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MPs need to get own house in order over Islamophobia

27th Jul 2018

Rightfully or wrongly, Members of Parliament are allowed to speak freely during proceedings in the Palace of Westminster without fear of legal action on the grounds of slander, contempt of court or breaching the Official Secrets Act. MPs are effectively immune from being arrested for statements on civil matters, although this importantly does not include criminal offences. Regardless, however, it does not mean that the ancient privilege should ever be abused to castigate an entire section of society.

Yet on June 27, former UK Independence Party (UKIP) Leader, Lord Pearson, did exactly that as he raised a question under what was headed ‘Anti-terrorism: Hate Speech’, initially asking whether the Government would start monitoring preaching in mosques and teaching in madrasahs for alleged ‘hate speech against non-Muslims’ in pursuit of its anti-terrorism strategy.

In response, this was ruled out by Minister for Faith and Community Cohesion, Lord Bourne, saying there were “no plans” for such surveillance in any faith institution. “Our Government are clear on our strong objectives to tackle hate crime. Free speech and freedom of belief are fundamental principles of our society,” he said.

Taking advantage of the follow-up question allowed, Pearson not for the first time, insidiously ranted about Islam being “the world’s most violent ideology, from which indeed most hate speech now comes.” Coming from the Peer who invited the now-imprisoned former EDL Leader, Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, more commonly known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson, he called on the Government to “please stop using the word Islamophobia”.

Adding her voice, former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Baroness Warsi, suggested whether “in pursuit of their anti-terrorism strategy, they will require preaching in the form of Oral Questions and debate in your Lordships’ House to be monitored for hate speech and Islamophobia against Muslims?” Lord Bourne said he agreed with her “about the importance of people in this House exercising discretion – of course, within the bounds of free speech – about what they say.”

Liberal Democrat Peer, Baroness Pinnock, also criticised the former UKIP leader over his “attempt to stigmatise Muslims” in his original question, saying it was “unworthy” of any member of the House of Lords. “Such language aids those who oppose cohesive communities and encourages hate crimes and attacks on both mosques and individual Muslims,” she warned.

Whether fully aware or not, Pearson remains liable to be prosecuted for criminal offences even as a Peer in the House of Lords. Hate speech laws can be found in several statutes, Public Order Act 1986, Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 as well as the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Specifically, they also include incitement to deliberately provoke hatred. Whatever intentions of the Peer, in this case, it is time for Parliament to get its own house in order.

Whether or not there was a specific breach in the law, the question one must ask is how the Speaker of the House of Lords allowed an Islamophobic question to be debated in the mother of democracy chamber? Would the Lords have allowed an Anti-Semitic or Anti-Racism question to be asked in the Parliament? We don’t believe so. It seems the Establishment doesn’t care about hate against Muslims. If even the chamber provides a platform for hatred against Muslims and the ongoing lack of action by the governing Party on Islamophobia within its ranks, it is little wonder that this political climate of Islamophobia leads to attacks against Muslims outside Westminster.

When will Islamophobia be taken seriously?

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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