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Sikh prison chaplains at the residential training event at the Prison Service College

Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service UK had their National Training Conference last week on the 14-15th June 2018. It was a two days residential workshop, held at the Prison Service College, Newbold Revel, Rugby.

The event was organised in Partnership with Prison Service Chaplaincy HQ.

It was held under the leadership of Lord Singh, the NSO’s Director and Mike Kavanagh the Chaplain-General of Prisons.

Prison Chaplain Gagandeep Singh – the Deputy Director of the Sikh Chaplaincy Service and the Reverend Phil Chadder (Training & Development Officer) helped organise the event. Guest speakers and trainers included two Sikh Prison Governors and a Chaplaincy HQ Advisor. Ajmer Singh (Midlands and North Area) also provided his valuable input to make the event a success.

Although the work of The Sikh Chaplaincy Service often goes unnoticed, The NSO is proud of their on-going commitment and contribution to the community.

The excitement and wall to wall press coverage of the football World Cup, has temporarily diverted our attention away from appalling suffering in Yemen, Syria and much of the Middle East. Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly’s famous saying that football is more important than life or death, has a ring of momentary truth for many.

It is much easier to lose ourselves in the excitement of England’s thrilling victory last night over Tunisia with Captain Harry Kane’s winning goal in injury time, or Christiano Rolando’s hat trick in Portugal’s earlier match against Spain, and other highlights of the tournament, than come to terms with the continuing suffering in the Middle East, made worse by Saudi Arabia’s attack on the Houthi rebel port of Hodeida, now mostly under Saudi control. Peace imposed by force, simply tilts things in favour of one of the combatants, and can even add to suffering and a heightened sense of injustice.

Guru Nanak, reflecting on similar suffering in 15th century India, courageously declared that: the one God of us all, looks beyond supposed superiority of birth or creed; that we all belong to the same one human family of equals, all deserving the same rights. God, he taught, is not interested in religious or other labels, but in what we do for our fellow beings.

Following the suffering of the second world war, the UN Declaration of Human Rights carried similar sentiments The Security Council was created to ensure such rights were respected. The tragedy of politics today, is those charged with keeping us to norms of civilised behaviour, without taking sides, (referees of political foul play) are often active offenders, sometimes taking sides to further their own self-interest. It is worth reflecting that much of the weaponry fueling conflicts across the world is supplied by members of this peace keeping body.

Football may at times be fractious, and has its own share of problems, but in football and sport generally, there is genuine respect for different teams, as well as for members of different faiths within teams. The world of sport readily accepts, what the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks called: the ‘dignity of difference’, and has a lot to teach the world of politics.

My computer and I are not the best of friends. It frequently accuses me of being a robot, or not even knowing my own date of birth! Fortunately, when it is in one of its really ratty moods, I can usually re-set it, back to a date when it was working properly, or make it behave itself, by closing it, and restarting.

It’s far more difficult to see what we can do about an increasing human ‘rattiness’ in discussion and behaviour towards those who do not share our opinions or prejudices on Brexit, immigration or anything else. A little re-setting of the tone of debate towards respecting the sincerely held beliefs and opinions of others is clearly needed.

I believe, religion in its true essence, is supposed to help us to do just this, and help us develop more tolerant attitudes to those who may not share our views. But, unfortunately, over the centuries, religions themselves, have displayed intolerance and violence, not only to others, but even to members of their own faith.

This week Sikhs are commemorating the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, the 5th Guru of Sikhs, who literally gave his life trying to end fractious in-fighting between religions, by building bridges of understanding and respect between them. Guru Arjan was the founder of the famous Golden Temple in Amritsar. To emphasise Sikh respect for the followers of Islam, he asked a Muslim saint, Mia Mir to lay the foundation stone. The Guru was a prolific poet and scholar and the main compiler of the Sikh holy scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib. In it he also added verses of Hindu and Muslim saints to emphasise important commonalities.

Guru Arjan was well aware of the dangers of emphasising tolerance and respect in an age of bigotry. He was arrested by the country’s rulers and tortured to death in the searing heat of an Indian June. In traditional commemoration of Guru’s martyrdom, and in the spirit of his teachings, Sikhs make no show no anger or bitterness Instead, sweetened cold drinks are served to all who pass by Sikh homes or gurdwaras.

