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(above) Sikhs participating in a vigil following the Wisconsin gurdwara massacre in 2012

This week the government announced a ‘refresh’ of Action Against Hate (2016) their four-year hate crime action plan, to ‘address specific concerns across all 5 monitored strands of hate crime.’ New measures like a Law Commission review into whether additional protected characteristics like misogyny and age should be legislated for, and ministerial round tables to specifically address Muslim and Jewish concerns headlined. However, despite being subject to serious violence and hostility since 9/11, the ‘refresh’ has managed to marginalised British Sikhs yet again. This has been particularly galling for the NSO for the following reasons:

  • Our Director has expressed Sikh concerns in numerous debates in the House of Lords
  • We’ve provided detailed evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on hate crime and violent consequences over two consecutive years (2017/18)
  • We’ve written about the issue in the print media and discussed it on BBC Radio
  • We unearthed data (through FOI) showing significant numbers of non-Muslims and those of no recorded faith are being recorded as victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ by the MET police, and gone onto successfully push for disaggregation of religious hate crime
  • We’ve got a correction from the Evening Standard reporting on increased ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ in London, to clarify the attacks, in accordance with the FOI data are not solely against British Muslims
  • In partnership with Hindu groups, we lobbied the government to address reporting issues for Hindus and Sikhs, and they responded with a specific policy (announced in January 2017) to help both communities report hate crime via True Vision

Although Sikh groups like the NSO, The Sikh Council, The Sikh Federation UK and City Sikhs have all expressed concerns about Action Against Hate (2016) when it was first published, the ‘refresh’ makes it clear the government is unwilling to address the wider ramifications of Islamophobia on Sikhs, or the ‘Muslim looking other’. A simple acknowledgment that Sikhs face Islamophobia would have allayed concerns. Like us, many will be right to ask the government why ministerial ‘round tables’ are the preserve of Jews and Muslims, and why the True Vision project announced in 2017 has still not been implemented.

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.’

Back in 2008 Faith Matters, the organisation behind Tell MAMA (the Muslim hate crime monitor) organised a ‘cohesive communities’ project for British Sikhs and Muslims to address, ‘the growing gulf between Sikhs and Muslims in certain localised areas of England’. It was held in Corrymeela (Ballycastle) between 4th-6th July 2008, a centre famous for conflict resolution at the height of sectarian troubles in Northern Ireland. According to FOI disclosures seen by the NSO the project cost the taxpayer £33,600.

Following the residential course four (out of nine) of the Sikh participants felt disgruntled enough to publish what they called an ‘Alternative Report’, (dated 1 October 2008) to express their concerns. They wrote: ‘In the view of many Sikh participants, the whole exercise proved faulty and dysfunctional; and failed to enable a wholesome and engaged dialogue on the critical Sikh-Muslims issues.’

In the same year the founder of Faith Matters, Mr Fiyaz Mughal, talked about the project in an article published by Faith Matters titled: ‘Cohesive Communities: Bridging Divides Between Muslim and Sikh Communities.’ He writes: ‘As the name suggests, the Cohesive Communities project was a chance for key issues to be aired and a start to the interaction process between both faiths. It was not meant as a basis to provide legitimisation for either community to use the report or its findings against the other and we firmly adhere to this principal.’

Despite the assurances given above, in June 2012, the following tweets (which were later removed following a complaint) making derogatory references to Sikh participants in Corrymeela were published by @FaithMattersUK.

We understand Faith Matters/Tell MAMA has recently organised a ‘round-table’ to discuss hate crime with Sikhs. This is in fact an area in which Sikhs led by the NSO have made significant progress, firstly by unearthing a breakdown of data from the MET police (through FOI) that shows significant numbers of non-Muslims, or those of no recorded faith (in 2015 and 2016) are being recorded under the ‘Islamophobic hate crime category’. In addition, we have a firm commitment from policy makers on a specific project for Hindus and Sikhs with True Vision – the police hate-crime reporting portal, which we hope to progress with our partners in the Hindu community this year.

We believe the 2012 tweets made by @FaithMattersUK, particularly the comparing of Sikhs who entered interfaith dialogue in good faith with Faith Matters to the EDL, and the accompanying hashtag #wolvesinsheepsclothing, are simply not compatible with the aim in creating harmonious relations between British Sikhs and Muslims, or promoting the concept of ‘cohesive communities.’

In the circumstances, it is our advice that Sikh groups should be wary of any partnerships, given what we view to be a previous betrayal.

Network of Sikh Organisations

The Home Affairs Committee inquiry into hate crime and its violent consequences have published our second piece of written evidence which can be viewed here.

