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  • Mistaken Identity - Sikhs under siege?


    by Sunny
    6th September, 2005 at 2:38 am    

    The Guardian published an interesting article yesterday about the strain felt by non-Muslim Asians since the London bombings. While all the focus has been on Muslims since, attacks on Hindus and Sikhs have apparently been forgotten.

    I’m a bit disappointed by the article though, since it concentrates more on the growing chasm between Sikhs and Hindus on one side - Muslims on the other, rather than attacks on the former. Typically it has ‘religious leaders’ grinding their own axes.

    In the weeks following July 7 it was widely reported that hate crimes against Asians had increased dramatically. They were not just attacks on Muslim Asians, of course: they were attacks on Asians of all faiths. The fact is that your average hate-crime perpetrator isn’t going to stop and ask what religion you are before attacking you - or even care, for that matter, about such distinctions. But this point seems to have been lost on the media. There’s been a huge focus on the impact on Britain’s Muslim community, but the plight of Britain’s 560,000 Hindus and 340,000 Sikhs has been largely ignored.

    To start with, the debate on whether these t-shirts or bags with the logo are right is not a new one. We had this furious debate already on Barfi Culture. It surfaced after 9/11 too when Sikhs held a vigil outside the American embassy in London (incl. my brother I’m ashamed to say) with t-shirts saying ‘Sikhs are not Muslims’.

    As IRR’s Arun Kundnani points out here, there has been a long traditional of manipulation by certain organisations in the Asian community to pit each against the other.

    In January 2002, Sunrise Radio - Britain’s ‘leading Asian radio station’ - took the bizarre step of banning the word ‘Asian’. This was the culmination of a long campaign by groups such as the UK branch of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) that want to dissociate themselves from Muslims in the public mind by dropping the secular term ‘Asian’.

    Sunrise eventually re-instated the term Asian… thank God.

    The Guardian article gives example of increased racism felt by Sikhs and Hindus since 7/7 too. Such incidents are bound to happen of course, bigots will always be bigots.

    Tariq Modood, professor of sociology at Bristol University, says it’s understandable that Sikhs and Hindus should attempt to distance themselves from Muslims. “If a group has bad press or is seen as likely to drag you down in terms of your social status or the way you are perceived by the rest of society, then you want to distance yourselves from that group,” he says. “At the moment, Muslims are certainly playing that role for other south Asians.” Does he blame non-Muslims for backing away from Muslims? “Their motives are not good, they’re selfish, but on the whole … I don’t deplore it, I regret it.”

    And it is regrettable. As I’ve argued before, trying to push the bigots away from you towards Muslims is cowardly. There isn’t any other word for it really. What are you going to do when confronted by 3 youths? Point to a hijab-wearing woman and tell them to attack her?

    In any case, Sikh philosophy was always supposed to be about Sikhs protecting all the opressed - not just their own. Where are the values of the Khalsa gone?

    Until the 1980s, Asians organised collectively, with groups such as the Bradford Asian Youth Movement cutting across religious divisions. All this came to an end with the Salman Rushdie affair and the subsequent development of a distinct British Muslim identity.

    It isn’t just a Muslim identity that has grown. Young British Asians who face uncertainty about their identity, and don’t want to associate too closely with Britishness - start identifying themselves by their religion. The culture is too far away to hang on to. This phenomena has grown right across the board with Punjabi Sikhs and Gujarati Hindus too.

    Where the immigrant generation saw a common tie to south Asia, these young Britons focus on religious differences, and often get their information from extremist sources. “They have no access to their history, no appreciation of their culture, so instead they embrace a very crude form of identity politics.”

    Unsurprisingly, the VHP and Sikh Federation are there to emphasise differences. Shame on you Guardian.

    Ballard believes that this is as true of young Sikhs and Hindus as it is of Muslims. For example, he is concerned by how the ultra-nationalist VHP (World Hindu Council) is exploiting the London bombings to gain support, particularly among young Gujaratis. “Its line is, ‘We Hindus are entirely different from Muslims. We’ve been victims of terrorism by Muslims and we stand shoulder to shoulder with the Brits.’”

    It’s time we progressive British Asians started emphasising our commonalities instead of differences.


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    3 Comments below   |  

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    1. Jay Singh — on 6th September, 2005 at 12:10 pm  

      Sunny

      I agree with most of what you say - except your invocation of ‘shame’ for the Guardian reporting these issues and tensions - why? Unless you uncover the tensions you are not going to be aware of them or treat the causes of them.

    2. Jay Singh — on 6th September, 2005 at 12:19 pm  

      I also think that Sikh and Hindu communalism in Britain is to a large extent reactive - we are at the stage now when greater society does not really give a damn about Hindus or Sikhs and they feel marginalised to a certain degree - the engine for this has been the increasing use of religion the primary mark of identity-politics in Britain - and I have to say that this has come primarily from the Muslim community in the last ten or fifteen years, something that is not politically correct to mention but is true.

    3. Luniversal — on 7th September, 2005 at 5:44 pm  

      (1) It’s ‘siege’.

      (2) For pity’s sake don’t join in the ghastly Jewy habit of shouting ‘shame on you’ at everyone you disagree with. It impresses nobody. Just state your case.

      (3) If you’re *really* British you’re not ‘British Asians’ or any other damn thing. But how can someone with a brown face ever be purely and simply British? Race is biology, not choice, and Britain is one of the most monoracial nation states in the world- or was until c. 1950. The only way Asians will become British is by several generations of miscegenation.

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