Where Unity Is Strength
Header

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.

Skip to toolbar