How religion and race meet to create havoc


by Sunny
26th June, 2009 at 9:12 am    

In 2005 I was invited to a discussion on BBC Asian Network when some Sikh groups were running a campaign to shut down the play Behzti. Of course, I was for the play carrying on. Anyway the Sikh Human Rights Commission wanted to sue the writer Gurpreet Bhatti for racial discrimination against Sikhs because of its content. She was Sikh herself. The stupid idea never went anywhere, thankfully.

I’m reminded of that again in yesterday’s ruling that a school discriminated against a Jewish boy on racial grounds, even though the school contends they didn’t allow him in on religious grounds (they said his mother wasn’t proper Jewish, and therefore he wasn’t).

As it is I have a problem with bodies officially sanctioning who can claim to be part of a religion. But more importantly this case lays bare the complex relationship between race and religion which I’ve repeatedly mentioned on PP. See, only Sikhs and Jews are defined as a race under the Race Relations Act for historical reasons. Those reasons may have been important then but they’ve become redundant now and this case says two things: one that schools should be forced to stop discriminating on the basis of religion; that legally defining religions as a race is a bad idea.

The Guardian’s excellent writer Afua Hirsch has an article which highlights this bit from the ruling:

A person who honestly believed, as the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa until recently believed, that God had made black people inferior and had destined them to live separately from whites, would be able to discriminate openly without breaking the law

A point well made. Civil law should, in my view, always take precedence over religious law and ruling. And minorities better get used to that quickly – including that silly Hindu group pushing for open-air cremations. The long-delayed Equalities Bill was supposed to sort this out but it’s got so many other things attached to it now, I fear it won’t actually get anywhere.


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Filed in: British Identity,Race politics,Religion






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  1. Carmen D'Cruz

    RT @pickledpolitics New blog post: How religion and race meet to create havoc pickledpolitics http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/4976


  2. pickles

    New blog post: How religion and race meet to create havoc http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/4976




  1. DavidMWW — on 26th June, 2009 at 9:42 am  

    I agree completely.

    As a matter of interest, is there any such thing as an atheist Sikh (like there are many atheist Jews)?

  2. douglas clark — on 26th June, 2009 at 11:48 am  

    Sunny,

    It is articles like this that remind me why I still hang around here.

    Civil law should, in my view, always take precedence over religious law and ruling.

    Amen, as they say.

  3. munir — on 26th June, 2009 at 12:07 pm  

    ” And minorities better get used to that quickly – including that silly Hindu group pushing for open-air cremations.”

    Why not? If thats how they want to dispose of their bodies let them – as long as its consensual who are they hurting?

  4. Don — on 26th June, 2009 at 12:33 pm  

    Quite right, Sunny. Apart from anything else, every concession to one religion seems to fire up the others to push for an equivalent.

  5. 1mongrel — on 26th June, 2009 at 2:01 pm  

    “A point well made. Civil law should, in my view, always take precedence over religious law and ruling. And minorities better get used to that quickly – including that silly Hindu group pushing for open-air cremations.”

    Damn, there goes the last chance of a Dakhma (Tower of Silence) on Wimbledon Common.

  6. Jai — on 26th June, 2009 at 2:17 pm  

    is there any such thing as an atheist Sikh

    Technically the term is an oxymoron but in reality, yes there are plenty of people from Sikh backgrounds who are atheists or (perhaps more commonly) agnostics.

    The same applies to Hindus, and in both cases it’s more common amongst the UK-born 2nd-generation.

  7. DavidMWW — on 26th June, 2009 at 3:00 pm  

    Thanks, Jai. I was pretty sure that was the case. What I meant was, would an atheist from a Sikh background still identify themselves as a Sikh, in the same way that atheist Jews identify themselves as Jews?

  8. Jai — on 26th June, 2009 at 3:17 pm  

    What I meant was, would an atheist from a Sikh background still identify themselves as a Sikh, in the same way that atheist Jews identify themselves as Jews?

    Depends on the individual, although these days they tend to identify themselves as “cultural Sikhs” as opposed to “practising/observant Sikhs”. I guess you could probably apply the former term to very large numbers of the younger Sikh generation in the UK as mentioned before, although (again) generally they tend to be agnostic as opposed to outright Dawkins-style atheists.

    To cut a long story short, yes agnostic Sikhs would still identify themselves as Sikhs.

  9. dashenka — on 26th June, 2009 at 3:35 pm  

    |||that legally defining religions as a race is a bad idea. |||

    when why muslims call the critics of Islam racists so often? ha? hypocrisy – this is your policy, guys

  10. Don — on 26th June, 2009 at 4:31 pm  

    dashenka,

    Who are you talking to?

