Why Was Obama A No-show in Wisconsin?T. SHER SINGH
Friday, August 17, 2012
A number of people have complained about the fact that US President Barack Obama did not show up in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the way he had in Aurora, Colorado, a mere two weeks earlier, to express his support and condolences in the aftermath of the tragedy there.
Just like you, I don’t know the reasons why. But let me guess …
Because we don’t have any clout?
Isn’t that true, that Sikh-Americans have no clout within the larger picture in America?
If it is indeed true, then why would Obama come to Wisconsin, especially with the presidential election three months away, and his plate so full already? His mission in life, at least during the election season, is to garner votes, and he’ll go wherever he can ... to get votes. He has no time for any other activity.
That’s right. He went to Aurora because it made good election sense. He didn’t come to Wisconsin because it didn’t make good election sense.
I don’t think we can blame Obama for this. Frankly, if I was Obama, I wouldn’t go to Wisconsin either.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Because we are about a million strong in the US, even though everyone dithers over figures, and hum’s-and-ha’s over numbers ... like 200,000 or 500,000 or whatever pops up in the mind at any given moment. It was half-a-million a few decades ago. The total population of the country has shot up since then. But ours has gone down? [Getting our correct numbers is fundamental … but that‘s another subject for another day!]
Yes, we’re a million strong, but we have done everything in our power - everything! - to make sure we look like there are none of us here.
How do we describe ourselves to America?
Then, we wonder why they don’t know what a Sikh is.
We join institutions which are “Indian” caucuses, or “Asian” associations, and give them our all, so that we get to stand, one in a crowd of thousand, and get lost.
We hide our names - Singh and Kaur - so that no one knows who we really are.
We’re even too lazy to wear a simple karra which identifies us as Sikh.
No, let’s not even go into things like “Do we lead our lives like Sikhs?“ because it makes us uncomfortable. Let’s stick to superficialities, the easy stuff, and see how good we are in implementing them.
Do we build our institutions … the ones that will stand for our rights, represent us in corridors of power, tell our stories, educate our children and the children of others?
The simple answer: no, we don’t.
We’ve all successfully pursued "success" and have turned into Malik Bhagos, and yet wonder why Nanak never crosses our threshold anymore ... why there is no barkat in our collective lives.
Do we contribute our daswandh - the tithing of our time and money, of our heart and soul - to those in our community who need it to be able to help us? We don't give but we are ever-ready to take.
It's like neglecting to put sugar in your tea and then complaining to the world that it isn't sweet.
Now that we're in the thick of the election season, are we spending our evenings and weekends working for our favourite political candidates, licking envelopes, knocking on doors, doing fund-raisers? Or are we too busy sitting around our family rooms, catching up with the latest inanity from Bollywood?
We do everything humanly possible to make sure we do not get counted, that we are not represented, that we have no advocates … and then we wonder, when things go wrong, or when we have collective needs that cannot be handled by us on our own (no matter how macho we appear, or how much bravado we proclaim) ... we wonder why no one can see us, no one can hear us.
You know, we’ve neglected ourselves for years, nay, decades. Day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Totally unworried that everything has a consequence. You plant a seed, you enjoy the harvest the next year. If you don’t … you don’t.
Really. We’ve become a strange community. We don’t behave like Sikhs anymore. Not Nanak’s Sikhs. Not Gobind’s Sikhs. We won’t lift a finger to help ourselves … but we want the whole world to drop everything to help us.
Now you know why Obama didn’t come to Wisconsin. Because we have built no clout, and have no clout.
Conversation about this article
1: Jaskirat Singh (Ohio, USA), August 17, 2012, 10:12 AM.
Tough words. Painful. But true. We've made our bed, and have no one else to blame. Thank you for trying to jolt us awake. I hope it works.
2: Preet Kaur (United Kingdom), August 17, 2012, 10:57 AM.
Your pieces have always made me laugh like no one does. Today, as in the last two weeks, you've made me cry ... like no one does. Thank you, for both. You make me think ... and force me to do things I wouldn't otherwise remember to do. Please keep at it: I know it'll have an impact.
