Examination of Witnesses (Questions 203-219)|
14 DECEMBER 2004
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.
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
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
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 pm to
3.55 pm 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
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
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
Q210 David Winnick: Would the other witnesses
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 arrivalsMuslims,
Hindus and Sikhsin 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, et cetera, 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 KhanI now rememberabout
attacks on Hindus. I do not believe I got your answer on that.
To finalise that particular set of questions, perhaps you would
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
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 Diwalibecause generally the Hindu temples are
very open now, as James rightly saidtwo 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 nowso
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 legislationthis 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 offencesinstead statistics show these
people have been charged, for example, on offences related to
immigration, IDso 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