It’s been very apparent in recent weeks that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been looking to align himself and the U.K. with the new Biden-Harris administration in the U.S. He was one of the first officials to congratulate President Joe Biden on his win and condemned the riots on Capitol Hill (much to Donald Trump’s annoyance). A recent 35-minute phone call between the two leaders suggests a continuation of the special relationship we’ve come to know between these two countries.
However, Trump’s time in office no doubt influenced and empowered Johnson. Johnson’s support for Brexit and tapping into a population that idealises the time when the U.K. was “whiter and more homogenous” led to the notion of “taking back our country.” This ideology ran parallel to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric, having consequences for ethnic minority citizens.
According to the Middle East Eye, “Johnson needed a Trump victory because it gave such weight to his own political project, which is likewise defined by nationalism, isolationism and a contempt for conventional behaviour.”
Hate crimes soared following the Brexit vote, particularly against Muslims, which wasn’t helped by Trump’s Muslim ban that restricted travel from certain Muslim-majority countries to the United States.
Issues pertaining to immigration were rife across both sides of the Atlantic. Trump was adamant in wanting to build a wall to keep Mexicans from crossing the border. Meanwhile, the Windrush Scandal, where people who had been born as British subjects and arrived in the U.K. before 1973 were wrongly detained and threatened with deportation to Jamaica by the U.K. Home Office, gripped the U.K. in 2018. At least 83 wrongful deportations took place despite public outrage, and many individuals were denied legal rights, The Independentreported.
The Biden-Harris administration brings with it a very different outlook on immigration — one that might leave Johnson extremely lonely on the world stage. Given that Vice President Kamala Harris is a woman of color and a daughter of immigrants, targeting specific communities the way the British Home Office has is not likely to be regarded favourably, either.
With repeated public outrage at how Johnson has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and a lacklustre apology, Biden’s hands-on approach to getting the pandemic under control in the U.S. may set an example for how the British Prime Minister proceeds as frontline workers race to vaccinate as many people as possible.
The new administration also signals the return of an ally and a special relationship with the U.S. that has been missing for the last four years. Despite clear differences, Biden and Johnson do have common ground when it comes to climate change. The COP26 Conference is to be hosted in Glasgow next year, and in what might be seen as a dig at Trump, Johnson told the Associated Press:
“I think now with President Biden in the White House in Washington, we have the real prospect of American global leadership in tackling climate change.”
The Biden-Harris administration also brings a shift in political representation with the first female Vice President who identifies as both Black and South Asian to take office. Seeing Harris and Biden take their oaths definitely made me emotional. I don’t know if it was the history that was being made or the end of Trump’s unpredictable power trip, but the entire inauguration felt like it belonged to us all. It was rooted in empathy, decency and the return to leadership that allows us all to finally breathe. You could feel it reverberating around social media and even in our household.
Harris’s achievement transcends nations. She didn’t just make history for young people in the U.S.; she has exemplified to everyone what you can do if you put your mind to it.
The U.K. already has a number of ethnic minority members in Parliament but has yet to see its first ethnic minority Prime Minister. The Biden-Harris administration could invigorate that change as BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) communities have been targeted and affected disproportionately, especially during the pandemic.
The new administration has inherited a challenge both domestically and internationally. However, it’s important for the U.K. to work in collaboration with the U.S., rather than in competition, to save lives and return to some kind of normalcy. With the Biden-Harris administration bringing fresh hope and optimism, a diverse Cabinet and a pledge to unify all, Brits will be looking for that same leadership closer to home, which may just spell the beginning of the end for Johnson and his government.
Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting.
In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance eventcentered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.
In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships.
Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality.SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.
While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.
Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular