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At the AGM of the APPG for British Sikhs earlier this year, Chair Preet Gill MP, announced that the group would be looking to address the issue of hate crime against Sikhs. It was agreed that APPG would work with the NSO, given we had already done much work in this field.

We wrote to Preet Gill on 12th October 2020 to remind her of her commitment to work with us and shared information about the progress we’ve made on hate crime. The commitment to build on what already exists for the benefit of the UK Sikh community was regrettably (but unsurprisingly) ignored. The APPG, which primarily involves the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) and its affiliates like The Sikh Network (and one of the two co-existing Sikh Council UK’s) are ignoring what has previously been achieved, to suggest that they are pioneers in the fight against hate crime.

Their statements not only show a lack of understanding of the nature of hate crime, but more seriously, an appalling ignorance of basic Sikh teachings. Moreover, the definition that they have proposed for ‘consultation’ is not only ambiguous, it absurdly does not include the post 9/11 backlash faced by Sikhs across the West in so called ‘mistaken identity’ or ‘Islamophobic’ attacks.

The reason we are not surprised by the behaviour of the APPG, lies in their limited contact with the wider Sikh community. The Chair of the APPG works closely with Dabinderjit Singh as an advisor. He also happens to be ‘principal advisor’ to the SFUK. The Chair and a member of her family are prominent in a group called The Sikh Network which is also linked to the SFUK. Some ‘team’ members of one of the coexisting Sikh Council UK’s – another group linked to SFUK, and favoured by the APPG also happen to be members of The Sikh Network ‘team’.

Mathematics

There are some question marks about the mathematics being used by the APPG in recent reports on hate crime. We are not too sure how they’ve come to suggest hate crime against Sikhs has increased 70% year on year.[i]

We’ve looked at the Home Office figures being referenced in media reports. They show the number and proportion of religious hate crimes recorded by the police by the perceived targeted religion for, 2019/20 and 2018/19.

For the most recent year the figure for ‘Sikh’ is 202 and for the previous it is 188. That is an increase of 14 incidents from 2018/19. 14/188 multiplied by 100 = 7.4%

We asked Preet Gill how the APPG came to the 70% figure and she responded:

‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’

Why ignore basic Sikh teachings?

The groups involved are ignoring the basic Sikh teaching of sarbat da bhalla in in seeking to establish a legal definition of hate crime against Sikhs. Sikh teachings require us to look at the wider picture. Rather than looking inward, the NSO has protested the government’s bias approach in this area in solidarity with other faiths who’ve been marginalised, as well as those of no faith. There should be a level playing field for everyone.

Our Director referred to this in the Lords, in a discussion on Islamophobia, when Baroness Warsi was pressing the government to accept a controversial definition of ‘Islamophobia’ that has the potential to stifle discussion of issues like Muslim grooming gangs, Islamic extremism and aspects of history, like Mughal persecution of minorities. This includes the martyrdom of our Gurus. With former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, sitting next to him, and Baroness Warsi in the row in front. Lord Singh said:

My Lords, emotive definitions such as Islamophobia are simply constraints on freedom of speech. A phobia is a fear, and the best way to combat irrational fear or prejudice suffered by all religions and beliefs is through healthy, open discussion. Will the Minister endorse the commitment given last week by Heather Wheeler, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to protect all religions and beliefs without fear or favour?

The Minister fully agreed as did the rest of the House in loud appreciative ‘hear hears’. 

This timely intervention supported the legitimate free speech concerns raised by several prominent individuals and a number of organisations (including the NSO) resulted in Baroness Warsi’s failure in her attempt to impose a divisive definition on the House. The government rejected it. Now the APPG for British Sikhs and their followers want to ignore the thrust of our Gurus’ teachings and go down the same path. In urging the APPG to be consistent with Sikh teachings and work with others with experience in the field, we are highlighting some of the progress made by the NSO.

  • It was the NSO who found that crimes against Sikhs and others are being recorded under ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ in London – research appreciated by Christians, Hindus, Atheists and others.
  • It was the NSO that pushed back against ‘Action Against Hate’ (2016) for marginalising the non-Abrahamic faith communities in favour of Abrahamic faiths. 
  • It was the NSO that influenced (through giving oral and written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee) policy when the government made a commitment to support Hindus and Sikhs in reporting hate crime. 
  • The NSO pushed back against a controversial ‘Islamophobia’ definition which would have risked censorship of important chapters in Sikh history – like the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
  • It was the NSO that has worked alongside Galop over the summer and collaborated with other organisations, the police and policy makers in #TogetherAgainstHate2020. We could go on.  

A Sikh perspective on hate crime

We should be true to our Gurus’ teachings in all we do as Sikhs. This requires us to look beyond concern for ourselves, to sarbat da bhalla, in this case to all who suffer from so-called ‘hate crime’.

The important point from Lord Singh’s contribution was that fear and prejudice, sometimes seen as hatred, arises from ignorance. It is therefore important to work actively to remove widespread ignorance of Sikhism and Sikh teachings. This is important because of the ongoing conflation of Sikh identity with that of images of Islamic extremists – be it Bin Laden, ISIS or the Taliban. If the APPG still want to go down the legally recognised definition route, then it’s frankly absurd not to include the post 9/11 element.

Our Guru’s taught us a distinct and enlightened way of life which we must put to the fore in turning ignorance and prejudice into respect and appreciation. While we should be resolute in reporting and tackling unacceptable hate crime, we have much to do in educating the wider community about who we are. Our Guru given values are a powerful vehicle for turning latent prejudice to appreciation and communal harmony.

Reports indicate the APPG are requesting the government, ‘financially supports the work of the Sikh Network and Sikh Council to track hate crimes against their community with start-up grants and annual funding for the next three to five years.’[ii] We think there may well be a conflict of interest here, given some individuals involved in the organisations for which funding has been requested, have links (including familial) with the APPG chair.

We asked Preet Gill to respond to this point. She said:

‘Please can you confirm who this email is written by, and signed off by. Please provide name and details.’

We will be highlighting our concerns about this with relevant government departments.

Now the SFUK who have used the APPG as a vehicle to promote their partisan agenda have failed in their ill-conceived Sikh ethnic tick box campaign, they will be desperate to regain credibility with the broader Sikh community, and the government in other areas. The APPG for British Sikhs may well choose not to work with us, nor learn from the progress and recognition we’ve achieved on hate crime. If so, this only continues to emphasize a non-inclusive, narrow, and limited way of working. The fact that our Director was elected as treasurer for the APPG simply adds insult to injury.

[ENDS]


[i] https://labourlist.org/2020/10/labour-led-parliamentary-group-calls-for-action-to-combat-anti-sikh-hate/

[ii] https://labourlist.org/2020/10/labour-led-parliamentary-group-calls-for-action-to-combat-anti-sikh-hate/

We are delighted to have launched the Sikh Messenger podcast series last month.

In the first of the series we interviewed Harbakhsh Grewal about his roles at the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA) and publisher Kashi House. We ask him about the seminal volume Warrior Saints, by historians Parmjit Singh and Amandeep Singh Madra, and the popular exhibitions hosted by UKPHA at the SOAS Brunei gallery – including The Sikhs and World War 1 in 2014. You can listen to the interview here.

Later in August, as part of the Catch ‘Together Against Hate’ 2020 project we interviewed Billie Boyd a Hate Crime Support worker at the charity Galop. We find out about her role and how she has made a tangible difference for her clients who have suffered discrimination and hatred for being part of the LGBT community. You can listen to the interview here.

As part of the same series – we then had the pleasure of talking to our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon who told us about his early life in Britain, the challenges with racism at that time, which later included a backlash against Sikhs post 9/11 in so called ‘mistaken identity’ attacks. Lord Singh reveals how he used humour to deal with racism during those early years. You can listen to the interview here.

We then spoke to Suresh Grover, Director of the Monitoring Group in Southall – a veteran anti-racism campaigner who has led campaigns to help the families of Stephen Lawrence, Zahid Mubarek and Victoria Climbie. He talks about ‘Paki bashing’, the history of Southall and the role of the Punjabi community during the tumultuous period following the racist murder of schoolboy Gurinder Singh Chaggar in 1976. Listen to part 1 of the interview here: Listen to Part 2 here.

In our most recent interviews, we talked to our Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh who has co-authored a volume titled Racialization, Islamophobia and Mistaken Identity: The Sikh Experience, and also Chief Supt Raj Singh Kohli who surprised us with the prejudice he has faced over the years – from his early years at school, through to post 9/11. But he didn’t take it lying down – his story is both uplifting and remarkable. We will be uploading the interviews onto both Anchor and YouTube soon.

