No One is Born Free and Brave: MANJIT SINGH, Montreal
You Have To Work At It
The American national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, celebrates in its lyrics “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
The shooting at a Sikh house of worship on August 5, 2012, resulting in the death of six innocent members of the Sikh-American congregation and wounding of three individuals, including a police officer, made me think about the significance of these words.
Is America truly a land of the free and the brave?
The answer is much more complex and complicated than one’s initial reaction of branding it as neither free nor brave.
At a macro level, the evolution of American society as a land of the free and brave is indeed real. People of diverse backgrounds from all parts of the globe have come to America and sooner or later have been able to realize their dreams in terms of economic and political success. Asian, Black and Hispanic Americans have been making incremental progress in this regard despite racial biases that afflict mainstream America.
America operates on the principle of the rule of law, which promises freedom and equality for all citizens.
At a micro level, the answer to whether it is indeed a land of the “free and brave” becomes very foggy.
Because of the constitutional guarantee that every American enjoys in terms of free speech, religious belief and the right to bear arms, American society has developed many contradictions, resulting in the rise of fringe groups who have misused these freedoms to the detriment of minorities in particular and society in general.
Despite incidents of violence by these fringe groups against innocent American,s using the cover of the freedoms enshrined in the American constitution, American society has been unable to find a way to prevent these senseless acts.
This failure can be attributed equally to the political, religious, educational (schools) and media establishments in the USA.
Notwithstanding the thoughtful response to the shooting by President and Mrs Obama, Mitt Romney and a couple of State Governors, the rest of the political establishment has not said a word about this tragedy. This is consistent with the past behaviour of the political class expressing their inability to act because of constitutional constraints.
Bertrand Russell, the famous British philosopher of the 20th century, said that the greatest lesson of history is that man has refused to learn a lesson. The history of inaction by the US Congress against repeated acts of violence directed at innocent Americans fits the bill perfectly.
When it comes to the mainstream religious establishment, the situation is as dismal as is the case with the Congress.
Where are the cardinals, the bishops and the reverends? Why have they not spoken out to condemn this senseless act by a man claiming to represent their interests? This is not the first time this group of community leaders has been absent from its express mandate of bringing comfort to victims and their families.
Tragedies of a similar nature that happened before were also not responded to by the religious establishment, with the exception of some Jewish and Muslim organizations and well meaning and decent individual Americans.
There is all kinds of talk for interfaith harmony but it remains mere talk.
Because the United States has a pro-active immigration policy to attract bright minds to America, it also has an obligation to educate its indigenous public about the new arrivals, their culture and religion. The best place to impart this education is at the school level. Here again, the system is being unresponsive to the needs of the public.
Education is not a one shot deal. It has to be done on a continuing basis requiring a commitment of resources. The ball is in the court of the political and religious establishments to allocate resources for this task.
The problem with the media is that its focus is always on what is hot today. It does not see itself being responsible for committing resources for the long term. The media’s ability to meld public opinion is undisputed but remains unrealised.
America did not reach this point overnight.
It has been in the making for many decades. Consequently it is not going to get resolved in a hurry. What is needed here is the will of the American people to compel the opinion and policy makers to address this problem in a systematic and consistent manner.
Sikh-Americans as well as Sikhs living in Canada will have to fall back on Sikh teachings to deal with this tragic loss of innocent lives while accepting it as God’s Will. Sikhs have a long history of enduring religious persecutions individually and as a community.
As in the past, Sikhs need to remain united and single minded. With God’s help, Sikhs will continue to flourish no matter where they call home.
The author teaches Sikhism in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He is the past Director of McGill’s Chaplaincy Services.
August 16, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 16, 2012, 9:58 AM.
Great article. However, it fails to address one crucial point: Sikhism is unequivocally the most progressive collection of values known to man - it has all the answers to the world's current ills. Yet, somehow, Sikhs today have managed to neglect applying those very values in their own lives. They have squandered the great wealth they have inherited from the Gurus and the great sacrifices made by the elders who have preceded the current generation. As a result, Sikhs themselves are bearing the brunt of the loss, And so is humanity! I believe America is indeed the land of the free, and the home of the brave. But it is up to us, the Sikhs of America, to keep it that way. As perennial nation-builders, it is OUR duty in life to ensure that it does so in perpetuity. Let's not look to others to do the job. We are sava lakh each, we can do it. The answers to all that you ask lie within ourselves! I reiterate: sitting here in Canada, I, a proud Sikh-Canadian, "stand in guard for thee!" Not the other way around.
2: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), August 17, 2012, 2:10 PM.
Prof. Manjit Singh added a crucial component to the nationwide examination of an important concern. As has been the case many times in the past, this time too Sikh sacrifices again brought out an issue which is of national urgency in North America. I like to add two points to Manjit ji's. In contrast to what he has observed in other places, in Dallas, Texas, leaders of all major world religions shared their grief with Sikhs and spoke publicly to raise their voice against the acts of prejudice based upon religion and ethnicity. They included leadership of several denominations of Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Native Americans, Wiccans, and others; all of them attended our services and extended their hands in reaching out and working together with us. We are pleased with our gurdwara leadership to have invite them. I was told that the same was done in some other places. My point is that we need to go the next step. On our side, with a few exceptions, we are yet in infancy in learning how to respond to these gestures and accept offers and reach-outs from others. We are beginning to do so by merely recognizing the presence of others in the gurdwaras, allowing them to say a word or two to our sangats, join in langar and leave. This is good but it is only the first step. It is certainly not enough and this is not others' problem to ask for more time and greater role for appropriate opportunities. We need to go beyond mere formalities. We ought to hold gurdwara programs in which our routine kirtan and kathaas are shortened for that occasion to allow outreach activity. While making sure there is no proselytizing going on, we should have them talk about real co-operation in joint projects of public service. Before they leave our premises we may work out a mechanism to meet again to take forward whatever we discussed. What is needed is the active engagement with our neighbors of other faiths, not just exchange of formalities. Here we need workshops and webinars to train our local leaderships in every town to conduct our programs of active engagement with other faiths and communities.