Sikhs and British multiculturalism (pt 2)


by Sunny
17th April, 2007 at 1:55 pm    

sikh manThe British Sikh experience is closer to the British Muslim experience than most people think or even acknowledge. Dr Gurharpal Singh’s article below illustrated how the fight over religious exemptions started with the former decades ago. This negotiation for exemptions is not the death-knell of secularism but should be part of any society’s committment to tolerance and respect. It applied to Jews before them and so on. The line isn’t clearly defined of course – it has to be negotiated and deliberated in each case. For example I’d support exemptions for halal food or turbans but not different criminal laws for groups on the basis of race or faith.

But the similarity between Sikhs and Muslims also extends to the inter-generational tension between younger British-born offspring and the older generation born back in the sub-continent. In a follow-up article to Dr Singh’s, I’ve also written a short piece for Catalyst magazine on the parallels between ‘youngsters’ of these two faiths in contemporary Britain.

But the more religious youngsters are increasingly on a path of conflict with the older generation because the latter are seen as unconcerned about such issues. Management committees are notoriously opaque and difficult to engage with, and are frequently prone to allegations of corruption or other wrong-doing.

This inter-generational tension is further exacerbated by the lack of open media platforms to foster debate and tackle relevant issues. Here too, there is an unwillingness to push the boundaries of free speech within the community. When someone then raises a taboo issue in the mainstream media, as Gurpreet Bhatti did with her play Behzti, there is an instinctive defensive reaction that ‘dirty laundry’ must not be aired in public.


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  1. Muslim and Sikh Youth in Britain « The Blog and the Bullet

    [...] Jack Stephens on April 17th, 2007 In part 2 of a piece on Muslim and Sikh multiculturalism Sunny writes: The British Sikh experience is closer to the British Muslim experience than most people think or [...]




  1. sonia — on 17th April, 2007 at 2:06 pm  

    what about British hindu ‘youngsters’?

  2. sonia — on 17th April, 2007 at 3:21 pm  

    Interesting. so judging from your article in the catalyst magazine, does it indicate Sunny that you are one of the more ‘religious youngsters’ clashing with the ‘elders’?

  3. Sunny — on 17th April, 2007 at 3:26 pm  

    that you are one of the more ‘religious youngsters’ clashing with the ‘elders’?

    Not really. I’m of the liberal side that doesn’t care who controls the Gurudwaras.

    Hindu youngsters are different. As a (Sikh) friend said to me recently: while Muslim and Sikh elders are afraid of their young, the Hindus try to envelop and engage them completely.

    My view is, this happens because in Sikh and Muslim families the elders are more about preserving culture than learning about religion. The ‘religious youngsters’ are the opposite. Whereas in Hinduism there is a much stronger correlation between culture and religion so the elders are not afraid of engaging the youth.

  4. Sid Love — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:03 pm  

    It’s called the Babu Syndrome. ;-)

  5. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 5:06 pm  

    Sunny, to be honest, I think we need a deeper appreciation of trends amongst British Hindus than just your mates conjecture if we are to make a point of comparison on that issue — given the rise of RSS affiliated organisations and the MF Husain protests there is a certain level of confluence of experience.

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

    Not really. I’m of the liberal side that doesn’t care who controls the Gurudwaras.

    The control of Gurudwaras will change as the generations change — but you will also always have a range of commitees in control — from the ultra orthodox to the most progressive and charitable.

    By the way Sunny, if you don’t care about the gurdwaras, what do you care about? Surely to write about something you have to care for it, dont you?

  7. Eremos — on 17th April, 2007 at 6:40 pm  

    Sunny, you’re right about Muslim elders trying to preserve the culture and not the religion. I used to constantly have to argue with people about what was cultural and what was religious.

    What most Muslims don’t seem to understand is that you can have different “flavours” of Islam that can coincide with your culture. For instance, Egyptian Muslims can happily pray and fast, as well as celebrate their Pharaonic past. South Asian Muslims, on the other hand, seem to want to prove their pedigree by eliminating their original culture and adopt an Arabian, Persian or Turkic lineage.

  8. Ms_Xtreme — on 17th April, 2007 at 7:49 pm  

    Sikh and Muslim families the elders are more about preserving culture than learning about religion.

    Spot on mate.

    South Asian Muslims, on the other hand, seem to want to prove their pedigree by eliminating their original culture and adopt an Arabian, Persian or Turkic lineage.

    And I support it. I’m a Pakistani, most of the cultural traditions are ones that were carried over from the Indians. I’m all for trading some of those traditions in for something that suits us better according to the religion.

    The culture is holding back the Islam in that country, in my opinion.

  9. Eremos — on 17th April, 2007 at 7:58 pm  

    Ms_Extreme, I’m Bengali so I have even more Indian traditions.

    Care to elaborate more on which traditions would better suit the religion.

  10. Kulvinder — on 17th April, 2007 at 8:56 pm  

    And I support it. I’m a Pakistani, most of the cultural traditions are ones that were carried over from the Indians.

    Out of curiosity, like what?

  11. sonia — on 17th April, 2007 at 9:19 pm  

    “South Asian Muslims, on the other hand, seem to want to prove their pedigree by eliminating their original culture and adopt an Arabian, Persian or Turkic lineage.”

    i know eremos. it’s gotten to the stage now for example that for when choosing a name for a child, a bengali name is often considered no good, it must come out of the book of ‘islamic’ names most of which are arabic.
    traditional bengali names are not good enough anymore – they’re too ‘hindu’!?

    ridiculous

  12. sonia — on 17th April, 2007 at 9:23 pm  

    there may not be a clash between culture and religion for hindus as those things may be perceived one and the same but i don’t believe for a moment young hindu kids might not be having ‘issues’ with their elders. surely that’s too simplistic. elders ‘engaging’ with youth? huh are we talking about indian folk here? last time i looked indian parents – whether sikh, muslim or hindu – treat their younger generations in much the similar sort of ways.

  13. Ms_Xtreme — on 17th April, 2007 at 9:43 pm  

    A lot of them. Like clothing, marriage rituals/traditions, foods we eat. I guess these aren’t really things that stop Muslims from being Muslim, but they’re not really Islamic. For example, some of the fashion right now is mimicking that of India, like the short/no sleeves on dresses. See-through bottoms to a certain length.

    Islamically that’s not the attire that should be worn. Then again, I’m not for forcing change on anyone either.

  14. Eremos — on 17th April, 2007 at 9:56 pm  

    Sonia- I know what you mean about dropping some of the cultural stuff for something arguably more “Islamic”. Sometimes you need to think about where you can draw the line. Otherwise you can become the “colonised” Muslims that Naipaul mistakenly drones on about.

    Ms_Extreme- hope you didn’t mind me asking. I’m in both camps when it comes to issues like this. If I were pressed to label myself it would be a Muslim liberal, but I can see why some people get annoyed about certain things re:clothing.

    Anyway coming back to the original topic- does anyone think that the intergenerational conflicts are making the second generation more radical as they can sometimes make second generation Muslims?

  15. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:07 pm  

    How can eating Indian food prevent you from being ‘Islamic’?

  16. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:14 pm  

    To be honest Eremos, the article can obscure as much as it illuminates after a certain point. Whilst on the surface there may be confluences between the experiences, there are also different dynamics at play, and it rather simplifies to reduce the story of the acculturation of British Sikhs in the second and third generation to a ‘generation gap’ played out in stuggles over the direction of gurdwaras. Some gurdwaras ARE responsive to the youth, some arent. Some young Sikhs do take refuge in an orthodox lifestyle, the majority don’t, some enter the bhangra and asian underground music scenes, some do this and some do that.

    I would say, read Gurharpal Singh’s excellent article linked in the post underneath this one for a good, balanced insight into the issues.

  17. Ms_Xtreme — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:17 pm  

    does anyone think that the intergenerational conflicts are making the second generation more radical as they can sometimes make second generation Muslims

    Yes. I reckon all the prior generations were seen as being radicals to the generations before that too though. Circle of life perhaps?

