‘Does Government ‘do God’?: An independent review into how government engages with faith’ by Independent Faith Engagement Adviser Colin Bloom, the most comprehensive of public consultations commissioned by the UK government covering around 21,000 responses, tabled its findings this week.
In a section entitled ‘Sikh Extremism’ the review highlights that members of the British Sikh community have expressed growing concern over a small but extremely vocal group “hijacking” the Sikh faith to push a subversive pro-Khalistan agenda.
It reads: “There is a small, extremely vocal and aggressive minority of British Sikhs who can be described as pro-Khalistan extremists, promoting an ethno-nationalist agenda.
“Some of these extremists have been known to support and incite violence and intimidation in their ambition to establish an independent state called Khalistan, the physical borders of which are largely shared with specific parts of the Punjab state in India. Interestingly, this territorial claim does not include the part of the Punjab located in Pakistan. It is not entirely clear if the motivation for these extremists is faith-based or not. One critic of the pro-Khalistan activists from within the Sikh community claimed they are hijacking the Sikh faith for their own nationalistic ends.”
The review also alerts the government that proscribed terrorist organisations are able to use aliases to continue their subversive agenda, referencing Babbar Khalsa International banned in 2001 under the UK’s Terrorism Act and also the International Sikh Youth Federation – banned in multiple countries but de-proscribed in the UK in 2006. The review calls on the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs to ensure such organisations are not able to exert influence in parliamentary affairs.
It cautions: “It is difficult to prove given the complex structures and multiple aliases of various groups, but conversations with academics and political figures have given this reviewer grounds to suspect that there is at least overlap of membership between some Sikh groups operating in the UK and proscribed (or previously proscribed) groups.
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“In particular, this report recommends that the MPs who are in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs consider the findings of this report. The parliamentary authorities must do what they can to ensure that the parliamentary estate is not unwittingly hosting organisations and individuals who have been linked to bullying and harassment at best, and subversive behaviours at worst, which are antithetic to the parliamentary estate’s own values of truth, justice, peace, tolerance and democracy.”
In its recommendations, it stresses that the government should identify where extremist activity exists within the British Sikh community and ensure that unacceptable and extremist behaviours are not "inadvertently legitimised" by government or parliamentary engagement.
The 159-page report delves into all forms of religious extremism, including a warning that “some British Hindus have expressed frustration with Hindu nationalist involvement in UK politics, which can create division within Indian communities in the UK”.
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On Islamist extremism, it calls on the British government for better faith literacy and to “redouble its efforts to reinforce the distinctions between extremist Islamism and Islam and between Islamist extremists and Muslims”. The report also calls for appropriate registration and regulation of madrassahs, which are currently not required to be registered as faith-based “out-of-school settings”.
Bloom said in a statement: “For millions of people, faith and belief informs who they are, what they do and how they interact with their community, creating strong ties that bind our country together.
“As we as a nation continue to become more diverse, so too does the landscape of faith and belief. Our government’s understanding of the role of faith in society must remain both current and alive to its evolutionary changes.
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“It must also not shy away from some of the challenges that exist in small pockets within faith communities, from forced and coercive marriages to faith-based extremism, financial exploitation, and child safeguarding. These must not be consigned to the ‘too difficult’ box.
“Greater understanding of faith in all its diversity will ensure that we remain a country that respects, celebrates and understands people of all faiths, beliefs and none.”
The UK government will now consider the independent review findings and recommendations and issue a response in due course.
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UK Faith Minister Baroness Scott of Bybrook added: “As Faith Minister I will continue to shine a light on the important work of faith groups across the country, who play such an important role in public life.”
“I welcome this review and thank Colin for his work – we will carefully consider the recommendations and I’ll make it my mission to continue to work closely with those of all faiths.”