Conservative Muslim Forum written evidence
Tackling discrimination – Religion
As a preliminary point, the word “Islamophobia” has a complex meaning as explained in the report “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All” published by The Runnymede Trust. Our response assumes that the Commission is using the word as a synonym for anti-Muslim hatred.
The reports published by monitoring bodies such as Tell MAMA, the Community Security Trust and the Metropolitan Police show a disquietingly high level of anti-Muslim and antisemitic hatred. Statistically most of the incidents collated take place online but there is also real-world abuse and occasionally physical assaults, sometimes serious and occasionally fatal.
The absolute numbers of incidents relating to Jews and relating to Muslims collected by the monitoring bodies are broadly comparable. As Britain has 10 times as many Muslims as Jews, this demonstrates that the Jewish community suffers far more hatred than the British Muslim community.
The single most important long-term step in reducing such hatred is to teach children in schools to understand that human civilisation has been a joint enterprise of many different racial and religious groups. Children should be taught to understand the history and beliefs of Jews and Muslims and their contribution to civilisation generally and to Britain in particular.
Evidence from the census shows that the percentage of the population that identifies as Christian is steadily declining. Furthermore, many of those who identify as Christian almost never take part in Christian religious services. The decline in Christian belief is paralleled by a growth in “aggressive secularism” which does not simply reject religion but which actively seeks to constrain religious practices such as Jewish and Muslim religious slaughter and circumcision. Indeed, the strongest intolerance against Jews and Muslims today comes not from Christians but from aggressive atheists.
While the numbers affected by radicalisation are small in absolute terms, it is a real and serious problem in the Muslim community. Small numbers of young Muslims, often unsure about their identity and where they belong in British society, are easily captivated by a millenarian ideology, just as in previous decades young people were captivated by ideologies such as Marxism Leninism or anarchist ideologies. Tackling radicalisation is very difficult. The primary responsibility rests with British Muslims who need to bring up their children to appreciate the values that make Britain the wonderful country that it is.
Government has its part to play by ensuring that it maintains a clear distinction between extremists who teach unacceptable views and the broader generality of British Muslims. In general, the precise words of government ministers achieve that but they need to pay much greater attention to the tone and colour of language that they use. While freedom of the press must be preserved, more could be done to encourage tabloid newspapers to be less irresponsible in their reporting of stories involving Muslims.
The anti-discrimination legislation in the Equality and Human Rights Act 2010 is broadly satisfactory. Providers of goods and services should not be allowed to discriminate on grounds of religion. Nor should employers except where discrimination is reasonable. For example, an off-licence whose member of staff decides that they are no longer willing to sell alcohol should be entitled to terminate that employment without compensation since the sale of alcohol is essential to the job being done properly.
Foreign policy – Freedom of religion or belief
Religious freedom is most under threat in numerical terms in the People’s Republic of China. That country seeks to suppress religion or co-opted in the service of the state. There are also countries such as Myanmar which actively discriminate against and persecute religious minorities such as Muslims.
In many Muslim majority countries there is a growth in intolerant and exclusivist interpretations of Sunni Islam which leads to discrimination against other Muslim minorities and against other religions. This is particularly marked in several Middle East countries but there are also worrying trends in previously tolerant countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Furthermore, it is far too easy for unscrupulous politicians to exploit religious beliefs or political purposes.
The Government should follow the example of the USA by appointing a senior diplomat to have responsibility for religious freedom worldwide. We should make it clear that UK foreign aid will not be given to countries whose governments restrict religious freedom and fail to protect religious minorities.
British Bill of Rights
The goal of the Human Rights Act was to make it possible for UK citizens to litigate in the UK courts for their rights under the European Convention of Human Rights without having to go to The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. To do so, it quite properly repeated the terms of the Convention in UK Statute Law.
To the extent that problems have arisen, they are due to the fact that the British constitution is unwritten and does not have a fully developed concept of the separation of powers. In particular Parliamentarians complain bitterly that “unelected judges can frustrate the will of Parliament.”
In our view a permanent solution requires the UK to adopt a written constitution specifying the powers and limitations of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, something that almost all other countries have done. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Act should remain on the statute book as it is.
It is essential that the UK remains a signatory to the ECHR. Firstly, the U.K.’s withdrawal would send a terrible message to demagogic governments in Europe such as Russia and Belarus, and would be damaging to human rights across Europe. More importantly, the experience of the last 60 years has shown that Parliament cannot be relied upon to protect the human rights of UK citizens which is why on many occasions UK citizens have had to successfully litigate against the UK government at the European Court of Human Rights in order to protect their human rights.
The concept of a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act is fundamentally misconceived. Those who promote this concept in reality are seeking to limit the power of the judiciary to protect citizens against the arbitrary exercise of power by the executive and the legislature. Furthermore, rights are not contingent upon citizens also living up to their responsibilities as citizens; they are the absolute possession of citizens by virtue of being human. Accordingly, in our view the UK should remain a signatory to the ECHR and no attempt should be made to replace the Human Rights Act. The right of UK citizens to take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights needs to be maintained, in particular because the Supreme Court has not yet developed the robust attitude to the wishes of the executive and the legislature demonstrated by the United States Supreme Court.