In a brief exchange in the House of Lords this morning, Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB) asked Her Majesty’s Government “what steps they are taking to combat religious extremism and to promote a cohesive society by enhancing religious literacy at all levels of government”.
The Minister of State at the Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con) replied: “My Lords, the Government are challenging all forms of extremism through our counter-extremism and Prevent programmes. We are working closely with faith groups to understand the impact of policies and to improve religious literacy in government. The Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary hosted a round table for representatives of all faiths last November”.
Lord Singh suggested that the fact that the Government’s paper on its hate crime action plan (which, incidentally, applies only to England and Wales) contained no mention of non-Abrahamic faiths suggested something of a failure in religious literacy. Democracy implied being attentive to the legitimate concerns of all sections of the community, not merely to those of a single religious or other majority. He said that he had put the basics of Sikh teachings on one side of A4; and that could be done for other faiths as well. Baroness Williams replied that the tenets of the action plan covered points on hatred on the basis of religious belief, disability, sexuality and so on; and it was therefore implicit that, for example, Sikh communities were included. As for the understanding of religious literacy, both the Home Office and DCLG engaged widely with faith communities.
Baroness Warsi (Con) asked whether the Prevent strand of the Government’s CONTEST Strategy was part of its counter-terrorism strategy or its counter-extremism strategy and whether there was any religious literacy element to the training given to Prevent co-ordinators. Baroness Williams replied that the central tenet of the Prevent strategy aimed to protect young people who might be vulnerable to both extremism and terrorist preaching, either online or in their communities: “it is a protection mechanism, not a targeting mechanism … It is a protective element to help prevent some of the external forces to which our young people are subjected in a negative way prevailing”.
The Bishop of St Albans expressed doubts about the level of religious literacy among some of the asylum caseworkers at immigration removal centres, to which Baroness Williams replied that “an awful lot of time and effort” had gone into training of staff in terms of the sensitivities around LGBT detainees but she would go back and check on his important point about religious literacy.
Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD) brought attention to last weekend’s “Visit My Mosque” initiative and suggested that it was a very good and positive example of promoting greater understanding, community cohesion and tolerance – with which Baroness Williams agreed.