Guru Arjan gave his life for interfaith understanding, and tolerance and respect for the sincerely held beliefs of others. His life serves as an inspiration not only to Sikhs, but for all seeking to nudge society in a less fractious direction.

We pass our congratulations to our colleague Rosalind Miller who was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2018 for her services to interfaith. Rosalind has worked as a Development Director, for Islington Faiths Forum and has been committed to interfaith work for many years.

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO)

Evidence submitted to All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims on “Working Definition of Islamophobia/Anti-Muslim hatred”

About us: The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is a registered charity no. 1064544 that links more than 130 UK gurdwaras and other UK Sikh organisations in active cooperation to enhance the image and understanding of Sikhism in the UK.

Definition of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim hatred

1.1 Our submission follows an e-mail request on 17 May 2018 from Suriyah Bi Researcher for the APPG on British Muslims. We are grateful to her for giving us the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry. As an organisation, we haven’t adopted a definition of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim hatred.[1] That said, we are aware of Sikhs have faced the negative reverberations of Islamism ever since 9/11, and are subjected to so-called ‘Islamophobic’ hate. We would like to comment on the original Runnymede definition (1997) which suggests Islamophobia is: ‘a shorthand way of referring to dread or hatred of Islam—and, therefore, to fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.’[2] This early definition gave the term public and political recognition. However, we have concerns about the potential interpretation, scope, limitations and meaning of this original definition insofar as it provides little opportunity to distinguish a dislike of specific aspects of Islam, with prejudice faced by everyday Muslims (be it online or on the street). To this day, it remains ambiguous, problematic and at best confusing.

1.2 We believe all faiths (including our own) should be open to criticism. Therefore we take the view criticism of Islam, as a system of beliefs must be made absolutely distinct from specific incidents of anti-Muslim hate. Moreover the Runnymede definition fails to consider the wider repercussions of Islamophobia on non-Muslims or individuals of no faith. This maybe related to the fact a more significant backlash began post 9/11, a few years after the original Runnymede report was published.

1.3 We acknowledge Runnymede’s recent report – Islamophobia – 20 years on, still a challenge for us all,[3] includes a Sikh case study. Indeed since 9/11 we have witnessed what we would best describe as a ‘racialization of Islamophobia’ – colour prejudice and hatred towards Islam have become conflated. So we have seen emergence of another sub-category of victims under the broader ‘Islamophobia’ umbrella – the ‘Muslim looking other.’ Of course for turbaned/bearded Sikhs, ‘mistaken identity’ attacks have resulted in assaults and murders in US, but there have also been assaults in the UK. In Britain we have seen the attempted murder of a Sikh dentist in Wales by Zack Davies, an individual linked to the now prescribed group National Action. In targeting Dr Sarandev Singh Bhambra, Davies wanted to take ‘revenge’ for Lee Rigby.[4] Reports indicate Davies also drew inspiration from Islamic State executioner ‘Jihadi John’.[5] Disparaging remarks like ‘Bin Laden’ or ‘Taliban’ are a common occurrence for Sikhs with turbans, and we recently saw the conviction of a man for calling his Sikh neighbours ‘ISIS slags’ and ‘ISIS bitches’.[6]

1.4 However when Sikhs face criticism for the behaviour of individual Sikhs, their beliefs or their identity, there is no equivalent word to shut down this criticism akin to ‘Islamophobia’. We don’t challenge those who smear Sikh teachings as ‘Sikhophobes’, and suffice to say ‘Hinduphobia’ hasn’t established itself in the vernacular either. The question is why? Moreover, when Sikh teachings and the Gurus are belittled or smeared by missionary faiths out to convert Sikh heathens, gentiles or infidels, we remain open to such criticism, and have confidence Sikh teachings which promote sarbat da bhalla, or equality for all human beings are robust enough to overcome any such challenge. Are all Abrahamic missionaries ‘Sikhophobes?’ We think not. We may not agree with the approach, but they have every right to question our values and beliefs, as we do theirs. Importantly Sikhism believes in absolute free speech and the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur was beheaded for standing up for the freedom of religious belief of Hindus facing Mughal persecution. He may not have agreed with Hindu practices, faith or rituals, but willingly faced martyrdom standing up for their inalienable right to freedom of religious belief.