We are delighted that one of our policy recommendations from last year was heeded by Ministers, but it still needs to be implemented. We will be pushing for action on this specific commitment to Hindus and Sikhs, and would like to see the initiative implemented this year.

Despite this limited success, the NSO continues to be disheartened by the government’s lack of parity when it comes to the suffering of non-Abrahamic faith communities. Especially given FOI disclosures to us (for 2015 and 2016) from the MET police revealed significant numbers of non-Muslims including Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists and Agnostics are being recorded as victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’.

We will continue to hold the government to account on what has clearly become a bias and ‘Abrahamic-centric’ policy approach to hate crime.

true vision

[True Vision is the Police hate crime portal]

In a recent communication, ahead of Holocaust Memorial, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced £375k of new funding to support groups who have “historically faced challenges in reporting and preventing hate crime.”

Part of this funding will be given to the Police hate crime portal True Vision, which will be building a programme to help support Sikhs and Hindus in the reporting of hate crime. The funding also aims to help develop an awareness of hate crime against both groups. The government has acknowledged part of the problem is because of “anti-Muslim hostility.”

This announcement comes following years of campaigning by the NSO in highlighting the government’s biased ‘Abrahamic-centric’ approach. During that time, we have highlighted the issue in the press, had communications with both DCLG and the Home Office, whilst our Director Lord Singh has raised concerns in the House of Lords.

Following the government’s publication of Action Against Hate last July; we made our concerns clear to the Home Secretary. These were supported by leading Hindu and Sikh organisations. We raised the issue at a Faith Communities Forum meeting last September, organised by the Interfaith Network UK.

Pt Satish K Sharma General Secretary of the National Council of Hindu Temples UK said, “we have been in extensive discussions with the Sikh community regarding the manner in which the Dharmic traditions have been quite effectively abandoned in terms of protection and fully support the statements made by Lord Singh in this regard.”

He went on, “recent official statements and gestures indicate that the severity of the situation may be noted but action, funding and genuine engagement will establish whether this is mere lip service or just the latest in a series of sound bites.”

Mr Sharma added: “Unlike other groups, Hindu and Sikh communities have never played the politics of victimhood, focusing more on their contribution to the societies they live in. When they do become victims of hate crimes, requesting recognition and support, requires the development of a whole new social vocabulary.”

Lord Singh said, “the news is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go in order to achieve a level playing field for all faiths. Improving religious literacy levels is also important when tackling prejudice fueled by ignorance. It’s good to see the government is willing to listen and learn.”

Prior to the recent announcement, the NSO gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee into its inquiry into hate crime and its violent consequences. At the time, we specifically requested support in raising awareness of hate crime portal’s like True Vision. A link to our evidence can be found here.

Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurdwara Southall

Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurdwara Southall

The Home Secretary’s recent visit to Southall gurdwara to discuss hate crime is a welcomed gesture of goodwill, but has the government’s biased approach to non-Abrahamic faiths changed? The visit on 21 December 2016 came subsequent to a letter we addressed to the Home Secretary on 30 Nov 2016. Despite chasing, we’ve yet to receive a response. During the intervening period however, the Home Secretary has managed to accommodate a visit to Southall gurdwara to discuss ‘the importance of tackling hate crime against Sikhs.’ Regrettably comments from Sikhs who met the Home Secretary during the visit have been unhelpful.

The NSO has long been highlighting the government’s inadequate approach in tackling hate crime against non-Abrahamic religions. During this time, concerns have been raised with both the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Remarkably, the government’s hate crime action plan ‘Action Against Hate’ failed to acknowledge the suffering of Sikhs, Hindus and other non-Abrahamic faiths. Furthermore we understand that non-Muslims are still being recorded incorrectly under the ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ category, despite revealing this through FOI last year. This is simply not good enough.

We are not aware of a single government funded project to tackle the suffering of Sikhs or Hindus, nor is there a separate government funded hate crime monitor for either community. News that a gurdwara has made a successful bid for improving security through a Home Office scheme is welcome. We were also heartened when Greg Clarke, (former Secretary of State for DCLG) wrote to Lord Singh last year, confirming religious hate crime would be dissagregated come April 2017. However it’s clear much more needs to be done in order to create a level playing field.

For the sake of transparency we’ve decided to publish last year’s letter to the Home Secretary, which was supported by other leading Sikh and Hindu organisations.

nso_hate_crime_301116

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 22/11/16

November 24th, 2016 | Posted by Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

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Last week I attended a meeting jointly called by the Home Office and Department for Communities, for faith communities, police and other stakeholders about the alarming rise in hate crime. Many saw the solution in greater vigilance in reporting unacceptable behaviour, and firm action by the police and courts. To me, as a Sikh this in itself, was like applying sticking plasters to surface sores without tackling the underlying malady, namely irrational prejudice that leads us to place negative connotations on superficial difference like colour of skin, dress or foreign accent.