If anyone has any suggestions on who we should interview and the topics they’d like to hear about, contact us: info@nsouk.co.uk

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has produced a hate crime guide to help signpost members of the Sikh community to organisations who can support them, as well as encouraging victims to report incidents to the police. The charity has additionally produced a second guide designed to support organisations supporting Sikh victims.

The guides have been complied as part of a project, Together Against Hate, co-ordinated by the UK’s only specialist LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop. The project has been funded by The Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC).

There has been a clear trend in the targeting of Muslims as well as Sikhs in the aftermath of terror attacks as has been evidenced post 9/11 and the London 7/7 bombings. The Sikh identity, in particular the turban and beard of observant men, is often conflated with the appearance of Islamic extremists which has resulted in the targeting of Sikhs and Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras).

In 2015 a Sikh dentist was almost beheaded in a revenge attack for the murder of Lee Rigby, and the following year a case in which Sikh women were referred to in derogatory terms resulted in a conviction. In 2018 a Sikh environmentalist almost had his turban forcibly removed when visiting an MP in parliament, and in May 2020 a hate crime against a gurdwara in Derby appears to have been motivated by a geopolitical grievance in relation to the troubled region of Kashmir.

NSO Deputy-Director Hardeep Singh said:

Hate crime against Sikhs often goes unreported and victims do not always feel they need to inform the police of such incidents. Some will not know you can simply report hate crime online, rather than go to a police station to file a report, which can be time consuming.

We hope the guides provide clear, relevant, and timely advice to members of the community. They need to know they are not alone and there are people out there who can help. We also believe it’s important they report incidents to the authorities, which can be done anonymously if need be.

Mel Stray, Galop, Hate Crime Policy and Campaigns Manager said:

These new hate crime guides are a vital resource for the Sikh community and organisations working with Sikh victims of hate crime. We are delighted that the Network of Sikh Organisations has come together with nine other organisations as part of the Together Against Hate project, to stand up alongside each other against hate targeting our communities.

– Ends –

  • Notes to Editors: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.
  • There are two hate crime guides (i) Guide for Sikh victims (ii) Guide for organisations supporting Sikh victims – you can download them below
(religion is already adequately recorded in the census)

Peers debated the contents of draft Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 in the Lords earlier this week. The flawed Sikh ‘ethnic’ tick box argument was raised following a debate in the Commons last week in which Labour party politicians briefed by the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) cited questionable statistics.

Our Director, Lord Singh who has been a prominent opponent of the SFUK’s tick box campaign told peers about the misunderstanding of the Mandla case from the 1980’s which SFUK rely upon and for which he was expert witness.

He said, ‘The law then protected ethnicity, but not religion, against discrimination. The Law Lords ruled that as most Sikhs in the UK then were born in Punjab and had Punjabi ethnicity, Sikhs were also entitled to protection. The criteria of birth and origin would not be met today, as most Sikhs are born in the UK, nor is such a convoluted protection necessary. The Equality Act 2010 gives full protection to religion.’

He went on, ‘The politically motivated federation falsely claims mass support, with questionable statistics. The ethnicity argument was discussed at the large gurdwara in Hounslow, in front of ONS officials, and was firmly rejected, yet the federation includes Hounslow among its supporters. Many Sikhs and people of other faiths are appalled at the way in which some politicians, anxious for votes, are willing to trample on the religious sensitivities of others and accept as fact the absurdities of those who shout the loudest. I urge that we look to what the different religious groups actually do for the well-being of their followers and wider society.’

Supporting Lord Singh’s position on the issue, Former Bishop of Oxford and crossbench peer Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said: ‘I believe that ​Sikhism is a great and very distinguished world religion. I do not think there should be any blurring of that fact and I worry that putting this in the ethnic minority category will somehow diminish what Sikhism has to offer as a world religion.’

Once the Order has been approved, Census Regulations will be laid before Parliament. According to the House of Commons Library, ‘the ONS aims to publish an initial set of census reports one year after it has taken place, and to make all outputs available within two years.’

We hope the British Sikh community can now move on from this debate and focus on the uplifting teachings of our global world religion, and all it has to offer today’s fractured society.

