Sikhs & Multiculturalism in Uk
From Veil to Kirpan…..
By Jagjit Singh
Pyare jio, a couple of days ago Tony Blair made a very dramatic statement with regard to issue of muslim women wearing veils, in his monthly news conference. Due to large number of news stories on that day, many people may have missed this statement. He said it is “a mark of separation”. This is quite a dramatic use of words by a Labour leader, and gives complete backing to the path which has been set by the former Foreign Minister, Jack Straw. Tony Blair is a trained lawyer and has clear intention behind his use of words.
Many Sikhs are disregarding what is happening in UK, as just a “muslim problem”. The daily onslaught on news stories against muslims, is seen by some as something they have instigated themselves, or part of a larger West vs Islam confrontation. Many Sikhs who have grown up in UK, have had bad experiences with muslims, and do lack sympathy for their current situation. We tend to disassociate ourselves from them and are uncomfortable with the word “asian”. Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/controversies/14386-sikhs-and-multiculturalism-in-uk.html
The attacks of 9/11 changed the world. The attitudes in the West changed from being dominant with liberal attitudes, to one which dominated by conservative attitudes. Multiculturalism had flourished in UK, and many ethnic groups won rights which made them at ease with UK. In many areas, multi-culturalism has been celebrated to promote an area. The most prominent being the London bid for the Olympics, in which London was shown as the most diverse city, proud of its ethnic minorities.
However the subsequent attack of 7/7 and the general bad press of Islam have hardened attitudes against muslims. But its impact will be felt by other ethnic minorities, because UK has moved from a stance of “lets celebrate the distinctiveness of others” to one of “is their distinctiveness a threat to social integration?”
For either, Jack straw or Tony Blair to make such comments before would have been political suicide. But they are well aware that these comments are very populist. For example on Radio 5, a national radio station, Jack Straw received 95% support for his stance that muslim women should remove their veils in front of him. Where does this leave Sikhs?
The day after Tony Blairs comment, the Independent newspaper had a special insert where it compared the muslim hijab or veil to that of the Christian cross, Jewish top cap and Sikh Turban. What we have to wake up to is that this debate is taking place in the arena of Islam vs West, but in fact it is eroding the core principles of multiculturalism. It is now common to hear political commentators stating the multiculturalism has failed in UK. Has it really? I sincerely hope not…
But it leaves the question…If a veil is a “mark of separation” and “makes people outside the community feel uncomfortable” as Tony Blair states, then does the Sikh Turban do the same?
This leads to more questions….Is religious expression a right? By wearing religious symbols are we less British? Do religious symbols pose a threat to social integration?
In the case of veils, Sikhism rejects the wearing of veils. Sahib Siri Guru Amar das ji specifically asked women from muslim backgrounds who attended his congregations to remove their veils, before entering the darbaar. Ideologically, I reject the veil as a means of suitable dress code for a male or female. However, I do feel sympathetic to any young woman who wishes to wear one, but is now seen as an instigator of social disharmony in UK by that choice. These young muslim women are not downtrodden as portrayed in the media. In fact, they are often highly intelligent and confident young women who just wish to physically display their pride in their faith. This is no different to young Sikh men who wear Dumallas (large turbans) and young sikh women who wears Keskis (turbans). My Dummalla (turban) and my beard are religious symbols that make me complete distinct within British society, and this something we are intentionally proud of wearing. I have never seen my dumalla as a threat to social integration, and in fact, I have never had any problems integrating into any part of society. French Policy & UK Policy?
However what does ring alarm bells, is how easily people are taking the veils issue and comparing it with that of the Christian cross, Jewish cap and Sikh Turban. Many European countries are concerned with the population growth within Muslims, and see that as a threat to social harmony within their country. At times, they are targeting Islam directly, and others indirectly as a response. France has put in place policies which will make muslims a social under-class by denying them education if the refuse to remove the hijab. However they have clubbed Sikhs into this regardless of the contribution of Sikhs in WW1 & WW2.
As a result Sikh children are not attending school if they refuse to remove turbans and patkas. This is purely a side effect of a policy against muslims.
In UK, Sikhs are far more secure. Although multiculturalism as a policy is under threat, its impact is probably irreversible. However we do need to look at where is Labour going with this issue of veils? Is there a distinct policy behind the comments of Jack Straw, or is this political pandering to populism rather than political ideals. If it is just populism, then that is far more dangerous than a clear government policy, because then path is out of control, with an un-known destination. From Veil to Kirpan…
Many people in UK have become used to Sikh Turbans. We do not suffer from the same ignorance as those Sikhs who live in USA, where ever turban wearing person is seen as Bin laden.
However one does wonder if the Veil is so controversial, how long will it take for the media to pick up on the Kirpan? Now that it is open season on religious symbols, Sikhs in UK may well find themselves up against a populist stance by politicians against the Kirpan. Certainly we will find politicians and press far less sympathetic to the religious right to the Kirpan.
Maybe more Sikhs and sikh leaders need to be more vocal on this onslaught against multiculturalism, and see its impact as far bigger than mere Islamophobia. Is there a Sikh Response?
I feel that Sikhs have always had a problem with coherent communication to the masses about Sikhism. When the “behzti affair” occurred, the Sikh voice was challenged and found lacking. Similar to muslims at the moment, where they have no coherent response to the daily onslaught. In fact, the militants within their ranks have more media coverage, which has just led to a siege mentality within their community. Reference:: Sikh Philosophy Network http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/showthread.php?t=14386
Sikhs need to organise themselves, rather than wait for some incident to occur, and then wonder what shall we do? There are sections of the media, the usual suspects like the Daily Express and Daily Mail, who have made irresponsible coverage of Sikhs in the past. Even the Telegraph has attacked Sikhs directly. Sikhs need to set up an organisation like SMART - Sikh Media Action Response Team. An organisation of educated and media savvy young Sikhs who can give a Gurmat Response to all issues facing Sikhs and non –sikh issues in a coherent manner.
We can no longer rely on silence, or a Gurdwara Pardan to speak for Sikhs. The world is a different place and Sikhs need to ensure they have a coherent voice. This voice needs to start by assessing the current onslaught on multiculturalism and its lasting impact on Sikhs in UK.
-------------------- One God: Waheguru
One Guru : Sahib Siri Guru Granth sahib Ji.
One Group : Guru Khalsa Panth!
This should be the Motto of Our Generation