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Obama's Visit or Not: Same Difference!

by I.J. SINGH

 

 

Just a few days left but it is still unclear if President Obama will get to Amritsar and the Harmandar Sahib or not. 

The debate on this has been endless and frankly I would not expect this level of intense consideration on a matter such as this.  Surely, this not a life or death policy matter where the future of mankind hangs in the balance.

One thing for sure - it has excited Sikhs all around the globe as few things can or do. Let's very briefly look again at both scenarios. What if he makes it to the Harmandar, or what if he doesn't?

If he does get there, it would give his political enemies more fuel to brand him a Muslim or a towel-head or a rag-head, even though it is a Sikh place of worship, not Muslim.  He'll have to cover his head with a scarf or a cap of some kind.  Already about 25 percent of Americans think he is a closet Muslim.

For Sikhs, it would get us international attention on a scale never seen before from all the talking heads on the tube, and heaven knows we could use some.  We are a miniscule minority in the United States and, at times particularly post 9/11, the attention we have gotten can only be termed unkind - and that's a deliberate understatement.

His visit might even educate some of our neighbors on the difference between Muslims and Sikhs, or better, yet provide us some opportunities to interact with our non-Sikh neighbors.  All good. After all, what we are looking for is an equal place at the table in this complex society that is our home.

But forget not the election cycle in this country that will catch up with us next week. The timing of this is critical and the election promises to be most volatile. The Obama agenda is on the line. The election could change the face of America in a trice and, in my opinion, not for good.  If the Republicans win the Congress or even make a serious dent in it, the results could be life-changing.  Such a loss would be interpreted as repudiation of the Obama political agenda and direction.

And then the knives will be out and the post-mortem will start. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that, though not always, I am an Obama partisan in this election.

If Obama cancels the visit, he would appear weak and Sikhs worldwide sorely disappointed. Our many enemies, starting with the Hindu lobby, would likely rejoice.

But look at the whole episode again.  If Obama does go to Amritsar, as many dignitaries and heads of state from around the globe have done in the past, it would garner us some limited attention for a day or two. Our hours in the sun would be few and quietly but quickly forgotten.

If he doesn't go to Amritsar, the attention to the issue and the post-mortem, including recriminations, would last longer. It will keep the talking heads busier and for a longer duration. Most likely, our differences with Muslims will be emphasized. Some fundamentals of Sikhi might also come under the lens, along with our community's eventful history in this country.

The issue of the visit has already occupied center stage in high level exchanges and discussions both at the White House and in New Delhi. There is no way to buy such focus at the highest levels of government.

One way or the other, we will likely reach higher levels of awareness and perhaps our presence in the United States would less likely be ignored or misinterpreted. Even the media will become more aware of us.

And then as has been correctly articulated by Mai Harinder Kaur and others in these very pages of sikhchic.com, keep in mind that Harmandar Sahib is a gurdwara, a historically significant place of worship intimately connected to Sikh history. It is not a public forum for mining popularity, capturing vote banks or public attention.

Either way, this will engage our enemies, strengthen our friends and give the policy makers in both countries something to do by keeping Sikhs at the center of their attention - even longer, if President Obama doesn't make it to Harmandar Sahib. 

But whether he makes it to Amritsar or not it would do us no harm. Of course, if President Obama makes it to the Harmandar Sahib, he would be warmly embraced and welcomed with open arms. That's the Sikh way.

My take on this: Keep cool and enjoy!

 

ijsingh99@gmail.com

October 27, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Satinder Singh (New Jersey, U.S.A.), October 27, 2010, 7:29 AM.

A prominent Sikh who has close ties to President Clinton asked him why he did go to Amritsar during his trips to India. President Clinton's response was that when he told Indian officials he wanted to go, he was advised that there is really no reason, but 'they (the Sikhs) are like Talibans'. Not sure if this is true or not, however it paints a picture.

2: Karan Singh (United Kingdom), October 27, 2010, 9:25 AM.

Who will truly benefit or lose out if Obama does or does not visit Sri Harmandar Sahib. You may think ... the Sikhs. NO, it is in fact Obama himself, It is only through great good fortune does anyone get the opportunity to have darshan of the Darbar Sahib! If he has good karam, he will go and if he is bhaag-heen, then he won't! But if he doesn't go ... he is the only one that will lose out!

3: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, U.S.A.), October 27, 2010, 9:49 AM.

Day before yesterday, one of my Tamil friends visited our house with his wife, for the first time. To make them feel at home, I started talking about famous South-Indian movies like Robot, Ghajni, etc. After a while, my friend's wife casually mentioned that she recently watched 'Rab Ne Banaa Di Jorri' and found it very very boring. At once, due to unknown reasons, I started feeling depressed and let down by her casual comment. For those of you who do not know, 'Rab Ne Banaa Di Jorri' is one of the few Bollywood movies shot in Amritsar. After they left, various thoughts crossed my mind. I tried my level best to forget that incident but perhaps it is permanently registered in my mind now. I feel that anything that is directly or indirectly related to Amritsar, is bound to get special attention of the Sikhs as we are too emotionally attached with this city.

4: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), October 27, 2010, 10:18 AM.

The Indian establishment tried the same trick when the Queen of England was to visit Amritsar. They put up one or the other excuse to impress upon her to cancel her visit. She stood her ground and was not influenced by the anti-Sikh elements.

5: Gurteg Singh (New York, U.S.A.), October 27, 2010, 12:03 PM.

The visit has been officially cancelled as per under-secretary of political affairs. Now we can make all kinds of arguments, but the fact remains that trade, commerce and mutual interests will trump any interest on the part of a minority. In fact it should be a teachable moment for all Sikhs that if they want to play a major role in world affairs, they must have political, economic and military power and not be fooled by some symbolic turban in the Indian Government who serves at the pleasure of his Hindu masters.