It is no secret our relationship with the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) has been difficult over the years, especially considering our opposition to their ‘ethnic’ tick box campaign. The SFUK has previously described our Director as ‘an 85-year old dinosaur’,[i] brought the Sikh community into disrepute with a ‘karma’ tweet following the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood,[ii] and falsely claimed that a gurdwara which rejected their ‘ethnic’ tick box argument, had written in support of the APPG’s (their) campaign.[iii]

We point to another issue which requires urgent investigation. In response to evidence we submitted to the Scottish government[iv] the APPG on UK Sikhs issued a statement, which was also later published by the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, in which they write:

‘Some MPs may have received a briefing last week titled “Why Sikhs should not have a Sikh ethnic tick box and are not a distinct ethnic group” from the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) headed by cross-bencher Lord Singh. Disappointingly the NSO briefing is biased, misleading and includes matters that are totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.

The NSO and its head have shockingly described MPs on all sides backing the Sikh community in this campaign as “naïve” and “bewildered”. This sort of language is hugely discourteous to hundreds of elected MPs who have had letters from constituents in support of this campaign and in many cases discussed this issue locally at Gurdwaras on many occasions and with individual Sikh constituents.’

The SFUK issued a press release on 19 February 2020, titled: ‘Conservative MPs issue briefing on Sikh ethnic tick box and rebuke biased and misleading note from Network of Sikh Organisations’, (attaching the APPG statement).

Contrary to what is written, we did not use the word ‘bewildered’ so it’s odd that this has been included. However, more significantly still, the introduction to the APPG document appears to have been agreed in principle with three newly elected Conservative MPs.

We wrote to all three MPs, when we first heard about the briefing and the related Indian press coverage which cited them,[v] when the latter was publicised alongside their images on Twitter by the SFUK on 16 February 2020. We indicated they appear to be a signatory to, or at the very least in agreement with the contents of the document whose introduction we have cited above.

We asked them if they were aware of the document and or the related Indian press coverage.

One of the three got back to us and said they were not aware they had signed anything, nor had they read the coverage, which was published in Punjabi in the Daily Ajit publication in any case (and would have required translation) – adding:

‘I’m happy to consult my constituents on this issue rather than take a particular view myself.’

This response not only indicates an open mind on the census issue, but makes it clear they are not party to the SFUK/APPG position on the census.

We believe it is difficult in the circumstances, to then imagine the same MP support a briefing which attacks our charity and is egregiously partisan.

We have written to Preet Gill MP the Chair of the APPG, and the SFUK (the APPG secretariat) to ask them to confirm as a matter of urgency if the MPs whose names have been included at the bottom of the briefing published by the Scottish government provided their express authority to do so.

We believe the Sikh community requires an explanation and will be reporting the matter to the Conservative party to investigate further. At the time of writing we are yet to hear back from either Preet Gill MP or the SFUK, but we are willing to publish their response if we receive it.

[Ends]

[i] https://twitter.com/SikhMessenger/status/1234886709529190403

[ii] https://twitter.com/SikhMessenger/status/1234885755580952576

[iii] http://nsouk.co.uk/why-we-need-the-appg-for-british-sikhs-to-be-transparent-with-their-ethnicity-campaign/

[iv] https://www.parliament.scot/S5_European/General%20Documents/20200131_NetworkOfSikhOrgs.pdf

[v] https://twitter.com/SikhFedUK?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

Sikh prison chaplains at the residential training event at the Prison Service College

Our charity is proud to be run the Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service and we provide both spiritual and pastoral care for all Sikhs in prison in the United Kingdom.

One of the areas in which we’d like to see more emphasis is in prison chaplaincy initiatives to help reduce reoffending rates. It’s a no brainer that if we can keep Sikhs who’ve been in prison, out of prison – that can only be for the betterment of the community, and wider society at large. Of course, once ex-offenders are out, there must also be opportunity to encourage them back into work, motivate them to contribute positively to their community and reengage with broader society as responsible citizens. Indeed, we believe gurdwaras, not just the National Probation Service or multiagency management have an important role to play in this regard.

In a House of Lords debate on prisons and radicalisation, our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon highlighted the importance of reducing reoffending and our desire to reduce this for Sikhs.

He said: ‘I declare my interest as director of the Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service. Does the Minister agree that chaplains must be at the forefront of any move to tackle radicalisation in prisons? To do this, they have to place dated social and political norms embedded in religious texts in the context of today’s times.’

He went on: ‘Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss Sikh chaplaincy initiatives to do this and reduce reoffending rates, and how this experience might possibly be used to the benefit of other faiths?’

The NSO believes that a measure of the success of a positive, effective and engaged prison chaplaincy service must surely be a reduction in reoffending rates.

