Our country is a very diverse place to live, and home to people from a variety of different backgrounds. On my last visit to Birmingham I saw for myself the immense contribution that people from a range of faiths and cultures make to our society.
That richness and diversity is something we must protect. But sadly, as Security Minister, I am only too aware that there are those who seek to challenge it. This year we have seen the killing of drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, the murder of grandfather Mohammed Saleem and bomb plots at mosques in Walsall, Tipton and Wolverhampton.
Following the attacks in the West Midlands, the Home Secretary and I met representatives from the affected mosques, and members of Mohammed Saleem’s family. We were deeply moved by the dignified response of the people here, and resolved once again to do everything necessary to protect the British public from those who wish to divide us, and ensure that everyone in this country continues to enjoy freedom of worship and the right to practise their faith.
Freedom of worship
Since then, Pavlo Lapshyn has been convicted and sentenced for Mohammed Saleem’s murder and the other acts of terrorism he carried out. He has been given a life sentence and will have to serve a minimum of 40 years before he is considered for parole.
I believe his swift and successful prosecution is testament to the dedication of the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, and the thoroughness and effectiveness of their operation. Lapshyn was caught and stopped before he was able to carry out any other attacks.
This week I was keen to return to Birmingham and meet Muslim and other religious leaders at the Hazrat Sultan Bahu Jamiah Islamiah Mosque, to talk about the steps the police and the government are taking to help ensure safety and confront extremism of all kinds.
Following the horrific events in Woolwich earlier this year, all communities across the country worried about possible backlash. In some places there were a number of appalling attacks against mosques and Islamic centres.
Building on past work, West Midlands police visited over 200 mosques, madrassahs and other Islamic centres to reassure communities of the positive action they will take against all criminal behaviour, particularly where it is related to terrorism or hatred. They also provided information on protective security and basic safety for religious premises.
Where necessary, specialist security advisers gave dedicated security recommendations, and in some areas, extra police patrols were put in place with officers passing by specific locations, such as mosques, at regular intervals.
Extremism task force
In the wake of events at Woolwich, the Prime Minister set up the Extremism Task Force, to look at what more can, and should, be done to tackle extremism. That work has now concluded, and the government has agreed practical steps to address extremism of all kinds which build on our existing approach. These include measures across a range of sectors including prisons, schools, universities and online. They also include specific steps to address anti-Muslim hatred and Far Right Extremism, such as police action to share information with other countries to identify people with Far Right views who are coming to the UK.
In addition to this, the government supported the founding of Tell MAMA, which was established in 2012, and is an initiative which measures and monitors anti-Muslim incidents in England, and refers victims to support services.
On my last visit to Birmingham I was struck by the united response of the people here, and particularly by the role of faith leaders in actively seeking to calm any potential tensions. My visit to this week has reaffirmed that impression, and my belief that we are all at our best when we help and work with each other.
Terrorists and extremists seek to destroy peace and cooperation, and cause division among people. This government and the police are working hard to ensure safety and security. Most importantly, it is the resilience and determination of people across Britain, including the people I met in Birmingham this week, which will ensure extremists never succeed.