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https://www.criticalmuslim.io/sikh-extremism/ Whats your opinions on what is written in it? "In 2005 Rajinder Singh made history by being the first non-white Briton to feature in an election broadcast by the British National Party. Ironically, he wasnt even allowed to join the BNP, but he didnt care. I say adapt and survive and give the brave and loyal Rajinder Singh the honour of becoming the first ethnic minority member of the BNP, their communications officer wrote at the time. The party ignored that advice. Singh had developed a deep hatred for Muslims from Indias partition of 1947 when he blamed them alone for the violence and carnage that took place. Britain had a role to play, he admitted to the Guardian in 2009, but the violence [during Partition] sprang from the Quran. The Muslim answer to reasoned argument is knife, dagger and bomb. Such open displays of xenophobia arent frequent among British Sikhs, but scratch the surface and they can be found all too easily. As the BNP started faltering from 2008, the rise of the English Defence League (EDL) was similarly characterised by outreach towards Sikhs and Hindus. In 2010 an EDL rally featured a Sikh speaker called Guramit Singh, who told a reporter: Were not here to be anti-Muslim, anybody in the group who is anti-Muslim will be kicked out. Were here to fight against Muslim extremism. But a trawl through his Facebook page found comments like: the muzzies wanna keep away from me im just looking for an excuse im fucked off at the mo <banned word filter activated> the pakis. i just think we shud burn the cunts now! and others in a similar vein. He claimed he had been provoked into them by death threats he had been receiving. Guramit Singh was eventually arrested by the police for religiously aggravated harm and later jailed for a robbery. But he was the first to publicly try and help the EDL broaden their appeal. In response some Sikh and Hindu groups released a statement in 2011 condemning any association with the EDL, but many Sikhs never really shunned the EDL as they were urged to. Indeed, they were to be seen rubbing shoulders with the EDL in 2012 when tensions had flared up in Luton at the rumour that a Muslim man had abused a Sikh girl. The Mail on Sunday revealed that a secret meeting took place between some Sikhs and EDL leaders two days after the protest to discuss acts of vigilantism. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed after Sikh and Muslim leaders worked together to reduce tension. But the flirtation continued. The EDL even created its own Sikh Division and it has over 12,000 Likes on Facebook. As recently as April 2015, the former leader of the EDL (who has several names including Tommy Robinson), was warmly welcomed on to the Sikh Channel for an interview. Astonishingly, he wasnt asked about numerous examples of the EDLs racism, but instead allowed to pitch for Sikhs to join his campaign against Muslims without challenge. While most British Sikhs are unlikely to be seduced by such overtures, these episodes illustrate the dangerous actions of a loud minority. But the antics of this extremist community seldom get noticed in the British media. There is an implicit assumption that the Sikhs are a model minority that arent plagued by social ills or religious extremists like Muslims. Nor is there a regular slew of controversies to make it an ongoing worry. Within the community however it is a different matter. A number of recent controversies illustrate that a cultural divide is opening up between more liberal-minded and conservative Sikhs. Many fear that a growing movement of puritanical Sikhs could create a schism, leaving the global Sikh community badly fractured and divided. Moreover, as Sikhs are predominantly Punjabi and come from highly patriarchal families, there is a deep blindness to social problems that will likely have big repercussions in the future. But it is difficult to discuss these issues because the shadow of Prime Minister Indira Gandhis assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984 looms large over everything. The attack, called Operation Blue Star, was bloody and heinous enough, but worse were the repercussions: Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards and in retaliation thousands of Sikhs across India were murdered in orchestrated pogroms or wrongly jailed. Many still rot in prison. These events made louder the calls for an independent Sikh homeland, more so in the British and American diaspora communities than in India. As successive Indian governments deny justice to victims of 1984, the big debates among Sikhs continue to revolve around the events of 1984 and the aftermath, at the expense of all else. The discussions and campaigns around 1984 are important, but so are many other problems that threaten to destabilise the entire global Sikh community. The rise of Sikh extremism is one of the main problems. I define Sikh extremism in two ways: open xenophobia that can fuel hate-crimes; and attempts by some to impose their views on others under the guise of religious puritanism. Most Sikhs are liberal-minded and secular, but they live in denial about extremism within their own community. Of course, Im not referring to the violent extremism of the Taliban or al-Qaeda type, but low-level coercion that still impacts lives and makes problems worse. Lets begin with xenophobia. Animosity between Sikhs and Muslims (and in some case, Hindus) was rare in the UK until the 1980s as most focused on battling racism. Under the banner of black unity, Asians identified themselves more along racial than religious lines and fought racists together. The burning of the Hambourgh Tavern pub in 1981, when men from Southall