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The Judiciary College have published an ‘Equal Treatment Bench Book’, which has come to our attention through our team of Sikh prison chaplains. The document is 422 pages long and aims ‘to increase awareness and understanding of the different circumstances of people appearing in courts and tribunals.’ Notably the updated version contains new sections on Islamophobia, antisemitism, modern slavery and what’s described as ‘multicultural communication.’

We have especially taken interest in the new section on Islamophobia. Remarkably it categorically fails to address the negative reverberations of Islamism on non-Muslims, failing to point to statistics that show significant numbers of them have fallen foul of anti-Muslim hatred. Section 142, titled ‘Anti-Muslim Racism: Islamophobia’ makes reference to anti-Muslim hate crimes in London recorded by the MET police in 2017. Data obtained by us from FOI requests show that of the 1267 ‘Islamophobic hate crime statistics’ in the financial year 2016/17, 916 victims gave their religion as Islam, 89 gave other religions and 263 victims did not provide details of their religion. So in summary 28% of the victims in this period were non-Muslims or of unknown faith. Despite referring to MET figures, this important fact isn’t even acknowledged by the editors.

It is clear from these and previous figures we’ve obtained, that there is a trend in what we describe as the racialization of Islamophobia – a theory which may explain why Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Atheists and Agnostics have all been recorded by the MET police as victims of anti-Muslim hate (2016 data). Difference is all that matters, and perpetrators care little for whom they vent their hatred towards.

What’s clear with the publication of this document, which follows on from the government’s hate crime action plan – Action Against Hate (2016) – the wider implication of Islamophobia on non-Muslims simply isn’t on the government (or judicial) agenda. Despite Sikhs having been murdered in the US and the attempted murder of a Sikh dentist in Wales, as well as the targeting of gurdwaras following terror attacks like the London bombings, there is little concern or focus on the suffering of non-Abrahamic faiths.

Section 143 of the document, quotes the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) who say, ‘the prevalence of Islamophobia has reached such a point that the vast majority of Muslims know someone who has experienced a hate crime. It says Muslim women seem to be particularly targeted, apparently as they are more easily identifiable as Muslims due to the wearing of a headscarf.’

Whilst we sympathise with the suffering of innocent Muslims, we suggest the vast majority of Sikhs also know someone who has experience hate crime since 9/11, and that turbaned Sikhs (men or women) being easily identifiable are particularly vulnerable. In simple terms ‘visual markers’ (like the turban or hijab) equate to difference, and difference precipitates prejudice. This blind spot in public policy now regrettably appears to have evolved into a systemic issue amongst British policy makers. So called ‘Equal Treatment Bench Books’ must provide parity to all.

The Judiciary College responded to our concerns with the following statement: ‘We would very much like to make the important point that the constitutional arrangements provide for an independent judiciary and it is not their role to reflect on the government’s agenda or policies. Accordingly, the ETBB does not belong to the Government but rather the judiciary, and as such the context and its purposes relate entirely to the process of experiencing a court or tribunal hearing. Both Senior judiciary and the College would be very concerned if you felt that those of Sikh faith did not have the same access to justice as others in the community, or were not being treated equally whilst attending court. This does not appear to be what you are saying. The way society treats certain groups is a matter for the Government’s concern. Judges can only deal with hate crimes (and other related matters) if they are brought to Court, and where cases are brought, they will be expected to uphold the rule of law and give justice to victims.

The Judicial College has responsibility for training judicial office holders who sit across the various avenues for justice which includes the civil, family and criminal Courts, a wide range of Tribunals and parts of the Coroners service. The profound desire of the team responsible for updating the Equal Treatment Bench Book was that all those in and using a court leave it conscious of having appeared before a fair-minded tribunal. The ETBB seeks to recognise that in every instance, those attending in whatever capacity (litigant, witness, defendant etc) will want to have the best opportunity to give their evidence, to present their case, to be understood and to understand proceedings. All parties will look to the judge to enable this process.

