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Author Archives: Hardeep Singh

Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurdwara Southall

Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurdwara Southall

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

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

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

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

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Our Sikh World – Lady Singh & Mrs Maker interview Hardeep Singh

January 1st, 2017 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Videos - (0 Comments)

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Earlier this week the government’s strategy against Islamic terrorism was debated further to a question tabled by Lord Pearson of Rannoch. The UKIP Peer asked the government: “whether, as part of their strategy against Islamic terrorism, they will encourage United Kingdom Muslim leaders to re-examine the Muslim tenet of abrogation.”

Contributing to the debate Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations said:

“My Lords, whenever the question of religion is raised in this House, there seems to be an air of embarrassment, as if it were something private that should not be discussed. The reality is that it is very much the concern of us all. The suffering in Syria and the weekend outrages in Cairo and Istanbul show that a force, religion, which has a potential for good, is being used these days as a force for evil.”

He went on: “Does the Minister agree with the findings of the Louise Casey report that the interfaith industry has done very little to combat this, and we need an actual discussion of the concerns that people feel, rather than being superficially nice to each other?”

Agreeing religion should be a force for good, Minister of State, Baroness Williams of Trafford confirmed the government would be considering Dame Casey’s review in the new year. Published earlier this month, the Casey review highlighted the government’s reliance on interfaith groups and faith leaders to promote British values. The report stated objectionable cultural or religious views had not been challenged due to the fear of being labelled ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobe.’

(Above: Lord Singh)

(Above: Lord Singh)

Leading a debate last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury put forward a motion in the Lords exploring, “shared values underpinning our national life and their role in shaping public policy priorities.”

Celebrating British values of generosity, fairness, justice and the rule of law, the Archbishop reflected on post-Brexit Britain. He said: “unless we ground ourselves in a clear course and widely accepted practices, loyalties and values—what I will call values in this speech—we will just go with the wind.”

Contributing from a Sikh perspective, NSO Director Lord Singh’s speech is reproduced in full below:

“My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for initiating this important debate. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and to build on some of the things he has just said. In the last few years of the 20th century, I was part of the Lambeth group, representatives of different religions who met at Lambeth Palace to plan celebrations for the new millennium and the layout of the Faith Zone in the Millennium Dome. We were conscious of the fact that in the 20th century more people had died in war and conflict than in the rest of recorded history, and we reflected on hopes for a better future.

I was asked to head a small group to draw up a list of values for peace and justice in the 21st century. As a start, I put forward a list based on the teachings of the Sikh gurus, and the commonalities between different faiths became evident as the list was virtually agreed as it was. It was prominently displayed in the Faith Zone of the Millennium Dome and talked about in various conferences; then it was filed away in the archives of Lambeth Palace and the repositories of other faiths. Let us fast-forward a few years to another meeting at Lambeth Palace—in the very same room where we used to meet—and a charismatic preacher from America saying that what we needed were values.

There are plenty of values about and plenty of guidance in our different religious books. For most of our faiths, it can be put on one sheet of A4. The problem is that although stating those teachings and values is relatively easy, it is extremely difficult to live by them. So we humans find surrogates and alternatives for true and difficult commitments, such as rituals, penances and pilgrimages; such actions give a sense of satisfaction and spirituality. But as Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, observed, in themselves they are,

“not worth a grain of sesame seed”.

The guru taught that living true to such values is what really counts. The task then given to the nine succeeding gurus was to live true to those teachings in very challenging social and political times—and it was not easy.

One value that we call a British value is tolerance and respect for others. Guru Arjan, the fifth guru, showed that respect by inviting a Muslim saint, Mian Mir, to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple, which was constructed with a door at each of its four sides to denote a welcome to all coming from any geographic or spiritual direction. Inside the temple or gurdwara and in all gurdwaras, a vegetarian meal called langar is served to all, without any distinction of caste or creed. When the Mughal emperor Akbar visited the guru, he, too, was asked to sit and eat with people of different social backgrounds.

The guru also added verses of Hindu and Muslim saints to our holy scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, to show that no one faith had the monopoly of truth. However, living true to such basic values is not easy: the guru was arrested and tortured to death in the searing heat of an Indian June, for daring to suggest that there was more than one way to God. Sikhs commemorate that martyrdom not by showing any sign of bitterness but by serving cool, refreshing drinks to all near their homes or gurdwaras.

Some years back, I decided to organise the serving of free cooling drinks in Hyde Park, and the initial reaction of the Hyde Park authorities was not very encouraging. They said, “You can’t do that sort of thing in a royal park—everyone will start doing it”.

Guru Arjan’s successor, Hargobind, was imprisoned in Gwalior Fort for his belief, along with 52 other princes. On the festival of Diwali, the Mughal emperor said, as a gesture of good will, that Guru Hargobind was free to leave, but he stunned the emperor by saying, “I’m not going unless all the other 52 are also released”. He emphasised the importance of individual liberty for all—another British value.

In living true to exacting values, the ninth guru gave his life defending the right of another religion to worship in the manner of its choice. Voltaire said, “I may not believe in what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. It was Guru Tegh Bahadur who years earlier gave that noble sentiment practical utterance. The 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh, emphasised the importance of democracy, another British value.

The Sikh turban that we wear is supposed—and perhaps I should emphasise “supposed”—to remind us of the ideals by which we should live. The values that I have spoken of and those taught in Britain today are in fact universal values, taught by different faiths, and should be referred to as universal values. We urgently need to go beyond simply making lists or paying lip service to universal human values; we need to incorporate them, as the founders of our different faiths intended, into how we live, move and have our being.

