Siobhain has led a parliamentary debate today on hate-preachers being allowed into the UK and posing as a threat to religious minorities. She raised has raised this important issue in the wake of the murder of Glasgow shopkeeper, Mr Asad Shah, who was an Ahmadi Muslim. It was the first murder of an Ahmadi on UK soil.
Targetting of Ahmadis and other religious minorities is common in Pakistan, and Siobhain used her speech to draw a parallel between increased anti-Ahmadi hatred and radicalism and poor Home Office entry clearance procedures that have allowed hate-preachers into the UK.
You can read Siobhain’s speech below, or watch it online, here.
With extremism on the rise, and increasing threats to our national security, tightening up UK entry clearance procedures should be top of our priority. But sadly, we have increasingly taken for granted that our borders are policed and secure from non-UK threats.
Mr Speaker, I sought to bring this issue before Parliament following the brutal murder of the Glasgow shopkeeper Mr Asad Shah in March this year. Mr Shah was murdered by an Islamic extremist who violently hated Mr Shah’s peaceful Ahmadi Muslim views. His killer, Tanveer Ahmed, declared he killed Mr Shah in order to (and I quote) ‘protect the honour of Islam’. Mr Shah’s brutal murder, the first of its kind on UK soil, holds terrible implications for this country.
The radical extremist Islamist views that inspired this have been fanned by extremist preachers from outside the UK being allowed to come into this country and spread their hate. And our entry clearance regulations and failed to stop this from happening. Anti-Ahmadi hate preachers are being let into the UK as we speak, calling on Ahmadi Muslims to be killed on account of their faith.
For instance, just a month after Mr Shah’s murder, a prominent, anti-Ahmadi preacher from Pakistan was touring London mosques with his message of hate. After this discovery, I requested an urgent meeting with the Home Secretary and senior representatives from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community earlier this month. I was grateful to have met with the Secretary of State, but I was extremely disappointed by the fact that reforming entry clearance policies did not seem to be a priority whatsoever. Nor did she seem to be aware of this particular radical extremist preacher having been allowed into the UK. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that I left that meeting with a genuine fear for UK security, and a grim surprise that we have not seen even more anti-Ahmadi terrorism on UK soil.
I have no reservation in saying that inadequate Home Office entry clearance procedures are allowing entry of individuals who pose a direct threat to our democracy and our social cohesion – and I will be highlighting why it is so urgent that the Home Office tackles this immediate problem now.
As a side-point, it is extremely ironic that while individuals who spread hate are allowed into the UK, every MP will be aware of large number of completely law-abiding Pakistani citizens refused entry clearance to attend weddings, funerals and other important family events – also as a result of problems around Home Office entry clearance.
The case of Hanif Qureshi
I want to turn now to a case study which highlights the gravity of this situation. Mufti Muhammad Hanif Qureshi is a radical Islamist cleric from Pakistan, who has repeatedly been allowed into the UK, to spread the sort of anti-Ahmadi hate that murdered peaceful Mr Asad Shah.
To clarify, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which Mr Shah belonged to, is a persecuted religious group in Pakistan.
The Ahmadis live by their message of ‘love for all, hatred for none’ – and they categorically reject terrorism in any form. But despite how well-established and peaceful this community is, Ahmadi Muslims are victims of terrible injustice. As they do not believe that Mohammed was the final prophet sent to guide mankind, they face accusations of heresy amongst orthodox Muslims. And at worst, they face extreme violence in Pakistan, and now, sadly, in the UK too. Anti-blasphemy and anti-terror laws are wrongly used against them in Pakistan. They are murdered on the grounds of their faith.
To this day, they are branded worse than apostates by hardliners and forbidden by the state to call themselves Muslims. Indeed, the intolerance and hatefulness has made its way to the UK. The Muslim Council of Britain has long been criticised for not acting to counter anti-Ahmadi hatred, partly because it does not recognise the Ahmadis as Muslims either. But Mr Asad Shah in Glasgow, was the first Ahmadi Muslim to be murdered on UK soil on grounds of his faith.
And Mufti Hanif Qureshi is an individual who is greatly responsible for spreading these messages of hate. He is the founder of ‘Shabab e-Islami’, and is well known for his virulent anti-Ahmadi preaching in Pakistan, the sort which inspired the murder of Mr Shah.
