than not we have gangs of youths coming in and terrorising the worshippers?
Q218 Mr Clappison: If I can move on and ask the representatives from FAIR, can you give us specific examples of ways in which the treat of terrorism has affected the lives of community groups and community cohesion?
Ms Mashadi: In terms of community cohesion, the whole implication of the legislation has been quite severe, especially when one looks at the figures on stop and search and the disproportionate number of Asians who have been targeted. Most of those stopped and searched have been of Muslim origin. In terms of community cohesion we feel that, though the Government is trying to counter the perceived threat of terrorism, it should be done in conjunction and on a par with civil liberties. In that sense there has been quite a deterioration, we feel, in the trust between the multi- ethnic, multi- faith communities. We have also seen a negative ripple effect from the legislation itself, this is evident in the increasing number of Muslims who have reported faith-hate and race-hate crimes against them. The increase in Islamophobia, demonisation of Muslims specifically by the media, has led to the Metropolitan police launching a nationwide campaign to try and tackle crime against Muslims. This is the first campaign of its kind specifically aimed to tackle Islamophobia.
Islamophobia has become more of an issue now for the Muslim community than it was prior to 9/11, even though it did exist then. This form of racism against Muslims is a lot more prominent now - so much so that a number of grassroots organisations as well as larger charities and organisations carrying out campaign work to try and challenge this.
Q219 Mr Clappison: Is there any idea that you could put forward for us that you think would help increase understanding and reduce the sort of tensions which you describe?
Ms Mashadi: There are a number of initiatives that can be undertaken. I think first and foremost with the anti-terror legislation - this needs to be seriously looked at in terms of its amendment and whether it is actually needed, and in terms of how effective the legislation has really been in countering any perceived threat of terrorism when there is already existing legislation in place to deal with those offences. Since the 11 September attacks hundreds of people have been arrested in the UK under anti-terror laws, but only a handful convicted. Security forces have been accused by some of heavy- handedness, there's nothing new about this pattern when policing against terror. We also find that people who have been arrested and the people who have been charged, most of them have not been charged for terrorist related offences - instead statistics show these people have been charged, for example, on offences related to immigration, ID ‑ so I think that in terms of community cohesion there are a number of areas which the Government should act upon. The first I would say is for the Government to try and reach out and participate more with the community itself in terms of Community Cohesion initiatives already in place. These could be more publicised national interfaith initiatives, as well senior officials within the Government speaking out against reports which condemn Muslims in one sweeping blanket, an example of that would be the Telegraph report by Will Cummins. I do not know if people are aware of this article in the Telegraph which literally called Muslims "dirty Arabs" and compared Muslims to dogs. These kinds of statements would not be tolerated by any community. Also, - when we hear of reports in media that Muslims are not condemning terrorism- we would hope that prominent journalists as well as Government officials would work with the community to counter-act these stories in the media. The point is that Muslims are condemning but is anybody listening?
Q220 Mr Clappison: We will come on to the whole area of freedom of speech in due course. Can I just ask Ramesh on behalf of the Hindu Forum, we have heard the evidence about the problems which the Muslim community have faced since 9/11. Have you any similar experiences yourself as a result of that?
Mr Kallidai: Since 9/11.
Q221 Mr Clappison: Have there been rising attacks on Muslims?
Mr Kallidai: Generally speaking, we do feel that people are more aware of the threat of terror, but specifically what has happened is people do not differentiate between, say, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs on the road, and so any sort of attack motivated against Muslims, although sometimes it does affect Hindus in general, that has happened quite a bit.
Q222 Mrs Dean: The Government and the police would say that they are making strong efforts to built contacts with the minority communities. Could you give your view on how that is working and whether that is true and, also on strengths and weaknesses, what more should be done?
Mr Kallidai: Definitely. I agree whole‑heartedly with that. There has been a lot of activity in contact with the faith communities as well. We have been involved in many consultation exercises with the Government and we are quite happy with the work the Home Office is doing with us. What more could be done, I think, is for that to reach down to the grass-roots and leaders, but the Government should start encouraging more practical work at the inner grass-roots levels, and that is not happening as much as it should. The Government is talking to the leaders, but whether it is actually being translated to the grass roots. One example would be in Bradford or Oldham, one of those places, immediately after the riots, the councillors organised for Muslim women to make chapattis for the white ladies, and they in turn another week made pancakes for the others and in so doing these communities contacted each other, for the first time they were actually face to face, and they realised everyone is normal. In Watford there is a Hindu temple. They participated in a festival called the Radlett Festival. For the first time a Hindu community came there and they provided a free sound system, a free stage, free volunteers and free food for 5,000 people. I asked one of the parish councillors ‑ and he was very honest with me ‑ "What did you think of these people before the festival?" He said, "I thought they were very strange but harmless." I said, "What did you think of them after the festival?" He said, "I thought they were just as normal as the rest of us." The point being that the Government should do more to encourage this sort of practical interaction.
