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Earlier this week Lord Singh contributed to a debate following a motion tabled by minister Lord Bourne, ‘That this House takes note of the challenges posed by religious intolerance and prejudice in the United Kingdom.’ The debate coincided with the launch of the government’s ‘refresh’ of Action Against Hate (2016) their four-year hate crime plan.

The NSO has historically pushed back against government policy in this area, primarily because we believe the focus on religious groups is far too narrow, and all faiths should be treated with parity when it comes to tackling prejudice. In response to the government’s announcement of a ‘refresh’ to Action Against Hate (2016), Lord Singh expressed his disappointment at the continued marginalisation of non-Abrahamic faiths, including Sikhs. He highlighted the continued backlash Sikhs have faced since 9/11 with personal anecdotes, whilst referring to the government’s inordinate focus on Jews and Muslims said, ‘Why the disparity? To echo Shakespeare: if we are cut, do we not bleed?’

During the debate Lord Morrow (DUP) independently referred to Hardeep Singh’s efforts (our Deputy-Director) in unearthing FOI data from the MET police (2015/16) which showed significant numbers of non-Muslims and those of no recorded faith, are recorded as being victim of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’.

In response to Lord Singh’s speech Lord Cormack (CON) said: ‘Lord Singh of Wimbledon, has given us several thoughts for the day in that rather splendid speech, the subtext of which was that hostility is bred from and fed by ignorance.’

Winding up the debate for Labour peers, Lord Griffiths referring to Lord Singh’s speech saying, ‘I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Singh, that we must be careful to be more inclusive when we mention those who are on the receiving end of prejudice and discrimination—represent a broad canvas.’

He went on to congratulate the NSO’s Director on his criticism of superficial interfaith dialogue, and said: ‘Indeed, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Singh, who came nearest to where all my thoughts were as I prepared for this debate. It is true that those conferences and symposia, those seminars that you go to, full of blandishments and fine words unrelated to causes, are about ephemeral and marginal issues. I am so pleased to hear that said. I would not have had the courage to say it, but I am delighted to have the courage to echo it. We must find a way to get to the core of the things we need to discuss together, the things beneath all the things that happen on the surface.’

We reproduce Lord Singh’s speech in full below:

‘My Lords, I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for initiating this important debate. I shall take my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and be a little controversial. ​

I read the Government’s half-time review of their hate crime strategy and find it disappointing in that it completely fails to address the underlying causes of hate crime—for much of this evening, we have done the same—and, while repeatedly addressing the concerns of the Abrahamic faiths, virtually ignores the equally real suffering of other faiths. The review details some 20 initiatives to protect against anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate crimes. A condescending reference to occasional round-table meetings with other faiths is no substitute for action. Why the disparity? To echo Shakespeare: if we are cut, do we not bleed?

There are no comparative statistics on hate crimes suffered by different religions to justify partiality. Figures presented to justify additional resources for the Jewish and Islamic faiths come from those communities. Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer of the Met has made it clear that a significant proportion of hate crime recorded as Islamophobic is against other communities. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, referred to a freedom of information request made by my colleague, Hardeep Singh, which showed that there is no clear definition of whom hate crime is committed against.

Many of the hate crimes described as Islamophobic are directed against Sikhs out of ignorance or mistaken identity. In the States, a Sikh was the first person murdered in reprisal after 9/11, and six worshippers in a gurdwara there were shot by a white supremacist in another mistaken-identity killing.

The day after 9/11, I was going to a meeting with the then CRE at Victoria. As I came out of the station, two workmen digging the road looked at me in a hostile way. Fortunately, their lack of religious literacy saved the day. The elder turned to the younger and said: “He’s not a Muslim; he’s a Hindu.” I did not argue the point.

Few Sikhs have not been called “bin Laden” at some time or other, and some have been violently attacked. We heard about the gurdwara in Leeds being defaced and partly burned and, only a couple of months ago, a gurdwara in Edinburgh that I had recently visited was firebombed.

I do not in any way begrudge the protection that Jews and Muslims receive against hate crime. The Jewish community has suffered grievously from anti-Semitism, and Muslims are suffering hate crime today. I have always had a warm working relationship with both communities. All I ask is that the Government are a little more even-handed to non-Abrahamic faiths in both policies and resourcing.