For instance, in a recording of a sermon Qureshi delivered in 2014, which is freely available on YouTube, he said, with regard to Ahmadi Muslims:
“Let them know those who consider Sunnis as cowards that Allah has honoured us with the courage and power to strangulate those involved in blasphemy, to cut out their tongues, and to riddle their bodies with bullets. For this, nobody can arrest us under any law“
Indeed, these sorts of highly inflammatory and hateful sermons have indeed incited others to commit violence and murder.
In 2011, Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer, who opposed Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws, was shot dead by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri. After his arrest, Qadri said he had been inspired to act by a 2010 sermon delivered by Qureshi in Rawalpindi, in which the cleric branded the likes of Taseer as ‘deserving to be killed’ under Islamic law.
Qureshi was arrested after Taseer’s murder, but was later released, and continued to defend the murderer in public sermons before Qadri was executed in January of this year.
This same hateful preacher who inspired the murder of a prominent Pakistani politician just a few years ago, was last month allowed to enter this country without any problem, despite the murder of Ahmadi shopkeeper Mr Asad Shah in Glasgow just months before.
Could the Home Office not make the connection between the incitement of anti-Ahmadi hatred, and the committing of murder?
Just last month, Qureshi spoke at a Luton mosque on May 4th where, according to the mosque’s spokesperson, he made a ‘very impressive’ speech to an audience of hundreds.
This event also doubled up as the 36th annual Khatme Nabuwwat meeting at the Luton mosque. This movement (translated as the ‘finality of the Prophet’) has been implicated in the violent persecution of members of the Ahmadi religious sect in the UK and Pakistan. Despite this, it is a registered charity in the UK, and is listed on the Charity Commission’s website. Honourable Members may well be aware that ‘Khatme Nabuwwat’ is also well known for its anti-Ahmadi views, and regularly invites preachers from Pakistan to visit the UK on speaking tours to spread this message of hate.
Qureshi is just one example of failing Home Office procedures. His words have incited violence in Pakistan, and they will incite violence in this country too. Qureshi should be banned from ever travelling into Britain.
Given the context of anti-Ahmadi sentiment in the UK, and growing religious violence across Europe, his messages of hate have no place here. How on earth could he have possibly gained entry clearance?
A quick google search brings up hundreds of English-language news stories about his preaching – and yet this basic level of research was apparently beyond the Home Office last month. And yet, I was left stunned and petrified after my meeting with the Home Secretary, where she informed me that the Pakistani High Commission had only just hired a specialist Urdu speaker in their intelligence office.
So up until recently, it seems there was no one at the High Commission in Islamabad who could actually understand some of the watch-lists in the language, unless translated to English. How can our anti-extremism measures be so weak that such terrible oversights can occur? And does the Minister appreciate the terrifying prospects of such errors?
And while our UK authorities seem to lack the basic linguistic resources to identify extremist threats, we do know that extremist rhetoric can change to moderate for the English-speaking media, and then revert to extremism for Urdu speakers. It’s therefore much easier for radicals like Qureshi to switch between the two.
Home office visa checks in context
The case study of Qureshi is important because we tend to take for granted that our borders are policed and protected from individuals who might cause harm to our country.
We all lead our lives in the hopeful confidence that the Home Secretary and immigration officials are able to refuse entry to any person they deem undesirable. We put our faith in government departments and agencies to protect our democracy and peace.
As far as I know, there is no exhaustive list of reasons why someone’s visa application can be rejected by UK authorities, but there is a list of ‘unacceptable behaviours’ which should lead to a person being refused entry to, or excluded from, the UK. Qureshi seems to me to fulfil all of these criteria. This includes using any means to express views which seek to justify or glorify terrorist violence, or incites or provokes others to commit such terrorist acts, or fosters hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.
Exclusion is not targeted against any specific group. They can, and have included, far-right extremists, homophobic extremists, and Christian, Jewish and Islamic extremists. In a speech delivered in late November 2014, the Home Secretary said that she had excluded “hundreds” of people from the UK, suggesting that these powers are sometimes enforced. She stated that 61 people had been excluded on national security grounds, 72 who were ‘not conducive to the public good’, and 84 who were ‘hate preachers’.
So why was Qureshi able to enter this country just a month after his brand of anti-Ahmadi hatred had inspired the murder of the peaceful Glasgow shopkeeper Mr Shah?
The current crisis
The expressions of hatred we have seen across the country, particularly ever since the referendum vote was announced last week, should show to us the importance of preventing extremism by all means. Quite simply, it threatens the fabric of our democracy and social cohesion.
Even more so, Mr Shah’s murder demonstrates how high the stakes are.