6: Tarsem (Milton Keynes, England), October 27, 2010, 1:32 PM.

Well said, Gurteg Singh ji. Without political, economic and military power, we are a ship without a rudder, pushed around by everyone and anyone.

7: Taran (London, United Kingdom), October 28, 2010, 3:53 AM.

It would have been good if Obama had decided to visit Darbar Sahib, but on a serious note, the Sikh establishment I feel has gone so weak worldwide that we Sikhs have to look at high profile people's affection for our religion to get some sort of mileage or propaganda out of it. Even if Obama had chosen to visit Darbar Sahib, I don't think a typical white racist thug would give a toss about it. It might be page-one news or a photo of the day, maximum. What I have noticed is that most people (European, Americans) do know about the Sikh religion, but they tend to pretend they don't.

8: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), October 28, 2010, 4:34 AM.

It is now confirmed that President Obama has decided to forgo his opportunity to go to Harmandar Sahib in Amritsar and will instead visit Hamayun's Tomb in Delhi. It is not a simple trade off when one realizes what each edifice represents. Harmandar Sahib is a place of worship for millions who visit it every day. It is open to all, irrespective of religion or even no religion. Its volunteers prepare and feed more than 100,000 people free meals every day, several times that number on the high holidays. Hamayun's Tomb is just that - a fine reminder of monarchical profligacy and excesses; the final resting place of a king, perhaps his lasting achievement in the sands of time. Such are the political realities of the day. What a pity. I expected something like this; that's why I wrote the essay as I did. Naturally, we are disappointed.

9: Kanwal Prakash Singh (Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A.), October 29, 2010, 6:13 AM.

Respected Dr. Indejit ji: It was great to see you at the 2010 SALDEF National Gala. You have said it eloquently in your article and in your comment(#8) as to what we need to focus on. We should not be looking to the politicians to introduce the Sikh faith, culture and community to the world; we should be looking to the tens of millions of ordinary visitors with extraordinary enthusiasm - belonging to every faith and spiritual tradition - who visit the Harmandar Sahib every year, and celebrate their love and prayers and give a celestial aura to one of the noblest and all-embracing spiritual centers, and a hallowed ground for all humanity. Imagine serving meals to 100,000 visitors and pilgrims temporal and spiritual nourishment every day; enriching the souls of all who come in peace with a timeless message of unity, universality and humanity; imagine the commandments of equality, dignity, human rights, justice, and sanctity of all spiritual wisdoms reverberating through the sacred space; remember the closing words in the daily Ardaas: "Terey bhaanay sarbat da bhalla" - 'May there be peace and goodwill among all of your creation ...' Then imagine, a 2011 "NOBEL PRIZE FOR PEACE" for what this "Institution of Universal Love, Spirit, and Peace" symbolizes, embodies, and celebrates every day, for there is no place like this anywhere on Earth. This world pilgrimage center has stood on this foundation for over four hundred years, welcoming the tired and hungry, those searching for Truth, and millions who come simply to experience the unique interfaith blessings that this sacred space offers everyone without distinction. It is time to invite the world to the Darbar Sahib (The Court of the Lord), the Vatican and Saint Peter's of the Sikhs ... and much, much more! ... with its majesty mirrored and rippling in the Amrit Sarovar (the Pool of Immortality) and its temporal authority anchored by the Timeless Seat of Sikh faith, the Akal Takht (The Throne of The Almighty). The power of imagination lies in doing something about it. The events of the recent decades have presented us an opportunity and responsibility to think in global terms, secure our rightful place among world communities, and make a strong case for Darbar Sahib as a World Spiritual and Humanitarian Center; and that what it stands for and honors, is worthy of an international peace recognition. The Golden Temple of the Sikhs is a living testimony of unequaled universal significance; it is not an edifice, it is living in faith personified; it enshrines and leads the hope and spirit of humanity. This place dignifies life, spirit, brotherhood of all living beings and our shared humanity; it inspires the ordinary, the rich and powerful, with lessons that offer the best hope for mankind's future.

10: N. Singh (Canada), October 29, 2010, 9:24 AM.

I wonder how the Jewish Community in the US would have handled this. Or the Muslim Community, for that matter. All that remains from the suggestions here is that we should all go home and forget about it ...

11: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.), October 30, 2010, 7:48 AM.

N. Singh ji - what a great suggestion. You have broken the shakles of the stale thought-process and looked forward, while most of us are pointing towards the good and bad outcome of Obama not meeting his Amritsar commitment. I would hope the editors of sikhchic.com would open a new dialogue/ forum section to accept short comments and suggestions on how we should come out with a reply. My two cents worth: I think we should stop pressing too hard on this issue with Obama; instead it would be great if we came out and issued a statement along these lines - While it is a pity that President Obama will miss out on one of the most fantastic and revered sites anywhere, connected with a group of warrior-saints who have been fighting a war on terror and fanaticism for the past five centuries. We have fought this war with both spirituality and with a sword. It is a pity that we have been mistaken for Muslims while we have been fighting the same Islamic and Hindu fundamentalism for generations. This is a great chance for us to come out into the media and explain who we are. This needs to be done on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, etc., to reach out to the masses in the U.S.

12: Jagjit Singh (Hong Kong), October 31, 2010, 11:18 PM.

Finally, it seems, somebody is saying something sensible. I agree with Kanwarjeet Singh ji, that we should let the world know through the media who and what we are as a religion, and of our rich history of service to humanity. It is inly through the media that we can let the world understand that we are NOT Muslims.

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