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No, Sikh-Americans Do Not Need to Pack Guns





No, Sikh-Americans do not need to be packing guns.

This is in direct response to the article and discussion titled “He Wants Sikh-Americans to Bear Arms” published here on on October 3, 2013.

The published interview, while harmless in itself, was misguided and has serious policy implications as it tries to color the gun debate in America by mixing it with Sikh ethos.

Not only does it jeopardize the excellent work being done by organizations such as The Sikh Coalition and SALDEF, etc, it also propagates a false narrative about the historical aspects that led to Sikhs bearing arms historically, in the first place.

The article implies that Sikhs have a right to bear arms in self-defense against some hate mongers (in America or anywhere else) who may be ignorant about Sikhs and the Sikh appearance.

While I agree with the right to bear arms, I do not believe that we live in a society where law and order has completely broken down or where Sikhs are routinely persecuted. To simply take to arms in order to protect yourself from bigoted/racist individuals does not find much support in Sikh values. The actions of a few misguided (or mentally challenged) individuals do not reflect on the larger society that we are a part of. Raising arms against a select few individuals is akin to being a bigger bully in the room – an idea that is abhorrent to all Sikh teachings.

The way to deal with with ignorance and bigotry is through patience and education.

The right to bear arms is already enshrined in the American Constitution and every American has the right to carry a gun for self defense, leisure, hunting or, for that matter, as a collectible item. A Jewish-American has an equal right to bear arms as an African-American or a Sikh-American.

It begs the question, “What is so "Sikh” about carrying guns?”

Nothing. It is totally inappropriate to color the gun debate (in America) in the garb of religion, culture or identity.

We Sikhs should take a step back and first brush up our knowledge of history before we attempt to justify our position on carrying arms on a historical basis. That Sikhs have borne arms since Guru Hargobind advised them to do so in 1609 and Guru Gobind Singh gave it a more formal proclamation in 1699 is undisputed.

However, Guru Gobind Singh also clearly laid out the Sikh position on warfare. In his famous letter, the Zafarnamah, to the fanatic and blood-thirsty Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, he first lays out his intention to meet and resolve issues peacefully, and then he goes on to say:

chu kar az hamaa heelt e dar guzshat / halaal ast burdan ba shamsheer dast

"ALL modes of redressing the wrong having failed, raising of the sword is then pious and just."

Fortunately for Sikhs, America has embraced our heritage and accorded us with the same rights as anyone else on this land. While there may be some issues, such as Sikhs serving in the Army, we should rest assured that competent people are handling these issues at the right levels. All modes of addressing our issues on identity, heritage, culture and the like are far from exhausted.

In fact we've been making good and steady progress.

However, I am not for a moment ignoring or belittling the tragedies of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, or the bigoted assault on Dr. Prabhjot Singh, or the killing of S. Balbir Singh Sodhi in the aftermath of 9/11, or any of the other hate crimes that Sikh-Americans have endured in the recent past.

I firmly believe that to ensure that such tragedies are prevented, we need to multiply our efforts to ensure that Sikhs are known worldwide for their incorruptible character.

Throwing arms and guns into this mix is at best a distraction that Sikhs can do without.

Let us Sikhs first embrace the “Saint” in the “Saint-Soldier” that our Gurus wanted us to be.

I can think of 10 ways we can do a better job in our outreach before we even start thinking that arming Sikhs will somehow magically make us safer. Listed below are my ways of outreach and spreading awareness and I am sure every Sikh can come up with 10 more of their own.

Let’s build our community with love, care, compassion and sympathy as we have done so for the last five centuries and more.

