Coventry Sikh community figure and media commentator speak on the article which linked Sikhs to support for ISIS.
Yesterday newspaper Coventry Telegraph released an article which associated the Sikh community with “extremism”, and at one point even supporting ISIS.
The Sikh Press Association understands this article was only based on a report on Gurdwara Guru Nanak Parkash by the Charities Commission, as well as quotes from Piara Singh Thabal, a trustee of the Gurdwara. The article centres on allegations of “extremism” by a group of Sikhs trying to take over the Gurdwara “by force”.
In order to put this article into context, the Sikh Press Association wish to clarify some details on the article, as well as sharing statements from Sikhs with a deeper understanding of these issues.
Dawinderpal Singh, a freelance journalist with over 10 years of experience in the world of media, feels the article itself was written without any concern for the Sikh community and with very little research into the issue.
“The Coventry Telegraph seemed to have leapt at the chance to associate the words ‘Sikh’ and ‘extremist’.
“The only information they have provided on what this extremism involved is ‘leaflets with guns on it’. The newspaper has no information on what was written on those leaflets. The charities commission may have stated they felt ‘extremist’ material was in the Gurdwara, but when did they become experts on this topic?
“The fact is, lots of Sikh literature can come with pictures of weapons. To view this as extreme is to be ignorant of the Sikh faith and Sikh history. At this year’s 1984 Sikh genocide remembrance rally in London, which took place the day after the Westminster terror attack, thousands of Sikh men, women and children wore t-shirts and waved flags with guns on them. Were they all extremists?
“Media outlets and institutions like the charities commission need to do more to understand the relationship between Gurdwara committees and the Sikh community. Protests against committees are very common. It is absurd for anyone to take the opinion of a committee and hold that against a community that may be challenging their position of power.”
Hardip Singh Khalsa, a respected Coventry based Sikh community figure, is a Kirtani (devotional religious music singer) who is a regular at the Gurdwara in question. In his opinion, the issues in the Gurdwara come down to the current committee ostracising members of the congregation.
“Allegations of pressure from extremists is a huge exaggeration, whilst any relation to ISIS propaganda or ISIS supporters in the Gurdwara is something no one in Coventry except that committee member seems to have seen. It is terrible to see this random allegation make a newspaper.
“The current committee started getting problems from members of the Sikh community after they shutdown educational programs. There is an annual march in remembrance of victims of the Indian Army’s attack on Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) in London every year and it was leaflets of this event which the committee have outrageously labelled as extremist propaganda.
“The real issue is that the committee members – even when prompted with petitions and referred to points in the Gurdwara’s own constitution – have simply shut out any dialogue with other Sikh groups about how the Gurdwara is run. A Gurdwara is meant to be somewhere for education, sanctuary and more, whereas now it is being treated like a venue.”
Our involvement in the article
Within the first 30 minutes of the article being released, the Sikh Press Association were in discussion with the editorial team of Coventry Telegraph, in order to get clarity on the allegations made in the article. We discussed the following;
- The use of the word “extremist/s”, which the Coventry Telegraph stated was used based on the Charities Commission report on the Gurdwara.
- The links to ISIS, which only came from the opinion of Piara Singh Thabal. We suggested this needed to be verified by those that attend the Gurdwara regularly as sangat (congregation), and we encouraged Coventry based Sikhs to share their opinion on whether ISIS support was seen in the Gurdwara. These quotes from Thabal were later removed from the article.
- The article URL still linking ISIS to the issue even after the quotes from Thabal were removed. The URL was than changed too.
- The relationship between sangat and Gurdwara committees being a complex one, and something that regularly results in protests or challenges of committee power by sangat. It was our opinion that a Gurdwara committee member opinion of that nature must be balanced out by the opinion of someone associated with the Gurdwara but unaffiliated with the committee. The Coventry Telegraph have said they plan a follow up/amended version of the article with this in mind.
The article – in its amended form – is still available to view. We remain in dialogue with the Coventry Telegraph on this story and any follow-ups.