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The above image of the Mayor of London being greeted at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall with the backdrop of the martyrdom of the Chote Sahibzade (sons of Guru Gobind Singh) could be deemed ‘Islamophobic’ by the APPG on British Muslims definition of Islamophobia – a definition City Hall has adopted.

In a recent House of Lords debate the APPG Islamophobia definition which was previously rejected by the government was again discussed. Our Director Lord Singh, responded:

‘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?’[i]

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) is committed to parity in all areas of policy for all faiths and communities. In a recent debate on anti-Semitism Lord Singh made this very point when he said:

‘My Lords, anti-Semitism is evil and should be combated in every possible way, but will the Minister make it clear that the Government are equally committed to tackling hate crimes against all communities, even those of non-Abrahamic faiths?’[ii]

Despite the pleas for a level playing field, when it comes to resources and policy around hate crime, we’ve consistently stressed in evidence[iii][iv]to the government our concern about the marginalisation of non-Abrahamic faiths. Sikhs have suffered significantly since 9/11 due to the negative reverberations of Islamism, yet we remain an afterthought and are subsumed within the broader ‘Islamophobia’ debate. We’ve previously referred to the government’s failure in addressing this in both Action Against Hate (2016) and Action Against Hate ‘refresh’ (2018) – the government’s four-year hate crime action plan.

Current legislation is enough to protect all faiths from crimes motivated by hatred. We believe the Equalities Act 2010 provides equal protection under law for all racial and religious groups, and those pushing for special definitions like ‘Islamophobia’ an amorphous term – aim to push the boundaries of ‘hate’ to beyond anti-Muslim prejudice, to any discussion of inconvenient aspects of religion and doctrine – which we must all be free to discuss without fear of prosecution or arrest. The same applies to use of the word ‘anti-Semitism’ when it is used to deliberately shut down legitimate discussion about Israel.

Remarkably, we were the only Sikh organisation who realised that under proposals put forward by the APPG, merely discussing aspects of Sikh history (like the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur) could be deemed ‘Islamophobic’ equated to ‘racism’, and quite possibly criminalised.[v] This in turn would cause immediate problems for our gurdwaras who have pictures of shaheeds or martyrs hanging on their walls. Prominent historians like Tom Holland understood the consequences,[vi] meanwhile some prominent Sikhs ignorantly supported the definition.[vii]

Our Director and Deputy-Director were signatories to an open letter to the then home secretary opposing the APPG definition last year.[viii]  However, despite the government rightly rejecting it, it has since been adopted by many councils across the country, with more looking to do so this year. Like others, we remain concerned that this definition could serve as a backdoor blasphemy law, and maintain that ‘anti-Muslim’, like ‘anti-Sikh’ or ‘anti-Hindu’ hate is much clearer language, and something already protected under existing legislation.

[i] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2020-02-13/debates/D2C6CF82-DDBD-4AB5-949D-C1205E3AF0A4/Islamophobia#contribution-E1E080CF-4115-4F78-A7DB-DB2C4C2B4715

[ii] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2020-02-11/debates/B70471E8-75CF-414D-805A-A6A1DD1A9081/HateCrimeAnti-Semitism#contribution-E106490B-FC08-4D47-B595-3A2BE62A5909

[iii] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/hate-crime-and-its-violent-consequences/written/77518.html

[iv]  http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/hate-crime-and-its-violent-consequences/written/45945.html

[v] ‘claims of Muslims spreading Islam by the sword or subjugating minority groups under their rule’ would be deemed ‘Islamophobic’ by Islamophobia Defined.

[vi] https://twitter.com/holland_tom/status/1128756384537956352?lang=en

[vii] https://www.islamophobia-definition.com/

[viii] http://www.civitas.org.uk/content/files/islamophobiaopenletter.pdf

Our Director Lord Singh of Wimbledon contributed to a debate on anti-Semitism secured by Baroness Berridge in the House of Lords this week.

He said, ‘I have visited Auschwitz and seen something of the horrors that thousands of Jews—innocent men, women and children—suffered. In the collective madness of the 1930s and 1940s, Jews were vilified not only in Germany but across much of Europe, including this country. As child I was frequently called a Jew by those who wished to hurt me. However, I believe that talk of a worldwide anti-Jewish conspiracy is misleading and, importantly, takes us away from the real problem which is the way in which unprincipled politicians play on ignorance and majority bigotry, regardless of the consequences suffered by others, to achieve their ends.’