Mr Khan: FAIR's position, and certainly my personal position, is that post 9/11 the introduction of legislation which in effect, whether it was intended to or not, has targeted Muslim communities, has left a situation where the Muslim community in particular is now particularly vulnerable. Our position is this. The ineffectiveness of the legislation and its impact, perceived or otherwise by the Muslim community, means that it ought to be reconsidered and repealed. We think that is the first position the Government should do. I do not want to bore you with statistics in relation to numbers arrested and prosecuted and so on. I am involved in a number of cases which I cannot talk about because of sub judicy, but the basic proposition is that the legislation is not necessary. What has happened is that those who wish to take advantage of this perceived threat by Muslims; because at the moment Muslims either can be victims of the terrorism, perpetrators of the terrorism, fundamentalists, and even when Muslims speak out some people suggest, as the previous speaker did, that we are not saying it sufficiently hard enough. Muslims cannot win. The most symbolic thing that the Government can do is to say this piece of legislation, having now seen it in operation, is not working. It is creating problems for a particular community. Let us take it away. As a lawyer I have obviously have a particular view-point on this. The legislation on the statute books are sufficient certainly in my view to cater for any particular criminality related to terrorism. I think even some Government spokespeople say that it is not lack of available offences that results in not being able to combat terrorism, but a lack of the use of evidence which is needed, for example, telephone interception, etcetera. That is the problem. The law needs to look at being able to use evidence or information and make it into admissible evidence. That is the first point. The problem with the legislation and its impact on the community is this. You have to have policing by consent, and at this moment in time we have something called intelligence‑led policing, the intelligence about what is happening if the Muslim community, not if but there are certainly minority sections of the Muslim community that are involved or alleged to be involved in certain acts which are criminal. For the Muslim community to cooperate with the authorities they need to be confident that they are not going to be targeted. We are running the story again from the Irish communities, the Afro-Caribbean communities and now the Muslim communities, and it is that lesson that we appear not to be learning. The communities need to have confidence in the authorities. If they do, then they will cooperate; they will provide the information and then they will be able to deal with terrorism. I think it goes back to what somebody else said: we have got to look at the root causes and we have to say to the Muslim communities, "You must have confidence in the system that operates. It is not discriminatory, it is not targeting you", whether it is perceived or not. I think that is the biggest and most fundamental thing that the Government can do.
Q223 Mrs Dean: You said that enforcement of anti‑terrorism laws must be urgent reform. You sound as if you want to do away with them rather than reform them?
Mr Khan: Yes, my personal view is I do. I take that based upon a statistical analysis of the effectiveness of the legislation. How many people have been arrested, how many people prosecuted and for what offences? There is, if you draw a balance sheet, a deficit in terms of it is effectiveness in what might be termed as combating terrorism and its negative impact on the Muslim community as a whole, and that net deficit is what concerns us.
Ms Mashadi: Could I add one more thing to that. The impact that it has had on the Muslim community is very well cited, and a lot of people are fully aware of the negative impact it has had, but, most importantly, which is why we are here today, is to discuss and to try and realise the impact it has had on different communities working together in terms of community cohesion, not just in terms of the impact terrorism has had on one community. The Irish community faced a negative backlash when the terror laws of 2000 were legislated - to try and fight terrorism from the IRA, but I think that more so what we need to focus on is that the Muslim community are often being targeted because of the way that the legislation is so draconian in its measures and in terms of stop and search, internment, and detention without trial. But I think most importantly is the negative impact the legislation is making and will continue to make in the way that different communities relate with each other, in fostering a much more tolerant, conducive and more positive society which is really what we are trying to achieve.
Q224 Mr Prosser: Mr Khan, I want to continue a little on the theme of things which the Government and government legislation can do to protect what we are talking about, what we describe as the increasing levels of Islamophobia. In your evidence and in Ms Mashadi's evidence you have both talked about almost the dismantling of recent anti‑terrorism and also the issue of identity cards which might be coming in soon. Are there any specific pieces of legislation that you want to see the Government introduce rather than look back at altering or repealing existing laws?
