Where Unity Is Strength
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The weekend post brought its usual appeals for donations to help in alleviating suffering in Syria, Iraq and other areas of the Middle East The scale of suffering, wrought by internecine political, religious and ethnic conflict, is truly devastating and it is important that we support such appeals and help those risking their lives to help the victims of war and violence.

Next month representatives of different faiths and secular society will meet at a service at Westminster Abbey for Humanitarian Aid workers killed in conflict. At the inaugural meeting, 4 years ago, I referred to the extraordinary dedication and concern for others of an American, 26 year old Kayla Mueller, captured by ISIS and reportedly killed in a Jordanian air strike. In a letter smuggled to her family, she wrote: If I have suffered at all throughout this experience, it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you through….The thought of your pain is the source of my own.

No self-pity; no harsh word about her captors. Only a concern for others. There are many others like Kayla, and they all deserve our prayers and support. The reality however is their dedication and international aid efforts alone, cannot cope with the suffering of those caught up in the fighting, and in the huge displacement of people we have witnessed, which just goes on and on.

I believe it is important to look more closely at the causes of such suffering. True, that violence begins with local rivalries, but unfortunately, these are magnified and made more horrific by larger factional rivalry between the great powers, supporting rival factions with ever-more sophisticated means of killing in pursuit of strategic interest. The Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Dass, looking at the dubious alliances fracturing the society of his day wrote:

I am of Gods Faction. All other factional alliances are subject to death and decay.

Speaking from a Sikh perspective, if we wish to avoid the continuing man made suffering of innocents, I believe we must continually remind all in power to look beyond, solely, their own self-interest, to what Sikhs call Sarbat ka Bhalla, a single-minded resolve to secure the well-being of all.

Tribute to Jagraj Singh

July 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

 

[Image] Jagraj Singh, founder of Everythings 13 (Sikh Press Association)

We pay tribute to Jagraj Singh who lost his battle with cancer on the 20th July. Singh rose to prominence with his viral Youtube videos – ‘Basics of Sikhi’, where he can be seen promoting Sikh teachings and educating members of the public with open dialogue. He has been described as an ‘innovator’, and his contribution to Sikhs in Britain and across the globe cannot be over emphasised.

The NSO sends its deepest condolences to the friends and family of Jagraj Singh. His charisma, commitment to Sikh ideals, and indomitable strength of character continues to be an inspiration to us all.

Declaring his interest as member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty’s Government what representations they had made to the Saudi government concerning the imminent execution of fourteen individuals including to juveniles.

In response Baroness Goldie said, “we condemn its use in all circumstances and in all countries. It is particularly ​abhorrent when applied to minor crimes and to juveniles in disregard of the minimum standards set out in the EU guidelines on the death penalty of 2008, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights.” She went on, “Saudi Arabia remains a Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights priority country, in part due to its use of the death penalty, and it is aware of our position.”

NSO director Lord Singh who has previously spoken out against human rights violations by the Kingdom said, “My Lords, why are the Government so quiet about trade with Saudi Arabia? Why do we export billions of pounds-worth of arms to Saudi Arabia when it is probably the greatest abuser of human rights in the world, against not only neighbouring countries but also its own people, including juveniles?”

In response to Lord Singh Baroness Goldie said Saudi Arabia was an ‘important ally’, and that intelligence shared by them had potentially saved British lives. However despite the close relationship she said, “That does not gag or inhibit us from expressing our strongly held views about abuses of human rights or deployment of the death penalty.”

 

Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dicks’ weekend statement that police had prevented as many as five near imminent terrorist attacks over the last few months-, reminds us that we still have much to do to understand and combat the roots of such terrorism.

The seeming paradox behind increasing terrorist outrages and much of the violence in the world today, is how can religious teachings designed to help us be better human beings, be manipulated to lead to the deliberate killing of innocents?

Sikh teachings remind us that what generally passes for religion, is, in reality, a complex mix of superstition, rituals, culture, group history and uplifting ethical teachings. No religion, including my own is immune from followers going against its ethical teachings. Ethical teachings are easy to state, but difficult to live by, and in practice, greater emphasis is often placed on culture and rituals, and sometimes, a perversely unifying belief, that God favours our faith over that of others.

Guru Nanak, looking at conflict between religions in the India of his day, reminded us: ‘the one God of us all is not the least bit interested in our different religious labels but in what we do for others.’ It’s a perversion to believe that God condones killing and murder in His name, and to horrendous crimes and savagery not only between faiths but within the same faith. Today, despite many years of earnest effort for inter faith understanding, there is virtually no dialogue between faiths to explore and understand their different religions. Religious leaders come together, deplore the violence in the world, share tea and samosas, and then, often go back to their congregations to preach exclusivity.

There is an urgent need to look at the environment in which the cancer of terrorism thrives. We need legitimate discussion of questionable attitudes and practices, beginning with those that discriminate against women, gay people and others. Prime Minister Theresa May was right when she recently spoke of the need for difficult conversations about religion. A bold, but courteous, questioning of seemingly divisive practices will help make religion, what it was always intended to be, an active player in working for the common good of all.

 

Our Director’s recent opinion editorial in the Times:

 

Last week Conservative peer Lord Naseby asked Her Majesty’s Government what measures were being taken to ‘combat extremist propaganda released through multimedia channels, particularly social media, videos, the internet and other online sources.’ The focus of Lord Naseby’s question was limited to online activity, however the NSO acknowledges the issue is not limited to this alone, but is far more complex.

Pointing to issues beyond the internet and specifically interpretation of religion, NSO Director Lord Singh said, ‘My Lords, does the Minister agree that what generally passes for religion is not only ethical guidance for sane living, but a sometimes oppressive culture and a shared history often bent or moulded to dislike or hate others?’

He went on, ‘It is such material that is used to radicalise people. Does the Minister agree that there should be open debate about these things and that this aspect of religion should not be protected by political correctness if we want a truly healthy society?’

Minister of State Baroness Williams said, ‘Lord Singh, as always, makes insightful points.’ She added, ‘The Prime Minister said the other day that we must be prepared to have difficult conversations and I totally agree.’

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