Sikhs and British multiculturalism


by Sunny
17th April, 2007 at 1:22 am    

Long before British Muslims became the new bogeymen, it was the Sikhs who tested the limits of multiculturalism and religious exemptions in public life here. In an interesting article for last month’s Catalyst magazine (by the CRE), Dr Gurharpal Singh briefly reviews their presence here:

At the height of domestic opposition to coloured immigration in the 1960s, there were two typical responses to the settlement of Sikhs in large numbers. The first, using language not too dissimilar from that currently being used in reference to British Muslims, questioned the possibility of Sikhs ever being able to integrate into British society. Writing about the initial Sikh settlement in Gravesend, John Gummer concluded that they were ‘strangers in a strange land and … intellectually and educationally ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of a modern civilisation’. Gummer subsequently became a cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative Party.

In their pioneering study of 1969, Colour and Citizenship: a Report on British Race Relations, Rose et al were more optimistic. For them, the trajectory of the Sikh community’s future development in Britain depended largely on ‘efforts by government and by local authorities … to help adolescents to remain within their own culture while feeling at home in the culture of their adopted country’. This analysis eventually informed the policy formation process on ‘race relations’ of the then Labour government, and one of its leading figures, Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, is credited with formulating the credo of British multiculturalism, not as ‘a flattening process of uniformity, but cultural diversity coupled with equality of opportunity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance’.

In the 50 years since Jenkins outlined his vision, British Sikhs have tested, if not expanded, the limits of this framework. Since the 1960s, successive campaigns over the right to wear turbans, beards and kirpans (small daggers carried by orthodox Sikhs) in public places and at work and schools have generated intense debates about the limits of public accommodation of Sikh demands.

The whole article is worth reading, for how the context is similar with British Muslims today and for what Dr Singh sees as the future for British Sikhs based on recent events.


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  1. soru — on 17th April, 2007 at 1:53 am  

    ‘the credo of British multiculturalism’

    The wierd thing about this debate is that, I think, what he actually said was ‘integration is not a flattening process of assimilation but equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance’.

    http://www.irr.org.uk/2006/may/ha000024.html

    Not only does everyone involved seem to use different words for the same thing, or the same words for different things, most people seem to react to any statement largely based on the words used, rather than their meaning.

  2. emmanuelgoldstein — on 17th April, 2007 at 6:21 am  

    Not only does everyone involved seem to use different words for the same thing, or the same words for different things, most people seem to react to any statement largely based on the words used, rather than their meaning

    …the meaning of a word is its use in the language. (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 43)

  3. steve — on 17th April, 2007 at 7:46 am  

    Why do all religious groups wish to bwe known as a religion first, then a country?

    Do you hear christians go I’m a christian, and british?

    Surely to create a better more modern world we need to do away with these false religious ideas.

    Why do people still need the emotional crutch of religion to, live…if I went around saying I live by the writings of Herge and pray to the great god TinTin who, occcasionally talks to me and lets me know that I still need to wear my Thompsonbowler to ensure I am pure then I’d diagnosed as schizphrenic or bi-polar.

  4. G. Tingey — on 17th April, 2007 at 8:55 am  

    I like the last post – anyone seen PZ Myers on “Planet of the Hats”?

    If not, see here ….
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/01/planet_of_the_hats.php

  5. soru — on 17th April, 2007 at 9:43 am  

    the meaning of a word is its use in the language

    If someone says ‘Look up!!’, and people pull out their google-phones, communication just failed, and probably everyone involved gets hit by a falling tree. Language use has a minimum of two people involved, the speaker and listener, and words that don’t match up across the two sides are not fit for purpose.

    Empiricaly, the words ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘integration’ are literally meaningless – they never communicate meaning.

    It seems to me they are a similar part of speech to ‘err’ or ‘innit’ – they fill a gap where a word would go, and perhaps tell you where they come from, what tribe the speaker is part of. They have no relevance to what they are actually saying, and probably standard journalist practise should be to leave them out of a speech or quotation, just as you would if the speaker had belched.

    Just say ‘british immigration policy post-1968′, or the ‘British-style multi-culture liberal integration model’ if you must reify it.

  6. kepler — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:20 am  

    Steve #3:

    I’ll never be able to look at an Orange Parade in the same way again …

  7. ChrisC — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:33 am  

    Is the context similar?
    Was there much Sikh terrorism?

  8. Kismet Hardy — on 17th April, 2007 at 11:04 am  

    “If someone says ‘Look up!!’, and people pull out their google-phones, communication just failed, and probably everyone involved gets hit by a falling tree”

    That’s just about the greatest thing I’ve ever read

  9. Sunny — on 17th April, 2007 at 12:15 pm  

    Was there much Sikh terrorism?

    There was in India around 1984. But that misses the point. British Muslims are engaging with the state to negotiate their opt-outs regardless of terrorism (and would be doing so anyway) as Sikhs did. So while terrorism is in the background, it is irrelevant to this debate as this is about expression of religion in the public space.

  10. ally — on 17th April, 2007 at 12:49 pm  

    steve — on 17th April, 2007 at 7:46 am
    “Why do all religious groups wish to bwe known as a religion first, then a country?”

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but that implies that you think they should be known by a country first… ie British first – then Christian, Sikh, whatever.

    That makes no more sense to me. When I ponder my own identity, I may well think of my politics, my race, my (lack of) religion; my sexuality; my family status and my preferred football team before I think of my nationality. And then it would be ‘anglo-Scot’ rather than ‘British’ (a label which I find largely meaningless.)

    We can construct our identities however we see fit. But I’d suggest that people who put their nationality before everything else have tended to cause just as much trouble in the world as those who put their religion before all.

  11. Soso — on 17th April, 2007 at 3:31 pm  

    The analogy between the sikh and Muslim experiences can only be carried so far.

    Sikhism has, at most, about 40,000,000 adherents worldwide. Sikhs generally eschew proslytisation and rarely make attempts to impose their values on others.

    Islam has more than a billion followers, many of whom agressively seek convert among the marginal in the hopes of exploiting their resentment to further the cause.

    Sikhism has no plans for world domination, whereas Islam states clearly that that is its aim is to subjugate the entire world.

    The Sikh community has committed acts of terrorism, but even here there is a difference as well. Indira Ghandi was killed in ’84 by her bodyguards and an Air India flight from Vancouver Canada was blown up off the coast of Ireland.

    Both of these attacks, unlike the atrocities carried out by jihadists, were not random in nature and targeted politicians or a particular country; India. They were acts of madness, to be sure, and innocent people (as in the case of the Air India jet) were killed, but there was at least SOME logic behind who/what was targeted.

    You know, there’s a world of difference between assasinating a standing prime-minister for her refusal to acknowledge an independant Khalistan and blowing away innocent and unsuspecting women and children shopping in a Baghdad market for vegetables.

    The scope of Sikh terror attacks tends to be narrow, “rational” and targeted, whereas the atrocites committed by jihadists the world over are rather more arbitrary, scattershot eruptions of blind rage and hatred.

    We shouldn’t ignore that difference.

  12. Sunny — on 17th April, 2007 at 3:46 pm  

    AllyF – good point.

    Soso – No one is saying Sikhs and Muslims are the same. I’m talking about particular contexts.

    but there was at least SOME logic behind who/what was targeted.

    What logic would that be exactly?

    The scope of Sikh terror attacks tends to be narrow, “rational” and targeted,

    So you clearly don’t know much about Sikh seperatism politics in Punjab.
    Anyway, Gandhi’s assassination was less to do with Khalistan and more to do with retaliation for her invasion of the Golden Temple.

    You seem to have double standards though. Should people be ‘retaliating’ to attacks on them or not? And why are you justifying the fact that over 300 innocent people died in the Air India flight as ‘targetted’?

    Typical muddled and hypocritical response.

