Not long after the 7/7 bombings in London, the UK government started working with prominent British Muslim organisations to understand and tackle terrorism. It was a failure, but it had one prominent side-effect: it made some Hindu and Sikh organisations very envious.
"Why are Muslim organisations getting all the attention and government money," the leader of a prominent Hindu organisation complained at a public event a few years later. "Why aren’t Hindus getting a piece of that pie too," he asked, as I reported at the time. And it isn’t just Hindu groups either; some Sikhs have been at it too.
Britain has created an awful dynamic where self-appointed religious "leaders", who claim to speak on behalf of minorities, instead use them like pawns in a game for power and influence. They are rarely transparent, don’t hold open democratic elections or even reflect a range of different opinions. They just battle it out influence and money.
The last few days have exposed the moral shallows of this sad state of affairs. After the chief rabbi made his intervention over Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour antisemitism row, other groups couldn’t wait to chime in and grab some attention too.
Yesterday the Hindu Council UK claimed solidarity with the Jewish community and accused Corbyn of “anti-Hindu bias”. The basis of that claim? That the Labour leader chose to condemn human rights abuses in the state of Kashmir, thereby criticising the Indian government. Oh, and that he has apparently not spoken out against “anti-Hindu position” – referring to an independent protest outside the Indian High Commission in London during the festival of Diwali. And that's it. Shallow grounds for criticism, in my view.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Sikh Federation UK published its own statement claiming that "there is far too much emphasis on antisemitism and Islamophobia as both terms have become politicised," and accused the rabbi of using “over-dramatic language” before pushing it's own agenda for more support for the Sikh community.
As someone said to me on Twitter, “Is this a competition?” Sadly, it always has been.
It is deeply disappointing that the likes of the Sikh Federation and the Hindu Council have tarnished British Sikhs and Hindus by claiming to speak for them in this way. Let me be clear: they do not speak for me, nor for most within our respective communities. If they want to claim to speak for people, then they should be accountable to them – and put themselves forward for election to positions of genuine power and influence within our democracy.
I say that Britain has itself created this dynamic because our political leaders and the British media are both, in some ways, part of the problem. Reporting on complex religious issues is threadbare, and rarely well understood by political journalists. I’ve lost count at the amount of times I’ve had to educate journalists on even basic topics related to British life for ethnic minority groups.
Government officials are even worse and themselves have done little to improve since the days Tony Blair invited the Muslim Council of Britain to "sort out" terrorism. Most officials still look for one single representative for all Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims to speak to, ignoring the staggering diversity of opinions and perspectives within those communities. That leads to a power struggle among Sikhs and Hindu groups to be that sole representative so they can drive policy, secure influence and pocket government funding for their causes. A colonial era mentality still haunts us.
This election campaign has provided the embarrassing spectacle of politicians claiming to abhor racism while ignoring it in their own ranks. It can only end if we all stand up against it together, not in conflict or competition with one another.
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