fought with skinheads and police and which was widely seen as a symbolic defeat for the far-right, was one such example. Around the 1980s and 90s, especially after the controversy around Salman Rushdies The Satanic Verses in 1988, an increasing number of British Muslims became politicised and identified along religious lines. That helped push Sikhs and Hindus along a similar path. Tensions didnt come to the forefront until the rise of Hizb ut-Tahrir and its flamboyant leader, Omar Bakri, who actively sought to inflame frictions to push his agenda. Most famously, controversy erupted in Luton in the mid-90s when a leaflet was found offering a reward to Muslim men to convert Sikh and Hindu women to Islam. No one admitted ownership (though Bakri was widely suspected) but it played into fears that Muslim men were preying on Sikh and Hindu girls. Later, while leading the splinter group al-Muhajiroun, Bakri was banned from staging an event in London where Sikh and Hindu girls would apparently publicly denounce their old religions and convert to Islam. Omar Bakris raison detre was to incite a clash between communities so he could get more recruits. Other Muslim groups shunned him, but it gave the impression to Sikhs and Hindus that they silently condoned him. After Bakri left the country, his tactics were adopted by protégé Anjem Choudhary, who became the leader of the extremist al-Muhajiroun. A decade later, some Sikh and Muslim groups sought to play on this urban legend to advance their own agenda. The Hindu Forum of Britain told newspapers that Muslims had aggressively converted hundreds of British Hindu girls to Islam. Newspapers initially repeated his allegations without proof, until an Evening Standard investigation exposed its leader Ramesh Kallidai as the fundamentalist father whose claims didnt stand up. Similarly, allegations by the Sikh Awareness Society (SAS) that Muslims had forcibly converted Sikh girls were investigated by the BBC Asian Network and found to be without evidence. When I was at university in the late 1990s, a group of Sikhs broke into the room of a Muslim man one night and stabbed him in the leg because he was dating a Sikh girl. What was also remarkable about the incident was how many people shrugged it off as a danger that cames with the territory of a Sikh-Muslim relationship. Gangs such as Chalvey Boys (mostly Muslim, based in Slough) and Shere Panjab (mostly Sikhs, based around Southall) clashed frequently during that era, sometimes over inter-religious relationships. Not much has changed since. Of course, inter-religious relationships have been frowned upon by many of both religious groups. But some Sikh groups insist on claiming that girls were being duped by Muslim men who merely wanted to convert them for money. Of course, their focus has always been on women as if men were too intelligent to fall victims to such ploys or it didnt matter if a Sikh man was dating a Muslim woman. In 2013 a documentary seemed to confirm their worst suspicions. A BBC1 investigation found cases of Sikh girls being groomed by Muslim men. The Sikh Awareness Society claimed it had been right all along. But this is disingenuous. In this case, young impressionable children were being groomed for sexual exploitation, not conversion to Islam. The men who perpetrated these crimes were not religious but sexual predators, targeting white and Muslim girls too. Their aims werent religious but to prey on girls regardless of their backgrounds. Worse, the abused girls in the BBC1 report were stigmatised by their families and other Sikhs. One victim was warned by her mother not to tell anyone; another was banished to the United States to recover. Mohan Singh from Sikh Awareness Society carelessly said: we know that a girl who is tarnished with this kind of thing would never get married anyway. Why not? Were they defiled property now? The shame and stigma perpetuated by Sikhs also applies to discussion about sexual abuse within Asian families. When Sikh women have raised or campaigned on these issues they have been shouted down or ignored, as if the subject wasnt worth discussing. This strain of xenophobia invents conspiracies about Muslims and casts a shadow of doubt on all Muslim men. Not only is it utterly patronising (are Sikh women so stupid they are so easily duped into conversion?), but it perpetuates the view that Muslims should be viewed with suspicion because they have bad intentions towards Sikh women. Meanwhile, of course, bad intentions of Sikh men are ignored. Religious intolerance is not far behind xenophobia. The controversy over Gurpreet Bhattis play Behzti (shame) in December 2005 was a significant marker of growing intolerance among British Sikhs. It featured a segment where a disabled woman is raped in a Sikh Gurdwara not acted out but as part of the story. Some Sikhs walked out of the play in protest, saying it should have been set in a community centre not a Gurdwara. It wasnt a slur on Sikhism and the writer refused to relent. Radical groups organised protests in front of the theatre until windows were broken and the police could not guarantee security. The play had to be shut down. The furore shocked many in the mainstream media who had earlier assumed Sikhs wouldnt do anything like the events around The Satanic Verses. But the parallels were there. Some wanted to sue the writer, herself a Sikh, for incitement of hatred against Sikhs; others started spreading baseless rumours about the play and the writer; there was the inevitable cry that people shouldnt be allowed to insult Sikhism (the play didnt). Of course, she got death threats too, but since the notion of Sikh extremism doesnt fit the media narrative there was little focus on that. Some claimed the play was inappropriate