Let me now turn to the important causes of hate crime. Prejudice, in the sense of fear of—or irrational, negative attitudes to—those not like us, is not something found only in others; it is common to all of us. The existence of heathens in distant lands gave us a perverse sense of unity and superiority based on a shared, irrational dislike of those not like us. We find this again and again in literature. John of Gaunt’s speech in “Richard II”, with its reference to,

“This precious stone set in the silver sea”

  Against the envy of lesser breeds’,

simply an example of how we viewed foreigners. Some on the leave side of the Brexit debate will probably say Shakespeare did not go far enough! ​

Today, the one-time distant foreigner, with a different culture and religion, can be our next-door neighbour, and it is imperative that we set aside our own prejudices and see people as they really are, equal members of one human family.

It is equally important that we look openly and honestly at prejudice embedded in religion. What generally passes for religion is, in fact, a complex mix of superstition, rituals, culture, group history and uplifting ethical teachings. While ethical teachings are easy to state, they are extremely difficult to live by, so we tend to focus on other things.  Often we have a perverse, unifying but naive, belief—we find it again and again in different religions—that the creator of all that exists has favourites and takes sides, regardless of merit. As Guru Nanak reminded us:

“The one God of us all is not the least bit interested in our different religious labels but in what we do to serve our fellow beings.”

This bigotry of belief is widespread and is often found in religious texts. As a Sikh, I feel that the ultimate blasphemy is to say that texts condoning the killing or ill-treatment of the innocent are the word of God. Such beliefs lead to horrendous crimes and savagery—not only between faiths, but even within the same faith—and to increasingly familiar terrorist outrages in the name of religion. It is important to understand that religious extremists and far-right extremists need each other to thrive.

Today, despite all the lip service paid to interfaith understanding, there is virtually no dialogue between faiths to explore and understand their different religious teachings, with each remaining smug in its beliefs. I have been a member of the government-funded Inter Faith Network of the UK since it was founded in 1987 and am a member of other bodies committed to religious dialogue. Meetings rarely go beyond pious statements and academic discussions on safe peripheral concerns, with members going back to their congregations to stress the exclusivity and superiority of their teachings. Looking at an internet learning site about Islam, I was startled to see a colleague saying that he felt sorry for people of other faiths because they were “all going to hell”. I once attended a meeting of the Three Faiths Forum where Christians, Jews and Muslims were talking in a superior way about the three monotheistic faiths. According to the opening line of the Sikh scriptures, there is one God of all humanity. We need to learn a little more about each other to combat religious prejudice.

It is not all up to the Government. People of religion have a common responsibility to look afresh at negative cultural practices such as discrimination against women and others that attach themselves to religion. Religion will become more relevant if we separate dated culture from abiding ethical teachings. Secular society, which sometimes shows an aloof superiority to warring religions, should also encourage more open dialogue.

With the best of intentions, we skirt around questionable beliefs and practices by using coded camouflage words to address symptoms, rather than looking to the underlying causes of violence and hatred. Words such as “Islamist”—insulting to Muslims—“radicalised”, “extremist” or “fundamentalist” are loaded ​euphemisms or vague innuendos, devoid of real meaning. The absurdity of such language is illustrated by the true story of a visit to my home by two Scotland Yard officers following my criticism of the Indian Government’s involvement in mob violence against Sikhs. The men from the Yard asked if I was an extremist or a moderate. I replied that I was extremely moderate. They then asked if I was a fundamentalist. I replied, “Well, I believe in the fundamentals of Sikh teaching, such as the equality of all human beings, gender equality and concern for the less fortunate. Yes, I suppose I am a fundamentalist”.

If religions presume to tell us how we should live, move and have our being, they must be open to discussion and challenge. The same openness is absolutely essential in combating prejudice and working for a safer and more tolerant world.’

The extraordinary contribution of Indian soldiers to the Great War effort was highlighted with launch of the ‘Legacy of Valour’ exhibition in Parliament last week.

The exhibition marked the inordinate contribution of 1.5m Indian soldiers who fought in the many theatres of war during 1914-18. The exhibition launch last Monday was attended by His Excellency Mr. Y.K. Sinha (Indian High Commissioner), Baroness Flather, Lord Singh of Wimbledon and Reading West MP Alok Sharma.

Organiser Inderpal Singh Dhanjal said that the overwhelming reaction of those who attended the opening ceremony was that it was both inspirational and informative. Mr Dhanjal said attendees told him the exhibition “must be shown in other cities to educate and raise awareness of the sacrifices of Sikh and other Indian soldiers in WW1.”