Mr Khan: It might be slightly strange for a lawyer to be saying we do not need any more laws, but that is precisely what I am saying. I have been practising for some years, and the wealth of legislation that is available to deal with attacks on mosques, temples and gurdwaras. It is all there. There is a whole plethora of legislation. The problem has been the enforcement of that legislation in a non‑discriminatory way, and when we talk about the police not taking action here, or not taking appropriate action, why was that done? It is not because of want of a particular piece of legislation, it is because somebody decided that was not worth doing. I hate to use this phrase in this context, but we have an institutional problem; we have a situation where society does not look at particular sections or certain communities in a particular way and does not feel it ought to enforce it in a particular fashion. That is where we have to look at it and to take action against those organs of society that do not operate in a way which deals with communities according to their needs. At this present moment in time the Hindu community, the Muslim community have particular needs and the Government have to address those. What we are saying here today is that there needs to be dialogue between those communities at and government and organs of government to say: what are those special needs? We have seen attacks as a rise of Islamophobia. One of the concerns is about whether the legislation is working. No‑one here is saying that there is not a need to deal with terrorism; the fear is the introduction of legislation. The heightening of that tension means that you are creating, or the state could be said to be creating further and feeding those who might wish to say that they are further alienated from society and they move to a very extreme position. That is the fear that we have.
Q225 Mr Prosser: You say you do not want to see any new law; we have got enough law in this area. What about the proposals to bring in laws to deal with inciting racial hatred?
Mr Khan: Religious hatred. Can I diverge on this. I have a personal difference of opinion, I believe, with FAIR as an organisation. I am not in favour of it. I say that because of what was said earlier about where do you draw the distinction between freedom of expression and a situation where somebody is being abusive towards another religion? I think there is still in existence sufficient legislation to deal with the sort of abuse that we see on the streets, public order. You can prosecute people. You can move from a situation where somebody has the ability to argue, discuss, different aspects of religion. If it goes beyond that to abuse, threats, anything which might not be seen to be within the context of standard, proper discussion, you could fall into public order offences or other types of offences. I think there is that situation. My fear, to finish the point, is that certainly if we accept the basic premise that there is discriminatory enforcement of legislation, my fear yet again, and I say this to the Muslim community and to other minority communities, is that the police may have a tendency to use that legislation precisely against the community it was intended to protect. I say that specifically because racially aggravated offences in the Metropolitan Police area have been disproportionately used against minority communities. Twenty six per cent of those arrested two years ago for racially aggravated offences in the Metropolitan Police area were against minority communities. So it is for those two reasons.
Q226 Mr Prosser: Ms Mashadi, is that your view and is that the view of the Forum, or is Mr Khan just giving his own personal view?
Ms Mashadi: I agree with quite a significant amount of what Mr Khan has said. What I would add is that in terms of having another legislation which would try and give protection to different faith communities from being targeted, I think that one has to be very careful, especially with the definition of what incitement would encompass . What would actually constitute incitement to religious hatred? The other question that we have to ask is that though the race relations laws were amended, why were they not extended to cover religion as well? Whether this proposed legislation would be a good piece of legislation, I would add there are aspects of it which would be beneficial in affording protection to communities who have been and continue to be vulnerable from hate crimes, such as the Muslim community, and the Hindu and Sikh communities, but I think equally in terms of the wording of what would actually constitute incitement, one would have to be very careful with that, and as an organisation we would say that is an area that could create quite a few problems.
Q227 Mr Prosser: Mr Kallidai I think you have already said you are in favour in principle of the new legislation?
Mr Kallidai: Incitement to religious hatred: I think the Hindu Forum's view was that if it helps in the stopping of hatred and if it is well defined, we would support it, but we would also like to make sure that freedom of speech is not expressly affected by this legislation, and, since we do not know what the Government is proposing, we cannot at this stage expressly support it.
Q228 Mr Prosser: On that issue of preserving and protecting freedom of speech and freedom of expression, do you have any recommendations or thoughts on how we can best encourage the media to run more stories which are positive about minorities?
Mr Kallidai: The media is a bit tricky, because it is not necessary that legislation alone can affect the media, I think, besides legislation, the media needs to have its own statement of good practice.
Q229 Mr Prosser: I am not relating you to legislation, but what measures would you take? What moves can you make?
Mr Kallidai: Responsible reporting, I would think, is a culture that the media needs to adopt. For instance, if the police are making anti‑terror arrests, then "Would reporting widely on that be conducive to community relations or not?" is something the media has to ask itself and then decide to report or not. Simple things like that would be very helpful. Also, we have documented evidence that the media has not been very sympathetic in reporting antihindic incidents, attacks of xenophobia in the community, and we have provided in our written submission lists of attacks on the Hindu community which have not been reported in the media ‑ attacks on our temples never get reported ‑ and, quite rightly, attacks on, say, Jewish cemeteries get very sympathetic reporting in the national media, which we are very pleased about, but we also wish that they are as sympathetic when Hindu temples get attacked. They are not.
