Analysis: ‘Change hearts and minds, not statutes’

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A FEW days ago, some Scottish Government figures were released. They revealed a rising number of homophobic and Islamophobic attacks being carried out in Scotland.

For those who believe that Scotland is a tolerant and multicultural society, free of the tensions which inflict themselves upon towns and cities across England, this makes uncomfortable reading. The One Nation, Many Cultures campaign launched several years ago is clearly not resonating as intended.

Or is it? Close examination shows that the statistics paint something of a false picture. No less than 75 per cent of the charges resulted from a demonstration organised by the far right Scottish Defence League, so the figures have been skewed by a single event.

There is, however, no room for complacency here. We are not so hugely different or distant from England that the intolerance we have seen down south in recent weeks cannot spill into Scotland. Indeed, organisations like the SDL will do everything they can to encourage that. This is recognised by the Scottish Government, which is determined to cut off racism at the roots. Roseanna Cunningham, the Community Safety Minister, has made it clear that prejudice will not be tolerated in Scotland. That is, of course, as it should be. All support from government is to be applauded and helps to set the terms of the debate. But intolerance cannot be eradicated through legislation and diktat. It is hearts and minds, and not statutes, that have to be changed.

Any prejudice is to be utterly deplored. There is work to be done. But we are lucky here in Scotland in that minority communities have tended over time to integrate and be accepted. Even Orange marches these days tend to be more derided than accepted.

As a Scottish Asian, I feel completely comfortable – and why shouldn’t I? After all, this is my country as much as anyone else’s. It is this historical tolerance which allows me that sense of ownership.

I’m proudly and robustly one of Jock Tamson’s 
Bairns. All of us share far more in common than we do things that separate us. Our value systems about caring for one another, creating a fairer society, building equality and opportunity for everyone, compassion and caring, are shared. Religion and background simply don’t come into it.

Islam has suffered a pretty bad press of late. Those who criticise it don’t fully understand that it is a religion of peace, underpinned by a respect for other religions and for human life and dignity. Compassion and tolerance are at its heart.

That said, it hasn’t always been very quick to explain its own culture and contribution. It needs to take more practical steps to do this. I want to see mosques opening up even more than they already do, not just opening its doors but enthusiastically and proactively welcoming in all comers and explaining and sharing their beliefs and convictions.

That is partly why I am so actively encouraging other Asian women to reach for the sky, to fulfil their dreams and ambitions, to build their confidence and ambition, through the charity I founded and now chair, the Scottish Asian Women’s Association.

So let’s all encourage one another towards positive achievement and essential human values. Let’s never fall into the trap of getting sucked into racist abuse and hatred. Jock Tamson’s Bairns are better than that.

• Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh is National Women’s Officer of the SNP.