19 JAN 2017
Populism and Nationalism
The House of Lords debated the following motion to take note, moved by Lord Bruce of Bennachie
That this House takes note of challenges to the liberal international order posed by the development of populism and nationalism around the world.
The full debate can be read at this link. Lord Sheikh spoke at 3.37pm and his contribution is reproduced below.
My Lords, 2016 has not been kind to liberalism. Across the globe, populism and nationalism have taken the reins. In this regard I would like to cite a few examples. In the Philippines, we have a leader who endorses extrajudicial killings. In Myanmar, members of the Rohingya community who are Muslims have been subjected to brutal violence and many have been killed. In Hungary, we have a leader who sees the refugee crisis as nothing more than an opportunity to further his own popularity. There is now a right-wing populist Government in Poland.
In 2017, we will see further challenges from populism and nationalism. In the Dutch general election, the anti-immigrant party is leading the polls. Its leader, Geert Wilders, has openly said that he wants to ban the Holy Koran. In the French presidential election, Marine Le Pen is widely expected to be one of the two candidates to reach the final round of the election in May. She and her National Front party have put forward anti-immigration and anti-Islam policies.
Tomorrow will be the inauguration of the United States President. During the campaign, Donald Trump has undoubtedly prospered by inciting populist ideas. Unfortunately, he made some unsavoury remarks about the Muslims. Notwithstanding this, I am pleased to see that the President-elect has stepped back from the brash tone of the campaign trail. I hope that much of what he said was rhetoric and that he will not put it into practice.
As someone who strongly values our democracy, I believe in freedom of the press. We must, however, take more care. The news media has become increasingly fixated with attention-grabbing, outrageous headlines that sell at the expense of accurate reporting. It is commonplace for the news media to use descriptive terms such as “Islam” or “Muslims” when referring to criminals or any form of terrorism. Indeed, the regular association of Islam with crime and terror is a critical ingredient in spreading Islamophobia. Islam is a religion of peace. My religion forbids suicide bombings or acts of terrorism. It is written in the Holy Koran that,
“whoever kills a soul … it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one—it is as if he had saved mankind entirely”.
A person who commits an act of terrorism should be referred to as a terrorist without reference to his or her religion. In regard to criminal acts, certain sections of the media have associated sex grooming with Islam. Any crime of such a nature has nothing to do with Islam, which does not permit or encourage any such horrible acts, just as there is nothing in Christian values or indigenous British culture that would condone the abuses revealed in the Jimmy Savile or Rolf Harris scandals or other similar scandals.
Any xenophobia simply serves to validate populist prejudices. I am a patriotic British Muslim, and I am very proud of the fact that there are more than 1,500 mosques in this country, among other institutions of worship—a true testament to Britain’s openness, tolerance and acceptance. I am patron of five different organisations, both Muslim and non-Muslim, which promote interfaith dialogue, but I am no exception: 82% of British citizens socialise at least monthly with people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds. This is a record that Britain should be proud of.
Across the globe, populists will continue to gain traction by exploiting anxieties about cultural identities, and there will be great challenges this year to the liberal international order to come. However, the best bastion of populism and nationalism is not to pander to it but to offer a versatile and robust defence of ethnic diversity. I have no doubt that the British generosity of spirit and openness will persist through these turbulent times, and as a proud British Muslim, this is the message that I hope will be received in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere.
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