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(Image: bullet marks in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritar)

Gurdwaras in Singapore will be holding a minute silence after the ardas (standing prayer) at midday this Saturday 13th April 2019 and the UK should follow suit

This 13th April 1919 marks the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar. Thousands of peaceful protestors were gunned down following orders by Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, many unaware martial law had been imposed and came to Amritsar to celebrate Vaisakhi. The officially declared death toll was 379 civilians which included men, women and children and over a thousand were injured.

The NSO encourages UK gurdwaras to hold a minute silence this Saturday after the ardas at midday, to remember those who lost their lives in this tragedy described by Churchill as ‘monstrous’ and which former PM Tony Blair said, ‘reminds us of the worst aspects of colonialism.’

Lord Singh, the NSO’s Director said, ‘I strongly urge all Sikhs everywhere to visit their gurdwaras and observe a minute’s silence at midday 13 April 2019 to remember and honour the hundreds of innocent victims mercilessly gunned down in cold blood by British soldiers. The incident made the demand for independence unstoppable.’

[Ends]

 

Preet Gill’s statement dated 25th March 2019 on the work of the APPG contains numerous inaccuracies and distortions. A few examples:

On Seva School Coventry she writes:

‘Lord Singh raised the issue of Seva School. As agreed, I wrote to the DFE and received a full and helpful response from Damian Hinds assuring us that the school would not be closed, and they had asked an outstanding Sikh academy trust to take over. I have been in contact with the regional school’s commissioner.’

The reality:

Correspondence is on record to show that she and the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) – the APPG’s secretariat, have systematically tried to keep Sikhs in the Lords out of the APPG. Despite this, Lord Singh persuaded Lord Suri, to accompany him to a meeting of the APPG on 9th October 2018, at the request of Seva School to help them in fighting a DfE attempt to force the school to join the non-mainstream Nishkam multi-academy trust, rather than a mainstream Sikh Trust. The parent’s concerns were covered in Schools Week. The DfE were not being helpful as Preet Gill writes; they merely repeated their threat that unless Seva School joined Nishkam, considered a New Religious Movement by many Sikhs, they would close the school down. Preet Gill completely ignored the concerns of the Sikh community detailed by Lord Singh and Lord Suri.

Lord Singh and Lord Suri were made less than welcome at the meeting. In response to a query from Lord Singh as to why Sikhs from the Lords were being excluded from the APPG, Preet Gill said that a letter of invitation had been sent by Pat McFadden. Pat McFadden to his credit, openly disagreed, saying that no invitation had been sent to the Lords. Lord Singh said that the APPG office holders should include someone from the Lords. Preet Gill ignored his suggestion. In the meeting and subsequently, Lord Singh asked for minutes of the meeting be sent to him. Despite several requests, the SFUK which acts as secretariat to the APPG has not done this.

Lord Singh, Lord Suri and Baroness Verma have subsequently made their position clear. They strongly object to the extremist SFUK running an APPG which should be for ALL Sikhs in Parliament and are unwilling to be a part of the APPG while Preet Gill and SFUK are in charge. 

[Ends]

The NSO is delighted to report the government has approved an amendment to fully protect the kirpan in law.

The Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB) went through its third reading in the House of Lords yesterday in which ‘the legal presentation of a curved sword by a follower of the Sikh religion at a ceremonial event’ was discussed and an amendment to fully protect the kirpan passed unanimously. The opportunity to fully protect the kirpan was regrettably missed in the House of Commons.

Yesterday Minister Baroness Williams said, ‘My Lords, I will now speak to the amendments regarding kirpans, and in doing so express my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Singh, and my noble friend Lady Verma. They have all been tireless in their promotion of this issue; I hope that the amendments will provide an outcome satisfactory to everyone. In particular, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for his advice and to the organisation Sikhs in Politics, which has engaged positively with officials on the development of these amendments.’

