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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

(joint letter sent to the Home Secretary today)

As faith representatives, we support the ongoing efforts of Sarah Champion MP who has asked the government to take further steps in tackling the issue of child sexual exploitation. A recent letter coordinated by Champion dated 25 May 2018, and co-signed by a group of 20 cross party politicians requests the Home Secretary and Minister for Children and Families to do more for the victims of Britain’s sexual grooming gang epidemic.[1]

The cross party group have requested the Home Secretary pays heed to the 2015 report Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation,[2] and have asked the government to commission research into better understanding the ‘operation and motivation’ and ‘drivers’ behind sexual grooming gangs. We believe this is important, however we also believe some aspects of the ‘motivation’ and ‘drivers’ behind sexual grooming/child rape gangs are already abundantly clear.

Firstly earlier this year, a survivor of these rape gangs has confirmed she was targeted for being a ‘white slag’, because she was ‘non-Muslim’.[3] Judges like Gerald Clifton who sentenced men in Rochdale in 2012, made a similar observation in sentencing remarks. He said the Muslim men had targeted their victims because they were not part of the offenders’ ‘community or religion.’[4] A (2017) report from counter-extremist think tank Quilliam looked at 58 grooming gang cases since 2005, and found 84% were ‘Asian’, of which the majority were comprised of men ‘of Pakistani origin, with Muslim heritage.’[5]

This analysis was preceded by the Jay report into Rotherham (2014), which concluded, ‘agencies should acknowledge the suspected model of localised grooming of young white girls by men of Pakistani heritage, instead of being inhibited by the fear of affecting community relations.’[6] The report concluded an estimated 1,400 children, (mainly white girls) had been abused by predominantly British Pakistani men. Muslim girls are rarely targeted, and despite authorities failing to recognise the phenomenon, Sikh and Hindu communities have been complaining about ‘grooming’ since the 1980s.

We as faith communities want the government to do the right thing and call out the motivation for the majority of sexual grooming gangs for what it is. We believe the evidence overwhelmingly points to an inconvenient truth. That is: non-Muslim girls (this includes Sikh, Hindu and Christian girls) have been systematically targeted in Britain due to a form of religiously motivated hate. We must have the courage to face the reality if we are serious about finding a solution to Britain’s sexual grooming gang epidemic. We support Baroness Warsi’s brave stance when she said, “a small minority” of Pakistani men see white girls as “fair game”,[7] and ask the government to help the Muslim community tackle this stain on an otherwise law-abiding community, with appropriate funding if necessary.

Signatories:

Lord Singh of Wimbledon – Network of Sikh Organisations

Wilson Chowdhry – British Pakistani Christian Association

Satish K Sharma – National Council of Hindu Temples

Trupti Patel – Hindu Forum of Britain

Ashish Joshi – Sikh Media Monitoring Group

Mohan Singh – Sikh Awareness Society

[Ends]

[1] https://news.sky.com/story/rotherham-child-abuse-whistleblower-victims-are-being-forgotten-11388560

[2]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/408604/2903652_RotherhamResponse_acc2.pdf

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/rotherham-grooming-gang-sexual-abuse-muslim-islamist-racism-white-girls-religious-extremism-a8261831.html

[4] https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/local-news/you-preyed-on-girls-because-they-were-687987

[5] https://www.quilliaminternational.com/press-release-new-quilliam-report-on-grooming-gangs/

[6] http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/file/1407/independent_inquiry_cse_in_rotherham

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18117529

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.

IPSO the independent press regulator has declined to re-open the NSO’s complaint on use of the non-specific term ‘Asian’ in last month’s Sunday Mirror’s investigation into child sexual grooming gangs in Telford.

The original complaint was filed following an expose on ‘epidemic’ levels of child sexual exploitation in the northern town, where it was suggested up to 1,000 girls, some as young as 11, had been abused. The investigative journalists behind the report are of course to be commended for their sterling work, and we are indebted to them in this regard – it highlights the best of British journalism.

