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1984: The Lessons of History
The Roundtable Open Forum #68

by I.J. SINGH

 

 

We have examined the events of 1984 and dissected them ad hominem.

Plenty of reports lay the history bare; who did what to whom is no longer a secret except to die-hard loyalists of the Indian government. Yes, there remain those who having eyes see not and having ears hear not. That will not easily change.

Today I come to Sikhs and 1984 from a very different direction.

In life there are many dots to connect. I offer you today a limited few from the pre World War II history that I didn’t know existed until very recently.

In The Garden of Beasts, is a new book by Eric Larson. Its subtitle “Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin” tells us that it is not a scholarly tome on history; but it brings out historical nuggets that have become pivotal to
the Jewish sense of self.

In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed William Dodd, an academic historian, the ambassador of the United States to Germany. Hitler had just become the Chancellor of Germany and the future would soon unfold in new and unexpected ways.

You might ask: So what does that have to do with 1984 and the plight of Sikhs in India and around the world?

Larson tells us that when Ambassador Dodd and his family arrived at his new job in the Germany of 1933, Hitler’s storm troopers were already tightening restrictions against Jews who were being increasingly targeted by Nazis in brutal violence.

Keep in mind that Jews then formed only one percent of Germany’s population, but they were a prominently visible minority.

Larson makes a point that I want to bring to your attention: It was a different world then. Public opinion in the United States was isolationist. It is important to know that neither the American public nor the State Department was generally sympathetically disposed to Jews. In fact, the ambassador’s daughter, Martha, noted the “intoxication of the new regime (Nazis) that worked like wine in her”.

She was enthralled enough by the Nazis that she wrote in her memoir, “We sort of don’t like the Jews anyway."

Remember that attitudes shaped by organized Christianity, until very recently, were generally hostile to the Jews; for example, one could routinely hear sermons and diatribes holding the Jews responsible for the killing of Jesus.

Some of that anti-Semitism still lingers though it is often sub-rosa. For example, until the Second World War, Jews were largely denied admission to medical schools in this country. In the 2008 presidential election, the mother of George Allen, a potential Republican candidate from Virginia, hid her Jewish antecedents because she was fearful that the connection might backfire against her son. Many more examples of anti-Jewish bias exist.

Given the general climate of anti-Semitism, the State Department was quite comfortable in letting Hitler have his way on the Jewish question. President Roosevelt himself instructed Ambassador Dodd that the German treatment of Jews was shameful but it was not the business of the American government. Most significantly, according to Larson, even the American Jewish leaders seemed to be ambivalent and divided.

We know now that the story of prewar Germany cannot and must never be isolated from the Holocaust, book burnings, Reichstag trial, Sobor, Dachau and other concentration camps, and the Nuremberg Trials.

It seems self-evident that the story of post-independence India cannot and should never be divorced from the history of the Partition of 1947, the lumping of Sikhs with others in the Hindu Code Bill in the Indian Constitution, the Punjabi Suba imbroglio, the 1984 attack on the Golden Temple and so many other places of Sikh worship, the attempted genocide of Sikhs in the decade from the mid-80’s onwards, and the denial of justice that continues till today.

This is not a comprehensive listing; I am sure readers can provide many more instances.

It is also obvious, except to those who refuse to see, that the sins of India against its minorities - Sikhs and others -- will continue to be forgiven by the Western world in the interest of global geo-political and economic necessities. Hence, India today does what its needs of an acceptable global image demand; it presents the face of a few good, respectable, competent Sikhs, as if to hide the reality of rotting food by a surfeit of cream and sugar.

We know that grave injustice happened in India, even though Sikhs, like the Jews of a different time, continued to present divisive and ambivalent opinions. The Jews made up barely one percent of Germany then; Sikhs were and remain less than two percent of India.

What we need to learn today is how and why the generally anti-Semitic outlook of the American government and people changed and did so dramatically that now someone who is visibly anti-Jewish probably won’t be elected dog-catcher even in the smallest two-bit town in America.

How did this cultural paradigm shift occur and within just one generation? The change didn’t come overnight but there is not even an iota of doubt that it did. Even Germany seems to have seen the light.

POINTS TO PONDER

Do these events and prewar attitudes about Jews display a parallel to our Sikh existence today?

Are there some lessons to be learned here?

Does this history of the Jews have something to teach us?

As part of the Roundtable Open Forum this week, we invite comments from our readers.

 

ijsingh99@gmail.com

June 13, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Karambir Singh (Patiala, Punjab), June 13, 2011, 8:02 AM.

