Where Unity Is Strength
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article from archive following Mandla in 1983

Difficulties

Supposed support by MPs and the APPG for British Sikhs

Speaking to a number of MPs, including some of those who have given support to the Sikh ethnic tick box, confirms that few have any understanding of Sikh teachings against artificial and divisive groupings of our one human race; nor were they clear of the supposed benefits of describing Sikhs as an ethnic group. Those who signed did so because they were told that this is what their Sikh constituents wanted.

Supposed support in the Sikh Community

Gurdwaras are generally unaware of the pros and cons of ethnic monitoring. Some, that have voiced support for a Sikh ethnic tick box, say they did so because they are stridently opposed to the alternative of describing themselves as ‘Indian’, because of still lingering anger over the state-sponsored genocide against Sikhs in 1984. Many others are of the view that calling ourselves an ethnic group as opposed to Indian is a step towards creating distinct ‘quam’ (national) identity and the creation of a separate Sikh State in India.

While the emotive appeal is very real, it has nothing to do with the 2021 census. It also ignores basic Sikh teachings on the absurdity of creating artificial divisions in our one human family – particularly in the pursuit of supposed material gain. It should also be remembered that some of the organisations lobbying for support for a Sikh ethnic tick box, like the Sikh Federation UK, and the Sikh Network, etc, are all run by the same small group of people, who also have a dominant voice in the Sikh Council.

Reality of support in the Sikh community

The overwhelming attitude of most gurdwaras to a Sikh ethnic tick box in the census is a lack of understanding and relevance. If told that that a Sikh ethnic tick box will benefit the ‘quam’ (Sikh nation), they will probably quickly sign support and get back, to what they regard as, the more important business of providing a service to their sangat (congregation). If however, the real pros and cons are explained and discussed, interest is more sustained, and attitudes are often quite different.

At the suggestion of ONS officers, a meeting was arranged in Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Hounslow, with a representative of the ONS present. Presentations were made by the NSO and the Sikh Federation UK and, after discussion for more than an hour, the proposal for a Sikh ethnic tick box in the next census was totally rejected by members of the Gurdwara Committee.

The Sikh ethnic tick box proposal has also been totally rejected in other gurdwaras, where both the pros and cons have been explained and discussed by Committee members, most recently at the gurdwara in Edinburgh.

Suggestion

The only real way to assess whether Sikhs in the UK are prepared to over-ride essential Sikh teachings for unquantified material gain, is by open public debate monitored, and perhaps presided over, by the ONS. Unfortunately, this repeated suggestion by the NSO has been met with personal abuse from the Sikh Federation UK in its different guises.

My repeated request to be allowed to address the APPG for British Sikhs (from which I and other Sikhs in Parliament have been excluded) has also been consistently ignored, as has my request for open debate on any London Sikh TV Channel, Why? My hope is that we show that we are mature enough to discuss such issues rationally and respectfully, always bearing Sikh teachings in mind.

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

As many will know we have strenuously opposed the Sikh Federation UK’s (SFUK) ill conceived campaign to classify ‘Sikh’ as an ethnicity for many years.

In recent months this increasingly divisive debate has become the subject of significant mainstream media coverage, including an article in the Times last month. The  article ‘Sikhs may get ethnicity status’ instigated another flurry of debate and conversation for and against.

Meanwhile during this period, some exchanges on social media turned rather unpleasant, troubling and on occasion personal. Our Director responded to the Times article with a letter (below).

 

To help provide a summary of arguments against we refer to the following Q&A and a short summary below. We have spoken to many Sikhs who are undecided whether the SFUK campaign is a good idea or not, and this is largely based on not understanding the issues at hand. Some elements are admittedly complex. We hope the explanation below which has been shared with key stakeholders and decision makers, provides absolute clarity for those grappling with this important issue. In short Sikhism is a great world faith open to all, it is not an ethnic group.

(more…)

(Above: Afghan Sikhs carrying a coffin of one of the victims of the Jalalabad suicide bombing)

Following the deadly suicide bombing in Jalalabad targeting Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu minority the NSO has flagged its concerns with the government and taken steps to raise the issue with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).