Although the exhibition in Parliament is now closed, Mr Dhanjal informed the NSO he is in negotiations with interested parties and will be organising another viewing in the South East.

 

 

HNY

We cannot say if a person is tall or short, thin or fat without comparing. In the same way, we cannot understand the true value of Sikhism without comparing it with other faiths. A fairly full study of other religions helped enhance my own understanding of Sikhism.

My hope is that we make 2016 a year in which we look again at the powerful and uplifting teachings of our Gurus, and make others aware of balance guidance highly relevant to today’s troubled world.

The attached table (NSO Faith Quiz [1]) was produced in October at the request of young Sikhs in Salt Lake City and California. We should encourage our children, young (and not so young) Sikhs, to complete it objectively to the best of their knowledge. The exercise will result in a greater appreciation of the richness of their heritage.

Best wishes for Guru Gobind Singh ji’s Gurpurb and a happy 2016.

Indarjit

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Director, Network of Sikh Organisations

Today’s debate about the rights or wrongs of air strikes against ISIS, will be focused on what constitutes a just and proportionate response to ISIS atrocities in Paris and elsewhere. While much has been said and written about criteria that need to be met for a just war, less has been said about imperatives for just and lasting peace.

Syria, like much of the Middle East, is a cauldron of competing rivalries, not only those of Sunni and Shia Muslims but also smaller groups: Allowites, Kurds, Christians and others. While we would all like to see functioning democracies in the region, this is easier said than done. The history of the Middle East, and many other parts of the world shows that majority rule does not always equate to just rule. Majorities insensitive to the rights of minorities, can all too easily morph into tyrannies. What is important is, not so much the process of acquiring power, as the way power is exercised.

I was reminded about this at an event celebrating the birth anniversary of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who lived in the 19th century. He ruled over a vast area of northern India, including present day Pakistan. Although the Maharaja gained power through military might, he reached out to all communities winning both love and loyalty.

Totally illiterate, he spent hours as a child in the gurdwara, listening to Sikh teachings on respect for all communities. He was deeply influenced by the Sikh belief that that token respect for other ways of life is not enough, and that for true respect, we should be prepared to put our own rights and freedom on the line, in support of those of others.

The Maharaja kept this teachings close to his heart. There were more Hindu and Muslim Ministers in his government than Sikhs. He also gave generously for the upkeep and development of places of worship of all communities, bringing peace, stability and prosperity into a region that had been subject to factional rivalry, not unlike that seen in the Middle East today.

Yes, this is history from the 19th century, but it contains fundamental truths that we would be wise to learn from. Reaching out to others in this way is not easy, but is possible, and to my mind, essential for true and lasting peace. We should give our full support to any group working in this direction.

The Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) Lord Singh of Wimbledon has asked the government for parity in tackling hate crimes against all communities, not just Muslims.

A Muslim Peer, Baroness Afshar tabled a question leading to a debate last week:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they have put in place to counter the impact of Islamophobia and stigmatisation on young Muslims.”

During the debate Lord Singh asked the government:

“My Lords, is the Minister aware that ever since 9/11 there has been a huge increase in the number of attacks on Sikhs and Sikh places of worship in cases of mistaken identity? The most recent case was a machete attack on a young Sikh dentist in south Wales, which was described on “Newsnight” as Islamophobia. Does the Minister agree that hate crime is hate crime against any community, and that it should be tackled even-handedly, irrespective of the size of the community?”

Baroness Williams of Trafford, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Communities and Local Government responded in agreement:

“The noble Lord is absolutely right—hate crime is hate crime.”

The backlash to Islamic extremism is particularly heightened following terror attacks. The Sikh community is an example where bigots target the ‘Muslim looking other’ in the wake of terrorist atrocities like 9/11 and 7/7. In his book, My Political Race former government Minister Parmjit Dhanda revealed how a pig’s head was thrown in his drive following his 2010 election defeat.

Racial prejudices have also motivated hate crimes against minorities. Last Week Mold Crown Court found Zack Davies a ‘white supremacist’ guilty of trying to behead a Sikh dentist in a machete attack. Davies was reported to have taken inspiration from Jihadi John, and to have chosen his victim because of his race not religion.

The government has pledged it will support the recording of anti-Muslim incidents as well as anti-Semitic, across all UK police forces. There are currently no plans in place for hate crime victims from other minority faiths.