because women had never been raped in a Gurdwara. In one notable interview, when a Sikh woman called up BBC Radio 5Live debate to say she personally knew of one such incident, the Sikh leader on air dismissed her. I asked writer Sathnam Sanghera, who wrote the acclaimed family memoir The Boy with the Top Knot, whether he self-censors on issues regarding Sikhs. His book attracted criticism from people who claimed it was insulting the community, even though it was about his personal experiences. I definitely self-censor. I avoid discussing all religious issues and refuse all invites to speak at community events, although sometimes I would actually like to do so. Because as a community, we havent yet learned to talk about ourselves, and its just not worth the aggro that always results, he says. And adds: the Jewish people have had centuries of being able to analyse and even laugh at themselves. Muslims were forced to learn to discuss themselves as a result of The Satanic Verses. But the Sikh community has no real tradition, past or present, of self-examination the level of debate is either appalling or non-existent. Were at the stage where to even use the word Sikh as an adjective, a label, in the course of just describing ones life (as a secular Sikh), is to attract the allegation that you are somehow criticising the religion or community. Like many younger Muslims, there is a growing tendency among second and third generation Sikhs to adopt a puritanical version of their religion as their principal identity. Any challenge or criticism of their religion (as they see it) is therefore taken as a personal insult and they become willing to take action against it. The recent campaigns against inter-religious marriages is a good example. In 2012, a group of around forty Sikhs stormed an inter-religious marriage between a Sikh woman and her Christian fiancé, posting a video of the incident online as a warning to others. A BBC Asian Network documentary in 2013 found that some Sikhs had become afraid to speak out because of a continuing campaign of harassment and intimidation; people had their windows smashed and faced other forms of intimidation simply because they wanted a religious ceremony at a Gurdwara. Underneath the radar of the national media, such events have escalated. A group calling itself Karaj has repeatedly disrupted inter-religious weddings at Gurdwaras, claiming they go against Sikh tenets. On the weekend an outerfaith [sic] wedding where a Punjabi bimbo was marrying a non-Sikh (white Christian) was forcefully stopped by the Khalsa. Respect to these lads for standing up for whats right and standing up to a corrupt gurdwara committee, they boasted last year after one event. Such incidents prompted one group of self-appointed community leaders from the Sikh Council to release a set of guidelines in 2014 to further stamp out inter-religious marriages from Gurdwaras. Fundamentalists say a strict interpretation of the Rehat Maryada (a set of codes set out by scholars in 1950), which prohibits marriage between Sikhs and non-Sikhs at a religious ceremony, must be enforced. They would rather have Sikhs who marry non-Sikhs be driven out than be welcomed so perhaps their children may still grow up Sikhs. In effect, they would rather have more liberal and secular Sikhs ex-communicated than have the religion corrupted as they see it. Their thinking is that its better to have a community that closely follows a narrow interpretation of the religion than deal with a myriad of actions and opinions outside that. Due to the centralised nature of Sikh officialdom religious edicts are only meant to come from the central authority (Akal Takht) at the Golden Temple in Amritsar there is a growing cultural divide between conservatives and liberals. Religious leaders in India are not just opposed to inter-religious marriages but have also issued edicts against gay marriages and, until recently, banned menstruating women from helping inside the inner sanctum of the Golden Temple. The controversy over the film Nanak Shah Fakir in April 2015 perfectly illustrates this growing intolerance. The Indian-made film, a biography of the first Sikh Guru, Nanak Dev Ji, was abruptly taken off cinemas worldwide after Sikhs protested in the UK and in India. Mohan Singh, of the Sikh Awareness Society, told the BBC: The sister of Guru Nanak is played by a human being, and we are also led to believe that a human actor played the role of Guru Nanak Dev ji, and that is blasphemy and is one part of why Sikhs around the world are objecting. Lets leave aside the fact that Guru Nanak was a real human being who lived between 1469 and 1539, so it would be impossible to portray him as anything other than human. In fact a human actor didnt play him in the film: the director stated repeatedly that he was briefly illustrated with CGI as a person hidden mostly by a shining light. Sikhs have had illustrations of the ten Sikh Gurus in human form for hundreds of years, so to say it is blasphemous to depict him as human is absurd. Sikh leaders in India, who had earlier commissioned life-like paintings of the Sikh Gurus and signed off on the film, now claimed to crowds that such depictions in films were blasphemous. Meanwhile many British Sikhs were openly disappointed and angry that they were denied from seeing it. A conversation around Sikh extremism and its impact is urgent partly because the community is in the midst of a crisis. Sikh women do face considerable problems, but the uncomfortable truth is that they do so at the hands of Sikh, not Muslim men. The state of Punjab, where most Sikhs are based, is in a mess. Across India it has among the lowest ratios of women to men, due to a mixture of factors that include unusually high