We will be following up to discuss this with the government and believe this aim should extend to prison chaplaincy services for all faiths and none.

 

 

Sikh man being surrounded and attacked by mobs in 1984

During the 1930s and 1940s, Pandit Nehru, first Prime Minister of post-partition India learnt from bitter personal experience of the ease with which a repressive government can label someone an extremist and throw him into gaol. He was quick to learn the lesson from his British mentors and, within months of becoming Prime Minister in 1947, he in turn incarcerated the more prominent of his political opponents – including the veteran Sikh leader Master Tara Singh. The latter had dared to remind him of his promise to the Sikh people 12 months earlier, that he saw nothing wrong with an area being set aside in the north of free India “where Sikhs could also experience the glow of freedom.”

“The situation is different now,” was Pandit Nehru’s comment when reminded of this promise. The Sikh leader was branded “an extremist” and duly gaoled for demanding a measure of autonomy for Punjab that was in fact considerably less than that enjoyed by individual states in the US.

Mr Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, with all the cynicism and double-talk of dictatorial governments posing as democracies, has been quick to improve on both the language and methods of repression. First in the “emergency”, when all pretence of democracy was dropped, and, more recently, again under the guise of democracy, a cruel feline viciousness has been unleashed on the people of India.

The “emergency” saw the “disappearance” of hundreds of political opponents, the forced sterilisation of the poor, and the destruction of their hovels in the name of progress. In the last two years thousands of “terrorists” and “political agitators” have been shot in Kashmir, Assam and Maharashtra. Now it is the turn of Punjab and the Sikhs. The massacre in Amritsar of perhaps as many as 2,000 mostly unarmed and innocent Sikh men, women, and children – “terrorists” – easily outdoes in barbarity and outrage the 1919 shooting at Jallianwala Bagh where 379 people were killed by General Dyer.

The killings by General Dyer, were in an open park, the slaughter at the Golden Temple was in the holiest of holy Sikh shrines. Indira Gandhi’s justification was that it was a base for Sikh terrorists. Let us look at the facts. The one requirement for terrorism is secrecy. One would not advertise and plan terrorism from, say, the concourse of Waterloo Station. Similarly, the Golden Temple with its famous four doors to emphasise its welcome to pilgrims and visitors from all four corners of the globe, irrespective of race, religion or national origins, had, to say the least, serious limitations that would, religious considerations apart, have precluded its use by any group intent on serious terrorism.

A secret telephone number is a useful asset for organising terrorism. The phones into the Golden Temple were known to, and tapped by the police. Inside, right up to the time of the government attack, pilgrims and visitors, including the foreign press, were free to go into any part of the Temple complex. Outside, a heavy police presence had existed for more than a year around each entrance to the Golden Temple. It is true that, as government threats to enter and desecrate the Temple increased over the months, parallel attempts to build up defences to deter such a sacrilegious attack also increased. The “fortifying” of the Golden Temple was nothing but a response to increasing evidence that Mrs Gandhi was determined to solve the “Sikh question” by striking at the very heart of Sikhism.

Indira Gandhi is right when she says that terrorism must be rooted out. But who are the terrorists? Those perpetrating organised violence, or those that oppose it? It is not generally known outside Punjab that, over the past two years, thousands of Sikh homes in the Punjab villages have been raided by police and paramilitary forces. Young Sikhs have been dragged away for questioning, never to be seen again. The sight of murdered Sikhs floating in rivers and waterways has become a common occurrence. The current issue of the journal of Amnesty International cites several harrowing examples of police brutality and torture. More recently eyewitnesses’ accounts to the Amritsar massacre talk of women and children being shot in cold blood, and Sikh prisoners being tied with their own turbans and then shot in the head. Who then are the terrorists?

The myth of a “terrorist base” borrowed from the vocabulary of more subtle colonial powers, is not the only way in which Mrs Gandhi has allowed truth to be stood on its head. Lack of space forbids a more detailed analysis but the reader trying to find truth in Mrs Gandhi’s press releases might well find the following glossary helpful.

Sikh extremist: One who believes he should be allowed to practice his religion unmolested and that Sikhs and other Punjabis should not be treated less favourably than their brothers and sisters in other Indian states.

Sikh fundamentalist: a Sikh who believes in the fundamentals of the Sikh religion, namely belief in one God, earning by one’s own efforts, helping the less fortunate, religious tolerance, equality of women and universal human brotherhood.