3: Tejinder Pal Singh (Houston, Texas, USA), August 17, 2012, 11:53 AM.
What about the fact that Obama didn't want himself to be seen along with turbans during the election season as was the case during last election?
4: Simran Singh (United Kingdom), August 17, 2012, 12:28 PM.
A painful but entirely truthful analysis. Our collective capacity for self delusion has become mind blowing. We remain a minority not only in terms of our numbers but also by the measure of our PR. It is not merely sufficient to have gurdwaras and to host processions. Minorities can have powerful voices too but they must be organised, disciplined and articulate. Above all, as recent the DAILY FIX articles have demonstrated, we need to mobilize main stream media. Another example of the rampant delusion is the current obsession with Sikh broadcast media. In the UK, the advent of Sikh TV channels has taken the propensity for narcissism to new heights. Those whose appearances were hitherto confined to gurdwara stages now project themselves into our living rooms. Like other institutions that have become hijacked by neanderthals who are obsessed with the self deception that goes with Khalistan. Sadly we will never have the recognition that the values of Nanak and Gobind deserve, if we keep at it like this. That is our shortcoming. Not everything that happens to us is a conspiracy against us.
5: Kultaran Singh (Nasik, India), August 17, 2012, 12:42 PM.
From the day of the Oak Creek shooting I have been wondering why there have been so few voices demanding the banning guns, or music and bands that promote white supremacy. No talk of how the Sikhs are planning to defend themselves and how they will hit back if an attacker turns up at their door again.
6: Mahanjot Sodhi (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), August 17, 2012, 1:09 PM.
T. Sher Singh ji: I've always been an admirer of your candid writings, and have appreciated your thoughts and opinions to a large extent. In this case though (inspite of some very good points you've raised), your article seems to somehow indicate that the Sikh community itself is fully responsible for this ignore and ditch by the US President. Morally speaking and keeping self-interests aside, shouldn't it be the prime responsibility and duty of the US President to show his solidarity with the Sikh American community in the wake of the worst ever massacre that has been inflicted on them on American soil? After all, they were all Americans, albeit turban-wearing ones. Was he scared of being termed as a sympathizer of terrorists by the illiterates? Given his earlier track record of ditching the visit to Darbar Sahib for the same reasons during his visit to India some time ago - it is very much possible the reason of not visiting Milwaukee was a very deliberate one as well, and it wouldn't have mattered how influential we might have been in the end!
7: Morrissey (Toronto, Ontario, Canada ), August 17, 2012, 1:36 PM.
Plain and simple, they don't want Obama to be accused of hobnobbing with those who look different.
8: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), August 17, 2012, 1:45 PM.
In answer to Tejinder Pal ji (#3): I know for a fact that Americans are far more open minded and liberal than their counterparts in Canada. And, trust me, it's the easiest thing in the world to get anyone, ANY politician, of any and every party in Canada, to do anything, ANYTHING, go anywhere, ANYWHERE - and I mean, the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, all the way to each and every member of parliament. We live in wonderful times - they and their ilk will go wherever they smell money. And they're all doing it every day. When looking for campaign funds, mere pittance is all you need to grab their attention. I also know for a fact that the same applies to America. Here's the proof: Does anyone in the world believe that Christian America loves Jews and truly sypmathizes with Israel? Remember, these were the very same people, in recent memory, who allowed six million Jews to be gassed to death by their co-religionists and did not lift a finger. When shiploads of Jews escaping from Europe initially arrived at North American shores from Europe, they were turned back to certain death. [Not to mention two thousand years of utter persecution, before.] But when the Jews began to wield their financial might, the entire Christian world became a pussy cat and now gets led around by its proverbial nose. All of this means that we don't need to be loved by these clowns. Show them the colour green and they can suddenly see beyond their noses. They'll jump any hoop for you, and lie down and do tricks for you, if you offer them the right amounts of "campaign funds". It's no longer called a bribe or graft. It's called "campaign funds". Never before has it been so easy. You have seen buffoons like Sant Singh Chhatwal gain direct access to the Clintons, not through his loveability, charm or intellectual acumen, but through the appropriate wads of money he contributes to their causes. However, his agenda has NEVER been to further Sikh interests, merely his own corporate ones. But there is no reason why we can't "win" support for ourselves as a community with equal efficiency. We merely need to play the game. And we aren't. My article, however, also obliquely refers to other things that we should be doing ... all of which are equally important if we are not to have to pay for every step forward.