We, as a community, need to work on several fronts. Here are a few first baby-steps: 1) Never forget. 2) Don't nurse a grudge ... but remain focused. Do not allow distractions or diversions. 3) Work relentlessly, no matter how much time goes by, to bring the criminals to justice. 4) Educate ourselves, our community, our children ... and the world at large, on the facts. 5) Build alliances. 6) Invest financial resources into strategically placed institutions. 7) Create a team of lawyers, journalists, writers, speakers, teachers, artists, PR/ communication/ media network ... The rest will follow.

2: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 13, 2011, 8:59 AM.

A valuable perspective. We must remember though that support of the Jews is not quite as warm outside of the United States, which seems to have some special attachment to Israel. Even that has been getting some scrutiny - take a look at the book, "The Israeli Lobby in America" by two highly respected scholars from Harvard and Chicago that appears to have changed the tone a bit. Recent very public spats between Netanyahu (or is it just Yahoo) and Obama suggest that a more pragmatic outlook might be in the offing. Nonetheless, the Jews were successful in this country because of tireless lobbying and fundraising. That, I believe, is something we will have to do, at least here in the U.S. In India, I am not so sure. There is a built-in anti-Sikh bias at work in that country.

3: Jason Whitfield (New York, U.S.A.), June 13, 2011, 10:40 AM.

The support for the Israeli Lobby is minimal from the average citizen of the United States. It is built completely on a house of cards - the strength of money and nothing else. The good and bad point about American-style democracy is that our politicians are for sale and can be bought for the 'right' amount of money. The sole democratic element of it is in the fact that they are for sale to one and all who come up with the money. That is the full extent of the reason behind America's support for Israel ... it is not moral in nature, and it is not idealogical. And, I trust, it won't be for ever ... a bigger bidder will come along, as sure as day follows night.

4: Onkar Kaur (Birmingham, United Kingdom), June 13, 2011, 12:13 PM.

The first and simplest thing each of us can do is make sure our children know all the whys and the hows and the whats and the wheres about 1984 - June and November. They must know it well, but without acquiring a chip on the shoulder. They must be educated about it to understand reality, so that if and when they can help when they grow up, they'll be well-equipped with facts, conviction and dedication. Repeat the process, or do it in tandem, with the story of the Partition of Punjab. If you need help with resources, contact Sikh Research Institute at SikhRI.org - they'll help you out.

5: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 13, 2011, 12:46 PM.

I want to add to my previous comments (had to rush off!). Of course, fundraising and lobbying is necessary but that's not all there is to it. I think Sikhs share some traits as well - apart from similarities in our recent histories that you point out. We share a worldview, for instance, that encourages active engagement here and now, in society as opposed to some afterlife; we are (were) marginalized groups and often picked on (for different reasons) which has given us a certain resiliency and an innovative can-do spirit. Jews have been forced to migrate where Sikhs have an innate wanderlust. The one thing the Jews do very well and Sikhs do not is create social capital - i.e., network to help each other out. The Jews have done this very well indeed. More later.

6: Harman Singh (California, U.S.A.), June 13, 2011, 2:24 PM.

Education is key: of ourselves, our childeren and then others. Money, media, and political clout will further help the cause. I agree with Ravinder Singh ji: social capital is a must. Try to consciously invest in our community, supporting institutions (SALDEF, Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, SikhRI, et al) that advance the Sikh cause. Next time we need to hire a mechanic to fix our car, a contractor to extend our living room, or a caterer for our social gatherings, let's keep Sikh businesses in mind.

7: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 13, 2011, 5:31 PM.

The innate purpose of any dialogue is to bring in focus or awareness that not everything is right in Denmark. In the context of mending the world, the history of mankind is replete with examples of the so-called 'satjug' or dreams of 'ram raj', which, even during the Ram Chander's raj, was full of human foibles, despite being a 'Maryada purshotam'. Otherwise, how would one condone with lead having poured in the ear of a shudra whose only mistake was to listen to the 'shastars'. There is always a tiny flame of goodness alive. I remember when LPG-bottled gas first became available in the early 60's, we had a bathroom shower heater that had a tiny flame on at all times. All we had to do was press and turn the knob and it would burst into a hissing flame which would instantly heat the water as it came out of the shower. We need to keep that tiny flame alive. Guru Nanak was ahead of the LPG by a few centuries when he turned the knob on, Sajjan the Thug, Bhoomiya, Harnakash, Noor Shah and many more. Guru Arjan's own brother, Prithia, who had brought about such havoc. Yet, Guru Arjan prayed for him: "har kee-o too sukh sampat rasas/ raakh laihu bhaa-ee mayray ko prabh aagai ardaas" [GGS: 619.11] - "Please save, O my Beloved, I offer this prayer to my Waheguru, By His Command, when He places His Hand on our foreheads, wickedness departs from within." There is a parallel between the Sikhs and the Jews in that there was no political or economic justification to exterminate the Jews. The same thing happened to Sikhs, as we are all too familiar. "Khoon kay sohlay gave-ah naanak rat kaa kingoo paa-ay lalo" - [GGS:723.10] - "The wedding song of murder is sung, O Nanak, and blood is sprinkled instead of saffron." Let's keep this tiny flame alive ... therein lies salvation. It is the mothers who are largely the custodians, when fathers are concerned with larger issues like "What shall we do with Ramdev the simian 'billa' in-charge of the milk?" We do not need to compare in a morbid contest who has suffered the most in history - Sikhs or the Jews. It is important to remember our history like we do in our daily ardaas and remember the martyrs and try to differentiate the good from the bad.