Sikh fanatic: Alternative for Sikh fundamentalist. I. G. Factor: A “multiplier” of 10. Used by Indira Gandhi and Indian government watchers, and based on experience in Kashmir, Assam and elsewhere, to convert press release figures to something approaching reality. For example, the initial Indian government figure of 250 deaths in the Golden Temple converts to 2,500. Eyewitness reports fear that this may be an understatement.

Minimum use of force: “We went in with prayers on our lips” says an Indian General. It is now being reported that the Army was given instructions not to take any prisoners. The coldblooded slaughter of men, women and children.

No alternative: The use of any or all the following clichés to justify excessive use of force-discovery of stockpile of sophisticated weapons; arsenals; bomb factory; involvement of a foreign power, CIA, etc. In the interests of national security: In the interests of Indira Gandhi and family.

Democracy: The inalienable right of a majority to crush minorities. Rule by Indira Gandhi and family, for Indira Gandhi and family.

Indarjit Singh is the editor of the Sikh Messenger, and a member of the religious advisory committee of the United Nations Association.


Courtesy Guardian, first published, 18 June 1984

 

                                  Response to Home Affairs Committee Islamophobia inquiry

                                                                        January 2019

 

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.

This submission follows evidence we provided to the Home Affairs Committee in 2017/18 for their inquiry into hate crime and its violent consequences.[i] [ii]

 

  1. Use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ v ‘anti-Muslim’ hatred

We believe use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ is deeply problematic because it is vague and ambiguous. In a recent House of Lords debate, our Director Lord Singh, dissected the disparate elements that are often referred to when ‘Islamophobia’ is discussed. He said, ‘…there are four distinct aspects of hate crime against Muslims that are collectively known as Islamophobia: hate crime arising from common prejudice; hate crime arising from assumptions about the teachings of Islam; hate crime arising from perceptions of Muslim behaviour; and hate crime against non-Muslims due to mistaken identity.’[iii]  We are of the view that ‘anti-Muslim’ hatred, (like ‘anti-Sikh’ or ‘anti-Hindu’) is much clearer language to describe hate crime specifically against the Muslim community. We previously expressed this in written evidence to the APPG on British Muslims inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred.[iv]

 

1.1 Free speech and discussing matters of public interest

We have concerns that there are matters which extremists have an incentive to label ‘Islamophobic’ in order to shut down free and open discussion about matters of public interest – for example:

  • Legitimate criticism of the behaviour of a minority of Muslims i.e. sexual grooming gang cases like in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and Telford.
  • Legitimate criticism of aspects of Islamic doctrine, like the sanctioning of death for apostates (ex-Muslims) for leaving Islam, reference to non-Muslims as kaffirs (a derogatory term), and persecution of homosexuals and minority Muslim sects like the Ahmadiyya.
  • Legitimate criticism of the treatment of minority faiths in Muslim majority countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the latter non-Muslims (like Hindus and Sikhs) are known to pay the jizya (tax of humiliation), and Christians often face blasphemy charges in Pakistan like the cause célèbre Asia Bibi. There are also reports of forced marriage and conversion of Hindu girls in Pakistan and persecution of Ahmadiyya.
  • Free discussion about historical facts, like the beheading of the 9th Guru of Sikhism – Tegh Bahadur who was executed by Mughal authorities when he stood up for the freedom of religion of Hindu priests, who were being forcefully converted to Islam.

*the above isn’t an exhaustive list, but just a few areas as means of illustration.

We note the National Secular Society (NSS) have stated, ‘accusations of ‘Islamophobia’ are often used to silence debate about (and within) Islam,’[v] and ‘the word ‘Islamophobia’ has entered common usage, but it conflates legitimate criticism of Islam, or Islamic practices, with anti-Muslim prejudice, bigotry and hatred’.[vi]  This view is entirely consistent with our position.

