A review commissioned by the U.K. government to examine its engagement with faith urged the government to investigate Khalistani extremism and suggested that it develops a more “nuanced” and “comprehensive” understanding of Sikh extremist activity so it does not accidentally legitimise behaviours.
The review’s publication, on Wednesday, comes at a time of heightened diplomatic tension between the U.K. and India, with New Delhi alleging that London has not done enough to curb the Khalistani movement in the U.K.
Pro-Khalistani activists had taken down the National Flag from the Indian High Commission building in London during a protest in March.
The wide-ranging review, authored by an independent adviser, Colin Bloom, and commissioned by the Boris Johnson government in October 2019, also described a “small minority” of British Hindus as becoming more animated as a result of their identification with Hindu political interests in India. It urged the U.K. government to be “attentive” to nationalist movements inciting prejudice in British society.
The Bloom review had 22 recommendations, which ranged from combating White supremacism and forced marriages to training public servants to better understand faith. The remit of the study did not include antisemitism or Islamophobia which are being studied elsewhere along with political extremism.
The relatively extensive section on Sikh extremism begins with the significant and “overwhelmingly positive” contributions Sikhs have made to British society. The report identifies three problematic areas however: a power struggle within some Sikh communities, around the question of who legitimately represents them; the Khalistani movement – which the report describes as an “extremist fringe ideology”; some individuals and Sikh groups fuelling anti-Muslim sentiments, misogyny and sectarianism.
The review finds that there are some “aggressive” activists who “do not hesitate to abuse or bully anyone” who does not follow them. On Khalistani extremists, the study says they have been known to incite violence and intimidation to achieve their goals. About their quest for a separate homeland , the report says, “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.”
The report says some groups compete for power and legitimacy by masquerading as human rights activists, and use the ‘Sikh’ label to lobby political bodies. It also says that Sikh extremists have often used online platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and iTunes to upload “alarmingly dangerous and offensive imagery”.
The report says the U.K. government needs to clearly define and investigate extremist activity within the Sikh community and develop a “more nuanced and comprehensive” understanding of subversive and sectarian activity.
It urges the government to not inadvertently legitimise Sikh extremism via “government or parliamentary engagement”. It advocates improving faith literacy (especially on interfaith issues) across government and parliament, “so government can be more discerning regarding engagement and representation within British Sikh communities”.
Significantly, the report says that “the promotion of Khalistan ideals is not itself subversive”, but the aggressive and subversive actions of some pro-Khalistan activists “should not be tolerated”.
Hindu and Buddhist nationalism ‘small but growing’
“Government should also be much more alive to the very small but growing phenomenon of extreme Hindu nationalism and Buddhist nationalism,” the review says.
The report says a “small minority” of British Hindus are becoming more passionate about their identification with Hindu political interests in India, in contrast to earlier generations of British Hindus, as nationalist movements have become “somewhat more” prevalent among the British Hindu diaspora. It cites as examples public figures and politicians allegedly being targeted in the 2019 U.K. general election and the tensions between Hindus and Muslims in Leicester in September 2022. The identification with Hindu political interests in India, as per the report, has caused frustration in the British Hindu community.
“While this has rarely led to obvious coercive or violent activity, some British Hindus have expressed frustration with Hindu nationalist involvement in UK politics, which can create division within Indian communities in the UK,” the report says.
The report says that while many groups are likely to be interested in geopolitical disputes outside the U.K., the British government should be “attentive” to nationalist movements possibly exploiting religious rhetoric to incite prejudice, which in turn may destabilise British society.
On Islam, the U.K. government must “redouble” its efforts to distinguish between extremist Islamism and Islam, Islamist extremists and Muslims, the review says, as it urges the government to find ways to ensure that British Muslims do not unfairly associate with extreme versions of Islam. It says many Muslim respondents surveyed for the review described how they have been stigmatised and made to feel responsible for or “secretly supportive” of acts of Islamist terrorism.
On White supremacist movements, the study finds that most proscribed movements do not use religious symbolism, but some ‘cultural nationalism’ movements such as Britain First, frequently employ Christian imagery.
The review recommends that the U.K. government crack down on neo-Nazi terrorists and extremists using religious imagery to promote ideologies of hate. It also says that the government should watch religiously motivated Black nationalist groups.