Public officials should do some research before commenting on places of worship.
Any ignorant “slip of the tongue,” will not fall on deaf ears, as Birmingham mayor Andy Street discovered.
The conservative mayor and former managing director of U.K.-based department store chain John Lewis casually thanked a group of Sikh worshippers at the Vaisakhi celebrations for welcoming him into their “mosque.”
— Guido Fawkes (@GuidoFawkes) April 29, 2019
He told a KTP reporter on Sunday at the Sikh religious festival:
“Brilliant to be able to join the Nagar Kirtan here from the Guru Nanak Mosque in Smethwick.”
For those less familiar with the religion but wise enough to prepare before making public statements, Muslims worship at a mosque, whereas Sikhs worship at a temple called a Gurdwara, which means “door to the guru.”
The Nagar Kirtan is a Sikh custom involving a processional singing of holy hymns.
Chalk it up to ignorance, but Street, despite his good intentions, would’ve been spared the backlash had he prepared a bit.
After a video of his holy blunder circulated, the 55-year-old politician did apologize, claiming that he “muddled” his words.
“Vaisakhi in Birmingham and Smethwick was yet again an amazing experience. All places of worship and festivals of all religions should be respected. I’m sorry I muddled my words.”
“I hope no offence was caused, particularly as the Guru Nanak Gurdwara has always offered me a characteristic warm welcome.”
His apology was not enough to convince everyone.
😳🤦🏽♀️ @andy4wm please don't turn up to our events again. Treating religious events as your political playground is low, especially as you can't even get the basics right. How disrespectful?!
It's not a mere "muddling of words" as your basic apology states. It's telling. https://t.co/I18650V4qf
— Kiran Kaur (@KiranNotKeiran) April 28, 2019
At a Sikh event and literally surrounded by Sikhs, the mayor of Birmingham STILL referred to the Sikh gurdwara as a mosque.
Yet another example of confusing Sikhs and Muslims, of religious illiteracy, and of how far we are from being visible & respected.https://t.co/5T8486YlmD
— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) April 29, 2019
Whiteness is a huge issue and letting stuff like this slide is not ok. It’s not OUR fault that Andy Street called a gurdwara a mosque. It’s racist. And it’s his issue that he doesn’t want to take time out to understand what the hell he is saying, and who he is saying it to.
— Jaspreet Kaur (@kaurhealth) April 29, 2019
The Twitter user who exposed Street’s gaffe by posting a video said she wanted to “show the ignorance,” according to the Independent.
“He’s an elected official. The standard we judge him against is slightly higher than the average person [because] of the responsibility on his shoulders.”
One user added his pronunciation of “Nagar Kirtan” was a little janky.
Bad pronunciations of nagar kirtan can be forgiven, but Guru Nanak Mosque? Where did that even come from?! 🤦🏾♀️ https://t.co/exCOqgj82p
— Amrit Kaur J.✒ (@JamzKaur) April 28, 2019
Sikh worshippers were more forgiving.
Oh keep your hair on we are all humans of this planet
— Somie Takhar (@somie5) April 29, 2019
He made a genuine mistake and has apologised. That’s not reflected on your story. After this he still spent several hours with us at the procession and open Air Celebration, speaking to Sikh media and meeting Sikh worshippers
— Jay Singh-Sohal (@JSinghSohal) April 29, 2019
I think most Sikhs I've met would be pretty chill with this tbh. It's just a mistake or minor ignorance.
— Sam (@GwangjuSam) April 29, 2019
It was still perceived as unacceptable.
Why are we so quick to defend ignorance? It’s 2019, the age of google and rapid communication. Do your homework. There are literally no excuses.
— Manveer Singh (@manveerssihota) April 29, 2019
His mixup of synagogues and churches was dissected.
Is it that serious? Does everyone know the difference between a church, chapel and cathedral. There’s so much nuance in religious terminology that I’m sure someone’s getting offended somewhere. Main issue is the racism Muslims face which Sikhs face backlash 4
— TheUnkemptMouse (@allmouses) April 29, 2019
Churches, chapels and cathedrals are all Christian spaces. Confusing those is not even vaguely similar to calling a Gurdwara a Mosque. They are completely different religions. That's not "nuance".
— Amrit Kaur J.✒ (@JamzKaur) April 29, 2019
With that said I do not for a second believe Andy Street is a bad person his intentions are probably good, but the recent slip is a slap in the face for all the so called Sikhs that brown nose him. This is your failing. Next time educate first, selfie after.
— Harpreet Singh (@hsbutoy) April 29, 2019
Anyone who wants to serve in public life must learn the basic tenets of faith & correct terms for those they claim to represent.
— Violet (@mijomojo1) April 29, 2019
Conservative MP Mike Fabricant came to Street’s defense by explaining the mayor was “tired,” and mentioned other political figures who have made their own slipups.
Like when David Cameron said he supports West Ham when he meant Aston Villa or Jeremy Hunt said his wife was Japanese when he meant Chinese. When ppl are tired, they make a slip of the tongue. People understand.
— Michael Fabricant (@Mike_Fabricant) April 29, 2019
Look, we’ve all been there and spoke before thinking, or consulting.
But in tumultuous times of rampant religious persecution, we all need to do better. Otherwise, we’re no better than the xenophobe in the Oval Office.