1.5 Worryingly, over the years, we have been witnessing a trend in the use of the accusation of ‘Islamophobia’ as a stick to beat those critical of aspects of Islam, and or the behaviour of a minority of Muslims. As discussed we believe all faiths should be open to criticism including our own. We have experienced the accusation of ‘Islamophobia’, when pointing to the disproportionate number of those of Pakistani Muslim heritage convicted in sexual grooming gang cases. This clear trend in criminality is evidenced by research published by counter extremism think-tank Quilliam.[7] Criticism of heavy-handed military action of the Israeli state can also be cynically dismissed as ‘antisemitic’. This is also wrong and troubling. We view the use of these words in these particular contexts, as a convenient mechanism to silence critics, so as to avoid the need to address underlying issues or take responsibility. This element must be taken into consideration when differentiating prejudice faced by everyday Muslims, which is real and despicable, with legitimate criticism of aspects of Islam, or the behaviour of a minority of Muslims. We are afraid anything less falls short of the mark.

1.6 As discussed, we prefer to refer to prejudice faced by Muslims as anti-Muslim hate. Any sensible working definition of ‘Islamophobia’ must be able to differentiate any legitimate criticism of a system of beliefs, culture, polity and tradition with incidents of anti-Muslim hate. Importantly, it should also be flexible enough to be inclusive of sectarian hatred within Muslim communities themselves. The persecution of the Ahmadi minority, illustrated by the murder of a Glaswegian shopkeeper Asad Shah[8] being a prime example. Should this not be defined as Muslim Islamophobia?

Consequences of not adopting a definition of ‘Islamophobia’

2.1 As discussed, we believe it is better to look at a working definition of ‘Islamophobia’ rather than ‘anti-Muslim hatred’. The latter is self-explanatory; the former is vague, confusing and can be used as a smokescreen to shut down those critical of aspects of Islam or the behavior of a minority of Muslims. As discussed above, the consequence of not adopting a sensible definition of ‘Islamophobia’ has serious implications for free speech. We must be clear about the meaning of words. Can legitimate criticism of aspects of Islam be deemed Islamophobic? Secondly, in the absence of a sensible working definition, the wider suffering of non-Muslims who face Islamophobia will continue to be disregarded. For example, much of the hatred directed at Sikhs is down to ignorance about Sikhism and Sikh articles of faith. This is why Sikhs, and other non-Muslims are being recorded as victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ by forces like the MET police. The figures we’ve obtained via FOI from the MET show that 25% of victims of so called ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ in 2016 are non-Muslims or of no recorded faith, and for the previous year the figure is 28%. This includes Sikhs, but also Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Atheists and Agnostics. For Sikhs, the conflation of Sikh turbans and beards with the attire of Islamic extremists such as Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or the Taliban – (happening since 9/11) has resulted in the murder of Sikhs in the U.S, and attacks in Britain.

2.2 It is clear that visible differences are a motivating factor in such incidents. This is as true for Muslim women in hijabs as it is for orthodox Jews or Sikhs. In recent correspondence with the Judicial College who’ve published a new section on ‘Islamophobia’ in their Equal Treatment Bench Book (March 2018) – we pointed to the issue of non-Muslim victims of Islamophobic hate backed by police statistics. They responded suggesting the statistics ‘provide background information’, but may be an, ‘unwanted distraction’. This is simply not good enough and frankly an insult. But it’s not just the Judicial College that takes this parochial view.

2.3 Government policy in the area of religious hate crime is wholly inadequate. We point to in particular the ‘Abrahamic-centric’ four-year hate crime action plan (2016) blithely ignore the suffering of many non-Abrahamic victims, including Sikhs.[9] It appears that the government’s primary concern is the welfare of Muslims and Jews, and there appears to be a myopic view no one else really suffers hate. This is simply not good enough and the government urgently needs to address this blind spot. The adoption of a sensible definition for ‘Islamophobia’ therefore matters not just to Muslims, but to non-Muslims too. We all face the negative reverberations of Islamism and it’s only right that any sensible working definition reflects this so policy in this area is inclusive.

