A future Labour Government is committed to outlaw the scourge of Islamophobia by changing the law and making it an aggravated crime, according to the Party’s Leader Ed Miliband.
“We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime,” Miliband told the Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi in a wide ranging exclusive interview.
“We are going to change the law on this so we make it absolutely clear of our abhorrence of hate crime and Islamophobia. It will be the first time that the police will record Islamophobic attacks right across the country,” he said.
Labour Party Manifesto pledged to take a “zero-tolerance approach to hate crime” regarding the growth of Islamophobia as well as anti-Semitism. “We will challenge prejudice before it grows, whether in schools, universities or on social media. And we will strengthen the law on disability, homophobic, and transphobic hate crime,” it said.
Despite voting for the new Counter Terrorism Act last month, Labour was also critical of the way the Government has cut funding and narrowed the focus of the controversial Prevent extremism programme, saying that much of the work to “engage Muslim communities has been lost.”
“I want to overhaul Prevent programme,” Miliband told The Muslim News. The Muslim community is as an “incredibly important, incredibly rich, incredible asset to our country” and so it was really important to put on record.
“The reality is that the people I talk to in the Muslim community are absolutely full square with the idea that we’ve got to make sure that we work with our young people to stop them being dragged into this perverted (terrorist) ideology.”
“The way to do it is the Prevent programme working with communities. You got to do the things that once this ideology takes hold you try to disrupt it. For me that is the answer. We want to see how the Prevent programme is community focused.”
Challenged about the way particularly Muslim charities have been targeted by banks and discredited by the media, Miliband said in his wide ranging interview that he was “not in favour of demonising anyone (and) that is the wrong thing to do.”
“What I am in favour is the Charity Commission working without fear or favour. We got to build right across the Muslim community. There is absolutely shared purpose and shared desire to deal with a small minority in our country who get tempted to violent extremism. That is what we got to build on and it is about working with them.”
On the so-called Trojan Horse scandal that failed to find virtually any evidence of extremism or radicalisation, the Labour leader said the reality is that the “root of this problem lies in proper accountability in our schools.”
“We are going to have high standards locally. That will make sure that every school has proper oversight. When there is no proper oversight things can go wrong in schools. The best way to stop that happening is proper oversight in our schools.
“You need proper accountability. The answer to this is not to run thousands of schools from the centre of the Government but to have local accountability in schools.”
With regard to foreign policy, Miliband confirmed that Labour would have supported the recognition of a Palestinian State in last year’s UN vote. His Party’s support was why Parliament backed the principle, he said.
“We would do everything we can to work for a two state solution which is a viable Palestinian state alongside security for Israel,” he added but also pointed out that he personally was “not in favour of sanctions” against Israel.
To find a solution, he argued engagement was needed with both sides but the “reality is that we had a British Government for the last five years who had disengaged from this issue, had washed its hands off this issue.”
“I’m not going to wash my hands off this issue. I will speak out about the settlements. I spoke out about Israel’s incursion into Gaza. Some people didn’t like that I spoke out. I did speak out and I will continue to speak out and engaging with the issue. We have the American Administration who also wants to engage and wants to push forward two-state solution. We are going to partner with them to do that.”
He was dismissive that Labour’s manifesto commitment to arrest and act against those returning from fighting in Syria would be hypocritical by targeting only Muslims as it is happening now. “When I am Prime Minister there will be one law for everybody. Full treatment for everybody,” he insisted.
Likewise Miliband was adamant that Muslims should not face racial and religious discrimination when it comes to employment or suffer the most because of the austerity cuts “It is part of the law that that is prohibited. We are going to have racial equality across the Government. We will enforce it.”
“We will tackle deprivation. We will build homes, get rid of bedroom tax, raise minimum wages, build better jobs for people, have a fairer social security system,” he also insisted.
Throughout his interview, Miliband insisted that he took “extreme care” in what he said but it still did not stop him in using the generic term of “Islamist terrorism” and inferring the cause was religious rather than political when suggesting more than once it was based on “perverted ideology.”
The last Labour Government stopped engaging with many Muslim organisations at the end of its tenor and the boycott has been continued by the Conservative-led Government. Questioned about it, he assertively said he would engage.
“I will always engage with people. I really value my relationship with the Muslim community and it is a relationship I would nurture as a Prime Minister.”
In the past, the majority of Muslims in Britain have often tended to vote more for Labour. It is a party that has always tended to have the most Muslim MPs, a trend that is expected to continue with the number expected to grow to 11.
“It is very important that people vote in the general elections. Stakes are incredibly high in this elections,” the Opposition Leader said.
“If you look at what I have done as Leader of the Labour Party I have learnt the lesson of Iraq war, I said no to military action in Syria in summer of 2013 when it was controversial. I have moved forward in the position to causes of Palestinian people.”
“Our Government will be absolutely committed to equality not just in law but in fact too. We are committed to race equality strategy. That is why we are committed to breaking down barriers of discrimination,” he further said.
“If you want the Government to stand up for working people it will be a Labour Government. So I urge people to vote in the elections because it is going to be a close election and if people don’t turn out to vote the danger is that you end up with Conservatives in power. So I will ask people to go out and vote.”