Where Unity Is Strength
Header

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

The Judiciary College have published an ‘Equal Treatment Bench Book’, which has come to our attention through our team of Sikh prison chaplains. The document is 422 pages long and aims ‘to increase awareness and understanding of the different circumstances of people appearing in courts and tribunals.’ Notably the updated version contains new sections on Islamophobia, antisemitism, modern slavery and what’s described as ‘multicultural communication.’

We have especially taken interest in the new section on Islamophobia. Remarkably it categorically fails to address the negative reverberations of Islamism on non-Muslims, failing to point to statistics that show significant numbers of them have fallen foul of anti-Muslim hatred. Section 142, titled ‘Anti-Muslim Racism: Islamophobia’ makes reference to anti-Muslim hate crimes in London recorded by the MET police in 2017. Data obtained by us from FOI requests show that of the 1267 ‘Islamophobic hate crime statistics’ in the financial year 2016/17, 916 victims gave their religion as Islam, 89 gave other religions and 263 victims did not provide details of their religion. So in summary 28% of the victims in this period were non-Muslims or of unknown faith. Despite referring to MET figures, this important fact isn’t even acknowledged by the editors.

It is clear from these and previous figures we’ve obtained, that there is a trend in what we describe as the racialization of Islamophobia – a theory which may explain why Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Atheists and Agnostics have all been recorded by the MET police as victims of anti-Muslim hate (2016 data). Difference is all that matters, and perpetrators care little for whom they vent their hatred towards.

What’s clear with the publication of this document, which follows on from the government’s hate crime action plan – Action Against Hate (2016) – the wider implication of Islamophobia on non-Muslims simply isn’t on the government (or judicial) agenda. Despite Sikhs having been murdered in the US and the attempted murder of a Sikh dentist in Wales, as well as the targeting of gurdwaras following terror attacks like the London bombings, there is little concern or focus on the suffering of non-Abrahamic faiths.

Section 143 of the document, quotes the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) who say, ‘the prevalence of Islamophobia has reached such a point that the vast majority of Muslims know someone who has experienced a hate crime. It says Muslim women seem to be particularly targeted, apparently as they are more easily identifiable as Muslims due to the wearing of a headscarf.’

Whilst we sympathise with the suffering of innocent Muslims, we suggest the vast majority of Sikhs also know someone who has experience hate crime since 9/11, and that turbaned Sikhs (men or women) being easily identifiable are particularly vulnerable. In simple terms ‘visual markers’ (like the turban or hijab) equate to difference, and difference precipitates prejudice. This blind spot in public policy now regrettably appears to have evolved into a systemic issue amongst British policy makers. So called ‘Equal Treatment Bench Books’ must provide parity to all.

The Judiciary College responded to our concerns with the following statement: ‘We would very much like to make the important point that the constitutional arrangements provide for an independent judiciary and it is not their role to reflect on the government’s agenda or policies. Accordingly, the ETBB does not belong to the Government but rather the judiciary, and as such the context and its purposes relate entirely to the process of experiencing a court or tribunal hearing. Both Senior judiciary and the College would be very concerned if you felt that those of Sikh faith did not have the same access to justice as others in the community, or were not being treated equally whilst attending court. This does not appear to be what you are saying. The way society treats certain groups is a matter for the Government’s concern. Judges can only deal with hate crimes (and other related matters) if they are brought to Court, and where cases are brought, they will be expected to uphold the rule of law and give justice to victims.

The Judicial College has responsibility for training judicial office holders who sit across the various avenues for justice which includes the civil, family and criminal Courts, a wide range of Tribunals and parts of the Coroners service. The profound desire of the team responsible for updating the Equal Treatment Bench Book was that all those in and using a court leave it conscious of having appeared before a fair-minded tribunal. The ETBB seeks to recognise that in every instance, those attending in whatever capacity (litigant, witness, defendant etc) will want to have the best opportunity to give their evidence, to present their case, to be understood and to understand proceedings. All parties will look to the judge to enable this process.

The Judicial College is committed to ensuring that the social context of all who attend a legal hearing is a prominent issue embedded through its training. ‘Social context’ includes diversity and equality and reflects that judges need to relate to and communicate effectively with all manner of people from a variety of backgrounds with different capacities, needs and expectations. It achieves this primarily by putting social context issues within case studies used for syndicate discussions.  The statistics to which you refer are simply there to provide background information, but it may be in this instance they provide an unwanted distraction. We will consider this further and thank you for your comments.’

Sikhism and oaths

Appendix D-15 of the Equal Treatment Bench Book refers to oaths and the most appropriate form of oath taking in court for Sikhs. The document suggests ‘The Sunder Gutka may be suitable for the purposes of swearing an oath in court proceedings’, and it appears the authors have consulted The Sikh Council UK, who don’t appear to have objected to the principle of oath taking on a Sundar Gutka.

That’s regrettable. We take the view that a truly religious person would be inclined to tell the truth irrespective of an oath, and the business of oath taking serves only to trivialise religion and is rooted in deep superstition. If a superstitious person is asked to take an oath on a holy book to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the intended effect is to make him or her feel divine retribution might follow any failure to tell the truth in any statements that follow an oath. Similarly, it is assumed that even the less superstitious would be under increased pressure to tell the truth out of a feeling that a false statement would be disrespectful to the holy book to which they owe allegiance. Sikhism rejects all forms of superstition. The Gurus constantly reminded Sikhs to avoid all ritualistic and superstitious practices.

Sikh temple in Britain vandalised with anti-Muslim message

Sikh temple vandalised with anti-Muslim message (2015)

Dear Editor,

Last month it was revealed that 28% of the victims of ‘islamophobic hate crime’ offences recorded by the MET in 2015, were in fact not Muslim at all. They comprised of individuals from the Sikh, Hindu, Christian communities and those with no recorded faith. The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has obtained MET figures for the first 7 months of 2015, and it’s notable that in March 2015 – 34% of victims of ‘islamophobic crimes’ were non-Muslim. In July 2015 the figure was 32%. I’m sure you will agree these are not insignificant numbers.

Until now the MET have not publicly

victims of Islamophobic Hate Crime Recorded by the MPS between 1 Jan 2015 and 31 Jul 2015 (source MET FOI)

victims of islamophobic hate crime recorded by the MPS between 1 Jan 2015 and 31 Jul 2015 (source: MET FOI)

acknowledged the high number of non-Muslims who have been lumped together into this category. We believe our campaigning on the issue has been instrumental in uncovering the truth. It is clear there has been a historic lack of transparency on this issue and it’s regrettable. Moreover, Sikhs who continue to face significant prejudice since 9/11, feel like they have been simply brushed aside. Rather than being counted as a separate statistic, non-Muslims have unknowingly contributed to a figure, which until now, was assumed to be indicative of attacks solely on the Muslim community. As things stand, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians have not been given the dignity of being counted as a separate statistic. We believe hate crime should be tackled even-handedly and are pressing the government for change.

We ask you to consider the non-Muslim victims of ‘islamophobic crime’ when you cover stories about ‘islamophobia’ in the future.

Yours sincerely

Network of Sikh Organisations

(letter sent 29 Feb 2016)

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.

Skip to toolbar