She went on: ‘As noble Lords will recall, we held a round table on the issue of kirpans following the debate on these clauses in Grand Committee. This identified a gap in the current defences in that the cultural practice of gifting large ceremonial kirpans by Sikhs to eminent non-Sikhs was not covered by the “religious reasons” defence. These amendments will therefore create a defence for a person of Sikh faith to present another person with a curved sword in a religious ceremony or other ceremonial event, as covered by Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.’

Lord Singh became aware of the omission referred to by Baroness Williams towards the end of last year. He immediately contacted the Minister before the Bill came to the Lords and, following discussion, raised the issue at the second reading. Because of his standing in the Lords, he received promises of support from all sides of the House.

The Bill then moved to Grand Committee and Lord Singh spoke in detail about the religious significance of the kirpan emphasising that it literally meant ‘protector’ of the weak and vulnerableLord Singh briefed Labour, Liberal and others from all sides of the House to say the same. Winding up for Labour, Lord Tunnicliffe remarked that in all his years in parliament, he could never remember such unanimity.

Lord Singh’s speech at the third reading and the full debate can be read here.

The NSO is grateful to our Director Lord Singh, Lord Paddick, Lord Kennedy, Baroness Verma and unanimous support from cross-party peers to see this important amendment pass. We would also like to extend our thanks to Sikhs in Politics for their support.

[Ends]

 

Evidence given by the NSO to the Home Affairs Committee on the APPG on British Muslims proposed definition of ‘Islamophobia’ has been cited in an article in the Economist last month.

The article discusses aspects of our submission (along with that of the National Secular Society (NSS)) which we expect to follow up with oral evidence later this year.

We have previously expressed our concern about the vague term ‘Islamophobia’ and the risks it poses to free and open discussion in a submission to the APPG on British Muslims.

The Economist write:

‘The NSS also drew approving attention to an interesting contribution by one of Britain’s religious minorities. The Network of Sikh Organisations made a submission arguing that the term “Islamophobia” could be used to shut down “free and open debate about matters of public interest” including the treatment of minority faiths in Muslim lands, both in the present day or in history. Nor, the Sikhs argued, should concern with Islamophobia be used to give a free pass to conflict within the world of Islam, such as the ostracising of the Ahmadi Muslim sect which had led to two sectarian murders in Britain.’

THE FACTS

 

  1. The Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) failed to brief their supporter Preet Gill MP, of the need to ensure protection for the kirpan in the early stages of the Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB).

 

 

  1. When this was pointed out to them, they met Ministers to introduce protection for ‘religious use’ (which was already protected by the law). They then rushed to self-congratulate with photos with ministers, completely failing to understand that the Bill would prohibit the cultural and ceremonial use of the kirpan.

 

  1. The SFUK should then have approached a Sikh member in the Lords to try to introduce an amendment to protect the cultural and ceremonial use of the kirpan.

 

  1. When their colleagues in the Sikh Council suggested this, they argued strongly against Sikhs in the Lords being involved even if the opportunity for protection was lost. They felt that this would draw attention to their incompetence in briefing Preet Gill MP. True Sikhs would have put the needs of the community before their own egos.

 

  1. Lord Singh, aware of the omission, contacted the relevant Minister before the Bill came to the Lords and, following discussion, raised the issue at the second reading. Because of his standing in the Lords, he received promises of support from all sides of the House.

 

  1. The Bill then moved to Grand Committee and Lord Singh spoke in detail about the religious significance of the kirpan emphasising that it literally meant ‘protector’ of the weak and vulnerable. Lord Singh briefed Labour, Liberal and others from all sides of the House to say the same. Winding up for Labour, Lord Tunnicliffe remarked that in all his years in parliament, he could never remember such unanimity

 

  1. What SFUK are now saying in their jealous tweets, about Lord Singh omitting the religious significance of the kirpan, had already been said by Lord Singh and others at Grand Committee.

 

  1. It is much harder to get an amendment to a Bill in the Lords than in the Commons, and the Home Office (advised by an anti-Sikh group) said that it was difficult to protect a larger kirpan unless there was a clear and easily recognisable description of its physical appearance. Sikhs in the Lords and their supporters saw this as a red herring to create doubt in the minds of the government. A kirpan, whatever its physical appearance, should be protected by legislation for religious and cultural use. There is nothing wrong in saying that in physical appearance a kirpan is a sword to ensure its protection in law.