Q230 Mr Prosser: I have been told that if a paper like the Daily Mail or the Daily Express runs a front page headline which is anti‑Islamic or mentions asylum seekers in derogatory terms, it can put ten or 20,000 on the circulation of that newspaper. How can you counter that to get your positive story across?
Mr Khan: It is a mammoth task. With the contacts that I have in the press I am fortunate that I can get some stories in the press which have a positive view about minority communities, but it is incredibly difficult, and it is about circulation. I agree that it needs responsible reporting, but what if you do not have that? What can you do? I get approached by people saying they want to take action against such and such a newspaper, but there is no funding for defamation, libel. Whole communities can not be defamed; you have to have an individual. The only thing you can do is go to the PCC; and I have tried that. What I would suggest is a concrete proposal for the community to take on board, which Ms Mashadi was going to elaborate on, was to make an addition to the PCC code, which is specifically aimed at preventing the kind of reporting that we have seen in certain cases. I do not have a wording for that at this stage, and perhaps what we can do is to go back and think about a working to add to the PCC code. I do not know whether that is within the remit of the Committee.
Chairman: We are hoping to have a number of editors from the broadcast media give evidence to us in the New Year, so any thoughts you would like to feed us ahead of that or any criticism on this issue would be very useful indeed. I am sorry the session was shortened and disrupted by the vote. Can I thank all four witnesses very much. I know the Hindu Forum had some particular issues you wished to raise. I hope you feel you have been able to do so this afternoon for the record and also for FAIR. Thank you very much indeed.
Memorandum submitted by Peacemaker
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Danny Stone, Campaigns Organiser, and Ms Luciana Berger, member of NUS National Executive, Union of Jewish Students, Mr Raja Miah, MBE, Senior Officer, Ms Carolyn Gomm, Training Officer, Ms Josie Tyas and Ms Karine Bailey, Peacemaker, examined.
Q231 Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for coming. There is no need to introduce your organisation, but, for the record, would you give your names and which organisation you are from?
Ms Berger: My name is Luciana Berger, I am in my second year term on the National Executive Committee of the National Union of Students with responsibility for the national anti‑racism campaign. I am also a member of the Union of Jewish Students.
Mr Stone: I am Danny Stone. I am a Campaign Organiser for the Union of Jewish Students.
Ms Gomm: I am Carolyn Gomm. I am a Training Officer with Peacemaker.
Mr Miah: I am Raja Miah. I am a Senior Officer for Peacemaker.
Ms Bailey: I am Karine Bailey, a part of Peacemaker.
Ms Tyas: I am Josie Tyas and I am a part of Peacemaker in Oldham.
Q232 Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Can I thank both organisations for coming to give evidence this afternoon. I would like to start with Peacemaker. You do not all have to say something. You have submitted some very interesting evidence. Thank you very much indeed for the work that you did with school students in your area. Could you try to summarise for us what you think your survey tells us about how the threat of terrorism has impacted on young people in your community. Karine, would you like to start?
Ms Bailey: A lot of people feel scared and confused and they feel that since the event of 9/11 racism has .
Ms Tyas: This confusion has led to the young people thinking that there have already been attacks in Britain and that terrorists live in Britain. I do not know a great deal about terrorism, but I am scared of what I hear on the news every day. That is the kind of opinion that all the young people had. They were all just afraid that an attack could occur in Britain.
Q233 Chairman: One of the things that seemed to come out very strongly, as you say, a lot of the young people you talked to were very confused, had very little good information. Terrorism seems to be in the media all the time. Why do you think it is? Despite that, I think one of the things you were saying that young people did not know the difference between Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, for example? Why do you think there is so much confusion?
Ms Tyas: Because all these names are mentioned in the news every day, I do not know, young people cannot get their head round the different things that are happening. I think if there were more television programmes on each different group of terrorists, then they would be able to understand more. It is just lack of understanding really in my opinion.
Ms Bailey: The media also always seem to put across negative images of Muslims. I think that if they portrayed a more positive image there would be more understanding of what terrorism is and why it is happening.
Q234 Chairman: You may have half-answered my next question. In your report you said you saw in increase in anti‑Muslim feelings, and also greater segregation, greater separation between young Muslims and the wider population. Can you say a little more about why you think that has happened ‑ you have perhaps half answered it ‑ and also what you think can be done to counter it?