However, the NSO’s complaint was made under clause 1.2 of the Editors’ Code on accuracy. We pointed to the vagueness of the term ‘Asian’, which covers the entire Indian subcontinent, and therefore could infer men of Indian, Japanese and Korean origin are targeting underage white girls in places like Telford and across the country. Moreover, it’s deeply insulting to British Sikhs, Hindus and other non-Muslim ‘Asians’ (like Pakistani Christians) especially given girls from these communities have also been the subjects of abuse by sexual grooming gangs. We believe the common denominator is the targeting of non-Muslim girls. In our complaint to IPSO, we pointed to the Islamic names of those convicted and jailed in a sexual grooming gang case in Telford back in 2013.

The offending article also referred to convictions of men in Rochdale and Rotherham. Again, we pointed to the fact that those convicted in these cases are predominantly from the Pakistani Muslim community. The executive staff at IPSO reviewed the complaint responding, ‘You said this article was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) because it referred to the men involved in the Telford grooming gangs as ‘Asian’, when they were largely of Pakistani Muslim heritage.’

They went on, ‘You said this term was vague and misleading, and insulting to those of non-Muslim British Asian heritage. However, this lack of specificity did not mean that it was inaccurate to say that the men were ‘mainly Asian’, and we did not consider that this created a significantly misleading impression. There was no possible breach of Clause 1 on this point. In addition, as you note, the names and images of some abusers were included, which might allow readers to infer the precise ethnicity of those involved.’ IPSO’s Complaints Committee reviewed the executive’s rejection of our complaint and didn’t consider there had been any breach of the Editor’s Code.

The NSO’s Director Lord Singh said, ‘It is totally wrong to describe those convicted in sexual grooming gang cases as ‘Asian’. We’re disappointed in IPSO’s ruling. Given the logic applied here, referring to the majority of perpetrators in these cases as ‘human beings’ or ‘mammals’ would also be deemed ‘accurate’ in accordance with the Editors’ Code. The word ‘Asian’ serves only to mask the inconvenient truth that the majority of those convicted in grooming gang cases are men of Pakistani Muslim heritage.’

‘It’s nothing short of an insult to Britain’s Sikh and Hindu communities, moreover this deliberate lack of specificity smears wholly innocent non-Muslim communities who themselves have fallen victim of Britain’s grooming gang epidemic. Given this decision, would IPSO also take the view that referring to those responsible for the holocaust as ‘European’ is accurate?’

Two other faith organisations filed a complaint to IPSO, the National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHT) and the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA).

The NCHT issued a statement today. They said, ‘IPSO’s decision on the use of ‘Asian grooming gangs’ serves to prove that British Asians are being targeted by the British media, with institutional sanction. Specificity and precision in language and reporting are crucial which is why ‘Islamist terror attacks’ are not called ‘Muslim terror attacks’, why Clergy paedophilia is not referred to as ‘Christian paedophilia’, why ‘extreme right wing racists’ are not referred to as ‘British or European racists’. In each of these examples, where specificity is vital, it is clearly applied and yet where the crimes of ‘grooming gangs’ are concerned, specificity is abandoned and the generic broad brush term ‘Asian’ is repeatedly applied. This is clearly a discriminatory policy and yet IPSO, which exists to prevent such discrimination, chooses to be elastic with its terms of reference.’

They went on, ‘to repeatedly tarnish the innocent majority as a result of the actions of a minority is clearly an injustice. To do so in the case of the most evil of crimes, targeting the most vulnerable group in society, underage girls – our children, is clearly an act of malice. To identify the innocent majority with the heinous crimes of those who repeatedly, deliberately and with premeditation, select children on the basis of their ethnicity and religious profile, is clearly an act of racist malice by the mainstream media, in this particular instance the Mirror newspaper.’