 

  1. Following the discussions at Report Stage, government officials have had a further meeting with Lord Singh in working towards a suitable amendment to cover Sikh concerns.

 

The SFUK in their continuing efforts to smear those that are trying to protect Sikh symbols and identity, while speaking and writing about the uplifting teachings of our Gurus, are again underlining their anti-Sikh agenda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) write:

Last week Lord Singh the 86-year old peer who has positioned himself successfully in the wider public and the government as the only voice of the Sikh community for almost the last 40 years..

Comment:

  1. Why the ageist reference? According to Sikh teachings, it is not age, but ability and commitment that count.
  2. Referring to ‘the 86-year-old peer’ is better than a previous SFUK description ‘a dinosaur’. What is it about the SFUK and references to age?
  3. The SFUK in its different forms has been around for nearly 40 years. Why is it that this one individual has done more to promote an understanding of Sikh teachings in the government and wider public than the whole of SFUK put together?

 

 SFUK write:

Lord Singh has also been overshadowed in Parliament for the last 18 months by the energetic Preet Kaur Gill, the first Sikh woman MP who became a shadow Minister within months of being elected and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the first turban wearing Sikh MP. Lord Singh is no longer the only Sikh politician that government, fellow Parliamentarians and the media turn to.

Comment:

This childish ‘you’re not the only one,’ is simply school playground jealousy. The more Sikh MPs, the better.

SFUK write:

However, what Lord Singh failed to disclose in the debate is he is the one and only life-time Director of the NSO.  It now emerges he may not have declared this for the last seven years in the Register of Lords’ Interests, since he became a Lord in October 2011.

 

Comment:

I am not a lifetime director. All power lies with the elected Executive. They can sack me any time. It is an honorary post for which I do not receive a penny. In last month’s AGM, I specifically requested a diminution in my responsibilities.

Our website will confirm that membership of the NSO requires a commitment to live and propagate Sikh teachings. I believe, that as the first turban wearing Sikh in Parliament, this commitment is seen whenever I stand up to speak. It is appreciation of this commitment to uplifting Sikh teachings that enabled me to get cross-part support for the Amendment.

Why I stated in the debate that the government should consult with myself and the NSO in discussing any reservations about the amendment.

It was I who raised the issue at Second Reading. It was I who subsequently requested a meeting with the Minister, Baroness Williams and her advisers. It was I who had discussions with Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick.

At the conclusion of my meeting with Baroness Williams it was agreed that they would come back to me. Instead of doing this as courtesy requires, they, ‘in the innocent belief that they are all the same’, then spoke to the SFUK who were naturally unable to respond to the points raised. But for them speaking to the wrong people, the Amendment would have received unanimous approval at Grand Committee. The Government have already apologised for this.

My comment that SFUK does not speak for all Sikhs

I mentioned this because it is true. If it were not true, SFUK would not have lost power in gurdwaras in Leicester, Southampton and their former stronghold in Wolverhampton.

The APPG for British Sikhs

I said the APPG for Sikhs and SFUK were one and the same, because this is true. The Chair is a SFUK sympathiser who appointed them to be its secretariat. There is only one other Sikh member. Four Sikhs in the House of Lords were excluded from its inaugural meeting.

Indarjit

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Director Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) 

The Offensive Weapons Bill is at committee stage in the House of Lords

Our Director Lord Singh continues to work with cross-party peers to ensure the kirpan gets the full legal protection it requires, with proposed amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill (OWB). Under current legislation the kirpan has an exemption from the provisions relating to the possession of an offensive weapon under the Criminal Justice Act. All that was required, is to include a clause to protect longer kirpans gifted to Sikhs and non-Sikhs as a sign of honouring contribution to society – recipients of whom include senior police officers and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The failure of Sikh MPs to address this gap in the House of Commons made it necessary for Lord Singh to retrieve the situation. Cross party support was readily given, and Lord Kennedy supported by Lord Paddick tabled an amendment to ensure the kirpan is fully safeguarded under British law.