Back in 2005, in the wake of the London bombings, the then Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, said that government departments and intelligence agencies were working together to establish “a full database of individuals around the world” of dangerous people, and that such information would be available to visa and immigration staff and added to the UK’s ‘Warnings Index’.
Of course, we cannot know the details of Home Office and intelligence workings, but we can assume, given the admission of Qureshi to the UK just last month, that it may not be working as it should be.
The historical precedent
And history teaches us the consequences that occur when the Home Office does not do its job properly.
Take the example of Pakistani cleric Masood Azhar who delivered extreme messages across the UK back, across over forty mosques, in the early nineties. At the time of his tour he was chief organiser of the prominent Pakistani jihadist group Harkat ul Mujahideen. We now know that Azhar, who was himself close to Osama Bin Laden, planted the seeds of extremism from his 1993 UK tour to later inspire at least two Britons who went on to plan the London bombings of 2005, and the beheading of US journalist David Pearl.
One would hope that the UK authorities had learned their lessons – and yet the admission of Qureshi suggests that not much has changed.
Take the report ‘Student Rights: Tackling Extremism on Campuses’, published by the Henry Jackson Society earlier this year, which detailed the range of individuals, many of whom have expressed extremist and hateful views, who were given a platform at UK universities, mainly in London, in the last year. These included South African politician Mr Julius Malema, convicted of a hate crime just a few years ago, Mr Asim Khan who has compared homosexuality to incest and “burglary, theft and sexual abuse”, and Mr Sulieman Ghani who has expressed sectarian attitudes towards Ahmadiyya, claiming they are not Muslims.
The UK Ahmadi community, and the very fabric of our democracy, is under threat, now more than ever.
In April of this year, leaflets calling for members of the Ahmadi Muslim community to be killed have allegedly been distributed in universities, mosques and shopping centres in London. One leaflet distributed widely in Stockwell, for example, entitled “Qadanis [a pejorative name for Ahmadis]”, describes Ahmadis as “dualist infidels” and “worse than an apostate”. It prescribes the same punishment that is doled out for apostates (those who have renounced their own religion), giving Ahmadis three-days to denounce their faith, or else “be awarded capital punishment.”
We also know that Scottish mosques are becoming increasingly radicalised in the wake of Mr Shah’s murder. Meanwhile, anti-Ahmadi conferences have taken place in Slough just a few months ago. The threat posed to our society is real – and it is imminent.
And now inept Home Office entry clearance procedures have allowed hate preachers like Qureshi who has called for death penalties for Ahmadi Muslims, amongst UK Muslim communities. These are dangerous times for our democracy – and the precedent for racial and religious hatred is huge.
It is terrifying to see the British government has adopted such a double standard. At one end, it says it seeks to crush all extremism. We know from the recent terrible atrocities that this goal is more important than ever. And yet, the British government still gives visas to people like Qureshi who incite intolerance and even violence in our society.
There should have been an absolutely storm of anger following Mr Shah’s death. Just hours before he was murdered, he posted a message of peace and love on facebook to his Christian friends on the occasion of Good Friday. Hours later he was brutally murdered outside his shop by a religious extremist.
Why haven’t we called out Mr Shah’s murder for what it is – a religious hate crime? Is it because we can’t be bothered to understand that victims of Islamist extremism include other Muslims, as well as non-Muslims?
I am well aware that developing stronger Home Office entry clearance structures, to screen out individuals like Qureshi from ever being able to come to this country are just part of the problem. Internet and social media communication means that pan-national extremist and terrorist threats can spread beyond borders in seconds.
But allowing such hatred to enter our borders is almost like legitimising or endorsing their hate. Qureshi, and all those who express his hateful views, have no place in our country. Today more than ever we have to ensure that such individuals are not able to come here and spread their hateful messages under the banner of ‘free speech’.
In particular, I wish to ask the following questions of the Minister.
• To what extent can the Home Office check if a person has promoted hate and extremism when a visa application is made?
• How does the Government monitor hate speech in Pakistan, and elsewhere, to help inform their visa decisions?
• Does the UK Government give equal weight to hate speech whether committed online, on TV or in any media including social media?
• How can individuals or organisations in Pakistan or the UK provide information on such matters that would be of use in such matters? What procedures will it put in place to make this easier?
I sincerely hope that the Home Office sits up and takes seriously the deep flaws that are jeopardising our national security and social cohesion, as we speak. Only then can we claim to have a society which promotes ‘love for all, and hatred for none’, the Ahmadi ideal that we should all seek to live by.