Ms Bailey: I think that the Government campaign could try and fight for what is right. In some schools no‑one actually understood what racism was and why it was happening. So they could try and develop on other people going into schools and telling them why it is happening at a young age and may be develop it.
Ms Tyas: I think it is important to tell what is right in primary schools especially, because as a young person myself, by the time we get to senior school if you are racist, most people do not want to change their views, but if you teach them when they are young, when the generations come through, eventually, I think, Britain will be more anti‑racist full stop.
Mr Miah: Just a couple of points. One of the things that clearly came out was the Muslim young people were becoming far stronger in their religion and it was very clear that was taking place, and it was not just taking place within the Muslim communities, it was a clear perception amongst the white young people we worked with. The main point, I think, is around racism itself. I know we have talked about Islamophobia and stuff, but the reality, as far as we could see, was that 9/11 for many young people had given them, as they saw it, a legitimate excuse to be racist.
Q235 Chairman: Karine and Josie, did you find in your discussions, as Raj was just saying, that some white young people were now effectively able to say, "We can be critical or abusive of young Muslims", and actually it is because of their race and not because of their religion, but that is the excuse?
Ms Tyas: Yes, I think that excuse is made in a lot of cases in schools especially. Since 9/11 I feel a lot more bullying occurs between different races.
Ms Bailey: There is a lot more racism within the school environments between different races.
Q236 Chairman: You are both school students, and you talk to other students in schools. Did you get the sense that the schools were doing enough to tackle this? If this is what is going on in the classroom and at lunchtime in the playground and out of school, are the schools doing enough to tackle these attitudes?
Ms Bailey: I do not think they are. They do quite a bit about it, but they do not seem to get a lot of information about it. They say "Do not be racist" and "Do not be prejudiced and discriminate against people", but they do not give them a reason not to be; they do not educate them enough at an early age for them to understand in secondary school why not to be it.
Ms Tyas: I think yes and no. They do try and do a lot at our school especially, but, like I said, you need to get the students when they are younger, because once you get to be a teenager nobody really wants to listen to adults. We went into schools and we were talking to students who were on our level, they were only a year younger than us, and I think if students talk to students they are more likely to listen than if an adult or a teacher tries to tell you what to do and what not to do.
Q237 Chairman: Raja Miah, you work with Peacemaker doing these types of discussion around a range of issues. I suppose with the benefit of hindsight it could have been obvious that post 9/11 what were often already strained relations would get worse. Do you think from what you have seen in your work generally that schools and youth organisations have recognised this as a problem and responded quickly, or have people just let the situation develop?
Mr Miah: I think there has been a recognition of the problem. What is really interesting from doing this piece of work for you was the difficulty we had in getting into a number of schools and the barriers that were put up by schools that were fearful of these discussions taking place within their schools. We spent longer trying to get into schools than actually doing the work.
Q238 Chairman: Carolyn Gomm, do you want to anything?
Ms Gomm: I cannot add very much to it. I do not particularly think that the schools are doing a lot about it. As Karine and Josie said, I think they recognise racism and prejudice and they advocate against racism and prejudice, but I do not think they particularly do anything about terrorism and I think there is a lot of confusion within schools and young people.
Q239 Chairman: Can we move to the UJS, having had a fascinating snapshot of evidence from younger students at school. Have there been similar effects on students in universities?
Mr Stone: I think so. It is very important to understand that there has always been some base level of tension on campus, there have always been some problems. At the moment, certainly post September 11, campuses have become a lot more tense, particularly for Jewish students. We found that they can find it very unwelcoming and sometimes dangerous. Of specific concern has been the incitement to terrorism on campus as well, the most recent example being the two British suicide bombers who studied at Kings College in London and Kingston University, respectively, and ended up killing two Israelis and injuring a number of people in Tel Aviv. There are a number of others I can list if needed. What we have also found is that there is tension among students and academics. There is a small but vocal minority of academics who, instead of promoting harmony on campus and good relations, have used the tension existing to express specifically, we found, anti-Semitic sentiment, and, specifically related to September 11, conspiracy theories regarding Israel's involvement with the twin‑tower attacks. There is obviously a wider problem as well, which is that any terrorism has caused this tension, and there is a kind of mob rule wins on campus, there is a group thinking that is allowed to take place, and specifically international issues always cause tension in the UK.
Q240 Mr Prosser: On that issue of some lecturers or professors effectively preaching anti-Semitism at whatever level, what happens in those circumstances? Are they challenged by the students? Is there a row?