Despite the failure to address this in the House of Commons, on 21st November 2018, the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) who run the APPG for British Sikhs, bizarrely announced a ‘victory’ on social media with an accompanying ‘photo op’ with Ministers.

On 30th January 2019, peers discussed proposed amendments to OWB at committee stage in the House of Lords.

Lord Tunnicliffe said:

‘My first ask of the Minister is that she meet my noble friend Lord Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, and representatives of the Sikh community. In asking for a meeting, I put on record that the status quo is not adequate, as it only provides a defence of religious reasons if a person is charged with a criminal offence. It does not cover other reasons such as ceremonial, historical or sporting, where kirpans are offered as gifts to dignitaries. The status quo only provides a defence if a person is charged—the amendment in the name of my noble friend will provide an exemption for the possession of kirpans. The amendment will provide specific reference in the law for the kirpan, which Sikhs have been calling for.’

Lord Singh who has met the Minister – Baroness Williams and worked with respected colleagues like Labour peer Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick former Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London’s Metropolitan police service said:

‘My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I shall give just a little background. Sikhs are sometimes referred to as a martial race. The description is wrong on two counts: we are neither martial, nor are we a race. Sikh teachings criticise all notions of race or caste, emphasising that we are all equal members of one human race.’

He added, ‘The martial assumption comes from the fact that Sikhs have had to endure being a persecuted minority for many years—at one time, there was a price on the head of every Sikh caught dead or alive. Sikhs have had to develop dexterity with a sword to survive, and, importantly, to protect the weak and vulnerable of other communities in society. Kirpan, the Sikh word for sword, means “protector”, and figures prominently in religious practice and ceremony.’

Amendment 70 was withdrawn in line with convention in the Grand Committee, however there was unanimous support from all parties including the government, for the need to effect change in order to fully safeguard the kirpan in law.

The Sikh Federation UK, misleading social media posts and fake news

(Left: Tweet in which SFUK falsely suggest Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way) was one of 112 gurdwaras which supported their failed ‘ethnic’ tick box campaign)

The Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) is the successor body to the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) which was de-proscribed from the UK’s list of organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000 in March 2016.[i]

Over the years, the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) have become accustomed to their modus operandi. They no doubt, have been particularly successful in plugging their often grievance filled narrative on social media. We have had to address misleading statements made by SFUK regarding their now failed ‘ethnic’ Census tick box campaign aimed at limiting a world religion to a single ethnic group. We are still waiting for them to disclose the list of gurdwaras they say supported their campaign for a separate tick box in the 2021 census. We have concerns given what we discovered about Hounslow gurdwara (Alice Way). SFUK tweeted to say they were one of the gurdwaras who supported their campaign, but the committee categorically refuted this in writing.

As you can imagine the SFUK who run the APPG for British Sikhs are angry that the ONS decided not to recommend a Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box in the White Paper. All concerned with getting full protection for the kirpan would applaud Lord Singh for his initiative in the Lords to rectify the Commons error. Instead, the SFUK predictably, began to throw their toys out of the pram by attacking Lord Singh with a post on Facebook on 31st January titled: ‘SHOCKING, IGNORANT AND OFFENSIVE COMMENTS MADE IN HOUSE OF LORDS’. They write:

‘Soon after 9/11 someone advised the government that Sikhs can wear miniature wooden or plastic Kirpans. Some automatically assumed it was Indarjit Singh ..’

What the SFUK haven’t disclosed is that following legal action, one of their leading supporters gave Lord Singh a written apology in May 2015 for inferring Lord Singh had given advice to the government that is was OK for Sikhs to wear ‘a wooden kirpan’. It is simply not true and the repeated inference in the statement above posted on Facebook repeats the libel. We’ve discussed why Lord Singh and other cross-party peers were forced to intervene in the 2nd debate on the OWB above. It is to fully safeguard the kirpan in law, something which should have been done in the House of Commons, despite a SFUK declaration of ‘victory’ on the matter and ‘photo op’ with a Minister and the Chair/Vice Chairs of the APPG for British Sikhs (for which they are secretariat).