8: Raj (Canada), June 13, 2011, 7:34 PM.

Anyone who has worked with, gone to school with or observed a Jewish person will conclude that they're very success driven people. They're focused, flexible and persistent in their approach to be successful, sometimes at any cost. In today's world of globalization, not too many countries can go against the will of this "lobby". Basically, they can choke any country financially. There's lot to learn from them.

9: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 14, 2011, 8:14 AM.

At #7, the word 'bhaa-ee' in the Guru Granth Sahib [619.11] doesn't represent any individual person.

10: Hardeep Singh (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), June 14, 2011, 8:08 PM.

Good to see this topic. The Jewish holocaust during WWII provides a very important learning perspective for us. Watching a documentary, Auschwitz, on Netflix (a 6-part series) provided some insights: 1) How Jews were labelled and blamed for all the miseries of others. 2) How Hitler was successful in diverting the distress and anger of the people by image-assassinating the Jewish community. For us Sikhs, the learning is that we should never reduce ourselves to pure consumer lifestyle in any society or country. Besides economics, we as a community need to participate in mainstream social, political, defence and other law enforcement agencies. One reason the Jews became an easy target in Germany and other parts of Europe was that they had limited themselves to economic development of themselves, thus they were much more successful than others economically. And when others were living life in misery and were fighting wars for their countries, Jews had not much participation in protecting their nations. Today Sikhs are citizens of many countries. We need to ensure that we participate in all dimensions of society.

11: Gurjender Singh (Marryland, U.S.A.), June 15, 2011, 6:57 AM.

The major difference between the Jewish holocaust of the 1940s and the 1984 Holocaust (June and November) is that most of the people in the world do not know about 1984 due to the media blackout imposed by the Indian Govt. and more than 60 percent of the Indian population today were not born at that time or very young to remember. Sikhs need to develop some good historical books and films to document those events and to educate people vis TV media by commemorating this event and providing knowledge to others.

12: N. Singh (Canada), June 15, 2011, 8:10 AM.

I agree with the above comments regarding social networking, education, as well as financial and economic resources all having led to the monumental success of the Jews. For the sake of perspective. there are 13 million Jews worldwide, and there are 25-30 million Sikhs, and yet we have nowhere near the collateral and standing that the Jews have. The Jewish army and their secret service ... the best in the world, the best lawyers and doctors, writers and academics ... you name it, they do it best. However the one thing that stands out is that the Jews see themselves as a 'tribe', a 'nation' and the survival of Judaism is contingent on survival of the Jewish people. Conversely the Sikhs are deeply divided and scattered in their loyalties. They are 'clannish', preferring to stick to those from their own village, caste or family clan ... this has led to even more sub-divisions, dislikes and petty jealousies. They have failed to recognize what the concept of 'Singh' and 'Kaur' was meant to re-inforce ... that we are all 'one' family, all having the same surname (Singh, Kaur) with the same Father and Mother (Tenth Master). We have let ourselves be divided and then conquered ...

13: Om Prasad Diwakar  (Gurgaon, India), June 15, 2011, 10:18 AM.

While listing all the successes that the Jewish community has achieved - and no doubt there are many - how do you reconcile them with the great setback they have had, which outstrips everything else: the systematic and organized murder of 6 million of its members. All of it was tolerated, if not endorsed, by much of the Western world. If theirs is such a great success story, how do you explain this? That they are a Chosen people, and the Good Lord chooses them to suffer in this extreme manner? I'm sorry, but looking at the entire picture, I can't see much of a success story where there is no Jewish family in the Western world today which hasn't seen members of its household murdered within living memory. Strange, but no one is willing to deal with this fact headlong, while we blindly look at only one aspect of their lives.