Mr Stone: Yes. Essentially there are two levels of what happens. On one level the students usually make a complaint. There is often some confusion as to who they should make the complaint to. Making the complaint directly to the lecturer is not necessarily an option. In some universities it will be to their equality unit. We would advise them to go to their Students Union or to the National Union of Students. The problem is that a lot of the time on the other level, we, as the Union of Jewish Students, try to represent their case, but it is excused as freedom of speech or there is no procedure in place to deal with that.
Q241 Mr Clappison: Picking up on that last point, there is a clear distinction between the views which people can legitimately have about the Middle East and, for example, about the Israeli Government and what it does or does not do? There is a distinction between that and expressing hostility towards people because they are Jewish or because they are of Israeli nationality. Do you feel that distinction is always observed?
Ms Berger: Maybe I can come in with my personal experience on this. I have been in the student group for five years, during which time I have never ever publicly spoken on the Israel Palestinian conflict in the work that I do. However, in the past year, to give an example, I have had a tirade of abusive e‑mails calling me, amongst other things, "dirty Zionist pig". Obviously that has got connotations in relation to the situation in Israel. So the distinction mainly is a kind of vitriol of anti Zionist language. Definitions are slim, but‑‑‑
Q242 Mr Clappison: Do you think the universities could be more careful or vigorous in observing these distinction?
Mr Stone: Absolutely. One of the things, which is a recommendation of ours, is that there is some kind of review of the Education Act, which is, in principle, an excellent Act which rightly protects freedom of speech on campus. We are finding over and over again that that right is being abused and that people are stepping beyond the mark. There was a lecturer in York where, I think it was the Arch Bishop of Jerusalem ‑ I will get clarification ‑ spoke about Israel against a number of government policies. UJS has always been very clear on our pro two-state solution. We have signed agreements with the General Union of Palestinian Students and we are very open in our search for peace. What we found is that this particular representative talked about government policies and then went on to talk about a Zionist conspiracy. That is the problem for us, where academics cross the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and the right of the existence of the state, or, of course, any Jewish conspiracies.
Q243 Mr Clappison: There have been examples recently of certain academics who have tried to move beyond criticising Israel and the Israeli Government into organising a sort of boycott of academics because they come from Israel and are of Israeli nationality. Would you have concerns about that and its spill‑over effect possibly into international students of Israeli origin or even Jewish students in this country?
Mr Stone: Absolutely. Again, we came out very strongly against the academic boycott, not only because it is an anathema to what academia is all about, it is about sharing information and making the world a better place based on being able to experience more together. Specifically the case that comes to mind is that of Professor Wilkin at Oxford who denied an Israeli student a place to study a PhD at Oxford. That is one example where the boycott may have spilled over and an Israeli student, an international student wanting to study here, is denied a basic right because of his nationality, the colour of his passport.
Q244 Mr Clappison: More generally, these are pretty dangerous waters, are they not, because we have seen from Europe that there have been a lot of problems for university students and school students arising out of those who were trying to import the Middle Eastern debate into the educational framework, the educational situation, by taking it out on school students and university students. That is something which has clearly happened a great deal in Europe. Do you have concerns about anything similar in this country or any experience of anything similar happening?
Mr Stone: In our submission we talk a lot about motions, motions that have gone into student unions, where there has been a call for a boycott of Israeli goods or an anti‑Zionist motion, as such. What has happened with almost every single one of those motions, and we can prove it, is there has been an anti-Semitic attack, Manchester being the best example. A motion was put forward and the resident Jewish housing was attacked: a knife in the door, a screwdriver through the letter box. That is what we see when the Middle East debate gets brought up on campus. There never seems to be a level discussion, a principal discussion, it always seems to take that extra step where the Middle East turns into these attacks on Jewish students.
Q245 Mr Clappison: Are you happy with what has been done by the university authorities about this?
Mr Stone: Not particularly. We have a number of concerns and a number of recommendations as well. I mentioned before, the Education Act. Vice Chancellors, I think rightly so, have been very frightened to tackle the issue of the Middle East. They do not want to be seen to be taking sides. We say there is a very clear line where you step beyond, as I said before, the Middle Eastern debate and into anti-Semitism or into incitement. Maybe Luciana can talk about the Race Relations Act.
Q246 Mr Clappison: Have you got anything briefly to add to this?
Ms Berger: There is an anomaly that student unions are not covered under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act and their public duty to promote good race relations. Obviously, they are also in receipt of funding, they have got grants from either the college or university which is tax‑payers' money, but they do not fall under the bracket of a public institution. So that is a problem. In itself actually a lot of student unions have been very good in campaigning work they have done to hold their own institutions to account under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act ‑ it is a big area that we are working on ‑ but there are also bad examples where groups within student unions have taken liberties or they have organised events using university resources for events where people have spoken against Israel or there has been incitement to be anti-Israel.