9: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), August 17, 2012, 2:05 PM.
Re Mahanjot's & Morrisey's comments (# 6 & 7): I beg to differ. To begin with, the reasons we bandy around for Obama's failure to go to Amritsar are no more than urban legends. We don't know the real reason(n). Frankly, if you ask me, it had something to do with the Indians aggressively discouraging him from doing so - and we know the enormous clout they carry today vis-a-vis trade. We also know how hard they have tried to discourage British and Canadian visitors from going to Amritsar as well, but the respective Sikh communities have had a bigger clout and won. Our numbers in the diaspora are big enough, our affluence large enough, to enable us to become powerful. But we keep on losing our edge when we make ourselves subservient to Indian interests, especially when we know that the Indians will do everything to hurt us. They need us to pad their numbers in the diaspora, but by our letting them use our numbers to pad support for India, we sell ourselves short. And then we wonder why we get ignored or mistreated! We need to stop cooking up excuses for the failures or mischief of others, and become pro-active. Otherwise, we'll become perennial whiners and victims - which is exactly what we've come to sound recently. If we do things right, you'll see how quickly you'll turn loveable and embraceable.
10: N. Singh (Canada), August 17, 2012, 3:16 PM.
@ Simran Singh #4: I agree with most of what you have said and I don't want to hijack this thread. However, I disagree with your argument regarding Khalistan. Khalistan is an ideology and although there are those that would argue that it will not come into existence, I for one beg to differ. I suspect that we're like the Jews who would have argued the same about Israel.
11: N. Singh (Canada), August 17, 2012, 3:25 PM.
Re #8: For what it is worth this has definitely been my experience vis-a-vis the Jews and White Christians in Canada. A few years ago I was on the board of a charitable organization. A couple of members of the senior advisory board were Jewish and very successful and established. These members openly contributed substantial amounts of money to the charity through various Jewish foundations, however as soon as the meeting ended and the Jews were gone, other members would make a point of denigrating their Jewishness and referred to them as the 'other'. I learned very quickly that Jewish money was much loved by the Christians and they would never say no to it. Their prejudices and rejections were reserved for the Jews, but not their money.
12: N. Singh (Canada), August 17, 2012, 11:03 PM.
I must say I am surprised at the dirth of comments here in response to T. Sher Singh ji's post and comments. This is exactly what I have been thinking but unable to articulate or get other people to see (especially #8 and #9). I have to thank him for being so honest because finally I am beginning to believe there is nothing wrong with me. I find it politically naive that Sikhs (especially in Canada) have not yet worked out how the system works, or perhaps they don't care enough to bother to understand it? I am also surprised that no one has figured out that the major media outlets in Canada (e.g., CanWest) until quite recently were owned by our Jewish brothers. Often I suspected they were able to use their considerable clout to deflect light and prejudice from their own community towards ours. (Also, as allies of Hindu India, they have a common enemy - Islam.) I don't have anything against the Jewish community and hold them in high regard but this has often bothered me. I suppose all that goes to show is if you have the money and the clout, pretty much everything or everyone in the so-called Canadian - and American - system is for sale!
13: Raj (Canada), August 17, 2012, 11:23 PM.
This article and related thread have substantiated what I have always believed. You need political clout with whatever means you can come up with. Hindu India is using the "world's largest middle class trade" pawn to influence foreign governments. Owning riches can be a double edge sword, and there is no better example than that of the Jews in the last century. We need a world body, with very strong intellectual, religious and financial backing, and finally, membership in UN. Even if it's membership as observer. Once you're organized at every level, the Obamas and Gandhis of the world will bend over backward to listen to you.
14: R. Singh (Canada), August 18, 2012, 10:36 AM.
