Session 2004-05, dated 6 April 2005
Terrorism and Community Relations report
The Home Affairs Select Committee today publishes a report which looks at the effect that the threat of international terrorism has had on community relations in the United Kingdom.
The report concludes that, overall, community relations have deteriorated, although the picture is by no means uniform, and that there are many positive examples to set against the overall assessment.
Building cohesive communities is integral to fighting terrorism, and the Muslim community should be fully involved in the next stages of the Government's anti-terrorism strategy. The report calls for much greater recognition of the problems of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
Local councils in this country and abroad have shown energy and imagination in tackling difficult issues. Their efforts should be reinforced by a central Government strategy to explain national policies and to encourage discussion.
Leadership is key at all levels. Faith leaders have a particularly important part to play in challenging prejudice and reinforcing tolerance.
The report looks at stops and searches and arrests under the anti-terrorism legislation. The large majority of stops and searches take place in London, where the Asian population is mirrors the proportion of Asians stopped and searched. The Committee therefore does not believe that the Asian community is being unreasonably targeted by police stops and searches, but accepts that Muslims clearly perceive that they are being stigmatised by the operation of the Terrorism Act. The police and Government should make special efforts to reassure Muslims. In particular, the Muslim community should be involved in independent scrutiny of police intelligence and its use.
A wide range of witnesses expressed to the Committee concerns over media coverage of terrorism and community relations: media coverage of international terrorism and community relations has a powerful and often negative impact. The report concludes that representatives of the media were unaware or dismissive of this. The media must live up to their responsibilities to report fairly and accurately.
The report endorses the call for a national debate to develop a modern British identity that was first made in the Cantle Report on the northern riots.
Commenting on the report Committee Chairman Rt Hon John Denham MP said:
"This country has a tradition of reasonably frank and open discussion of community issues. We must build on this to tackle the new problems created by the threat of terrorism.
Although we concluded that community relations had deteriorated overall since 2001, we heard of many positive initiatives that show the way forward.
"Leadership is the key to dealing with the issues arising from terrorism and community relations. Local leaders, faith leaders and central Government all have their parts to play in building cohesive communities.
"The Muslim community in Britain overwhelmingly rejects terrorism. The stereotyping of the Muslim community was rightly criticised in our inquiry. Many issues of community cohesion, of anti-terrorist work, and of media coverage have had a particular impact on the Muslim community.
"The Government needs to bring together its support for community cohesion with its anti-terrorist strategy and certainly needs to ensure that the Muslim community are fully involved in developing the next steps in tackling terrorism.
"The Government should also support a national debate about British identity in the 21st century."