Q247 Mr Clappison: Can I move on to Peacemaker. You have told us in the written evidence you submitted to us about a general lack of awareness amongst young people about international events and the international background of Muslim young people you said that they do tend to be more politically aware but that there does tend to be what you describe as a "them and us" perspective on their part. Can you enlarge on that and say what you think can be done to help, in the one case, to improve understanding and international relations and, in the case of the Muslim young people, what can be done to bridge that perception of them and us?
Mr Miah: In terms of the understanding, it is clearer and better education and education responsive to current political debate in a way that people can understand and engage in. What was really interesting was that in some of the schools we went in the teachers had no understanding of what was taking place, never mind the young people themselves, and we found that surprising.
Ms Gomm: Some people that we worked with, adults that we worked with, did not know the differences between Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. It was at that level.
Q248 Chairman: So in fact it was not just the young people that did not understand it, it was the people you might have expected to understand. Can I ask one further question to Peacemaker in this group? Listening to what has been going on in university campuses, and this is obviously organised groups who are pushing for a particular view about the Middle East or whatever, from the young people you were talking with, whose views you gave us in your report, did you get the impression that any of those young people were involved in any organised group, whether Islamic extremist groups or extreme right‑wing groups or mainstream political groupings, or were they just young people who did not have much involvement at all in any side of politics or movement and you were just picking up their views?
Ms Tyas: It came across to me that they were not part of any groups or really they should not know anything if they are not taught anything. I think if there were more organisations like Peacemaker, then these problems of confusion would be broken down.
Ms Bailey: It is the same really. They all seem to have a basic knowledge but not that much. Even if there were more organisations about terrorism or racism, like Peacemaker, in the school in school hours I think there would be more cultural diversity. I think they would learn much more and it would educate them?
Q249 Chairman: Raja Miah, can I ask you specifically, because you have been involved in Peacemaker for quite some time, is the situation for the work that you are doing worse now than it was in 2001 because of terrorism?
Mr Miah: Yes, it legitimises racism. That was a clear message we were getting. Many of our white young people felt 9/11 legitimised racism, and in fact many of our Muslim young people also felt it legitimised segregation and a more insular Muslim looking at things instead of promoting this concept of Britishness. We have struggled with that.
Q250 David Winnick: Carrying on the answer that was given by Mr Stone, can I be quite clear on this issue. If universities, be it students or academics who totally condemn the present policies of the Israeli Government, do not question the right of Israel to exist but totally oppose the occupation policies of what is happening as a result of the killing of Palestinians, do you consider that perfectly legitimate, nothing connected with anti-Semitism.
Mr Stone: The way that we set it out is that there are certain red lines that have to be stepped over in order for us to class comments as anti-Semitism, that is that Israelis class as the ultimate evil which for us feeds into demonisation and dehumanisation of Jewish students, that means comparing Israel to Apartheid, that means calling Zionism or Israel racist in its fundamental being or comparing it to Nazis or the holocaust. If they are talking about government policies, as far as we are concerned that is not anti-Semitism. In some cases it may help whip up tension in the classroom, but we would consider it anti-Semitism.
Q251 David Winnick: Because if you look at the correspondence column in the Jewish Chronicle, which I see from time to time, the criticism of Israel is quite clear. There is no censorship, as far as I can see, in the Jewish Chronicle. You can hardly describe that as anti-Semitism?
Ms Berger: I think it is the ramifications of what is said and how it is said and what the results are of that that we saw on campus, as Danny outlined, in Manchester. I think in the evidence we have outlined quite a few examples of when these debates happen and there is this vilification of the country and this red line is crossed and what that then spills over to the effects on Jewish students.
Q252 David Winnick: You mention a Dr Queen at Birmingham University. You say that on his website favourable reference was made to Irvine, whose reputation was totally destroyed, whatever reputation was left in the recent court case. Do you know what has happened to Dr Queen?
Mr Stone: It is a very grey example of good practice from a university. What happened was that, following a series of letters that we wrote and a series of letters from students, the university decided that they would ensure academics had only links on their websites relating to their course and not to their own personal views and that personal websites could be put up anywhere else on the internet, but not under the banner of Birmingham University. The problem specifically with Dr Queen was that we asked that he go through some form of advanced equal opportunities training. That I know of, he has not had to take that.
Q253 David Winnick: He continues to teach?
Mr Stone: Sorry.
Q254 David Winnick: The person in question, Dr Queen, continues to teach?
Mr Stone: Yes.
