This meeting was held with both Luton North & South MPs to strengthen community ties and discuss issues articulated by the Muslim community through our faith centres and engagements.
Due to the limited time available, discussion was limited to a few topics and the key points and actions are summarised as follows:
Mosque representatives thanked both MPs for campaigning for Labour to accept the proposed definition of Islamophobia by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Muslims in March 2019. The formal definition will allow policymakers to identify how Islamophobia manifests itself and functions and thereby devise meaningful strategies to tackle it.
In order to best utilise this definition, Luton Mosques has requested that our MPs:
- Recommend Luton Borough Council adopt this definition similar to other borough councils like Watford and Bridgend.
- Request a review of the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act with a view to strengthening legal protection afforded to religious communities.
- Propose a move towards primary legislation to deal with social media offences and hate speech online and commit to working with social media companies to protect free speech while developing an efficient strategy to tackle hate speech online in consultation with Muslim grassroots organisations.
- Encourage publication of Islamophobic hate crime statistics by Bedfordshire Police on a regular basis.
- Request the general debate on tackling Islamophobia in the House of Commons Chamber be resumed as there was a feeling that the prior debate on Thursday 25 May had been talked out.
- This debate pack contains information on definitions of Islamophobia, statutory provisions relevant to Islamophobia and statistics on Islamophobia in the UK. Luton Mosques would like to contribute to this discussion and would appreciate guidance on how to best participate.
Luton mosques are aware of the release of the2023 Places of Worship (POW) Protective Security Scheme funding for England and Wales, in recognition of the Home Office’s 2017-18 research showing that 52% of religious-motivated hate crime was targeted at Muslims, with mosques often the prime target.
Luton mosques also raised concerns about the prevalence of islamophobia within the Labour party, as highlighted by reports by the Labour Muslim Network and Martin Forde KC. The lack of response from the Labour party – including from those MPs who represent areas with significant Muslim populations – signals a broader endorsement of islamophobia to our communities. Understandably, this leaves communities feeling unsafe, unsupported and unrepresented.
Developing situation in Pakistan
It was positive to see both MPs retweet Catherine West MPs letter, in her capacity as Shadow Minister for Asia & the Pacific Minister. The letter called for the British government to engage with counterparts in Islamabad underlining the need for free and fair elections, and to consider increasing British support for civil society and universal human rights.
Attacks on Muslim worshippers in Jerusalem and plans to increase illegal settlements
Sadly, the situation in Palestine is worsening with increased attacks on worshippers through the holy month of Ramadan and repeated incursions into the Al Aqsa mosque compound even as recently as this past weekend. International media channels reported dozens of Israeli settlers, protected by Israeli police, stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday 11th June 2023. These incursions violate the longstanding status quo arrangement governing Al-Aqsa mosque, which reserves prayer there for Muslims.
At the same time, Israel has announced further construction and expansion of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as the “legalisation” of settlement outposts, which are considered unlawful by international law as highlighted in the February 2023 UN Security Council convention. The Financial Times reported Bezalel Smotrich, the Israel finance minister, went further publicly calling to “wipe out” a Palestinian town.
We, the members of Luton Mosques, request that:
- MP Sarah Owen, as Shadow Minister for Local Government and Faith, request that the British government unreservedly condemn the Israeli violations, including the threats to take over the Al-Aqsa mosque.
- Our MPs vote against the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters Bill; more commonly referred to as the anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Bill tabled by the government. BDS is a peaceful and democratic right of public bodies. We hope all our MPs will continue to protect the right of our public bodies to make ethical and moral decisions to boycott and divest companies and countries that violate human rights.
Since this meeting, we are extremely disappointed to see that both Sarah Owen MP and Rachel Hopkins MP abstained on this vote. This is despite the Labour Party receiving legal advice from Richard Hermer KC who concluded:
“In my view, legislation prohibiting local authorities from taking steps to promote Palestinian self-determination within the OPT taken with the terms of the exclusion in Clause 3(7), would likely place the United Kingdom in breach of international law obligations.”
This vote took place on the day that Israel launched a violent and ongoing military assault on the Palestinian city of Jenin, driving Palestinians from their homes and killing at least 10 people thus far, including four children. It has been reported that over 120 people have been injured.
Youth engagement and employability
Congratulations were conveyed on Rachel Hopkins MP being re-elected as Chair of the APPG for Sixth Form Education in May.
A new youth group is in formation at the Raise Up community centre, designed and led by young people. Summer schemes and youth activities are being promoted at most mosques locally, as well as initiatives driven through Active Luton’s Energise holiday camps.
Discussion ensued on additional initiatives to raise aspirations, engage employers and promote careers development, with an offer to host a youth/student group at the Houses of Parliament after the Summer break.