Tory Islamophobia inquiry chair in row over Kashmir views

Swaran Singh’s neutrality in question over comments conflict is not Muslim-only tragedy

The newly appointed chair of the Conservative party’s inquiry into its handling of complaints about discrimination, including Islamophobia, has been plunged into a row over comments he made about the disputed Kashmir region.

The Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi questioned the views of Prof Swaran Singh, who was announced on Tuesday as the chair of the review, after he wrote a piece for an online publication whose editor has dismissed Islamophobia as a term designed to shut down criticism of Islam.

Warsi highlighted sections of the article in which Singh, who is a former equality and human rights commissioner, argued that the Kashmir conflict had been portrayed as a tragedy only for Muslims and that, for many, Sikhs and Hindus “do not meet the criteria of victimhood”.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you some views of the newly appointed Chairman of the “Independent review into all forms of discrimination and prejudice including Islamophobia”@Conservatives
I will let you make your own mind up 😳 pic.twitter.com/Jv5qMD7IxV

— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) December 17, 2019

Singh, a Sikh of Indian heritage who said he experienced discrimination when he migrated to Britain nearly 30 years ago, wrote another piece in which he claimed it was not realistic for the UK to live to a standard “where every individual is non-racist”. He also argued that “the racism charge” forced politicians to “act before they have had time to think”.

It comes as the Conservatives have faced criticism from the Muslim Council of Britain over the inquiry’s remit which, it argued, “threatens to ignore the systemic problems of Islamophobia in the party”. The council also expressed “deep reservations about the appointed chair”.

Singh, a professor of social and community psychiatry at the University of Warwick, wrote earlier this year that “the world media has an easy interpretation of the Kashmir problem – a nationalistic India persecuting a Muslim minority state.”

In a series of tweets, Warsi – who has spent years campaigning against Islamophobia in the Conservative party – quoted from Singh’s article in August about Kashmir, adding an embarrassed face emoji: “Ladies and Gentlemen I give you some views of the newly appointed Chairman of the ‘Independent review into all forms of discrimination and prejudice including Islamophobia’@Conservatives I will let you make your own mind up.”

On Wednesday, Warsi, who was Britain’s first female Muslim cabinet minister and formerly chair of the Conservative party, criticised the scope of the inquiry and questioned Singh’s views. “What I’ve argued is that for the inquiry to be credible it is vital that both the scope of the inquiry was appropriate to cover everything that has happened over the last four years and unfortunately the remit of this inquiry does not cover that,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“And, secondly, that the person who chairs this report must have the confidence of the communities that the report in the end will seek to protect. And, having read Swaran Singh’s views – I wasn’t aware of him before yesterday’s announcement – I’m afraid that it doesn’t bode well.”

Singh wrote for Spiked, an online publication whose editor has argued that Islamophobia is an “invented term” designed to “chill open discussion about aspects of Islam”.

“You cannot seriously compare anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Anti-Semitism is the oldest hatred and has killed millions of people. Islamophobia is a recently invented term that is mainly designed to shut down critical discussion about Islam.”

Brendan O’Neill on Sky pic.twitter.com/nNoLnolahq

— spiked (@spikedonline) July 10, 2019

Singh’s article came after India’s Hindu nationalist government stripped Kashmir, which has a Muslim-majority population, of its “special status” and sent thousands of troops to the region in August. The move, which revoked parts of the constitution giving the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir significant autonomy over its laws and policies, prompted uproar. Pakistan has shared the wider Kashmir region with India since 1947 following partition.

In the piece, Singh writes that “the world media has an easy interpretation of the Kashmir problem – a nationalistic India persecuting a Muslim minority state”.

Quotes highlighted by Warsi include one passage by Singh in which he stated: “It is expedient to focus on the tragedy as one only of Kashmiri Muslims, since for many, Kashmiri Sikhs and Pandits do not meet the criteria of victimhood. Kashmiri Hindus can’t be considered victims because they are, well, Hindus … Moreover, the Sikhs won’t claim victimhood.”

She referenced other quotes from the article including Singh writing: “Kashmir has been ethnically cleansed of its Sikh and Pandit populations … Kashmiris, once famous for their pacifism, have turned against each other, and one community has driven the other two out of the land.”

She also quoted Singh writing: “Since India is supposedly in the grip of Hindu nationalists, any suffering Hindu group can be ignored, akin to the idea that Jews can only be oppressors because of the plight of Palestinians. The victimhood of Palestinians automatically places Jews in the oppressor box.”

In another piece written for Prospect in 2016, Singh wrote about experiencing racism after arriving in Britain in 1991 where he eventually trained as a psychiatrist. “My ancestors came from a small clan of Kashmiri Brahmins who converted to Sikhism in the 18th century. Indian Kashmir has now almost been cleansed of its non-Muslim population; my clan, a successful minority in Kashmir, has been without a home for three decades,” he wrote.

In the piece, entitled Is Britain racist?, Singh wrote: “It is also not right to expect the UK to live up to an unrealistic standard, where every individual is non-racist, and where everyone has the right to be offended by a subjective interpretation of someone else’s words; where history has to be washed clean of racist impurities; and where white culture is a homogenous monolith that subjects an equally homogenous minority group to its malevolent intent.”

Writing about claims that mental health services are institutionally racist, he added: “...such is the power of the racism charge that politicians are forced to act before they have had time to think.”

In June, during the Tory leadership race, Sajid Javid bounced his fellow contenders, including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, into apparently agreeing to the Conservatives holding an independent inquiry into Islamophobia. However, the party was accused of later watering down the promise after ministers said the inquiry would be into all forms of discrimination.

The inquiry came after a slew of damning revelations about Islamophobia in the party, including among members and elected representatives. Last month the Guardian revealed that 25 sitting and former Conservative councillors had posted Islamophobic or racist material on social media, leading to the suspension of all of the sitting councillors from the party.

Contributor

Simon Murphy

The GuardianTramp

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