Q255 David Winnick: As far as SAOS (School of African and Oriental Studies) University of London, you say Jewish students feel very uncomfortable. Have you taken that up with the head of the college in response?
Mr Stone: Absolutely. I met with Professor Bundy, I think it was last week, and we decided to keep a channel of communication open. He has agreed to help us gain contact within the Students Union there. There has been some progress made. Unfortunately that was offset by a conference which was aimed to reinstate the academic boycott held last Sunday where a number of comments were made by people in the conference and outside again comparing Israel to Germany in the 1940s. Professor Bundy and I are in discussions because we have different takes on how seriously those comments should be taken.
Q256 David Winnick: So it is an on‑going dialogue, is it, with the head of the school?
Mr Stone: Yes, we are trying to ensure that we can do the best for Jewish students by speaking with the school.
Q257 David Winnick: I have not heard the accusation before that Jewish students feel intimidated by SAOS. It is a very serious accusation.
Mr Stone: Absolutely.
Q258 David Winnick: But you are standing by it?
Mr Stone: Absolutely.
Q259 David Winnick: Coming to the written evidence, you mention the work you do with other students and minority organisations. Have you drawn, either of you, any particular lessons from this? Muslim students, presumably, as well.
Ms Berger: Yes. There is a lot of very good ongoing and increasing work done on a grassroots level in terms of interfaith relations. The Union of Jewish Students has just appointed a full‑time anti‑racism and interfaith officer working with Jewish societies on a local level to help them carry out those activities. It is quite a new concept within the student movement interfaith activities, but it is being taken very seriously and it is being promoted. We do a lot of work with the interfaith network in distributing their new Connective Eye which is offering student unions useful advice on how to carry out those kinds of activities, and in the New Year we are holding the first ever religious understanding and interfaith conference for student officers both raising the awareness of the religious deeds of students and introducing the concept of interfaith activity on campus.
Q260 David Winnick: This is continuing, is it?
Ms Berger: Yes, it is. It is very new. It is the first time ever that NUS is holding any type of conference do with this area of activity.
Mr Stone: We pride ourselves on really taking the interfaith dialogue seriously. We have long established links with the British Organisation of Sikh Students and the National Hindu Students Forum. We were involved in the debate on the right to wear a hijab in France with the United Sikhs. We have got a Muslim and Jewish women's dialogue group at Cambridge called MOJOW and a new one has been set up called MOJOM (the Muslim and Jewish Men's Dialogue), we have had "urbans versus turbans" football tournaments and there are all kinds of really positive things going on.
Q261 David Winnick: Can I turn to the Peacemakers. I am sure that we would agree that the work that is being done is first‑class. We are extremely impressed. Based on your discussion with other young people, what do you feel would be the best way to contribute to community cohesion and breaking down barriers, which, as you know, in some respects from your own experience exists on a level which is extremely unfortunate, breaking down barriers between different groups?
Ms Tyas: I think that small things like sports clubs and different organisations could be set up to help break down the racial barriers and racial tension. I think tiny little things can build up to stop the racial tension throughout Britain.
Q262 David Winnick: May I ask, and I hope you do not mind me asking both of you: how did you get involved in such excellent work?
Ms Bailey: It was through school. Peacemaker got involved with our school a couple of years ago, and then in about year eight we got asked if we wanted to get involved in it, and we accepted and we have just moved up through there?
Ms Tyas: We started off doing a bit of anti‑racism stuff and then we did stuff about communication and things, and now we are doing story‑telling and about different religious festivals, and we have done this as well.
David Winnick: I suspect it is quite likely you will end up on this side of the table asking the questions in future years. Thank you very much.
Q263 Chairman: As a final question from me, when you have had all your discussion groups, did you end up feeling worried or frightened about the future with your generation growing up with these different views or tensions, or was there enough in there that that was good and positive for you to feel confident about the future?
Ms Tyas: Definitely not. I am not confident about the future. With racism as it is, I think there needs to be a lot more done to improve the racist situation as it is, but I would feel more confident about the future if there were more organisations. There are a few people in each school that are not racist but it counteracts the large percentage that are racist. If we could just break down that racism in schools then I would be a lot more confident.
Ms Bailey: It is the same with me really. I was quite scared, because everyone says there is terrorism and, when you think about it, a terrorist attack could happen any time and it is quite frightening. I have not got the confidence to say I do not think anything is going to happen, because it can happen at any time. I think it is quite worrying to think that.
Chairman: Thank you all very much indeed. It is quite challenging, I think, to come and give evidence to a Select Committee. It has been an extremely good afternoon. Thank you very much for the evidence you have all given.