SFUK who’ve previously referred to Lord Singh as ‘a dinosaur’, also complained on Twitter about Lord Singh’s comment ‘we are neither martial, nor are we a race’ – but they failed to include his full speech and context given above.

The Guru’s taught us to ‘recognise the human race as one’, and the fledgling Sikh community had to defend itself to survive persecution – the circumstances transformed the community into one which was ready to defend itself and others from tyranny. However, the ‘martial race’ theory was propagated by British military scientists, who wanted to increase enlistment to the British Indian Army during the Great Wars – categorising Gurkhas, Pathans, Hindu Punjabis and Sikhs in this pseudoscientific category. It is not consistent with Sikh teachings.

SFUK remarkably tweeted: ‘A martial race is one that is brave and ready for battle. It appears Lord Singh would like to see Sikhs as ‘Indians’ unfit for battle’. We are not sure what ‘battle’ the SFUK think they are fighting and how Lord Singh’s speech could be possibly interpreted as suggesting Sikhs were ‘unfit’. We do not think it is ‘brave’ to publish misleading posts on social media.

The saddest part of all of this is the way in which SFUK’s misleading post which selectively quoted Lord Singh’s speech, has been received by a vocal minority who follow them on Facebook and other social media platforms. The nature of the SFUK supporters is illustrated by comments like the following below which contribute nothing towards a rationale and reasoned debate.

Manj Onetel ‘He’s a Dogra, the enemy within, claiming to represent Sikhs without being elected or selected to do so. Non Sikhs are more supportive of Sikh issues than these keshadhari Hindus- he has no rehni behni other than the outer appearance literally a lions garb on a sheep.’

Comments on the SFUK Facebook page under the post vary from being plainly rude, conspiratorial, but some disturbingly ageist in nature, like the SFUK previous reference to Lord Singh as ‘a dinosaur’. The individuals concerned should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Following the publication of the despicable ‘karma’ tweet after the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood last November, which the SFUK apologised for, we are by no means surprised by their modus operandi and the odious comments of some of their followers on Facebook. We imagine those in government circles won’t be too surprised either.

[i] https://www.europeansanctions.com/2016/03/uk-de-proscribes-isyf/

 

 

                                  Response to Home Affairs Committee Islamophobia inquiry

                                                                        January 2019

 

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.

This submission follows evidence we provided to the Home Affairs Committee in 2017/18 for their inquiry into hate crime and its violent consequences.[i] [ii]

 

  1. Use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ v ‘anti-Muslim’ hatred

We believe use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ is deeply problematic because it is vague and ambiguous. In a recent House of Lords debate, our Director Lord Singh, dissected the disparate elements that are often referred to when ‘Islamophobia’ is discussed. He said, ‘…there are four distinct aspects of hate crime against Muslims that are collectively known as Islamophobia: hate crime arising from common prejudice; hate crime arising from assumptions about the teachings of Islam; hate crime arising from perceptions of Muslim behaviour; and hate crime against non-Muslims due to mistaken identity.’[iii]  We are of the view that ‘anti-Muslim’ hatred, (like ‘anti-Sikh’ or ‘anti-Hindu’) is much clearer language to describe hate crime specifically against the Muslim community. We previously expressed this in written evidence to the APPG on British Muslims inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred.[iv]

 

1.1 Free speech and discussing matters of public interest

We have concerns that there are matters which extremists have an incentive to label ‘Islamophobic’ in order to shut down free and open discussion about matters of public interest – for example:

  • Legitimate criticism of the behaviour of a minority of Muslims i.e. sexual grooming gang cases like in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and Telford.
  • Legitimate criticism of aspects of Islamic doctrine, like the sanctioning of death for apostates (ex-Muslims) for leaving Islam, reference to non-Muslims as kaffirs (a derogatory term), and persecution of homosexuals and minority Muslim sects like the Ahmadiyya.
  • Legitimate criticism of the treatment of minority faiths in Muslim majority countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the latter non-Muslims (like Hindus and Sikhs) are known to pay the jizya (tax of humiliation), and Christians often face blasphemy charges in Pakistan like the cause célèbre Asia Bibi. There are also reports of forced marriage and conversion of Hindu girls in Pakistan and persecution of Ahmadiyya.
  • Free discussion about historical facts, like the beheading of the 9th Guru of Sikhism – Tegh Bahadur who was executed by Mughal authorities when he stood up for the freedom of religion of Hindu priests, who were being forcefully converted to Islam.

*the above isn’t an exhaustive list, but just a few areas as means of illustration.

We note the National Secular Society (NSS) have stated, ‘accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ are often used to silence debate about (and within) Islam,’[v] and ‘the word ‘Islamophobia’ has entered common usage, but it conflates legitimate criticism of Islam, or Islamic practices, with anti-Muslim prejudice, bigotry and hatred’.[vi]  This view is entirely consistent with our position.

1.2 The definition proposed by the APPG on British Muslims

 

‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’.[vii]

 

Questions about race component in definition

Conflating race and religion is extremely problematic. There are of course occasions where race motivates hate crime against Muslims, or the ‘Muslim looking other’. An example of this would be the throwing of a pig’s head in the drive of former government minister Parmjit Singh Dhanda’s in 2010. Although a Sikh, he does not wear a turban nor have a beard. His detractors must have assumed he was Muslim due to his ethnicity. However, in other cases, it is more the conflation of religious symbols, like the Sikh turban (dastaar) and beard with the appearance of extremists like Bin Laden, the Taliban (or ISIS), which makes Sikhs and other non-Muslims susceptible to ‘Islamophobia’.[viii] This vulnerability – due to a visibility in the public space, is no different to that of Muslim women in hijabs, and orthodox Jews in skullcaps. Dr Jhutti-Johal an academic from the University of Birmingham has provided further examples of hate crime against Sikhs in a submission to an inquiry by The Youth Select Committee in 2016.[ix] Notably, white hipsters with beards have been confused with ISIS, and this is more to do with their hirsute countenance, rather than a prejudice born from, or ‘rooted in racism’. Furthermore, by framing ‘Islamophobia’ as ‘racism’, the definition miserably fails to encompass prejudice suffered by white converts, or European Muslims, like Bosniaks, Kosovars and Albanians.

 

1.3 Evidence to APPG and the question of impartiality

Whilst our evidence, like that of Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and the NSS was accepted by the inquiry conducted by the APPG on British Muslims, not all was agreed in the definition. It was selectively used by the authors of Islamophobia Defined.[x] On aspects of SBS’s evidence, the report’s authors dismissively say it, ‘appears highly misguided’.[xi] We take the view this doesn’t reflect a standard of impartiality.

 

1.4 Being ‘insufficiently Muslim’ in the eyes of other Muslims

Baroness Falkner of Margravine gave a compelling speech in which she challenged the racial component of the proposed definition. She said, ‘When you define a religion—in other words, a belief system—as an adjective and declare that this is rooted in race, which is biological, you ascribe to belief an immutability which cannot work’.[xii] She also discussed the prejudice her family had faced moving from India to Pakistan in 1947, and that she had personally faced from her co-religionists in Muslim countries for being ‘insufficiently Muslim’, adding ‘but that experience was as nothing compared to the discrimination that Ahmadiyyas, Shias and various others still face today at the hands of other Muslims.’[xiii]

As Baroness Falkner rightly states, ‘Islamophobia’ also includes prejudice within Muslim communities against one another for being ‘insufficiently Muslim’. There is no mention of this aspect in the APPG report Islamophobia Defined, despite the definition referring to ‘expressions of Muslimness’. It is not clear if persecuted groups like Ahmadiyyas gave evidence to the APPG, or if their view has been given any consideration at all. The sectarian murders of Asad Shah, an Ahmadiyya Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow, and Jalal Uddin, a 71-year-old imam in Rochdale demonstrate policy makers cannot simply ignore this issue.