  18. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:22 pm  

    Ms_Xtreme — do you think that shalwaar kameez and saris, Punjabi poetry of Waaris Shah, traditional art forms like Mughal style figurative painting, folk music, dance forms, all of these things that are shared cultural inheritances and manifestations of India and Pakistan, do you think there is something wrong with these things, or that they are insidious to being a Muslim? If so, why? I’m not that bothered, to be honest, if Pakistanis disown their cultural heritage because they feel it is tainted by association with India, but I am curious, in an anthropological way, as to why they feel that self-loathing.

  19. Ms_Xtreme — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:33 pm  

    No not at all Jagdeep. That’s not where I was getting. I meant more things like the clothing thing I mentioned. I guess I’m nitpicking somewhat. A lot of times, it’s a culture vs. religion debate for me. One of my mates just started wearing the traditional Islamic attire and get a lot of grief from her Shalwar Kameez wearing family for it.

    My father was a part of Indian Punjab before the partition happened. A lot of those traditions were carried over. For instance, my great grandfather used to have a habit of drinking Bhang (?), which was of course part of the Punjabi culture at the time. But is completely against Islam.

    Trust me, I’m not nearly as religious as I’d like to be. So I shouldn’t even be speaking about this. But I’m just saying that Culture DOES influence Religion.

    So the article Sunny put up, of course we’re going to become more radical, our parents grew up back home, we’re here in the UK, our kids will be radicals also, who’ll move where ever they please and adopt the culture of that country.

  20. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:45 pm  

    Interesting — thanks. Of course, drinking bhang or daroo is a Punjabi thing, but there is nothing particularly uniquely Indian or Punjabi about imbibing intoxicants, so it still doesnt make sense, outside of a search for purity and an easily identifiable imperfection against which to react and reduce the self.

  21. Eremos — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:49 pm  

    Thanks for the tip about Gurharpal Singh, Jagdeep. Most of my Sikh friends are more into the culture than the religion, so it is an eye opener for me.

  22. Jagdeep — on 17th April, 2007 at 10:54 pm  

    Well Eremos, in the last few years there has opened up a debate on the culture and religion dichotomy, with more religious inclined youths saying that Sikh identity should be oriented more towards faith practice than the traditional ‘secularised’, easy going, liassez faire Sikh identity that is the norm, the pub and bhangra British-Punjabi cultural identity, as it were. Do check out Gurharpal’s essay, he touches on this, and you will I’m sure find food for thought to relate to your own Bengali experience on several points and possible future trends.

  23. bananabrain — on 18th April, 2007 at 1:33 pm  

    i wouldn’t give much of a chance of ghazals or qawwali surviving under those kinds of puritanical circumstance – not when the really religious muslims of the younger generation maintain that the only sort of music that is allowed is religious singing, unaccompanied except by a daf (frame drum) – i mean, miserable, or what? not that i don’t like vocal-percussion singing, but are they seriously suggesting banning the qanun? the ney? the shawm? the dumbek? the ‘oud? so much for the millennia-old musical traditions of the middle east, then.

    b’shalom

    bananabrain

  24. fugstar — on 18th April, 2007 at 4:34 pm  

    theres clashing with elders

    theres bowing to elders

    there is avoiding elders

    and theres cooperating with elders.

    i find the last category most interesting, though i can see how dominant interest is in the first category.

    Sunny, from the sikhs in britain, to your knowledge would you say the last category is the biggest?

  25. Sunny — on 18th April, 2007 at 9:24 pm  

    Sunny, from the sikhs in britain, to your knowledge would you say the last category is the biggest?

    I think it depends on the context, as it does with many things. In many areas the youngsters work with or avoid elders. In some NGOs or charity work I’m sure they work together. I don’t have a problem with ‘the elders’ per se. But the context here is control and the direction of religious institutions, and I see a lot of conflict around that.