[Ends]

Note: we would be willing to give oral evidence to support our submission if required and 19 June 2018 (pm) is our preference

[1] As we haven’t adopted a working definition we feel its not appropriate for us to tackle the later questions posed in the call for evidence

[2] https://www.runnymedetrust.org/companies/17/74/Islamophobia-A-Challenge-for-Us-All.html

[3] https://www.runnymedetrust.org/uploads/Islamophobia%20Report%202018%20FINAL.pdf

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-east-wales-34218184

[5] http://www.itv.com/news/2015-06-25/zack-davies-drew-inspiration-from-jihadi-john-before-carrying-out-racially-motivated-attack/

[6] https://metro.co.uk/2016/09/18/ex-soldier-jailed-for-racially-abusing-sikh-neighbours-and-calling-them-isis-bitches-6135147/

[7] https://www.quilliaminternational.com/press-release-new-quilliam-report-on-grooming-gangs/

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/09/tanveer-ahmed-jailed-for-murder-glasgow-shopkeeper-in-sectarian-attack

[9]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/543679/Action_Against_Hate_-_UK_Government_s_Plan_to_Tackle_Hate_Crime_2016.pdf

(joint letter sent to the Home Secretary today)

As faith representatives, we support the ongoing efforts of Sarah Champion MP who has asked the government to take further steps in tackling the issue of child sexual exploitation. A recent letter coordinated by Champion dated 25 May 2018, and co-signed by a group of 20 cross party politicians requests the Home Secretary and Minister for Children and Families to do more for the victims of Britain’s sexual grooming gang epidemic.[1]

The cross party group have requested the Home Secretary pays heed to the 2015 report Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation,[2] and have asked the government to commission research into better understanding the ‘operation and motivation’ and ‘drivers’ behind sexual grooming gangs. We believe this is important, however we also believe some aspects of the ‘motivation’ and ‘drivers’ behind sexual grooming/child rape gangs are already abundantly clear.

Firstly earlier this year, a survivor of these rape gangs has confirmed she was targeted for being a ‘white slag’, because she was ‘non-Muslim’.[3] Judges like Gerald Clifton who sentenced men in Rochdale in 2012, made a similar observation in sentencing remarks. He said the Muslim men had targeted their victims because they were not part of the offenders’ ‘community or religion.’[4] A (2017) report from counter-extremist think tank Quilliam looked at 58 grooming gang cases since 2005, and found 84% were ‘Asian’, of which the majority were comprised of men ‘of Pakistani origin, with Muslim heritage.’[5]

This analysis was preceded by the Jay report into Rotherham (2014), which concluded, ‘agencies should acknowledge the suspected model of localised grooming of young white girls by men of Pakistani heritage, instead of being inhibited by the fear of affecting community relations.’[6] The report concluded an estimated 1,400 children, (mainly white girls) had been abused by predominantly British Pakistani men. Muslim girls are rarely targeted, and despite authorities failing to recognise the phenomenon, Sikh and Hindu communities have been complaining about ‘grooming’ since the 1980s.

We as faith communities want the government to do the right thing and call out the motivation for the majority of sexual grooming gangs for what it is. We believe the evidence overwhelmingly points to an inconvenient truth. That is: non-Muslim girls (this includes Sikh, Hindu and Christian girls) have been systematically targeted in Britain due to a form of religiously motivated hate. We must have the courage to face the reality if we are serious about finding a solution to Britain’s sexual grooming gang epidemic. We support Baroness Warsi’s brave stance when she said, “a small minority” of Pakistani men see white girls as “fair game”,[7] and ask the government to help the Muslim community tackle this stain on an otherwise law-abiding community, with appropriate funding if necessary.

Signatories:

Lord Singh of Wimbledon – Network of Sikh Organisations

Wilson Chowdhry – British Pakistani Christian Association

Satish K Sharma – National Council of Hindu Temples

Trupti Patel – Hindu Forum of Britain

Ashish Joshi – Sikh Media Monitoring Group

Mohan Singh – Sikh Awareness Society

[Ends]

[1] https://news.sky.com/story/rotherham-child-abuse-whistleblower-victims-are-being-forgotten-11388560

[2]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/408604/2903652_RotherhamResponse_acc2.pdf

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/rotherham-grooming-gang-sexual-abuse-muslim-islamist-racism-white-girls-religious-extremism-a8261831.html

[4] https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/local-news/you-preyed-on-girls-because-they-were-687987

[5] https://www.quilliaminternational.com/press-release-new-quilliam-report-on-grooming-gangs/

[6] http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/file/1407/independent_inquiry_cse_in_rotherham

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18117529

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