The NSO has written to the government in light of the current strategy, which we believe urgently requires a more inclusive approach

 

 

Today, Sikhs celebrate the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. The Guru was concerned at the way different religions in his day, seemed to be more intent on rubbishing the beliefs of sister faiths than in living the values taught by their own.

In his very first sermon he taught that in God’s eyes there was neither Hindu nor Muslim, and by today’s extension, neither Christian, Sikh nor Jew. That the one God of us all is not interested in our different religious labels, but in how we live and what we do for our fellow beings.

With a Hindu and Muslim companion the Guru travelled the length and breadth of India, and to Sri Lanka, Tibet and to the Middle East preaching the importance of religious tolerance and a recognition of the equality of all human beings.

Guru Nanak was particularly concerned about the plight of women on the subcontinent who, as in much of the world, were treated as inferior beings. He taught that women should be given full equality with men, not simply as the wives or daughters of men, but as individuals in their own right, playing a full part in society.

Unfortunately, as we are daily reminded in the news, deep rooted cultural practices often tend to blur or subvert  the teachings of religion which challenge unthinking attitudes and behaviour. I was vividly reminded of this while working as a young mining engineer in a remote area of Bengal, I had just received news that my wife had given birth to our first child, a daughter. I was over the moon and excitedly rushed to the house next door, that of a Sikh and told him the wonderful news. Contrary to clear Sikh teachings, his culturally conditioned response was ‘never mind, it will be boy next time!’ I was not then the gentle, easy going soul that I like to think I am today, and it took great restraint not to clock him one!

Today, as we celebrate the birthday of Guru Nanak, we should all resolve to do as he did and continually challenge all forms of unjust or oppressive which often masquerades as religion, and instead focus on true religious teachings of respect for and service to all members of our one human family.

Lord Singh asks Government to Consider Human Rights Whilst Marking ‘Record Level’ Trade:

During a debate on ‘record level’ British trade with China chaired by Lord Popat in the House of Lords this week, Lord Singh spoke about the untenable position Britain finds itself in, whilst trading with a nation notorious for human rights violations.

Lord Singh said: “My Lords, according to a report on 17 June in the Times, the Business Minister, Michael Fallon, said that human rights must not stop trade with China. Does the Minister agree that that statement demeans the very concept of human rights?”

Lord Popat, failed to directly answer the question.

Last year Lord Singh raised the issue of Britain’s ‘selective’ approach to human rights, where the government was swift to condemn the use of sarin in Syria, but silent over the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.

He said other world powers like India, China, Russia and the USA behave in the same way, making a coordinated approach on human rights “virtually impossible.”

Lord Singh quoted, Andrei Sakharov, the Russian nuclear physicist, turned human rights activist, who said: “there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations gave a Sikh view on abortion last week, during a debate secured by Baroness Knight of Collingtree.

He said, “My Lords, as a Sikh, I am totally opposed to abortion on any grounds except that of real and serious danger to the mother’s health, and it is important that those who facilitate gender-selective abortions should be punished with the full rigour of the law. However, laws cannot create good behaviour; they can only define the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour. We must also look to education in tackling negative and outmoded cultural practices.

The Sikh religion is not a religion in which “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not” are strictly imposed; Sikh teachings are couched in terms of gentle guidance about what we should or should not do to lead a responsible life. One of the few exceptions is a total condemnation of female infanticide. Sadly, this was all too common in the India of 500 years ago and was linked to the inferior status of women throughout the world.

From the very start of the religion, Guru Nanak taught the dignity and complete equality of women. Sikh women have always been able to lead prayers and occupy any religious position. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, gave women the name or title Kaur—literally, “princess”—to emphasise their dignity and complete equality. A Sikh woman does not have to take her husband’s name but remains an individual in her own right.

Despite the clarity of such teachings, negative sub-continent culture for some, even in the Sikh community, leads to discrimination against women and girls. Perversely, it is women who are often responsible, with mothers lavishing extra attention on male children. Even in the West today, a new birth is frequently accompanied by a joyous cry, “It’s a boy!”. It is not so long ago that the birth of a girl to royalty was greeted as a national calamity, on a par with the loss of a test match.

We all have to work much harder to fight gender discrimination and gender prejudice through tighter laws and education.”

Other Peers who participated in the debate, included Lord Patten, Baroness Barker, Baroness Hollins, The Lord Bishop of Leicester and Baroness Flather.

 

 

 

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