The problem is that when two or more people find sufficient in common to call themselves us, they all too often find someone to look down on to strengthen their sense of unity. We see it in rivalry between football fans, and in its worst form it can lead to the horrors of the holocaust. Unscrupulous politicians all too often exploit the same irrational prejudices for political gain, particularly at a time of economic or social difficulty. We all know that in a fog or mist, familiar objects can assume grotesque and frightening forms, and it is the same when we look at fellow humans through a lens of ignorance and prejudice.

Some people suggest that keeping religion in the private sphere well away from politics is one way of addressing prejudice. Nothing could be less helpful. The Sikh Gurus taught that people of religion and political rulers should work together to build a tolerant and inclusive society. Living at a time of religious conflict, they were well aware of the dangers of prejudice, and stressed the equal dignity and respect of all members, male and female, of our one human family.

Guru Gobind Singh, 10th Guru of the Sikhs wrote:

God is in the temple as He is in the mosque
The Shia and the Sunni pray to the same one God
Despite differences in culture and appearance
All men have the same form. All pray to the same one God.

Today the fog of ignorance and prejudice is still very much evident in attacks on minority groups including the Polish community for speaking their own language. Much of this hate crime is directed against religious communities and responsibility lies with the secular and religious to address the language and actions arising from prejudice, to help us recognise common ground and imperatives for true community cohesion.

Sikh temple in Britain vandalised with anti-Muslim message

Sikh temple in Britain vandalised with anti-Muslim message

Police to report religious hate crime according to religion: Sikhism will be a category

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) have confirmed that Police forces in England and Wales will be reporting on religious hate crime according to religion, and this will include Sikhism.

Proposals set out by the Prime Minister will be implemented this year on a voluntarily basis from April 2016, however DCLG have confirmed that all Police forces will have to disaggregate their hate crime figures by religious hate crime from April 2017.

Over the last year the NSO has raised the plight of Sikh victims of hate crime, who have been incorrectly logged as victims of ‘Islamophobic crime’. Lord Singh of Wimbledon has expressed his concern with Ministers and spoken about them in a number of debates in the House of Lords. In January, following the NSO’s campaigning it was revealed that 28% of victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ recorded by the MET in 2015, were in fact not Muslim at all. They comprised of Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and victims of no recorded faith.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for DCLG recently wrote to Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations.

He said, “I understand your concerns about Sikhs being the victims of anti-Islamic attacks. In response to increased attacks on mosques and gurdwaras, the Prime Minister announced in October that new funding will be made available for the security of all faith establishments, with more details expected over the coming months.”

He went on, “This builds on existing funding for anti-Semitic attacks on synagogues. In addition to Tell-Mama which measures incidents of anti-Muslim hatred, my department is proud to fund True Vision which allows people of all faiths and backgrounds to report hate crimes.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon said, “The government has responded positively to the NSO’s campaigning on this issue, and this is an important development not just for Sikhs, but all communities who suffer from religiously motivated hate crime.”

He added, “Greg Clark has shown the government’s commitment to treat all religious based hate crime with parity. This has not been the case in the past. We anticipate some Police forces will optionally report anti-Sikh attacks from this April onward.”

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) expresses disappointment at the government’s continuing apathy on the subject of Sikh victims of hate crime.

In October the government announced anti-Muslim hate crime would be monitored as a separate category across all police forces, providing parity with the recording of anti-Semitic hate crime.

In contrast Britain’s other minority faiths like Sikhs and Hindus are not separately tracked, although the government has given assurances it will address hate crime against all communities even-handedly.

The NSO has learnt that it is likely that Sikh victims of anti-Muslim hate crime in London are being incorrectly recorded as victims of ‘Islamophobic offences.’

The MET does not break down Islamophobic hate crime by faith group.

The NSO is pressing government officials to monitor Sikh hate crime within a separate category, to provide parity with provisions already in place for Jews and Muslims.

In a debate last week which focused primarily on concerns about violence against Muslims post Paris, Lord Singh of Wimbledon said,

“The Minister will be aware of numerous attacks on Sikhs as a result of mistaken identity. While hate crimes against the Muslim community have been monitored by every police force in the country, not a single penny is being spent on monitoring hate crimes against Sikhs.”

He went on, “the American Government are well aware of this problem which Sikhs suffer from and are taking steps to monitor that hate crime. When will the British Government catch up?”

Members of the Sikh community expressed concerns last month over a potential backlash in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.

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