Baroness Warsi’s speech at the Tell MAMA annual dinner
It’s nearly 2 years to the day since I made that speech about Islamophobia.
At the time I talked about the scourge of anti-Muslim hatred.
From violence on the streets to vitriol online.
And, dare I say it, derogatory comments at the dinner table…
When I said that Islamophobia had ‘passed the dinner table test’.
I meant anti-Muslim sentiment had become so socially acceptable, it could be found even in the most civilised of settings.
I got a fair amount of stick for making that statement.
There were those who denied the problem existed.
There were those who said talking about it was dangerous.
But let me tell you what’s really dangerous:
It’s when people are treated differently because they hold a different religious belief.
It’s when a country turns a blind eye towards that discrimination.
And it’s when we allow a perception of a people to become so entrenched that extremists are able to capitalise on it.
Because any form of prejudice, bigotry or discrimination is wrong.
And our desire, our duty and our passion to tackle intolerance is what brings us together tonight.
Let’s look at the situation today:
The Association of Chief Police Officers has, for the first time, started to disaggregate the hate crimes reported to police in 2011.
And early indications are that 50 to 60% of reported religious hate crimes were anti-Muslim.
I don’t need to give you story after story about the mosque that’s been attacked or the women who have had their headscarf ripped from their heads, or abused for wearing religious dress, or the discrimination in the job market or the online abuse.
MAMA can do that. These are the problems they record and the people they support every day.
Reporting incidents and recording them, as MAMA does, is crucial to tackling this problem.
Not only does the data start to show the extent of the problem.
It also tells agencies where support is needed.
It shows policy makers and authorities where intervention is required.
But it’s early days. The data we have is limited. We need more detailed and consistent and accurate statistics.
So it’s down to everyone to do their bit to identify anti-Muslim hatred and log it.
That’s why, last year, Eric Pickles and I wrote to every mosque registered with the Charity Commission asking them to help to record anti-Muslim incidents.
It’s why we have ensured the police record hate crimes based on the 5 strands of equality.
And it’s why we are committed to doing whatever we can about the unacceptable scourge of anti-religious hatred.
Perception of Muslims
But today I want to focus on a problem that is particularly concerning.
Something which I believe is paving the way for anti-Muslim hatred:
The negative perception of Muslims.
An underlying, unfounded mistrust.
A misinformed suspicion of people who follow Islam.
It’s not anti-Muslim hatred itself but it can all too quickly create the conditions for prejudice to become accepted in our society.
Research by the excellent Dr Matthew Goodwin and Dr Chris Allen lifts the lid on this, showing attitudes towards Britain’s Muslims.
Look at their recent polling – indicative data from a recent online YouGov survey.
Just 23% of people said that Islam was NOT a threat to Western civilisation.
And only a mere 24% thought Muslims were compatible with the British way of life – with nearly half of people disagreeing that Muslims were compatible.
Perhaps most disturbingly, nearly half of people polled thought there would be a clash of civilisations between and Muslims and other Britons.
This echoes previous research by Clive Field, whose polls suggested that up to one-fifth of adults were ‘strongly Islamophobic’.
My fear is this: that seeing one community as the ‘other’ is a slippery slope.
That it will enable extremists to advance their twisted interests unchecked.
And I don’t have to remind anyone what happens when an unfounded suspicion of one people can escalate into unspeakable horror.
Now it’s our duty to counteract this perception of Muslims.
To those who say that there is a conflict of being loyal to Britain and a Muslim, you have to look no further than Mohamed Farah.
Our national hero is a practising Muslim.
The double gold medallist saw no conflict between crossing the finish line in the Union Flag and dropping to the ground in prayer.
In fact, he showed how seamlessly religion and patriotism can go together.
He made that point when he curtly told one interviewer ‘look mate, I’m British’.
In fact, British Muslims actually express a stronger affinity with the UK than their non-Muslim counterparts.
As one survey revealed, 83% of Muslims said they were proud to be British, compared to 79% of Britons overall.
And far from being anti-British as some, particularly the far-right, would have you believe.
Thousands of Muslims from the Commonwealth fought alongside the Allies in both the world wars.
These patriots fought and died for the freedoms we all enjoy today.
People like my 2 grandfathers who fought for this country long before my parents came to its shores.
And you will therefore understand why I will not take lessons on loyalty from those on the extreme right.
Who demonstrate the ideology of intolerance – the very fascism that my grandparents fought all those years ago.
So it is our duty to demonstrate our shared history.
And that’s something I’m particularly committed to doing in the build up to the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
Of course, there are lots of misconceptions about all religions.
There will always be those who manipulate and distort religion for their own ends.
And there will always be those who give these people a platform.
So they can peddle hate and present the ugly face of faith distorted.
What I most object to is when people present the worst interpretation of a faith and compare it to the best characteristics of a nation.
And from that deduce that the faith and the nation are incompatible.
That’s what’s being done in some quarters, and it’s feeding into this negative perception of the religion of Islam.
In 2011, the Prime Minister talked about those who ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism.
About those who argue that Islam and the West are irreconcilable – a clash of civilisations.
These people, he said, fuel Islamaphobia. And we, like David Cameron, should completely reject their argument.
Sadly, much of this negative narrative is being perpetuated by certain sections of the media.
Research by Dr Chris Allen shows that 74% of people claim that they know ‘nothing or next to nothing about Islam’.
While 64% say what they do know is solely acquired through the media!
His research shows not just the surge in stories about Muslims after 9/11 but the enormous weighting towards negative stories.
Lord Justice Leveson’s report event revealed journalists were encouraged to make up stories about Muslims.
And concluded that the unbalanced reporting of ethnic minorities was endemic.
But there is good news.
We have an excellent – albeit small cohort – of people who are willing to discuss this issue.
People like Peter Oborne, Mehdi Hasan, Ian Birrell, Oliver Wright and others.
Journalists and editors who are willing to devote their column inches to this issue.
And I know many have been brave in covering this story today.
So 2 years ago I spoke about anti-Muslim hatred and was told it didn’t exist.
Two years on, I want us to take stock.
So we can look at the problem and look at what needs to be done.
So we can celebrate the work being done by journalists, by agencies like MAMA, by academics, by police and by politicians.
And where we all vow to come together to tackle this scourge.
I have often said that an attack on a church is an attack on a gurdwara, or a mosque, or a synagogue.
Likewise, I believe an attack on a Muslim is an attack on a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu or a Sikh.
An attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths.
And an attack on faith is an attack on freedom.
And I sincerely wish that on the issue of this hatred, anti-Muslim hatred, it wasn’t me taking on this mantle.
It would be a more powerful message from a non-Muslim, someone for whom this is not personally painful.
The fact is that everyone should have an interest in this issue.
It’s not just a matter for Muslims or a matter for people of faith.
It’s a matter for everyone who cares about Britain being the modern, equal, fair society that we want it to be.
After all, anti-Muslim hatred is a form of prejudice.
And there should be no place in Britain for this prejudice.
I believe things can be better.
I think more can be achieved and I know we can lead on this issue.
As a Foreign Office Minister I know we are respected the world over for our robust stance against hate crime.
Our religious freedoms are the envy of the globe.
Let’s strengthen that reputation by proving that we once again can rise to the challenge and stamp out this new and rising form of prejudice.