Britain’s decision to take military action against Syria is like Alice in Wonderland: ‘sentence first-verdict afterwards’, says Lord Singh

Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has said that the Cabinet’s decision to deploy military strikes against President Assad is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, citing Alice’s bogus trial when the Queen says, ‘sentence first – verdict afterwards’.

In a scathing speech, the crossbencher spoke out powerfully against the rank hypocrisy of Western military interventions in the Middle East. He cited Britain’s morally reprehensible arms supplies to Saudi Arabia, which continue to be deployed in a bloody war in Yemen against Houthis. Moreover he said he was personally ‘appalled’ when a Minister told him we should not raise human rights issues with China when talking about trade – the Minister’s suggestion here being trade trumps human rights.

Speaking from a Sikh perspective and challenging the established orthodoxy of today’s ‘power-bloc politics’ Lord Singh said, ‘Sikh teachings on the prevention of conflict almost parallel the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, formulated after the horror of the ​Second World War, and they stress the dignity and equality of all members of our one human family. They also legitimise the use of military force only as a last recourse when all other means have failed.’

Lord Singh said, that he found propaganda justifying military intervention in reported government statements as ‘morally questionable and hypocritical’. He said, Assad is no angel, but like many other leaders in the region we [Britain] have ‘propped up’ a brutal dictator. He said countries that we don’t like become to be known as ‘regimes’, and Assad himself has been referred to as a ‘monster’, which could be counterproductive if Britain is to be involved in future negotiations on the Syrian issue, something the PM has indicated to be a possible solution to the conflict.

He said, ‘I am saddened by the hypocrisy of our government and the governments of the USA and France. While wringing their hands about the monster Assad’s supposed chemical weapon attack on little children, they have all in the last two or three of weeks signed billion-dollar deals with Saudi Arabia to export arms for use in Yemen, so that Saudi Arabia can strut its military might in the Middle East with the continued bombing of men, women and little children in Yemen.’

He went on, ‘We are then expected to believe that President Assad, having secured control of much of the country, suddenly decides to launch a chemical attack on a children’s hospital. It could be true, although it sounds implausible, but it gave the US President an opportunity to withdraw from the conflict flourishing his military might. France and Britain dutifully backed him in a combined military strike against Assad. President Trump predictably tweeted “Mission accomplished”. It is sad that our PM should feel duty-bound to back military action prior to any investigation. I thought that it was only in Alice in Wonderland that we had the saying, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”.’

In conclusion he said, ‘The whole concept of supposed strategic interest has, over the centuries, been shown to be deeply flawed and a recipe for continuing conflict. A Christian hymn reminds us: “They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin”. It is a truth echoed in Sikh teachings and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only strategic interest worth pursuing is respect for human rights and social justice for all and for future generations in our highly interdependent world.’

Lord Singh’s full speech can be read here.

 

Image courtesy of Biteback Publishing

If ever you need a reference point on one man’s battle against institutional racism, then we recommend you get a copy of Gurpal Virdi’s book out today – Behind the Blue Line.

It is fair to say Virdi has been through it all. In 1998 as a police Sergeant in the MET he was falsely accused (and dismissed) for sending racist e-mails to himself, and other BAME officers and was subsequently exonerated. On his reinstatement to work, he says his career was essentially over because he’d spoken out and challenged racism in the police. However, what would have deterred a lesser man didn’t stop Virdi. He has successfully taken the MET to two industrial tribunals for discrimination, and bravely gave evidence to the Macpherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence – when he knew of the consequences. He is also the subject of the VIRDI inquiry report.

After his retirement, in 2014, he decided to enter local politics as a Labour candidate. Just before the election, he was falsely accused by the MET of a sexual offence against a minor and abandoned by many of his friends, so called colleagues and the Labour Party. He stood and won as an Independent. In 2015, a jury took 50 minutes to clear him of charges from an alleged incident in 1986. The presiding judge, His Honor Judge Andrew Goymer said a conspiracy may be behind the case. Despite his lengthy battles for justice and equality, Virdi remains a man who encompasses the Sikh ethos of chardi kala, or everlasting optimism.

