Yesterday Sir Simon Mcdonald outraged members of the Sikh community by referring to Darbar Sahib, site of Harmandir Sahib and the Akal Takht, as the ‘golden mosque’ in a tweet. This came shortly after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Permanent Under-Secretary was feeling the wrath of #FreeJaggiNow supporters for failing to address the issue of Jagtar Singh Johal – Scottish Sikh detained for over 160 days without charge by Punjab authorities – in a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder.
Here Sikh PA share our thoughts on what the mistake highlights about British government-Sikh community relations.
The Sikh Press Association is shocked and disappointed following an obvious mistake by senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official Sir Simon McDonald.
The Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office referred to Darbar Sahib in Amritsar as the ‘Golden Mosque’ in a tweet on Monday evening. Often referred to as the Golden Temple, Darbar Sahib is internationally renowned as one of the most sacred Gurdwara sites of the Sikh faith.
We did not expect to see such religious illiteracy from the country’s top diplomat, especially whilst he was visiting the Sikh homeland. This is an example of ignorance and a racist conflation with Islam which Sikhs have seen impact us to tragic lengths in recent history. Considering the status and integration of the Sikh community in the UK, this is not a sentiment we would have envisaged a UK government official fuel.
The British government must undertake an urgent consideration of the religious literacy of its staff. As Sir Simon’s tweet has today shown, it is needed at even the highest level of the civil service. And when it happens, it must include Panthic organisations who are best placed to educate about Sikhi; the same organisations connecting with and teaching Sikhs in Gurdwaras and at community events across the nation.
The Sikh Press Association was founded to combat precisely this sort of ignorance. We shall call it out firmly, even when it comes from one of the country’s highest officials. We hope that the FCO will work with us to eradicate this kind of ignorance and build a genuine understanding of the Sikh faith and the Sikh community.