This is one of the most profound pieces I have read in a long time. It is a wake-up call to all those who are living in the no-mans-land called the 'South Asian' group, offering our demographic numbers to justify their causes, and provide access to what the Sikh diaspora took a century to attain, with blood, sweat and tears. We stand by only to be shoved aside by the newly arrived flag-waving jingoists who could not, if even if their lives depended on it, look for justice for themselves or their co-religionists, yet delivering homilies on everything from 'Khalistan' to looking down their collective noses, living their bollywood dreams to the hilt. Between the devil and the deep sea, i.e., narcissists spilling over from gurdwara stages to those who simply arrive with all their eggs in the Indian basket, the choices for leadership are dismal. We keep getting collective accolades for the likes of South Asian Deepa Mehta portraying us as a bizarre bunch, where it appears our loose daughters can only be reformed by marrying rich hindu gentlemen. We stand on the sidelines applauding sheepishly, while the 'intellectual' Indians bask in the borrowed and stolen glory. Do they see these folks even squeak on events like Wisconsin or would want Obama visit Wisconsin? No doubt whatsoever - we need to develop our own clout!
15: Jespal Brar (Lodi, California, U.S.A.), August 18, 2012, 12:59 PM.
No question we have to develop our own institutions that can define us and speak for us. Indian interests are not our interests! Please stop identifying yourselves as "Indian". 'Indian' is a nationality and not an ethnic designation. The Tamil, for example, and the Punjabi do not share any dress, language, customs, religion, heritage, traditions or history. In the north-eastern states of India, the people there are ethnically different from us - more like East or South East Asians. So 'Indian' does not make sense for Punjabis. Personally, I prefer Punjabi-American because I am Punjabi. My religion is Sikh.
16: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), August 18, 2012, 3:45 PM.
As per the explanation of gurbani given by great gursikhs like Bhai Randhir Singh and S. Bhagwant Singh Dilawari, Sikhi is only in the character, honesty, living in accordance with gurbani, kirdaar, nyarapan of Sikhs, regardless of whether we are in shops, offices, service, trade, we are customers or sellers or passengers aboard a bus, train, dealing with our own family members, relatives, neighbors, students, etc. As also mittha bolna, which can be the greatest asset. May we all Sikhs live such a life with the grace of Waheguru. I have read somewhere that there was a time when court cases were settled just as per statement given by a Sikh.
17: Aryeh Leib (Israel), August 19, 2012, 4:33 AM.
Harpreet Singh (#16): 150 years ago in Germany (of all places!) it was understood that if you made a transaction with a Jew, no written contract was needed; his word was sufficient. Would that the same were true today! That notwithstanding, I applaud your call for the best, albeit the most difficult to implement, option - "a life with the grace of Waheguru". That's the best possible solution for the Quom and for the world. N. Singh (#10): the comparison doesn't work. While Khalistan is, as you state, an "ideology", the Land of Israel is a concept inextricably tied with normative Judaism itself. Sikhi, to the best of my knowledge, completely eschews the idea of one piece of land possessing any more holiness than any other - while the Torah proclaims the Holy of Holies on Jerusalem's Temple Mount as being the point from which the entire Universe was created; a Universe which was created for the sake of the People of Israel, the Torah, and the Land of Israel. No such concepts exist in Sikhi, if I'm not mistaken. The creation of the State of Israel would have been a non-starter, had not the yearning for the return to Zion not been an integral part of prayers every day for every Jew, no matter where or at which time period of their far-flung diaspora.
18: Ari Singh (Sofia, Bulgaria), August 19, 2012, 8:00 AM.
This article is a wake-up call for the Sikh community. Sikhs should, at the VERY least, use their last names and karras. And they should not sell themselves short to any one. Pakistani Punjabis hate Indians but are friendly to Sikhs, yet we blindly side with the Hindus in India. We have stopped being the Sikhs of our Ten Masters! That is why there is no barkat in our community. Our billionaires have hardly contributed to our society, unlike the Jewish community. We can learn from the Jews only in that they too have suffered enormously through their history: they have learned to have clout - no reason why we cannot learn from them.
19: Charandeep Singh (India), August 19, 2012, 1:46 PM.