We at the NSO have worked with Gurpal Virdi for many years and collaborated with him during his role at the Metropolitan Police Sikh Association (MPSA). Our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon was incensed at the allegations leveled against Virdi in 2014 and supported him during the trial.

We don’t often give book recommendations, but Gurpal’s journey in Behind the Blue Line is the rare exception as an injustice can happen to any one of us.

The Mirror’s recent article on grooming gangs highlights the best of British journalism, but we have filed a complaint to IPSO regarding use of the term ‘Asian’

The term ‘Asian’ continues to be regrettably used as a euphemism, when it comes to the identity of those convicted in the majority of Britain’s sexual grooming cases. The report in the Mirror last Sunday focusing in on Telford, rightly describes this horrifying issue as an ‘epidemic’. Whilst we are indebted to the investigative journalists behind this important report, the continuing smearing of ‘Asians’ per se is appalling, as the term encompasses swathes of communities from across the Indian subcontinent. This cowardly non-specific description of the perpetrators continues to be used in the British press, to describe men of predominantly Pakistani Muslim heritage convicted in grooming gang cases. We believe this is in part due to the fear of offending Muslims.

The media’s reluctance to describe perpetrators of these despicable crimes with clear and honest language, has elicited angry responses from Sikhs and Hindus, who’ve contacted us to express their outrage following the Mirror’s article. It has upset Pakistani Christians too. To put it frankly, the word ‘Asian’ gives the false impression gangs of Indian, Thai, Japanese or Korean men are rampaging across Britain sexually abusing underage white girls on an industrial scale. Is that fair? We suggest that this vague terminology isn’t only an insult, smearing innocent communities, but also serves to mask the fact that girls from Hindu and Sikh communities have historically fallen foul of grooming gangs themselves. The common denominator in such cases is the deliberate targeting of non-Muslim girls, which we believe should be categorized by the police as a hate crime.

Although we applaud the bravery of Nick Sommerlad and Geraldine McKelvie for their excellent journalism in the Mirror’s report, the NSO has reluctantly chosen to file a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), because of the liberal use of the word ‘Asian’ in the article to describe the identity of the offenders. Given the importance of their work, we did not take this decision lightly. However, we believe use of the word ‘Asian’ to describe sexual grooming by men of predominantly Pakistani Muslim heritage, whilst being both irresponsible and inaccurate, masks the real identity of those perpetrating these heinous crimes.

Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO)

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.

Background: Iain Bell Deputy National Statistician for Population and Public Policy at the Office for National Statistics (ONS) had been invited to the gurdwara over the weekend to discuss concerns felt by the committee over attempts to categorise the Sikh community as an ethnic group. This was as a private meeting to be held with a few members of the committee. An invitation had also been extended to Lord Singh of Wimbledon. As he was not a member of the committee, he first obtained clearance from Iain Bell that it would be OK for him to attend.

On the day of the event a number of people from The Sikh Federation (SFUK) turned up uninvited at the gurdwara demanding to be heard. Ian Bell felt he’d already heard the SFUK’s views on a number of occasions, and wanted to hear the views of other parts of the Sikh community. The President of Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow generously allowed in individuals from the SFUK to join the meeting.

Iain Bell proceeded in giving a short presentation about the census and its importance. The meeting was then opened for general discussion. In an abuse of hospitality, the SFUK began recording proceedings and taking over the meeting, stating Sikhs were an ethnic group and must be monitored as such. Lord Singh of Wimbledon explained that the House of Lords in 1983 had allowed for Sikhs to be counted as an ethnic group solely for protection under the 1976 Race Relations Act. This this was done because there was then no protection against religious discrimination, but the situation today was different because all religions are protected by legislation. He explained that Sikhism was a world religion, which should not be confined to those of Punjabi ethnicity.

Iain Bell confirmed that there was no substantial under-recording of Sikhs in the response to the question on religion. In response to a question on the possible misuse of data, he also confirmed that that there were rigid checks in place to prevent this.