Framing a similar argument to Baroness Falkner is Britain’s counter-extremism czar, Sara Khan. In an opinion editorial she describes, ‘increasing anti-Muslim hatred’ that she receives ‘from fellow Muslims’. ‘It is contradictory and unjust to recognise non-Muslim perpetrators yet ignore Muslims who engage in active hostility, abuse, hatred and discrimination against other Muslims’, argues Ms Khan. We believe this is an area which requires much more focus and we must acknowledge all bigotry, from wherever it comes, in equal terms.

 

1.5 Equality in public policy

One of the victims of a Rotherham grooming gang argues that ‘non-Muslim hate’ or hate against ‘those with a perceived lack of Muslimness’ should be taken just as seriously as discrimination against Muslims. ‘As grooming victims, my friends and I were called vile racist names such as “white trash” and “kaffir girl” as we were raped. Our Sikh and Hindu friends who were also targeted by Muslim Pakistani gangs were disparagingly called “kaffir slags” too.’ The APPG’s Islamophobia Defined report makes four references to grooming gangs. But it makes no effort to examine the motivations of the perpetrators. Instead, it suggests that discussion of grooming gangs could be ‘Islamophobic’. The government has a duty to take all forms of hatred as seriously as one another and we welcome the committee’s thoughts on this point.

To date government policy on hate crime has marginalised minority faiths like Sikhs and Hindus, because the focus is primarily on the suffering of Muslims and Jews. This is despite Sikhs suffering ‘mistaken identity’ attacks since 9/11. Whilst we sympathise with the Muslim and Jewish communities, the government needs to take steps to execute parity – irrespective of religious belief, or none. Our Director, Lord Singh has previously warned that Sikhs, who ‘do not have a culture of complaint’ are at risk of ‘falling off the government radar’ and believes the government ‘must be even-handed’ towards all communities.[xiv]

 

Conclusion

We request the committee gives our concerns due consideration. We believe the proposed definition is flawed and will have serious implications on free and open discussion about matters of significant public interest. It has the potential to act as a shield for extremists who want to shut down criticism of Islam or the behaviour of a minority of Muslims.

 

Network of Sikh Organisations


[ii] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/hate-crime-and-its-violent-consequences/written/45945.html
[iii] https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2018-12-20a.1937.0
[iv] http://nsouk.co.uk/nso-gives-evidence-to-appg-on-british-muslims-on-islamophobia/
[v] https://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/response-to-home-affairs-committee-islamophobia-inquiry.pdf
[vi] Ibid
[vii]https://static1.squarespace.com/static/599c3d2febbd1a90cffdd8a9/t/5bfd1ea3352f531a6170ceee/1543315109493/Islamophobia+Defined.pdf
[viii] Sikhs have suffered the negative reverberations of Islamism since 9/11. The first person to be killed in retribution was a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Phoenix. In Britain, there was an attempted beheading of a Sikh dentist in Wales in 2015 – a ‘revenge’ attack for Lee Rigby. Reference to Sikhs as ‘Bin Laden’, ‘Taliban’ and ‘ISIS’ are a normal occurrence – both Sikh men and women have suffered. Despite being one of the most ‘visible’ minority groups in Britain, eighteen years on from 9/11 we are still not viewed as a priority group by the government.
[ix] http://www.byc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/050-Jagbir-Jhutti-Johal.pdf
[x]  https://static1.squarespace.com/static/599c3d2febbd1a90cffdd8a9/t/5bfd1ea3352f531a6170ceee/1543315109493/Islamophobia+Defined.pdf
[xi]  Ibid
[xii] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2018-12-20/debates/2F954D45-1962-4256-A492-22EBF6AEF8F0/Islamophobia#contribution-B9C080A2-4CBA-4687-BBCD-0A20C512D1FC
[xiii] Ibid

Our Director Lord Singh intervened in a debate on the second reading of the Offensive Weapons Bill earlier this week to ensure the Sikh practice of honouring people with full-length kirpans is fully protected under law. As it stands, the draft Bill retains the existing legal protection for the religious use of a kirpan, however ‘honourary’ kirpans – given to dignitaries (not just Sikhs) as an appreciation of service, would fall outside the proposed legislation and be criminalised. This concern was not addressed in either the Commons debate or in the minor wording change in the ‘photo op’ meeting of the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) with government officials.