  13. steve — on 17th April, 2007 at 4:01 pm  

    Ally

    My aim was not to say we should put our nationality first, I don’t. I just consider myself a human being who on the whole dispairs of those who wish to label us into easy to manage groups. Why do we accept this sectioning of our society?

    Why do we allow religious leaders, an oxymoron if ever there was one, to give us guidance on a nationwide scale.
    I want a government who, when I need help to be there, and when I don’t to go away and leave me alone. I want to be able to live how I want, be able to say what I like as long as I acknowledge that no speech is totally free.

    I was brought up on a council estate on which the aim of kids in the 80s was to rob and thieve and live off the state. I didn’t want that and got myself, by education, out of the trap.

    Why now, 20 years later are we still in the same position?

    Anyway, back to the subject in hand.

    Organised religion in all its forms is utter madness. If people want personal spirituality and faith, fine, but please do not try to impose your ideas onto me and mine. Why are vicars, rabbis, clerics held in reverence when a social worker, someone trained to do the job is looked at as strange and wierd.

    This world needs to seperate religion from state and public life. Make it a personal faith.

  14. Soso — on 17th April, 2007 at 4:11 pm  

    Sunny, every time I comment you trash me.

    So I’m muddled am I?

    I simply wanted to point out that Sikh terror attacks have a certain method to their madness; the targets are often, though not always, political in nature.

    I think that a parallel can be drawn between 70S Red Brigade tactics and those used by Sikh extremists.

    The Red Brigades generally targeted ( apart from that Bologna train station) corporate executives or political figures; they did not kill just to kill.

    Likewise, I doubt very much if Sikhs invoke Guru Nanak the way Muslims evoke Allah when committing attacks.

    The techniques may be similar, but there’s quite a difference in terms of motivation.

    I see nothing muddled in those observations.

  15. Sunny — on 17th April, 2007 at 4:53 pm  

    I simply wanted to point out that Sikh terror attacks have a certain method to their madness; the targets are often, though not always, political in nature.

    I’m only trashing the argument you make, not you as a person.

    I don’t know what ‘methods to their madness’ you’re referring to here… it certainly comes across as patronising. I’ve never really supported an independent Sikh state and the people who blew up the AI flight were definitely terrorists who needed to be fried. As I believe should apply to any terrorist. I don’t condone attacks on innocent people by states or groups whatever cause they’re fighting for. I don’t see you doing the same… you’re just making excuses so you could show how one group was better than the other.

    I think terrorists are pretty much all the same… whether they use the words ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘Raj Karega Khalsa’ as their slogans (look it up).

  16. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:02 pm  

    Sunny, I don’t think that’s what Soso is trying to say at all. He’s pointing out that Khalistan terrorism was more analogous with, say, the IRA, or the Irgun organisation, in that their terrorism was aligned to a narrow sectarian ethno-nationalistic form of politics.

  17. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:03 pm  

    Gurharpal Singh’s book is excellent — essential reading for all British Sikhs — get it from Amazon, folks.

  18. Sunny — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:13 pm  

    He’s pointing out that Khalistan terrorism was more analogous with, say, the IRA, or the Irgun organisation, in that their terrorism was aligned to a narrow sectarian ethno-nationalistic form of politics.

    I’m not sure what the implication here is? Sikhs or Irish terrorists are better because they focus on specific targets… but Al-Qaeda terrorists are worse because they hate everyone non-Muslim?

    The idea that the Al-Qaeda lot are going to take over the world and convert everyone to Islam is a pipedream that only paranoid people take seriously. These people have a bunch of stingers and C4 to their name. They’re not going to take over squat, in the same way the traditional Khalistanis are unlikely to get their pipedream. Why should I take it seriously?

  19. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:20 pm  

    Sunny the implication is a discussion of a subject and the framing of a phenomenon. Credit those who make an argument with more nouse than a playground facility to rank in hierarchy that one ‘form’ of terrorism is less evil or better than another — if that is Soso’s belief than he should make it clear, if you’re accusing him of that, but I don’t take that from his post.