1.2 The definition proposed by the APPG on British Muslims

 

‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’.[vii]

 

Questions about race component in definition

Conflating race and religion is extremely problematic. There are of course occasions where race motivates hate crime against Muslims, or the ‘Muslim looking other’. An example of this would be the throwing of a pig’s head in the drive of former government minister Parmjit Singh Dhanda’s in 2010. Although a Sikh, he does not wear a turban nor have a beard. His detractors must have assumed he was Muslim due to his ethnicity. However, in other cases, it is more the conflation of religious symbols, like the Sikh turban (dastaar) and beard with the appearance of extremists like Bin Laden, the Taliban (or ISIS), which makes Sikhs and other non-Muslims susceptible to ‘Islamophobia’.[viii] This vulnerability – due to a visibility in the public space, is no different to that of Muslim women in hijabs, and orthodox Jews in skullcaps. Dr Jhutti-Johal an academic from the University of Birmingham has provided further examples of hate crime against Sikhs in a submission to an inquiry by The Youth Select Committee in 2016.[ix] Notably, white hipsters with beards have been confused with ISIS, and this is more to do with their hirsute countenance, rather than a prejudice born from, or ‘rooted in racism’. Furthermore, by framing ‘Islamophobia’ as ‘racism’, the definition miserably fails to encompass prejudice suffered by white converts, or European Muslims, like Bosniaks, Kosovars and Albanians.

 

1.3 Evidence to APPG and the question of impartiality

Whilst our evidence, like that of Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and the NSS was accepted by the inquiry conducted by the APPG on British Muslims, not all was agreed in the definition. It was selectively used by the authors of Islamophobia Defined.[x] On aspects of SBS’s evidence, the report’s authors dismissively say it, ‘appears highly misguided’.[xi] We take the view this doesn’t reflect a standard of impartiality.

 

1.4 Being ‘insufficiently Muslim’ in the eyes of other Muslims

Baroness Falkner of Margravine gave a compelling speech in which she challenged the racial component of the proposed definition. She said, ‘When you define a religion—in other words, a belief system—as an adjective and declare that this is rooted in race, which is biological, you ascribe to belief an immutability which cannot work’.[xii] She also discussed the prejudice her family had faced moving from India to Pakistan in 1947, and that she had personally faced from her co-religionists in Muslim countries for being ‘insufficiently Muslim’, adding ‘but that experience was as nothing compared to the discrimination that Ahmadiyyas, Shias and various others still face today at the hands of other Muslims.’[xiii]

As Baroness Falkner rightly states, ‘Islamophobia’ also includes prejudice within Muslim communities against one another for being ‘insufficiently Muslim’. There is no mention of this aspect in the APPG report Islamophobia Defined, despite the definition referring to ‘expressions of Muslimness’. It is not clear if persecuted groups like Ahmadiyyas gave evidence to the APPG, or if their view has been given any consideration at all. The sectarian murders of Asad Shah, an Ahmadiyya Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow, and Jalal Uddin, a 71-year-old imam in Rochdale demonstrate policy makers cannot simply ignore this issue.

Framing a similar argument to Baroness Falkner is Britain’s counter-extremism czar, Sara Khan. In an opinion editorial she describes, ‘increasing anti-Muslim hatred’ that she receives ‘from fellow Muslims’. ‘It is contradictory and unjust to recognise non-Muslim perpetrators yet ignore Muslims who engage in active hostility, abuse, hatred and discrimination against other Muslims’, argues Ms Khan. We believe this is an area which requires much more focus and we must acknowledge all bigotry, from wherever it comes, in equal terms.

 

1.5 Equality in public policy

One of the victims of a Rotherham grooming gang argues that ‘non-Muslim hate’ or hate against ‘those with a perceived lack of Muslimness’ should be taken just as seriously as discrimination against Muslims. ‘As grooming victims, my friends and I were called vile racist names such as “white trash” and “kaffir girl” as we were raped. Our Sikh and Hindu friends who were also targeted by Muslim Pakistani gangs were disparagingly called “kaffir slags” too.’ The APPG’s Islamophobia Defined report makes four references to grooming gangs. But it makes no effort to examine the motivations of the perpetrators. Instead, it suggests that discussion of grooming gangs could be ‘Islamophobic’. The government has a duty to take all forms of hatred as seriously as one another and we welcome the committee’s thoughts on this point.

To date government policy on hate crime has marginalised minority faiths like Sikhs and Hindus, because the focus is primarily on the suffering of Muslims and Jews. This is despite Sikhs suffering ‘mistaken identity’ attacks since 9/11. Whilst we sympathise with the Muslim and Jewish communities, the government needs to take steps to execute parity – irrespective of religious belief, or none. Our Director, Lord Singh has previously warned that Sikhs, who ‘do not have a culture of complaint’ are at risk of ‘falling off the government radar’ and believes the government ‘must be even-handed’ towards all communities.[xiv]

 

Conclusion

We request the committee gives our concerns due consideration. We believe the proposed definition is flawed and will have serious implications on free and open discussion about matters of significant public interest. It has the potential to act as a shield for extremists who want to shut down criticism of Islam or the behaviour of a minority of Muslims.