During the debate on Monday, Lord Singh said: ‘My Lords, I too believe that the Bill is both timely and necessary. As a Sikh, I would like to voice my appreciation of the sensitivity shown by the protection of the existing right of Sikhs to wear a short kirpan for religious reasons. However, it appears that the common Sikh practice of presenting a full-length kirpan, or sword, as a token of esteem or appreciation to those who have made a significant contribution to Sikh ideals, such as tolerance and respect for other faiths, has been overlooked and is not currently protected.’

He added: ‘The recipients of this honour do not have to be Sikhs. I have made presentations on behalf of the Sikh community to His Royal Highness Prince Charles, when he joined us as the main guest at a major function at the Royal Albert Hall, and to the late Lord Weatherill, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, for his work with the Sikh community in India and Britain. Years earlier, the Sikh community in Leicester honoured Sir John Templeton, founder of the Templeton Prize, after he awarded me the UK equivalent, for furthering religious understanding.

For Sikhs, this custom is no less important than the protection given in the Bill to the use of a sword for theatrical performances or for its keeping for historical reasons. Unfortunately, the presentation and keeping of this token of esteem is not protected in the proposed legislation. It is important that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, so eloquently put it, we do not criminalise people unintentionally. On behalf of the UK Sikh community, I will seek a small amendment to the existing wording to ensure that the presentation and receipt of this traditional ceremonial Sikh honour remains protected.’

The Offensive Weapons Bill (sponsored by the home secretary Sajid Javid) was published on 20th June 2018 and is now scheduled to go to committee stage in the House of Lords.[i] The Bill covers three types of weapon – acid, knives and offensive weapons, and firearms. Although SFUK issued a statement on 21st November 2018 describing an amendment to the Bill (coordinated by Preet Gill MP) for ‘larger’ kirpans titled, ‘Kirpan victory: Ministers listen and back Sikh community’, it transpires this so called ‘victory’ was a premature celebration as it didn’t do what was needed, that is, cover ‘honourary’ kirpans. The NSO with support of concerned members of the Sikh Council UK aims to ensure the kirpan is given full protection under law and cross-party peers agree it is necessary.

[i] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/offensiveweapons.html

 

Since 2015 the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has been lobbying to get parity for all faiths when it comes to the government’s existing ‘Abrahamic-centric’ hate crime policy.

During this time, we have achieved a number of important milestones:

  • Uncovering through FOI significant numbers of non-Muslims are recorded by forces like the MET under the ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ category (data for 2015/16)
  • Commitment from ministers that religious hate crime figures will be disaggregated from April 2017
  • Submission of written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into hate crime and its violent consequences (2017/18)
  • Submission of written and oral evidence to the APPG on British Muslims inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred (2018)
  • Articles (news and opinion editorials), letters and radio interviews in the mainstream media including the BBC, The Telegraph, The Spectator, The Daily Mail (since 2016)
  • A clarification from the Evening Standard on an article to make sure it acknowledged statistics included non-Muslims, who also face ‘Islamophobia’ (2018)
  • A complaint to the Guardian to correct an article to include non-Muslim victims which was reported on by the Press Gazette (2018)
  • Our Director has raised the issue in several debates in the House of Lords and in correspondence with ministers. (2015 onwards)
  • Engagement with senior officers in the MET police to highlight concerns about recording and reporting (2018)
  • Engagement with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (2018)
  • Commitment from government in early 2017 to help Sikh and Hindu communities report hate crime through True Vision portal. (2017)

 

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