Reflecting on the year we mark the 35th anniversary of the Sikh genocide in India and the persecution of Sikhs in Afghanistan today, he went on:

‘In Germany, Hitler blamed the Jews. In the India of 1984, it was the tiny Sikh minority. The killing of innocents in gas chambers is evil, but is it any more evil than dousing men, women and children with kerosene and burning them alive? In Hitler’s Germany, Jews were made to wear distinctive clothing to show their inferior status. More recently, a decimated Sikh community in Afghanistan has been made to wear distinguishing patches and to fly a yellow flag outside their homes to make them an easy target for majority bigotry. Majority bigotry knows no boundaries and, as my noble friend Lord Sacks reminded us, has no constraints.’

He added: ‘We like to believe prejudice is found in only a few. Sadly, it is far more widespread. We are all, in effect, hard-wired to be wary of difference. Unacceptable but understandable prejudice is easily manipulated to become irrational hatred. Since the Second World War, we have seen unspeakable acts of violence against targeted groups in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia, and I could go on. Special sympathy-seeking terms such as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are understandable, but they take us away from the real problem, which is combating the more widespread bigotry suffered by all faiths. To borrow from Shakespeare, if Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and others are cut, do we not bleed? ‘

Concluding his speech Lord Singh said, ‘Taken to an extreme, this giving of special consideration to some groups at the expense of others is, at best, unintended racism. Bigotry will continue to flourish until, in the closing words of the Sikh daily prayer, we look beyond ourselves and our group to the well-being of all members of our one human family.’

Other contributors included Lord Pickles, Lord Sacks (the former Chief Rabbi), Lord Alton and Lord Finkelstein.

Proposed APPG definition (from Islamophobia Defined):

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

Over the summer we provided oral evidence to the APPG on British Muslims inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred further to submitting written evidence explaining how Sikhs have suffered since 9/11. We believe our work over the last few years has put Sikh concerns firmly on the government agenda. In a recent debate about the proposed ‘Islamophobia’ definition suggested by the APPG earlier, a few peers independently acknowledged Sikhs suffer ‘Islamophobia’ and Baroness Warsi mentioned Sikhs in interviews she gave to the media further to publication of the report Islamophobia Defined. However, we are not sure ‘Islamophobia’ is the best word to describe a complex amalgam of issues, and believe anti-Muslim hate, like anti-Sikh, is far clearer, precise and more helpful language.

During the debate last month, our Director Lord Singh said, ‘We all sympathise with the suffering of the Muslim community, encapsulated in the word “Islamophobia”. It is our common responsibility to tackle it but we have to be clear about its meaning to do so. To me, the suggested definitions are still woolly and vague; I will try to give a more precise one. If we do not have a clear definition, “Islamophobia” risks being seen as an emotive word intended to get public sympathy and government resources—a concern raised by the APPG on British Muslims.’

He went on, ‘Unfortunately, it is a fact that some communities use government funding to produce questionable statistics to show that they are more hated than others; groups without a culture of complaint, such as Sikhs, fall off the Government’s radar. We have had debates on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, but what about other communities? Should we not be thinking about all communities, not just those in more powerful positions? I believe that the Government must be even-handed.’

During the debate Lord Singh pressed the minister about what work was being conducted for other faith groups aside from Muslims and Jews. He also clarified that although the APPG on British Muslims considered a variety of evidence from academics, organisations and victims’ groups in helping come to the proposed ‘Islamophobia’ definition, not all of it was agreed in the definition. In fact, when Lord Singh gave oral evidence to the APPG, Lady Warsi ended the session by saying, ‘I disagree with everything you’ve said Lord Singh.’ Some of our evidence was echoed by that of Southall Black Sisters and the National Union of Students, as well as in a letter published in the Sunday Times coordinated by the National Secular Society.

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’. 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.’

The NSO believes ‘Islamophobia’ is an unhelpful and vague term, because it could include a number of distinct and separate components. These include anti-Muslim hate, a racialization of Islamophobia and ‘mistaken identity’ attacks on non-Muslims (like Sikhs), a reaction to the perceived teachings within Islam, and the perceived behaviour of a minority of Muslims. As Baroness Falkner rightly suggests, it 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. We are strongly of the view that anti-Muslim hate crime, (like anti-Sikh) is the best terminology for policy makers to use moving forwards.

The debate and Lord Singh’s full speech can be viewed here.

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