14: N. Singh (Canada), June 15, 2011, 6:47 PM.

Om Prasad: I don't see the point of your argument. It has been widely acknowledged across the world that the Jews have suffered. This makes their success story even more poignant and worth emulating. Why are you putting the blame of their suffering on God or their own doing? Do we blame God when an innocent child dies of cancer? Do we blame the child when it is slaughtered by tyrants? What are you suggesting as an alternative to their success? ... that we wait for destiny or idols to come to life and save us (like the Dalits)? The Jews faced the atrocities committed against them and have emerged stronger and more resilient than ever. Since the formation of Israel, they have become a force to be reckoned with. What, pray, have the Indians achieved since the formation of India? Is India's growth based on talent, hard work and initiative, or on being a supply of cheap labour because they are just good at breeding lots of children? When has it been a show of greatness or masculinity for the many to harass the few? A horde of mice will never be equal to a man.

15: I.J Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 16, 2011, 4:51 PM.

Om Prasad: You raise interest questions but those are not pertinent to the issues raised in my column. My focus here is to look at the fact that in much of the Western world, particularly in America, there has been a sea change in attitudes towards our Jewish neighbors. I find it fascinating to see what was and what is now. Now, in that, are there a few lessons? That in a nutshell is the question. But stay in the discussion. A discussion is a window to how people think about certain issues.

16: Brijinder Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 17, 2011, 11:44 AM.

I think the perception of the Jews has changed from the historical one of greedy penny pinchers to a persecuted minority. The holocaust turned them into victims. Everyone can sympathize with that. The one thing we can take from the Jews is their ability to keep the holocaust relevant in the consciousness of the public. Whether it is through museums or movies, everyone knows exactly what the holocaust was. In contrast, most people don't know what happened to Sikhs in 1984. A lot of people don't even know who Sikhs are, despite us outnumbering Jews by almost 10 million, and our greater visibility.

17: Aryeh Leib (Israel), June 19, 2011, 11:45 AM.

My friends (for so I consider you), please forgive my entering the conversation at this late stage - trust that I have my reasons. The status of the People of Israel (which, today, very much includes those living in the State of Israel) within the Christian and Muslim World cannot be properly understood outside its historical/religious context - which, in some ways - is the very opposite of the Sikh experience vis-a-vis Indian society. Israel as a national religious entity begins at Mount Sinai with the mutually agreed upon covenant between the extended family of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - and the Master of the Universe. There were no intermediaries. William Norman Ewer (British journalist and probable Soviet spy) once penned, "How odd of God / To choose the Jews" - to which Ogden Nash riposted, "Not so odd / The Jews chose God". And this forms, you'll pardon the mixed metaphor, the "crux" of the matter. Both Christianity and Islam agree that the Covenant at Sinai really happened; indeed, both religions base their very existence on this event being factual. What happened is, despite the Torah (The Five Books of Moses given at Sinai, along with the Oral Torah - the Mishna) stating unequivocally that God would never break his Covenant with the People of Israel, Christianity - and later, Islam - both claim the validity of their respective religions on the premise of what's known as Replacement Theology, ie. God broke His Covenant with you ... and gave it to us!". The Sikhs are at the other end of a rather different equation, being considered either one more variation on Hindu thought and practice, or apostate Muslims. Neither situation makes for very comfortable co-existence, but I'm not completely sure how much each can learn from the other. The People of Israel is, according to most Jewish authorities, presently in the final stages of a history that was revealed in its entirety, before they had lived so much as a single day of it. Everything that has happened to it was prophesied long, long ago. There may appear to be similarities, but these are quite superficial in nature. That being said, it by no means precludes mutual goodwill and assistance between the two faith groups when their interests dovetail, as in the case for maintaining distinctive appearance (Brijinder ji #16, you must not have any Hasidim in your part of NY, or you wouldn't have what to say about, "greater visibility"!). To Raj #8 - historically, they have saved many countries financially. Finally, can it be that none of you are witnessing the pendulum swinging back? Any resident of the UK or Europe can tell you that anti-Jewish sentiment has reached proportions not seen since the 1930's, with attacks against the Jewish religion and physical violence against individuals higher than anything remotely imaginable to those who concern themselves with that red herring called "Islamophobia". Please forgive my long-windedness, and know that I've only scratched the very surface on an iceberg of Titanic proportions.

18: N. Singh (Canada), June 19, 2011, 2:49 PM.

