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Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverent Prelate for initiating this very important and timely debate. Although enlightened moderation and religious teachings have become quite a fashionable sound-bite for many leaders, diplomats and politicians these days, I hope that we genuinely want to discuss important issues surrounding this topic and issues that incite hate and violence, including controversial writings, such as articles, plays and international eventsfor example, Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmirthat lead to extreme and violent reactions.
The play shown in the Midlands recently that provoked a violent demonstration by the Seikh communities, the play in Scotland which depicted Jesus Christ as a homosexual or the Koranic verses that were written on a woman's naked body were deliberately designed to provoke a reaction from the ordinary, peace- loving Seikh, Christian or Muslim. In a free and democratic society, I am totally committed to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, that has to be balanced with responsibility.
We all know that journalists, reporters and writers sometimes sensationalise headlines to sell newspapers and sometimes write deliberately derogatory columns that are abusive, insulting and incite hatred, such as the one that was published recently in the Daily Telegraph. Although I condemn violence and physical attacks by any individual or group, I can understand
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the feelings of the Seikh community of objecting strongly to the notion that a place of worship, like the Gurdawara, is depicted as a place where sex, homosexuality and violence occurs and therefore becomes a behazati (dishonour) and offensive. Naturally, there will be a reaction from those communities.
Although my religion of Islam has time after time ordered the Muslims to adopt a middle way, Islam is the most misunderstood religion in the world today, which is why sometimes one will see that extremism and terrorism have become interchangeable with the peaceful religion of Islam. Tonight, the right reverend Prelate concentrated on Islam and Pakistan, but I am sorry that America and the Christian right have not been mentioned. I am delighted to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said, with which I totally agree.
However, there are many reasons for the unrest in and reactions of the Muslim community today. Some relate to poverty, illiteracy, lack of democracy and dictatorships, the abuse of human rights and the struggle for the right of self determination. Others relate to the continued suffering of the Palestinian and Kashmiri people; the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad and the destruction of Fallujah; while the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib provided an incentive for some to recruit young people to fight in the name of religion.
I do not need to mention that Islam has the most modern values. The Constitution of Medina was agreed 1,400 years ago. A justice system was established and I believe that today's British jury system is based on the Islamic system of justice. Turning to rights and responsibilities, I refer to human rights and women's rightsI remind the House that the wife of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon Him, was an entrepreneur and businesswoman who traded in those days. I refer to animal rights as well.
The men who murdered Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister Rabin and Lord Mountbatten and his wife, and the men who carried out the massacre at Srebrenica and the attack on the twin towers may all have given the impression that they committed those crimes in the name of religion. But I believe that political ideologies and political extremism also play a part.
Enlightened moderation should not mean diluting the fundamental beliefs or attempting to change the basic principles of any religion. I believe that the state should not impose a particular type of religious education, like in the Netherlands or France, but should first deal with
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the injustices in our society of racism, Islamophobia, unemployment and deprivation. We must engage with young people who feel alienated and reach out to the disaffected.
I grew up in the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church, and in my adolescence was much influenced by the Iona Community and its attempts at a social gospel. I remain a relatively enthusiastic churchgoer in Clackmannan.
I have already mentioned my next point to the right reverend Prelate. I was attracted to the title of this Unstarred Question as it is constitutionally incorrect: religion, blasphemy and religious hatred are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. We will have to act as though a Sewel Motion has been passed, thus allowing the debate to touch on Scottish matters. I should also remind the House that sovereignty was returned to the Church of Scotland in 1932 by an Act of this Parliament.
That said, there is no doubt that, in part, central Scotland wallows in bigotry, which is certainly bigger than racialism in the central Scottish psyche. It is, of course, a relic of 19th century immigration or return from Ireland. This inter-denominational bigotry is supported and fuelled not only by Rangers and Celtic, but also by the continuance on the statute book of the Act of Settlement 1701, a pre-Union Act passed by this Parliament when it was the parliament of England and Wales. It was only relevant to deal with James Francis Edward Stuart, who should have inherited the English and Welsh throne in that year.
Since I am having a go at this Parliament, why not have a go at the Scottish Parliament as well? It is for the Scottish Parliament to repeal the Education (Scotland) Act 1918, which created denominational schools paid for by the state, thereby continuing the Protestant/Catholic divide.
I presume that an enlightened religious attitude is a tolerant attitude. One should meet other religions or denominations on the basis that they may be rightafter all, who knows? However, I draw the line at tolerating religions or religious sects which preach physical harm or death to non-believers.
The one point I wish to make is that there is a need for heresy and heretics to be identified so that everyone can come to know whether and how a heretical view diverges from the orthodox view. There is a need for boldness from mainstream religious leaders, whether it is an Islamic sect, the Order of Hibernians or the Orange Order that we are considering.
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Lord Chan: My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate for being absent when he opened the debate. This was due to confusion in the advice I was given about when the end of the day's business would be. As a result, I listened to the speech of the right reverend Prelate on the television.
I acknowledge all the positive observations made by the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords who have spoken. I shall focus on what I believe is importantthat is, the need to inform people in the community, particularly those who provide services in both the public and private sectors, about the cultural and religious beliefs prevalent in our population. I have been doing thisI declare an interestsince the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 was passed and after the Stephen Lawrence inquiry in 1999.
I have three proposals in regard to the way forward. First, we need to maintain enlightened religious attitudes in the UK, finding a delicate balance between our freedom of expression and respect for the beliefs and views of other people in the community. We need systematically to inform people about cultures and religions. This can be done through a number of media: electronic means, the printed word and seminars. Over the past five years, I have found that this has given people, particularly from the majority population, confidence in their dealings with people from diverse backgrounds.
Secondly, we need publicly to explore the balance between freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs. The danger of upsetting some religious communities would be reduced if discussion took place between people who hold specific religious beliefs and those with other values and beliefs. This has been taking place on Merseyside. I am personally involved where groups of people meet together in order to understand each others' religions. This mirrors the school curriculum to which the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, referred.
Thirdly, more discussions and consultation should be encouraged to take place between and among people more openly in order to find out more about their religious beliefs and their views of the world. If these measures were implemented, there would be no need to initiate legislation about incitement to religious hatred. Such legislation would do more harm than good.
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