 

Network of Sikh Organisations


[ii] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/hate-crime-and-its-violent-consequences/written/45945.html
[iii] https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2018-12-20a.1937.0
[iv] http://nsouk.co.uk/nso-gives-evidence-to-appg-on-british-muslims-on-islamophobia/
[v] https://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/response-to-home-affairs-committee-islamophobia-inquiry.pdf
[vi] Ibid
[vii]https://static1.squarespace.com/static/599c3d2febbd1a90cffdd8a9/t/5bfd1ea3352f531a6170ceee/1543315109493/Islamophobia+Defined.pdf
[viii] Sikhs have suffered the negative reverberations of Islamism since 9/11. The first person to be killed in retribution was a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Phoenix. In Britain, there was an attempted beheading of a Sikh dentist in Wales in 2015 – a ‘revenge’ attack for Lee Rigby. Reference to Sikhs as ‘Bin Laden’, ‘Taliban’ and ‘ISIS’ are a normal occurrence – both Sikh men and women have suffered. Despite being one of the most ‘visible’ minority groups in Britain, eighteen years on from 9/11 we are still not viewed as a priority group by the government.
[ix] http://www.byc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/050-Jagbir-Jhutti-Johal.pdf
[x]  https://static1.squarespace.com/static/599c3d2febbd1a90cffdd8a9/t/5bfd1ea3352f531a6170ceee/1543315109493/Islamophobia+Defined.pdf
[xi]  Ibid
[xii] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2018-12-20/debates/2F954D45-1962-4256-A492-22EBF6AEF8F0/Islamophobia#contribution-B9C080A2-4CBA-4687-BBCD-0A20C512D1FC
[xiii] Ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

We reproduce Lord Singh’s speech in full below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This precious stone set in the silver sea”

  Against the envy of lesser breeds’,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The APPG for British Sikhs has over the Past 12 months made successful efforts to keep Sikhs in the Lords excluded from its deliberations. By chance I learnt of Tuesday’s AGM and accompanied by Lord Suri, attended the AGM to try to get the Group to issue a statement of concern over the bullying attitude of the Department for Education (DfE) in giving of a 2-week ultimatum to withdraw funding and move to a closure of a Sikh school, Seva School in Coventry unless it agreed to be run by Nishkam. Nishkam is a group regarded by many Sikhs as outside mainstream Sikhism, with a spiritual Head to whom some followers owe total allegiance.

Lord Suri and I were surprised at the poor attendance at the AGM, with one MP brought in for a while to make a quorum. After Preet Gill MP asked the 5 MPs present to confirm her as Chair, I spoke about the widespread concerns of parents, governors, staff, the Council of Gurdwaras in Coventry, the Sikh Council and the Network of Sikh Organisations and others. I also mentioned that an earlier complaint made by me of racist behaviour towards the school (in which Sikh teachings were labelled extremist and negative) had been upheld in an investigation by Sir David Carter a top civil servant with the DfE, with a promise of more supportive behaviour by the minister Lord Nash.

Unfortunately, the harassment has continued culminating in a 2-week ultimatum of a cessation of funding unless the school agreed to be run by Nishkam.

Preet Gill MP seemed irritated by both my presence at the meeting, and because I had raised an issue about which she had clearly not been briefed by the Sikh Federation UK, the official secretariat of the APPG. She expressed her admiration of Nishkam. However asking a mainstream Sikh school to join Nishkam with its different ethos, is like asking a Church of England school to join a group led by Jehovah’s Witnesses. She then queried my credentials in raising the widespread concerns of the Sikh community. Ignoring the need for urgent action, she said that she would have to carry out her own investigation and consult local MPs, as if their views counted for more than those of the Coventry Sikh community and two national Sikh bodies.

Lord Suri and I, were perhaps, even more disappointed by the mute subservience of the 5 MPs. There was no discussion about the DfE’s bullying and racist behaviour, or the need for government to understand a little about Sikhism and the Sikh community. The MPs expressed no sympathy or concern over an issue affecting Sikhs and the education of our children.

Lord Suri and I left the meeting with the knowledge that the APPG exists only to further the interests of the Sikh Federation UK, and not those of the wider Sikh community.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon

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