Aryeb Leib: I am not a theologian so I am unable and unwilling to argue as to whether the Jews are God's chosen people or not, but your comment regarding the Sikhs and their origins is an interesting one. Most Sikhs today see themselves as descendants from Hindus and would willingly concede that Sikhism is a breakaway from Hinduism ... and from the Abrahamic religions, represented primarily by Islam. Although they love to blame the Hindu propaganda machine for misconceptions, the argument remains that your misinformation also exists amongst the 'regular, ordinary' Sikhs. However, Sikhism makes it clear that it is a "revealed" religion.

19: Jaimal Singh (Paris, France), June 19, 2011, 3:31 PM.

I have absolutely no difficulty in accepting the fact that what Mr. Aryeh Leib says is what the Jews believe in ... and all power to them for such beliefs. I can also accept the fact that there is a lot of commonality between the beliefs of Jews and those of Christians and Muslims. However, that in itself gives NO legitimacy to claims that God spoke to anybody, that any people are "chosen", or any land has been promised by anybody to anybody. I am sorry but anyone who has any true belief in God, and some brains that he is willing to use, can see that all of this - as is much of what all institutionalized religions say - is pure pablum, and utterly meaningless. For anyone to think that any such claims have any moral or legal or social weight for the rest of the world has to be soft in the head. True, Israel has got away with a lot to date based on these claims, but, trust me, it is not on the strength of the claims, but the wealth the Jewish community has wielded, that it has made the strides it has. Mr Leib, I will, as a Sikh, defend your right to believe in these things you describe, with my life ... but if you think any one - other than the Jewish people or their apologists - in his right mind and in a position to be objective, balanced and independent, will give two cents for the substance of what you say, you are being delusional. This is not to be taken as a criticism of your or of Jewish beliefs. It is not! But it IS a total and unequivocal criticism of anybody who believes that the rest of the world should swallow it, hook, line and sinker.

20: Jim Langstaff (New York, U.S.A.), June 19, 2011, 3:47 PM.

I'm sorry, Mr. Leib, but I don't buy your claims that the Jewish community is being discriminated any more than, or even as much, as all other communities in the world. In fact, the opposite is true: the Jewish community enjoys privileges far way, way beyond its fair share. True, there are racial incidents directed against them ... and they are against all other ethnicities and religious groups. But no longer is the world willing to bestow a permanent victimhood on the Jews, because it simply does not hold water. I think Jews and Israel would indeed fare much better if they started realizing that they are sharing this earth with many, many other people and that they are no better, no more chosen, no more entitled to special privileges, than any one else. Enough of this propaganda that you have regurgitated after picking it up from your locals; it is time people stop being selfish and self-centered and start being honest with themselves ... and with the world.

21: EDITOR (sikhchic.com), June 19, 2011, 3:53 PM.

This is to request readers to remain focused on the issues and questions raised by the author. The topic of Israel's history and Jewish beliefs, etc., is an interesting and important one, but - as part of this Roundtable - a diversion from the main issue at hand. All further comments should be directed specifically to the "Points to Ponder". Thank you.

22: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 20, 2011, 5:55 AM.

Let me offer a brief comment on any people being especially chosen by God. Exploring this matter of exclusivity, I have a longish essay titled "The Spin Cycle" on this site. Readers, including my friend Arieh Leib, might enjoy it. That issue aside, the column here is not meant to dissect the fundamentals of any religion - certainly not Judaism or of its two offsprings - Christianity and Islam. As as I have stated elsewhere, one should look for the roots of anti-semitism in the interrelations of these three faiths. Again, as the editorial note points out, we need to stick with the issues raised in the column - primarily, how did the sea change occur in the European and American perspective on Jews, and how we might explore it or learn from it. That injustices continue to occur against a people is a continuing saga in the history of mankind, no matter the faith, ethnicity, color, gender or nationality.

23: N. Singh (Canada), June 20, 2011, 12:36 PM.

I think the 'exclusivity myth' is a brilliant idea! Hitler tried it by creating the idea of Aryan race, and the Hindus successfully used it by creating the caste-system. They also tried to created a sense of national exclusiveness by fostering Gandhi as 'Father of India' but failed on this account ... perhaps because they used violence on Sikhs and Muslims to force a sense of identity. Fortunately for the Jews, they have been successful in brainwashing all their folks into believing in their exclusivity and for them it has worked ... they have a sense of unity and survival which has propelled them to great heights. A shame that the Sikhs can't do the same ... I'm all for myths, provided they work in my favour!

24: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 21, 2011, 6:57 AM.

A wonderful discussion. How about the items in comment (#1) by Karambir Singh? He has itemized action items that might allow us to focus on building an agenda and bring out the devil that's in the details.

25: Natascha H├Ągermann  (Germany), June 28, 2011, 9:29 AM.

Of course, and 100% Germany does see the light!

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