I don't live in America. But the hard hitting fact that has been raised today really needs introspection. I want to take you 200-250 years back. In those days Sikhs carried a reward on their heads. The law of the land encouraged the masses to bring in Sikhs, dead or alive. Sikhs lived on horseback and led the lives of nomads. Quite often they had to live on leaves and shrubs. Yet their hearts were firm, and resolution strong. Today we have paying jobs and rich lifestyles but is it not true that something has gone amiss. We can expect others to see us with respect only when we come together and respect ourselves and each other. Let Sikhi be our measuring rod and not caste, nationality or bank balance.
20: Jaswinder Kaur (Germany), August 19, 2012, 3:16 PM.
T. Sher Singh ji, I love reading your articles. They are not only informative but also blunt. Unfortunately we Sikhs living in the diaspora or in Punjab and india are hypocrites. We have killed our values on which Sikhi is based. We have camps for children, but do we try to turn our children into strong characters? Never. And until we change ourselves, we will always suffer and put the blame on others.
21: N. Singh (Canada), August 19, 2012, 4:12 PM.
@ Aryeh Leib ji (#17): Yes, you are partly correct vis-a-vis Judaism and Sikhi. However, every day, Sikhs all over the world refer to and aspire for "Khalsa Raj" in their daily ardaas (prayer). It is accepted as a fact that the Khalsa will rule even though the die-hard 'spiritualists' would argue that this refers to Sikhi becoming pervasive throughout the world and not to a physical landscape. However, they fail to take into account the 'Miri/Piri' concept in Sikhi which aligns both the spiritual and temporal elements of our lives. The concept of Sikhi as handed down by Guru Nanak was carried to its logical conclusion by the Nine Gurus that followed, including Guru Hargobind and Guru Gobind Singh. Although Sikhi does not refer directly to a Khalistan or more precisely to a Khalistan based on the lines of the historial or current Punjab boundaries, the idea of self determination and rule is ever present within it.
22: Aryeh Leib (Israel), August 20, 2012, 6:36 AM.
N. Singh (#21): We're definitely getting off topic here, and there's probably a better place to discuss it, but who says the "die-hard 'spiritualists'" aren't correct? Or, is Sikhi just like every other creed, unable to view itself as complete until it's taken over the entire world?
23: Christine Kaur (Houston, Texas, USA), August 20, 2012, 1:20 PM.
I understand what T.Sher Singh is saying here, but even in a country like India where we have bigger numbers, Obama still didn't visit Harmandar Sahib because they say he didn't want to cover his head and be associated to Islam. That is, if I understood the rumours correctly. If they are true, then tragedies like this are inevitable. If Obama didn't visit the Golden Temple for that reason, why would he visit the Oak Creek Gurdwara?
24: Dr .Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 21, 2012, 7:54 AM.
I am a bit confused - don't we have our own institutions and organisations (ranging from the centuries-old Akal Takht to the recent ones like SALDEF, Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, etc)? Or are we now arguing for a scrapping of all of the old and replacing them with the new, instead of cleaning them up and/or fine-tuning them? Unless we first clean up our act as a community, what is the guarantee that the new ones we then create will be any better? By the way, there is no such thing or entity in Sikhi such as "die hard spiritualist". Sikhism is the only religious ideology that does not subscribe to or proclaim the mantra of "taking over the world" to be complete. In fact the opposite: it is the only set of values known to man which freely talks about helping other ideologies flourish in peace ... as equals. Wish those of other faiths of the world today could learn a bit from Sikhi. Maybe then, just maybe, the world would become a better place than the mess it is today.
25: N. Singh (Canada), August 21, 2012, 11:52 AM.
@ Dr Birinder Singh Ji: I apologize to the readers but 'die hard spiritualist' is a term I coined to describe those Sikhs who wrongly subscribe to the concept that Sikhi only exists on the 'spiritual' level and not the temporal. Or that "Raj Karega Khalsa" merely has one or the other connotation, instead of the balance between the two, which is its central intent. They forget or don't understand the concept of Miri/Piri. Yes, no such concept exists in Sikhi but there are those amongst us who are unduly influenced by other religions in this and other regards.