The Judicial College is committed to ensuring that the social context of all who attend a legal hearing is a prominent issue embedded through its training. ‘Social context’ includes diversity and equality and reflects that judges need to relate to and communicate effectively with all manner of people from a variety of backgrounds with different capacities, needs and expectations. It achieves this primarily by putting social context issues within case studies used for syndicate discussions.  The statistics to which you refer are simply there to provide background information, but it may be in this instance they provide an unwanted distraction. We will consider this further and thank you for your comments.’

Sikhism and oaths

Appendix D-15 of the Equal Treatment Bench Book refers to oaths and the most appropriate form of oath taking in court for Sikhs. The document suggests ‘The Sunder Gutka may be suitable for the purposes of swearing an oath in court proceedings’, and it appears the authors have consulted The Sikh Council UK, who don’t appear to have objected to the principle of oath taking on a Sundar Gutka.

That’s regrettable. We take the view that a truly religious person would be inclined to tell the truth irrespective of an oath, and the business of oath taking serves only to trivialise religion and is rooted in deep superstition. If a superstitious person is asked to take an oath on a holy book to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the intended effect is to make him or her feel divine retribution might follow any failure to tell the truth in any statements that follow an oath. Similarly, it is assumed that even the less superstitious would be under increased pressure to tell the truth out of a feeling that a false statement would be disrespectful to the holy book to which they owe allegiance. Sikhism rejects all forms of superstition. The Gurus constantly reminded Sikhs to avoid all ritualistic and superstitious practices.

IPSO the independent press regulator has declined to re-open the NSO’s complaint on use of the non-specific term ‘Asian’ in last month’s Sunday Mirror’s investigation into child sexual grooming gangs in Telford.

The original complaint was filed following an expose on ‘epidemic’ levels of child sexual exploitation in the northern town, where it was suggested up to 1,000 girls, some as young as 11, had been abused. The investigative journalists behind the report are of course to be commended for their sterling work, and we are indebted to them in this regard – it highlights the best of British journalism.

However, the NSO’s complaint was made under clause 1.2 of the Editors’ Code on accuracy. We pointed to the vagueness of the term ‘Asian’, which covers the entire Indian subcontinent, and therefore could infer men of Indian, Japanese and Korean origin are targeting underage white girls in places like Telford and across the country. Moreover, it’s deeply insulting to British Sikhs, Hindus and other non-Muslim ‘Asians’ (like Pakistani Christians) especially given girls from these communities have also been the subjects of abuse by sexual grooming gangs. We believe the common denominator is the targeting of non-Muslim girls. In our complaint to IPSO, we pointed to the Islamic names of those convicted and jailed in a sexual grooming gang case in Telford back in 2013.

The offending article also referred to convictions of men in Rochdale and Rotherham. Again, we pointed to the fact that those convicted in these cases are predominantly from the Pakistani Muslim community. The executive staff at IPSO reviewed the complaint responding, ‘You said this article was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) because it referred to the men involved in the Telford grooming gangs as ‘Asian’, when they were largely of Pakistani Muslim heritage.’

They went on, ‘You said this term was vague and misleading, and insulting to those of non-Muslim British Asian heritage. However, this lack of specificity did not mean that it was inaccurate to say that the men were ‘mainly Asian’, and we did not consider that this created a significantly misleading impression. There was no possible breach of Clause 1 on this point. In addition, as you note, the names and images of some abusers were included, which might allow readers to infer the precise ethnicity of those involved.’ IPSO’s Complaints Committee reviewed the executive’s rejection of our complaint and didn’t consider there had been any breach of the Editor’s Code.

The NSO’s Director Lord Singh said, ‘It is totally wrong to describe those convicted in sexual grooming gang cases as ‘Asian’. We’re disappointed in IPSO’s ruling. Given the logic applied here, referring to the majority of perpetrators in these cases as ‘human beings’ or ‘mammals’ would also be deemed ‘accurate’ in accordance with the Editors’ Code. The word ‘Asian’ serves only to mask the inconvenient truth that the majority of those convicted in grooming gang cases are men of Pakistani Muslim heritage.’

‘It’s nothing short of an insult to Britain’s Sikh and Hindu communities, moreover this deliberate lack of specificity smears wholly innocent non-Muslim communities who themselves have fallen victim of Britain’s grooming gang epidemic. Given this decision, would IPSO also take the view that referring to those responsible for the holocaust as ‘European’ is accurate?’