It is hypocritical to talk of the commitment to democracy and pally up to tyrants such as the rulers of Saudi Arabia, or to say, as our Trade Secretary said a couple of years ago, that we should not mention human rights when we talk trade with China. It is wrong that the weak and vulnerable in society should depend on charitable appeals for basic necessities when their needs should be a first charge on all of us. It is wrong to talk of respect for all, and then use families settled here for generations as bargaining chips for Brexit.

Britain has led the world in many ways. My hope is that we will now lead in closing the gap in our long-suffering world between values that we all accept and the lure of self-interest in both personal dealings and the way we view the world.”

Genocide in Syria and Iraq

December 1st, 2016 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

 

ap_608778470134_wide-a4f98f81d6c31900088386d873dbe889e641cd78-s900-c85In a debate last week Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government what progress had been made to bring those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity in Syria and Iraq to justice. The Minister confirmed the government support the UN Commission of inquiry in Syria and have launched “a global campaign to bring Daesh to justice.”

Our Director Lord Singh, said: “My Lords, while members of ISIS responsible for open slave markets and the systematic humiliation of Yazidi and Christian women must be brought to justice, does the Minister agree that the systematic bombing by Russia and the West – to near extinction—of the people of Syria is also a war crime for supposed strategic interests? Does she also agree that the constant repetition of the mantra that Assad must go does nothing whatever to address the underlying religious tensions?”

Why no ‘Action Against Hate’ for non-Abrahamic faiths?

December 1st, 2016 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Current Issues - (0 Comments)

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This week the NSO has written to the Home Secretary following our lengthy campaign for a level playing field for all faith victims of hate crime. The letter has been supported by a number of prominent Hindu and Sikh organisations, and we are confident that the government will take steps to address community concerns.

We would like to see ‘Action Against Hate’ updated, so that it reflects the predicament faced by non-Abrahamic victims of hate. As things stands, the government appears to only acknowledge the suffering of Muslims, Jews and Christians. The communication to the Home Secretary, follows on from FOI figures released to us, which indicated 28% of victims of ‘Islamophobic hate crime’ recorded by the MET Police in 2015, were non-Muslims. This includes Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and those of no recorded faith.

Further to our initial concern about ‘Action Against Hate’, a Faith Community Forum meeting was organised by The Inter Faith Network on the 27 Sep. At the meeting a senior Home Office representative acknowledged the omission of non-Abrahamic faiths, and said that this would be rectified. We have not been informed of any steps taken since to update the government’s four year hate crime plan, so were left with little choice but to inform the Home Secretary of ongoing community concerns.

The NSO is confident that the government will take note and ensure all faith based victims of hate are treated equally. A change to the government’s strategy is urgently required to give reassurance to Britain’s Sikhs, Hindus and other non-Abrahamic faith groups.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 22/11/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The latest Ministry of Justice (MOJ) statistics show violence against prison officers has reached almost 6,000 incidents per year, up 43% from the previous year. Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults are up 32% from last year to 17,782 incidents. The rise in violence has given rise to calls for a public inquiry by prison governors.

Last week peers discussed the concerning trend. Responding to Lord Patel’s question on how the government is going to address the issue, The Advocate General of Scotland, Lord Keen of Elie said,

“Improving safety and decreasing the level of violence is an urgent priority for this Government. We recently set out our plans for prison safety and reform in a White Paper. We will invest in 2,500 more prison officers across the prison estate. This includes the recruitment by March 2017 of 400 additional prison officers into 10 of our most challenging prisons.”

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, Head of the Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service said, “Overcrowding is a major contributory factor to violence in prisons, and a major cause of overcrowding is repeat offending. Sikh chaplains are instructed to work with local communities to break the cycle of reoffending by providing work and accommodation for released prisoners.”

He went on,“Does the Minister agree that the National Offender Management Service and the chaplaincy council should encourage chaplains of all faiths to make rehabilitation central to their work? Does he further agree that an element of competition between different faiths to reduce reoffending would be no bad thing?”

The MOJ do not currently breakdown re-offending statistics by faith.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 13/11/16

November 14th, 2016 | Posted by Hardeep Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

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Yesterday’s service at the Cenotaph was a touching reminder of the tragic loss of millions of young lives in the first and second world wars and in numerous subsequent conflicts. Today we are all too aware that lasting peace, based on universal respect for human rights, still remains a distant and elusive goal.

Guru Nanak whose birth anniversary Sikhs celebrate today, was himself a witness to the savagery of conflict, with forced conversions and atrocities. He was a man far ahead of his time. Instead of restricting himself to praying to God for peace, he also attacked the underlying causes of conflict, including supposed religious superiority and exclusive relationships with God; then used, and still used today to justify cruel and intolerant behaviour. The Guru in his very first sermon taught that the one God of us all was not in the least bit impressed by our different religious labels, but by what we do to ensure peace and social justice for our fellow human beings.

The Guru also criticised the belief that any one nation or group of people were inherently superior to those around them. He taught a belief in the equality and interdependence of all members of our one human family. Following the huge loss of life in the second world war, similar thoughts led to the creation of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The reality of the world today is that while instant communications and interdependence in trade and commerce, push us to the realisation of a shared and common destiny, long engrained attitudes and prejudices, make it difficult for many to accept the new reality. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot be true to those, who, in the words of the Kohima Epitaph, ‘gave their today for our tomorrow’ unless we look towards a world that recognises an equal respect for all. It’s not easy to change deep rooted attitudes, but as Guru Nanak reminds us, it’s the only way to true and lasting peace.

 

 


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