As readers of this blog will know, I have sometimes sat in the gallery of the House of Lords listening to debates, and a couple of times I even sat in the Clerks’ Box on the floor of the House right by the Monarch’s throne which was cramped but enjoyable. This was usually in connection with my work with crossbench peer Baroness Cox on her private members bill that tackled gender discrimination in sharia courts.
Recently I listened in on a debate about Islam initiated by UKIP peer Lord Pearson. My take on the debate, below, was first published by Kipper Central:
You’ve got to hand it to Lord Pearson of Rannoch. The former UKIP party leader doesn’t mind standing alone.
For years he has stood virtually solo in the House of Lords against hostile peers who are overwhelmingly pro-EU and Remain.
Now the Brexit referendum has been won he is turning his attention to Islam. And it’s clear that this too is unpopular amongst the political class who invariably mention the religion in hushed and deferential tones.
So once again his Lordship finds himself ploughing a lonely furrow and swimming against the politically-correct tide. In other words, Lord P is a true Kipper.
On Thursday he forced a Lords debate about some major tenets of the Islamic religion because, he said, no one is willing to talk openly about the nature of Islam. “You can say what you like about the virgin birth, the miracles and the resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Lord Pearson said at the beginning of the debate. “But you get into serious trouble if you try to touch at all on the subject of Islam and what it really is.”
He mentioned the high Muslim birth rate and “the spread of sharia law whereby a Muslim man can have four wives.” Whenever people try to raise these issues, he continued, “we are told… we are spreading hate towards the Muslims”
Which is exactly what happened to him.
“The way Lord Pearson uses his ill-informed narrative to demonise the great religion of Islam and blame this religion for all the ills of the world actually fuels anti-Muslim sentiments that lead to hate crime,” railed Lord Hussain, illustrating Lord Pearson’s point.
“I begin by expressing my disquiet and resentment at the wording of (the debate motion),” protested Lord Sheikh. “I received numerous complaints from Muslims when it became known that this debate had been tabled. Islam is indeed a religion of peace… I feel that a debate such as this… can create discord and lead to further problems.” This peer proved Lord Pearson’s point too.
“The deliberate concept of the mischievous Muslims who can have four wives in the UK is nonsense,” remonstrated Lord Ahmed. “Nobody is allowed to have four wives.” His assertion flew in the face of recent Muslim research which found that 67% of Muslim women in the West Midlands say their husbands have more than one wife, and 7% claim their husbands have the full four wives permitted by Islam.
And by playing the Nazi card, Lord Ahmed also accused Lord Pearson of using hate speech: “Saying that Muslims are breeding more children and will take over is using the language that Nazis used against Jewish communities.” This is the same Lord Ahmed who four years ago blamed a Jewish conspiracy for the jail term he received for a dangerous driving offence after a fatal accident.
The debate achieved what Lord Pearson wanted – it got their Lordships talking about Islam and in the event not all were completely hostile. A Labour peer even complimented him: “The thing about Lord Pearson is that everyone thinks he is wrong, but he wins in the end – as he did with Brexit – so we have to listen to him carefully.”
It was progress, and the UKIP peer was having a good week. The previous day, he had intervened forcefully in the Lords during a discussion about hate crime.
There is widespread concern that the bar for recording hate crime falls lower and lower. You can now be reported to the police for a hate crime if a person – or even a bystander – merely feels you are hostile to or prejudiced against them on grounds of their race, religion, ethnicity or other protected characteristic. No hard evidence of hostility or prejudice is required.
A few years ago a report by the independent think-tank Civitas argued that hate crime legislation is reducing freedom of speech and has effectively introduced by the back door a blasphemy law that protects Islam from animosity and robust criticism. Police and prosecutors, it further claimed, are unfairly singling out alleged hate crimes by the majority population – termed ‘white’ or ‘ Christian’ – while ignoring other similar offences by minority groups.
Lord Pearson grasped the religious bull by both horns. “Will the Government confirm unequivocally that a Christian who says that Jesus is the only Son of the one true God cannot be arrested for hate crime or any other offence, however much it may offend a Muslim or anyone else?”
The Government minister flatly refused to give any such assurance.
In the light of this, Lord Pearson indicated later that he is deeply concerned that Christians’ freedom of religion is being curtailed and that Christians in the UK can now be arrested for simply preaching the Gospel as they are in Saudi Arabia, Iran and China. He made it clear to colleagues that he intends vigorously to pursue the Government on the issue.
So watch this space…