  20. raz — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:28 pm  

    The 329 victims (82 of them children) of Air India Flight 182:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/airindia/victims.html

    Sickening. Despicable. Evil. No-one can ever try to justify such an barbaric assault on innocent human beings.

  21. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:35 pm  

    Who was Raz?

  22. Sunny — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:37 pm  

    if that is Soso’s belief than he should make it clear, if you’re accusing him of that, but I don’t take that from his post.

    I’m accusing him of not knowing much of the conflict.

    He says most of those attacked were military targets, but that is rubbish. He says Gandhi was killed because she didn’t grant Khalistan, but she was assassinated because she invaded Harminder Sahib.

    He says Sikhs do not invoke the name of Guru Nanak when killing, but that is an irrelevant point. What if they say ‘Raaj Karega Khalsa’? Does that make them worse or better?

    He also said Sikh attacks were “rational” and targeted – I ask how exactly that was.

    If any point is to be taken seriously, it should be informed….. or no?

  23. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:43 pm  

    Soso, speak up.

  24. Sid Love — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:45 pm  

    Soso’s an LGF tit.

  25. raz — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:48 pm  

    Agreed, Sid, which makes me think he won’t last long here on PP.

  26. Sid Love — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:54 pm  

    No no, we must keep him and his kind here, lest PP become a echo chamber. This would spell the death of debate on PP.

  27. douglas clark — on 17th April, 2007 at 6:29 pm  

    I don’t know enough about the incidents in Asia to comment, but the IRA bombing campaigns were pretty indiscriminate, we still don’t know for sure even who was behind Lockerbie, etc, etc. To use the Red Brigade as an example and excuse the Bologna Station Bombing where 85 people died, defies comprehension.

    I think terrorists may start with a political agenda, become radicalised and then become inhuman. For those of us who are not terrorists it is important, is it not, to argue forcibly that these outrages should not influence our decision making. Lest we become completely divorced from deciding things in a peaceable fashion. You couldn’t, for instance, surrender to left wing violence and right wing violence at the same time.

  28. Eremos — on 17th April, 2007 at 6:34 pm  

    A lot of the comments about “Muslims” and “Islam” could function exactly the same if we replaced them with a South Asian identity of your choice. Does that mean we are actually talking more about disaffected Asians, rather than Muslims?

    A lot of the comments in the Catalyst argue ring true for the UK based Bangladeshi community. What we are seeing is an urban, educated set which is integrated into mainstream UK society, working in the professions and generally getting on things. Then we have a less educated set which blames their lack of education, status, identity, etc on the “west”, “racism” and so on. It is this set which is becoming increasingly radicalisation.

    What most commentators don’t seem to be picking up on is that if you subscribe to a “jihadist” mentality for wont of a better phrase (and with it all the media connatations), then the radicalised Muslims are in fact at war with the liberal Muslims as well. It not a case of them versus us, but everyone versus us.

  29. limpia — on 18th April, 2007 at 1:33 am  

    The idea that the Al-Qaeda lot are going to take over the world and convert everyone to Islam is a pipedream that only paranoid people take seriously—I don’t think only paranoid people take this seriously. It reflects motivation which as soso seems to point out is more far ranging.

  30. TheFriendlyInfidel — on 18th April, 2007 at 1:15 pm  

    I’m not sure what the implication here is? Sikhs or Irish terrorists are better because they focus on specific targets… but Al-Qaeda terrorists are worse because they hate everyone non-Muslim?

    Well Irish terrorists used to phone in a warning and attempted to cause disruption rather than mass murder. In my books that does make them better than our Al-Qaeda fruit loops. The IRA political ends where not tied up in religion, the religion appears to be fairly incidental. Both group lay claim to land, although Al-Qaeda lay claim to all of Spain for instance.

    So with the IRA there is a point at which you can start a dicussion; their political aims that are not religous, their objectives are rational and obtainable.