    In fact most Sikh political institutions in the UK are pretty immature and lame, primarily because there hasn’t been the need for them to grow up and there hasn’t been a spotlight on them. Most of them are one-man-bands. Hence there is a fair bit of conflict around their purpose. The student organisations for example, like BOSS, are compltely dominated by middle-aged power-hungry ideologues more interested in Khalistan and other stupid activity than looking at the interest of British Sikhs.

  26. Sunny — on 18th April, 2007 at 9:39 pm  

    By the way Sunny, if you don’t care about the gurdwaras, what do you care about? Surely to write about something you have to care for it, dont you?

    I care for the development of British Sikhs… and within that there is the issue of what part Gurudwaras play. Also, my brother and his friends have been quite closely involved in these issues so I have an insight that way too. Some of my family have been involved in Gurudwara politics for years. My grandfather was part of the group who set up the first Gurudwara in Britain at Shepherds Bush.

    Incidentally, I didn’t agree with all of Dr Singh’s views, although I like the article. I don’t think most British-born Sikhs are liberal and progressive, as I’ve met many who have become even more orthodox than their parents.

  27. curious? — on 7th May, 2007 at 10:36 pm  

    ‘The student organisations for example, like BOSS, are compltely dominated by middle-aged power-hungry ideologues more interested in Khalistan and other stupid activity than looking at the interest of British Sikhs.’

    Where do you get your lame information from sunny. The BOSS (network) has done more for young Sikhs than most can imagine.

  28. Naxal 1849 — on 7th May, 2007 at 11:09 pm  

    Curious?

    Sunny hasn’t really got a clue when it comes to Sikh affairs in the UK. He just pretends to be some sort of messiah and whenever anyone disagrees with him he shouts them down and threatens to ban them.

    BOSS, who are now controlled by people pledging allegiance to the Damdami Taksal, have indeed had a positive effect on much of Sikh youth in Universities.

  29. Sunny — on 7th May, 2007 at 11:14 pm  

    The BOSS (network) has done more for young Sikhs than most can imagine.

    How?

  30. Anas — on 8th May, 2007 at 1:07 am  

    I bet Bruce Springsteen, the real BOSS, has had more of an effect on the Sikh youth with his tales of working class American life.

  31. curious? — on 11th May, 2007 at 12:10 pm  

    How?

    Why not LOOK at the history or Sikh youth events that have taken place across gurdwaras, uni campuses, etc over the last 10-12 years and you’ll see the name BOSS over and over again.
    Alot of people have been involved in sewa with BOSS but like to keep it gupt.
    In fact BOSS, despite being funded from daswandh and without support from gurdwaras have continued to support the youth. Unfortunately the impact could be greater if there was more support.

    Please don’t spread misinformation from hear/say and stick to the facts.

  32. neva4got84 — on 11th May, 2007 at 4:29 pm  

    It seems to me that those who are anti Khalistani (I.E. Sunny) have issues with particular members of the Sikh political groups, such as the Sikh Federation; and are geared towards denouncing them for what they perceive them to be as opposed to considering what the organisations stands for. Don’t get me wrong I’m no baptised Gur-Sikh, but I do understand and agree with the fact that if we can’t promote Sikhi and the Khalsa Panth via actually following the Guru’s word then how can we every expect our children and their children to keep the faith (Bon Jovi pun not intended!). Sunny your article questions who the Gurdwara committee’s represent? Well how about the thousands of people that elect them in the first place. It’s all too easy to sit back and make critical passing comments, but I don’t think it is fair to question the motives of legitimate Sikh groups. The one problem we have as a faith group is that there are so many fractions fighting amongst each other the bigger picture is missed. The formation of Khalistan is not about pride it’s about safety and belonging. The human rights violation in Punjab is atrocious; check Amnesty International reports. As a British Sikh it is my duty to stand up for social injustice and to act. Since and probably before the 1984 blue star massacre the Indian govt have had an agenda to ethnically cleanse Punjab. So lets stop trying to change the meaning of Sikhi for the sake of our conscious and an easy life. Instead we should be putting our efforts into achieving equality and social justice for all (wherever it be UK, India etc) and not trying to undermine each other.

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