Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:48 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench 12:48, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I have visited Auschwitz, and a small mountain of children’s shoes will be for ever etched in my memory. The shoes were taken from children who went laughing and skipping into showers, on the promise that they would be given new clothes. The showers were not of water; they were of deadly gas. I speak from a Sikh perspective, and I apologise if what I say does not agree with some people.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the horror of the systematic killing of Jews in the 1940s with the lighting of candles and the words “never again”. The words “never again” have echoed in subsequent commemorations, only to be followed by the horror of future genocides, including the forgotten Indira Gandhi Government’s massacre of Sikhs in 1984 and now, ironically, Israel’s excesses against the people of Gaza, condemned by the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights agencies.

“Never again” will continue to be a distant aspiration in a world that has lost its sense of direction and is still living with 19th-century norms of powerful countries pursuing strategic and economic dominance. Friends and enemies are decided by the support they give in return for a readiness to turn a blind eye to the abuse of human rights. To get to “never again”, we urgently need to reset our moral and political satnavs to the realities and ethical imperatives of the very different world in which we now live.

Sikh teachings remind us that, despite superficial cultural differences, we are all members of one human family with equal rights and responsibilities. The UN declaration of human rights, drawn up in the aftermath of the Second World War, is an echo of this 500 year-old Sikh teaching. People of India and Pakistan, Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, and even Americans, are all part of our one human family, with a common desire for peace for themselves and for their loved ones.

In earlier times, talk of one human family was considered impractical idealism; today it is an imperative. The 21st century is, as I have mentioned, very different from earlier eras, with people in once distant parts of the world now sharing common problems such as global warming, the misuse of scientific advance and a world awash with arms. There is urgent need to look beyond ourselves to the needs of others, or, in the closing lines of the Sikh daily prayer, to look to the well-being of wider humanity.

We urgently need to look at why religion has become a major source of conflict and genocide. Religion is designed to give us guidance for responsible living, but all too often, claims of superiority and exclusive relationships with God, and with dated and divisive social and cultural rituals, are seen by many as more important than the uplifting ethical teachings. The Sikh gurus were very concerned about such false divisions in the India of their day. Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, deliberately include verses of Hindu and Muslim sayings to show that no one religion has a monopoly of truth. Today, we should be highlighting the important ethical teachings found in our different faiths.

The reality is quite different. We British, even at interfaith gatherings, never discuss religion out of fear of offending religious sensitivities. Religious holy books are not the word of God in a literal, possessive sense, but reflections on a godly way of life, interspersed with social and cultural practices and negative attitudes to others. Today, most religious people in the UK skip the dated social and cultural texts and focus on the underlying ethical teachings. But for some, dated culture is all too often more important than ethical guidance, and negative attitudes to others are food and sustenance to the religious extremist.

A Christian hymn reminds us:

“New occasions teach new duties,

Time makes ancient good uncouth ;

They must upward still, and onward,

Who would keep abreast of truth”.

Today, religious leaders urgently need to do a bit of spring cleaning to take out, or put in context or true perspective, the negative teachings and highlight ethical teachings that have much in common with faiths that we see as different. It is a big ask, but it is the only way to go if we really want our one human family to get to “never again”.