Two other faith organisations filed a complaint to IPSO, the National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHT) and the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA).

The NCHT issued a statement today. They said, ‘IPSO’s decision on the use of ‘Asian grooming gangs’ serves to prove that British Asians are being targeted by the British media, with institutional sanction. Specificity and precision in language and reporting are crucial which is why ‘Islamist terror attacks’ are not called ‘Muslim terror attacks’, why Clergy paedophilia is not referred to as ‘Christian paedophilia’, why ‘extreme right wing racists’ are not referred to as ‘British or European racists’. In each of these examples, where specificity is vital, it is clearly applied and yet where the crimes of ‘grooming gangs’ are concerned, specificity is abandoned and the generic broad brush term ‘Asian’ is repeatedly applied. This is clearly a discriminatory policy and yet IPSO, which exists to prevent such discrimination, chooses to be elastic with its terms of reference.’

They went on, ‘to repeatedly tarnish the innocent majority as a result of the actions of a minority is clearly an injustice. To do so in the case of the most evil of crimes, targeting the most vulnerable group in society, underage girls – our children, is clearly an act of malice. To identify the innocent majority with the heinous crimes of those who repeatedly, deliberately and with premeditation, select children on the basis of their ethnicity and religious profile, is clearly an act of racist malice by the mainstream media, in this particular instance the Mirror newspaper.’

Britain’s decision to take military action against Syria is like Alice in Wonderland: ‘sentence first-verdict afterwards’, says Lord Singh

Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has said that the Cabinet’s decision to deploy military strikes against President Assad is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, citing Alice’s bogus trial when the Queen says, ‘sentence first – verdict afterwards’.

In a scathing speech, the crossbencher spoke out powerfully against the rank hypocrisy of Western military interventions in the Middle East. He cited Britain’s morally reprehensible arms supplies to Saudi Arabia, which continue to be deployed in a bloody war in Yemen against Houthis. Moreover he said he was personally ‘appalled’ when a Minister told him we should not raise human rights issues with China when talking about trade – the Minister’s suggestion here being trade trumps human rights.

Speaking from a Sikh perspective and challenging the established orthodoxy of today’s ‘power-bloc politics’ Lord Singh said, ‘Sikh teachings on the prevention of conflict almost parallel the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, formulated after the horror of the ​Second World War, and they stress the dignity and equality of all members of our one human family. They also legitimise the use of military force only as a last recourse when all other means have failed.’

Lord Singh said, that he found propaganda justifying military intervention in reported government statements as ‘morally questionable and hypocritical’. He said, Assad is no angel, but like many other leaders in the region we [Britain] have ‘propped up’ a brutal dictator. He said countries that we don’t like become to be known as ‘regimes’, and Assad himself has been referred to as a ‘monster’, which could be counterproductive if Britain is to be involved in future negotiations on the Syrian issue, something the PM has indicated to be a possible solution to the conflict.

He said, ‘I am saddened by the hypocrisy of our government and the governments of the USA and France. While wringing their hands about the monster Assad’s supposed chemical weapon attack on little children, they have all in the last two or three of weeks signed billion-dollar deals with Saudi Arabia to export arms for use in Yemen, so that Saudi Arabia can strut its military might in the Middle East with the continued bombing of men, women and little children in Yemen.’

He went on, ‘We are then expected to believe that President Assad, having secured control of much of the country, suddenly decides to launch a chemical attack on a children’s hospital. It could be true, although it sounds implausible, but it gave the US President an opportunity to withdraw from the conflict flourishing his military might. France and Britain dutifully backed him in a combined military strike against Assad. President Trump predictably tweeted “Mission accomplished”. It is sad that our PM should feel duty-bound to back military action prior to any investigation. I thought that it was only in Alice in Wonderland that we had the saying, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”.’

In conclusion he said, ‘The whole concept of supposed strategic interest has, over the centuries, been shown to be deeply flawed and a recipe for continuing conflict. A Christian hymn reminds us: “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin”. It is a truth echoed in Sikh teachings and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only strategic interest worth pursuing is respect for human rights and social justice for all and for future generations in our highly interdependent world.’

Lord Singh’s full speech can be read here.

 

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