Lord Singh, emphasised that all Sikh organisations should use their influence to get the fullest possible response to the religious question. He reminded the meeting that at the time of the 2011 census some Sikhs had ill advisedly campaigned against identifying Sikhism by Sikhs as a religion.

In reply to a question Iain Bell of the ONS explained the importance of ethnicity in providing appropriate medical and other services to those from different parts of the world. Members of the Hounslow gurdwara management committee were unanimous in their view that Sikhs were members of a world religion that was not limited by constraints of ethnicity and people could be Sikhs from different ethnic backgrounds. Some of the arguments advanced by SFUK, varying between the questionable and ludicrous are given below:

  • One gentleman stated that he had seen figures that gave the Sikh population in Hounslow as 25% and he felt it should be higher. The gurdwara president who explained that the Sikhs formed no more than 10 per cent of the population of Hounslow corrected him. (We have since corroborated this with official ONS figures.)
  • Another argued that ethnic monitoring was necessary to protect Sikhs against discrimination, but failed to explain where such discrimination was taking place.
  • Another argued that the Sikhs should be given a favoured status because of the contribution Sikhs had made to Britain over the years.

Some of the arguments used by those who felt Sikhs should be recorded as a religion only are given below:

  • Ethnicity is linked to genetic makeup and that trying to tie religion to ethnicity leads to absurdities. A Committee member asked the SFUK, does a person’s ethnicity embody DNA change if he or she converts to Sikhism? This was met with silence from the SFUK representatives.
  • The Sikh Gurus have always taught against dividing people into different groups and races, emphasising we are all members of the same one human race.
  • Guru Nanak travelled the length and breadth of India and to different countries to emphasize the universality of Sikh teachings. People from any part of the world can become Sikhs.
  • No evidence had been produced to show that Sikhs would gain in any material way by being classified as an ethnic group, but even if there were, it would be wrong to try and gain material benefits by compromising Sikh teachings.
  • Lord Singh reminded the meeting that the Mandla case in the early eighties was fought to protect the rights of a Sikh schoolboy to wear Sikh religious symbols. He explained that ethnic monitoring could prevent such protection. He gave the example of a large organisation like the BBC being shown to have the right number of ethnic Sikhs, masking possible discrimination against those that wear Sikh symbols.
  • Lord Singh said there was considerable discrimination against Sikhs in the provision of services by the government and various government bodies. Communities like Jews and Muslims were being given additional resources, not as a result of ethnic monitoring, but because of effective lobbying, (neither community is categorised as an ethnic group by the census). Today, hate crimes against Sikhs are still being recorded under the ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ category by forces like the MET and other agencies. Ethnic monitoring cannot help remove this blatant discrimination.

In response to calls from SFUK members to arrange more meetings, Iain Bell said that he would like to reflect on what he’d heard, and if whether or not an effective case had been made for a Sikh ethnic tick box or not. Members of the gurdwara committee made clear they saw no sense and only confusion in a separate Sikh ethnic tick box. Bell confirmed the ONS had received legal threats from certain sections of the Sikh community if the ‘ethnic Sikh tick box’ wasn’t included in the 2021 census.

The meeting concluded with the President Gurmit Singh Hanzara and all present thanking Iain Bell of the ONS for coming to Hounslow from South Wales on a Saturday, and wishing him by a comfortable journey back home.

Satvinder Singh Joint General Secretary at Hounslow gurdwara said:  ‘Gurdwara, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Hounslow (SGSS) held a successful meeting on 16 December 2017 with the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The object of the meeting was for SGSS Managment to understand the overall situation and provide its view, which was in the main generated via a previous internal meeting.’

He went on: ‘In view of continued progress on the issue of ‘authenticity’, the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) not only kindly accepted our invitation to attend but also helped immensely by providing structure and input to the event. We are most thankful to Lord Indarjit Singh and the NSO for their contribution and assistance.’

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