    For these these reasons I would agree that the IRA are a far more rational, reasonable foe than Al Qaeda.

    Lastly it should not be ignored that where ever there is Islamist terrorism the cries of “Al Arkbar” can be heard, this clearly demonstrates that there is a religous element to suck attacks that it is heavily tied up with matters of faith as much as politics.

    TFI

  31. TheFriendlyInfidel — on 18th April, 2007 at 1:21 pm  

    but Al-Qaeda terrorists are worse because they hate everyone non-Muslim?

    I meant to also state that they appear to hate a great deal of Muslims to, for instance all the ones “seduced by the West”, or by their loonicidal standards, “not Muslim enough”.

    The IRA had Sein Fein, what did \ do the Sikhs have? That could be considered to be the Al-Qaeda equivalant?

    TFI

  32. Soso — on 18th April, 2007 at 4:08 pm  

    Sunny, I’m just pointing out that Sikh terrorism TENDS to revolve around stated political goals. It is focused on concrete objectives and its scope, thus, less scattershot than the islamic variety.

    Does that make it better? No, it doesn’t.

    But it does make anticipating
    WHO and/or WHAT will be targeted a little easier.

    The appetites of Sikh terrorists are perhaps a little less omnivorous, if you like, than those of some other religions.

    I’m neither defending nor apologising; I,m merely pointing out a difference that if properly exploited by the authroities could save lives.

  33. sara ahmed — on 18th April, 2007 at 5:13 pm  

    Soso – I can completely understand your argument and did not misconstrue it as Sunny seems to have.

    Sunny – I can see that you are incredibly convinced of your arguments and understanding of Sikhism and the politics and ‘terrorism’ that have influenced a people. However, you have to be able to consider that other people may have a grasp of certain issues within Sikhism that you don’t. I have read many of your posts, and you come across as having all the answers to the many questions that Sikhs have about their past and their present. So perhaps you can give readers a break and be open-minded. A Sikh is a learner, so perhaps you can learn something from these discussions rather than portraying yourself as an expert.

    Terrorism should not be tolerated in any form – however, I don’t believe terrorism (or murder) comes in one particular form. To understand a people and their actions, we must understand the context of such acts. In that way, Sikhs and Muslims are distinguishable.

  34. Roger — on 18th April, 2007 at 6:42 pm  

    How far have Sikhs ‘integrated into British society’ by ceasing to be sikhs or ceasing to be noticeably sikhs? Most of the sikhs I know have abandoned the kesh, the kanga and turbans.

  35. Sunny — on 18th April, 2007 at 9:46 pm  

    So perhaps you can give readers a break and be open-minded.

    Hi Sara – I’m open-minded to people who make valid points. If someone is trying to pretend they know something about an issue, and winging it by making bizarre statements, then I pull them up on that.

    Soso – nice attempt at justification but I’m sorru I don’t know you know much about the conflict or what the Indian govt actually did to ‘deal with the issue’. In fact the Indian govt has always been way more brutal towards Sikhs and killing off seperatism than any western govt has been towards Muslims.

  36. Monica — on 30th April, 2007 at 8:46 pm  

    What I find really interesting is how much the Sikhs had a part to play when fighting for this country in WW1 and WW2. Let alone in the Opium wars in China. Sikhs were allowed to fight for this country with their turbans and other religious paraphenalia but when we first settled here that was all forgotten. Most sikhs have cut their hair to fit in and integrate but thats their choice. My own family moved to Singapore and lived under the Japanese occupation during WW2 before settling here. So we’ve had more experience than most of immigration but it isn’t the typical Sikh experience even though we grew up in Hounslow! From my own experience I find Sikhs who immigrated directly from Punjab without much education to the UK tend to cling onto more old fashioned views about women and how they should behave. I just have to look at my mother-in-law and my sister in laws families for proof.

  37. Sunny — on 30th April, 2007 at 10:06 pm  

    Ain’t that the truth Monica (agree with all of what you said).

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