  11. Shatterface — on 26th June, 2009 at 5:13 pm  

    In recent years we’ve had otherwise sensible people argue that those who oppose a religious exemption from laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination as regards to adoption or providing services (in hotels, etc) are being ‘intolerant’ themselves.

    Barmy, all of them.

    By all means practice your religion where it does not conflict with secular law but having an imaginary friend is not an excuse for being a bigot.

  12. dashenka — on 26th June, 2009 at 5:20 pm  

    I don’t know… may be to your conscience? is there anything of it in here? i guess not

  13. Don — on 26th June, 2009 at 5:22 pm  

    dashenka,

    Me? You have a problem with my comment? Could you be more specific?

  14. Don — on 26th June, 2009 at 5:28 pm  

    Shatterface,

    I usually find myself agreeing with your comments, but generally otherwise sensible?

    Can’t think of any off-hand.

  15. Don — on 26th June, 2009 at 5:29 pm  

    Damn that missing edit function, I’ve misquoted you in bloody italics.

  16. chairwoman — on 26th June, 2009 at 5:50 pm  

    Absolutely in favour of yesterday’s ruling. The Chief Rabbi’s definition of who is Jewish, and I have no personal axe to grind here, is far too narrow. He always appears to be appealing to a constituency (the hat and beard guys) which isn’t really his, and thereby risks antagonising his actual congregation.

    Now bananabrain might take issue with me on this, but we’re unlikely to hear from him till Monday.

  17. Shatterface — on 26th June, 2009 at 6:53 pm  

    Don (14): not naming any individuals, but one rhymes with Have Dill.

  18. Don — on 26th June, 2009 at 7:19 pm  

    Really? Vaguely aware of him as showing up in sensible places, but hadn’t paid much attention.

  19. kELvi — on 26th June, 2009 at 7:51 pm  

    Sunny, well said!

    I find this demand for open air cremeations by some Hindus, silly. I suspect it is entirely inspired by the need to impose ones ritual on the landscape much like some Muslims in Europe have insisted on public slaughter of kine on Bakrid, which many an observant Muslim (e.g., Irfan Hussain of The Dawn) thinks is uncalled for.

    Atheist Sikhs? Khushwant Singh is one. But atheism itself has no meaning in non-Abrahamic traditions.

  20. Shatterface — on 26th June, 2009 at 8:13 pm  

    I quite fancy a Viking funeral, set adrift on the Mersey in a burning longboat. Then again, I won’t be around to clean up the mess.

  21. Don — on 26th June, 2009 at 9:21 pm  

    In principle the Gram Parsons special is appealing, but as an accepted practice it’s a non-starter. Nobody wants that smoke on their sheets.

    Even though, in theory, a ghee stoked fire could reach the temperature required to cremate remains to legal standards, the pollutant issue is probably insurmountable.

    If a place could be found with no neighbours to object, and environmental standards fully met, then I don’t see a problem. That might have to be somewhere uninhabited and off-shore. Pricey, but if it matters that much, find a sponsor.

    Odd thing is, I’ve always preferred the idea of being burned over being buried, but I’ve always found cremations more depressing than burials.

  22. Andy Gilmour — on 27th June, 2009 at 12:45 pm  

    There Don, that’s why we need *outdoor* cremations…

    Toasted marshmallows!

    I’d love a huge pyre when I go, with people happily cooking sausages, baked potatoes, etc,etc.

    Plenty of remote headlands up here in Scotland…more Andy-fried crispy bacon, anyone?

  23. curious? — on 28th June, 2009 at 10:40 am  

    A sikh (disciple) is one who follows the Guru’s teachings. Its not a label tag hereditary identity as some may assume.

  24. chairwoman — on 28th June, 2009 at 10:58 am  

    “In principle the Gram Parsons special is appealing,”

    So your friends and family are going to get totally wasted, kidnap you, drive you out to the desert and set fire to you?

    Cool :)

  25. DavidMWW — on 28th June, 2009 at 11:31 am  

    Kelvi writes
    But atheism itself has no meaning in non-Abrahamic traditions.

    Actually, there is a very strong, active, and well organised atheist/rationalist movement in India.

  26. Sunny — on 28th June, 2009 at 11:29 pm  

    Actually, there is a very strong, active, and well organised atheist/rationalist movement in India.

    Sure, but no doubt influenced by the increasing westernisation of non-Abrahamic religions. Islam especially has had the impact of forcing Hinduism to be much more tighter like a religion than in the past. Hinduism of course has its own atheist tradition.

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