You only have to look at the declining numbers of minorities to realise the gravity of persecution they face in Muslim majority Afghanistan. Prior to the collapse of Kabul government in 1992, there were 220,000 Sikhs and Hindus in the country, and today only 220 or so families remain. Sikhs and Hindus need police protection to cremate their dead as it is deemed offensive to Muslims, they are forced to pay the jizya or ‘tax of humiliation’, and are fearful their women and daughters will be kidnapped and converted to Islam.

Afghan Sikhs we’ve spoken to in London have told us it is now time for Sikhs to leave Afghanistan and seek sanctuary elsewhere. The victims of the Jalalabad attack included Awtar Singh Khalsa who had planned to stand for parliament in elections this October.

In light of this most recent atrocity, our Director Lord Singh has asked the government 1. What discussions they intend to have with the Afghan authorities to safeguard the security and right to freedom of belief 2. What representations they intend to make to the government of India to encourage them to grant asylum to victims and families 3. Whether Britain intends to offer asylum to the families of those who were killed. We will be sharing the response received from Ministers.

We’ve also contacted the APPG for FoRB to ask them to follow up on this issue and include the persecution of Afghanistan’s minority faiths on the agenda for their next meeting.

News of the Jalalabad attack comes in the wake of a case highlighted by Justice Upheld involving a Pakistani Sikh forced to go on the run having received a fatwa (to kill him) by the Taliban. His only crime in the eyes of Islamists – the setting up of a Sikh school in Peshawar.


This year we’ve partnered up with UK Parliament Week 2018 , an annual festival that engages people throughout the UK with the work of Parliament. Take part by holding an event, explore what Parliament means to you and encourage your community to get involved in democracy. Sign up and receive a free kit, complete with resources to help you plan your event or activity.

It’s both a pleasure and duty to join you and support the movement of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and millions of Iranians in your efforts to free Iran from suffering and tyranny. I say duty because I speak as a Sikh, and Sikhs have a responsibility to speak up against tyranny, oppression and religious persecution wherever it occurs.

We are in France, the land of Voltaire who famously remarked:

‘I may not believe in what you say, but I will defend to the death you right to say it’.

Nearly a century before Voltaire, Guru Tag Bahadhur, 9th Guru of the Sikhs gave that noble sentiment practical utterance when he was publicly beheaded for defending the right to freedom of belief of Hindus, people of a different faith to his own, against forced conversion to Islam by the Mughal rulers.

Sikhs and the people of Punjab, have always had close cultural and trade links with Persians and Iran. The Persian language Farsi was at one time the court language of Punjab and Farsi was used in the compilation of some Sikh scriptures.

There was once a prosperous Sikh community settled in Tehran. I have no idea of what has become of it. I have many Iranian friends and feel for the suffering of the people of Iran, under the vengeful, cruel and intolerant rule of religious extremists. Brutal crackdowns and torture have become the norm for those expressing dissent. Iran now leads the world in the use of the death penalty.

In recent weeks, we have seen growing riots and unrest over food shortages and a plummeting currency with brutal repression by a paranoid regime.

All religious minorities, including co-religionists suffer persecution. Sunnis are not allowed to build mosques, Baha’is expelled from university because of their faith. Kurds and Arabs suffer discrimination, and there is continuing concern about the small and once thriving Sikh community.

As a Sikh, I do not go along with religious states. No religion has the right to impose its values on others. Religious values become meaningless if imposed by force. Religious leaders who use compulsion to impose their ideology are simply brutal dictators who bring uplifting values of religious teaching into disrepute.

I see a welcome glimmer of hope in work of the NCRI led by Maryam Rajavi, who has constantly worked for a better future for Iran. I am heartened by her 10-point plan for open democratic government where rights of all people & all faiths are respected.

The Plan reminds me of the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s enlightened rule in Punjab in the 1800s. He stressed his Sikh belief in the equality of women. He included Muslims and Hindus as advisers in his government and spent large sums of money building and beautifying places of worship of other faiths. He abolished the death penalty and brought peace and prosperity to long-suffering Punjab.

There is a striking similarity with the enlightened and far-sighted 10-point Plan of the NCRI. It will bring peace, harmony and prosperity to a land that has known only suffering in recent years, and with God’s grace, I look forward to it becoming a reality in the near future.

Lord Singh’s speech 30th June at Free Iran Gathering 2018, Paris.

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

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