For the Jewish Chronicle published October 5 2018
One of Britain’s most senior Muslim figures, Lord Ahmad, believes there has been “a real step change among progressive-thinking imams” in the Islamic community towards those who “peddle hatred against the Jewish community”.
Lord Ahmad, a Conservative peer and the prime minister’s special representative for freedom of religion and belief, was speaking after delivering an address to the United Nations General Assembly last week in which he spelled out a renewed commitment by the British government to stamp out antisemitism.
Lord Ahmad, who formerly worked with Prime Minister Theresa May in the Home Office as communities minister, said: “I’m proud to reaffirm Britain’s commitment to combatting the scourge of antisemitism.”
Britain, he said, was the first government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
It led the way in dealing with antisemitism, he said, and added: “All governments can and must do more to tackle antisemitism, and learn from each other. As global leaders we must act responsibly to ensure future generations reflect on the lessons from the Holocaust and recognise our shared humanity.
“Seven decades after the Holocaust, society still cannot say that antisemitism has been eradicated; nor can it claim that genocide is a thing of the past. As recently as last month the United Nations concluded that the Burmese military had inflicted genocide against the Rohingya.
“The UK government is committed to religious tolerance in the UK and globally. Through the government-backed Holocaust Educational Trust and their world-leading Lessons from Auschwitz programme, 36,000 students have visited Auschwitz.
“The British government is determined that the genocide of six million Jews will never be forgotten. A spectacular and poignant Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre will be erected right next to Parliament, reminding all of us of the depths to which humanity can sink, and the importance of robustly opposing all forms of bigotry.”
Lord Ahmad has been involved in tackling antisemitism for a number of years, visiting Auschwitz with a group of British teens in 2015 and spending time in Israel, with his family, earlier this year.
He said: “It is precisely because I am a Muslim that I speak out against antisemitism.
“When I was a child of eight, I attended a Christian school, and we were learning about Judaism. I didn’t really understand so I went home and asked my mother about the different faiths. And she told me that when we build a house we build the foundations. And she said that we believe the foundations are Judaism, the walls are Christianity, and that Islam is the roof.
“Our faith is the source of ending hatred: we stand up for commonality and humanity. I am very much committed to standing up against antisemitism and there are many notable Muslim communities who are doing great work in this regard”.
The peer said he was “proud” of the harmony which existed between faiths in Britain and of the work done in tackling antisemitism and discrimination.
Speaking on the day in which Home Secretary Sajid Javid had announced that the government was prepared to proscribe the political wing of Hezbollah, Lord Ahmad said he thought it was “tragic” that the Labour Party “is going through the turmoil it is” in relation to antisemitism. He said: “It is very important that political parties which seek to govern can sort out this issue.”
Hezbollah’s stance in seeking the annihilation of the Jewish state was “unacceptable”, the peer said. “Their first step must be to renounce violence and accept the existence of Israel.”
Lord Ahmad spoke warmly of the diversity of Britain, saying that he believed that “if you are Jewish, you will speak up for Christians, if you are Christian you will speak up for Muslims, if you are Muslim you will speak up for Jews”.
He was optimistic, he said, “because I believe that at the core, right-minded people will want to change things. The tapestry of Britain today is enriched by this legacy between our faiths, and our attitude to combatting hatred”.