by H Singh on Sun 26 Jul 2009 12:49 PM BST There has been much recent effort by organisations to curtail conflict between Sikh & Muslim youth in Britain. An honest reflection on the current state of affairs is required. A year on from Government funded bilateral dialogue between the faiths in N.Ireland, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have taken the reign to formally set up the ‘National Sikh-Muslim action group’. One of the groups top priorities are to ‘promote mutual understanding between Muslims and Sikhs’. Although I wholeheartedly support the concept of the initiative, I reserve a certain amount of scepticism about what can be achieved in real terms. Firstly, the original report issued by faith matters was immediately challenged by some of the Sikh participants who were aggrieved by some of its findings. They produced an alternative report which challenged the very core of the tax-payer funded project & described it as ‘dysfunctional’. Second, families and victims who have faced the abject horror of religiously motivated violence often feel isolated & sadly disengaged with policy makers and so called ‘community leaders’. The Aims and objectives espoused in Corrymeela , inherited in part by the EHRC are occasionally difficult to fathom, or attribute to a tangible outcome. In addition, perhaps Government funding maybe better utilised on grass roots initiatives - engaging directly in the towns and cities of division, described as ‘certain localised areas’ in the Faith Matters report. There is however no doubt, that education and interfaith work between faiths can help facilitate understanding, which may lead to less bigotry. There is no palpable litmus test, here though. The Faith matters report tells us that ‘Muslims are voicing concerns that a handful of Sikhs are starting to work with the BNP’. To a degree there should be concern that a ‘handful’ of Sikhs may have joined forces with fascists. The notion of this symbiosis based on a mutual fear of Islamic extremism is in my view ironic on a number of levels. Firstly, Sikhism opposes any form of bigotry, be it the hatred spewing members of the Far right or terror-glorifying members of extreme Islamic groups. On a second premise, In 1979 during the Southall race riots, Sikhs formed the vanguard of ‘Asian’ resistance’, aligning them with the anti-Nazi league to face frog marching skin heads of the then National Front. It was during these tragic riots that Blair Peach, a New Zealand born member of the Anti-Nazi League died further to a brutal police baton charge. Sikhs thus have been a target of hatred, by both the far right and Islamic extremists in Britain. I don’t see this trend ever abating. The Alternative report voices concerns explaining that ‘Sikhs feel they are perceived as ‘Kaffirs’ by a significant section of the Muslim community’. Unfortunately there is no quick fix to redefining nomenclature such as this; there is an urgent need to review the natural and ordinary meaning of such words from an authentic theological perspective. Perhaps the EHRC will be looking to compose a glossary of terms; this would be a useful first step. Globalisation along with migration has broken down barriers across the West. Host countries like Britain face the complexities of rivalries, historical division & religious conflicts inherited from distant lands. These still live in the hearts and minds of the adherents of faith groups. The Sikh- Muslim conflict has deep rooted origins, dating back to the Mogul Islamic Empire. The fifth Guru of the Sikhs was boiled alive by the Emperor Jahangir, this was a turning point. Unfortunately, the Sikhs, because they had to defend themselves against the terrible persecutions by the Moguls, became a militant faith. More recent history can also explain motivations rooted within the communities, the partition of the Panjab in 1947 being a frontrunner. Regrettably, there is still fear that localised tensions may lead to much broader conflict between the two communities. Race hate attacks post 9/11, abhorrent anti-Sikh blogs such as ‘Sikh4aweek’ and reported derogatory chants at the recent World Twenty20 cricket championships have added to animosities. So what can be done to solve the problem? On a pragmatic level education and interfaith activities are paramount in order to promote mutual understanding between all faiths. A greater understanding of the diversity of faith groups will foster a diversion from any predisposition to label groups as an ‘us’ and ‘them’. Although, practitioners of different faiths will hold onto exclusive truths which may make them feel superior, this could thus be an insurmountable barrier. Greater religious and inter-religious dialogue may facilitate a reduction in the misinterpretation of religious texts, which may foment conflict. The question is who would be the supreme authority to provide the correct guidance? Activities such as this should not just be box ticking exercises to please Ministers and local Mp’s with servile adulation, but a genuine attempt for nurturing better community cohesion, in a diverse Britain. Hardeep Singh, is a freelance Journalist & Broadcaster, he is also the Press Secretary for The Network of Sikh Organisations Note: these are the opinion of the author and not the opinion of the Network of Sikh Organisations.