ratios of gender-selective abortion, infanticide, neglect of girls, rapes, and dowry related deaths. In 2009 an Action Aid report found there are areas in Punjab with just 300 women to 1000 men; the usual rate is around 1050 women to 1000 men. Parts of Punjab are referred to as kuri mar (girl killer) areas where its not unheard of families to dispose of unwanted baby girls by burying them alive in a pot in the ground. Punjab is also awash with alcoholism and drug abuse. Some call it a drug epidemic. Punjabi women are even trying to organise themselves against this but face a herculean task. In the UK, British Asian women are twice as likely to commit suicide as white women. There have been numerous cases of so-called honour killings of Sikh girls. When Jagdeesh Singhs sister was murdered by her in-laws for daring to seek a divorce, he told the Independent that he was shunned by Sikhs for wanting to talk about the issue. The so-called community leaders, the influential religious groups and the local language newspapers remain deafeningly silent when these killings happen. But that silence makes them just as guilty as the people who kill in the name of honour. Sathnam Sanghera says that when he wrote that Sikh Punjabis had one of the highest rates of alcoholism in the world, a problem that had claimed several members of his family, he was accused of insulting the Sikh religion. I asked Herpreet Kaur Grewal, a British writer and journalist, whether women were excluded from debates among Sikhs. I feel Sikhism is interpreted from a male perspective as so much of everything in our modern world is. I accept this but seek to change it by asking what it is that women think and put across? It is sometimes so easy to accept the often heard and loudest interpretation! It takes guts and muscle to really dig out new perspectives. Any debates are mostly addressed by male voices from the community. She adds: Having said all this I feel Sikh men are very open to the idea of equality between the sexes and listen when issues are brought up. Some are stuck in that old patriarchal, Punjabi way of thinking but they need to be reminded Punjabi does not necessarily mean Sikh. Since it inception, the Sikh community has been a minority community. As Sikhs started becoming a distinct and large community in the 1500s, they came under attack from the Mughals and Hindu rulers. Some Mughals admired them, such as emperors Humayun and Akbar, but a number of the Sikh Gurus were distrusted and attacked by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Even as Sikh numbers prospered and grew, they faced a constant threat from the British. During the partition of India, many Sikhs were resentful because there was little regard paid to Sikh autonomy, as promised by Mahatma Gandhi, despite their over-proportionate sacrifices to gain independence. Even the sole Sikh empire created by Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799 to 1849) was not a majority Sikh state. Currently 80 per cent of Sikhs live in the Indian state of Punjab, where they form just about two thirds of the population. In India, they are about 2 per cent of the population, but contribute over-proportionally to the army and police force. But, to the chagrin of some, Sikhs are frequently portrayed in films as objects of ridicule or as simpletons. Constantly protecting their identity and being a minority in every country has inevitably made Sikhs a very defensive community. There has always been a long-standing intolerance of religious diversity within the community for fear it would splinter and disintegrate. But it was the events of 1984 that cemented the defensive mentality and persuaded many Sikhs that they needed an independent homeland (Khalistan) to flourish. Subsequent campaigns focusing on justice for victims of the 1984 pogroms have been important, but the debate about Khalistan has frequently crowded out everything else. But heres the irony. Sikhs are heading for a schism precisely because of xenophobia and intolerance the two mechanisms they have adopted to keep the community intact. They have just not adjusted to being a globally dispersed minority community on a diverse and pluralistic planet. In other words, they havent yet addressed how to keep Sikhs within the fold even if members start to adapt to different lifestyles and cultures. Meanwhile, more secular and liberal Sikhs in the US and UK are not going to take orders from ultra conservative elements. They want to know why their co-religionists favour censorship over minor issues, or find it difficult to intellectually discuss controversial issues, or want to discriminate against gays, or reject non-Sikhs, or demand a theological state that could never survive the modern world. Inevitably, some will just move away from Sikhism and further shrink the community. Others will likely try and start their own movements, raising the prospect of a schism. There are plenty of parallels the split in the Anglican and Catholic churches over women Bishops is just one example. The Sikh community, in Britain as well as India, needs self-reflection. The Sikhs need to focus on internal problems which are not about religion or religious education, but a deeply entrenched culture of sexism, alcoholism and anti-intellectualism. The most ironic thing about Sikh extremists is how much their tactics, rhetoric and world-view mirrors that of the group they most claim to hate Muslim extremists. If Sikhs want to prosper and survive, they need an open and vigorous debate about how the most pressing challenges they face come from within, not outside. The defensive mentality that has suffocated important, intellectual debate has to come to an end, or else it could end up suffocating the Sikh community itself".