The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for his patient and insightful speech and to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for securing this debate. As a Christian minister, I hope that I can contribute with humility and sensitivity in this vital matter.
As extremists attempt to divide our communities, and even seek to hijack Christian symbols to do so, it is important to state clearly and loudly that it is the duty of all Christians in this country to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who suffer hate speech, violence or prejudice.
This duty falls particularly, but by no means exclusively, on the Church of England. Her Majesty the Queen, in a speech to faith leaders at Lambeth Palace in 2012, gave an eloquent reminder that the role of the established church is,
“not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country”.
We stand, therefore, resolutely for freedom of conscience and for a society in which the open and public practice of faith is rigorously protected.
The greatest impact of Islamophobia is of course felt within our Muslim communities, especially perhaps by Muslim women. We have heard moving accounts, especially from the noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi and Lady Burt, of the reality of the personal impact of bigotry on the lives of our fellow citizens. We should also remember that hatred which isolates us from one another impoverishes us all, socially, economically and culturally. As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, has argued, a society that values integration without assimilation allows us all to bring our particular gifts as contributions to the common good,
“not to ourselves and our communities alone but to all of us and the life we share”.
Freedom of conscience also implies a fundamental freedom to dissent from and to criticise religious beliefs. That is one reason why attempts to build a consensus about how we define Islamophobia need to recognise that when we are talking about the impact of anti-Muslim hatred we are also concerned with adherence to a faith tradition and not simply to a political ideology such as communism. Just as Christianity has so deeply influenced the laws, culture and modes of life in this country over the centuries, so, too, the Muslim faith has been integrated into and shaped cultures in ways that affect the various social and legal identities of other countries.
There is a real distinction to be drawn between, on the one hand, discourse that seeks to argue with or dispute particular beliefs or assertions and, on the other, attempts to attack, ostracise or belittle our neighbours for their faith and way of life.
Prejudice, discrimination and hatred of Muslims must not be treated as a concern voiced by the Muslim community alone. It is the duty of us all to ensure that Islamophobia is given no hiding place in our national life and to seek to build an open society in which the varied and significant contribution of our Muslim brothers and sisters is recognised and celebrated.
Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in a thoughtful and important debate. I have the words of the right reverend Prelate about the importance of humility and sensitivity in matters such as this ringing in my ears. Even though this is our last working day before Christmas, a debate about hatred of British Muslims is particularly important as so many British Muslims will celebrate Christmas with their friends and wider communities, and many British Muslims alongside British Jews and members of other faith communities will be working in vital emergency services and doing other important work to allow their friends and neighbours to have a break over Christmas. That is worth remembering and recognising…
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester made a point about Muslim women in particular being subject to discrimination and bigotry. It is awful that it occurs at all, but it is often even more appalling in relation to women, who can be isolated if they do not speak the English language well. That makes it particularly insidious, so it is important that we act. I thank him for that…
Lord Sheikh: …The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester made the point—I am so glad he said it—that Christians must stand by Muslims…