*     Take pride in wearing the turban and talk about your heritage whenever you meet someone new. Color coordinate with your favourite sports team and wear it to the ballpark (instead of that fancy baseball cap from the Giants game.)
*     Run a marathon, or a half marathon or a 5K collectively with other Sikhs. Ask your co-workers, friends, neighbors or even your landscape artist to join your team.
*     Embrace your immediate community and volunteer for local charities.
*     Create a relationship between your local Gurdwara and the local homeless shelter, food bank etc.
*     Establish an online presence for your local Gurdwara. Everybody is on Facebook and Twitter and you can run a $50 ad campaign every month to reach out to your local community.
*     Embrace diversity in your gurdwaras – at least once a month at your local Khalsa school, invite your local community for a Sikh 101 course.
*     At your local Nagar Kirtan, get your local elementary schools to participate and help them create effective floats and exhibits.
*     Throw open your community events like Sikholars, Saanjh or Sidak to anyone who cares to attend. At least one session must be catered to a diverse audience.
*     Play an active role at your kid’s school – make it easy for their classmates to see the Sikh identity as an integral part of their learning. Reach out to Sikh organizations like SikhRI if you need presentation materials.
*     Finally, an idea I am borrowing from the editor of Sikh Hanukah and Christmas are just around the corner – walk into a Synagogue or Church with a gift of a basket of bread and be a part of their celebrations. It is in the same spirit as inviting everyone else to your gurdwara or nagar kirtan, etc.

*   *   *   *   *

I look forward to hearing from you here about more ways of outreach and community building … things that can be easily replicated without much effort around the globe.


October 9, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA..), October 09, 2013, 4:25 AM.

Barring absolute essentials, Sikhi must remain in perpetual process of renewal and shedding off old and outworn ideas. There is no 'organized evil' existing in the US that requires an armed citizenry. We should stick to the hallmarks of Sikhism -- Truth, Love, Non-violence, Tolerance, Public Service and Universal Brotherhood.

2: Gagan Jyot Singh (Delhi, India), October 09, 2013, 5:29 AM.

I totally agree with everything Sardar AJ Singh ji has said. Every Sikh should first inculcate the values of a saint, then turn to becoming a soldier. The basic principles of our faith are love, compassion and empathy. Always remember the service of Bhai Ghannaiyya ji.

3: Harinder (Punjab), October 09, 2013, 7:41 AM.

Here's what we need to work on, instead: the scope of our Langar needs to be spread out from our comfort zones of gurdwaras to all places wherever God is. That is, across the length and breath of society, amongst the needy. It is imperative that our langars must reach out to wherever communities live.

4: R Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), October 09, 2013, 9:40 AM.

Sikhs are meant to be Saint-Soldiers all the time, simultaneously a soldier and a saint, and a saint and a soldier, both, not one or the other but both.

5: Balkar Singh (Nagpur, India), October 09, 2013, 9:54 AM.

No one disagrees with your statement, R Singh ji. But the saintliness is a pre-requisite, it is not an after-thought or a by-the-by. Without the saintliness, the soldier is nothing but a mercenary and a rogue, a vigilante, an avenger. A problem, instead of an answer. If one takes on saintliness, then all the answers - including to the one at issue in this discussion -- become automatically clear. Without it, one merely fumbles around from one one inanity to another.

6: Arvi (USA), October 09, 2013, 9:56 AM.

Thank you, A J Singh ji. It was much needed to remind us about the true values of Sikhi. The solutions needed to tackle the boorishness of the Indians in India are not the same as what we need to do in the civilized West.

7: G. (Alberta, Canada), October 09, 2013, 2:14 PM.

The idea of a free Khalsa and, more importantly, a free world, is dear to me. And without aides like guns, we cannot defend our freedoms from oppressors or bigots alike.

8: Harmeet Singh (Chicago, Illinois, USA), October 09, 2013, 2:46 PM.

I appreciate the efforts proposed by the article. However, the article misunderstands the right of self-defense and completely misses the point. You don't have to be collectively persecuted to claim the personal right to bear arms. People have the right to respond to threatening force with force. Period!

9: Raj Singh (San Francisco, California, USA), October 09, 2013, 4:01 PM.

Thank you, Harmeet Singh, for hitting it home. We are saints AND Soldiers; both of these characteristics go hand in hand.

10: Arvinder Singh (Richmond Hill, New York, USA), October 09, 2013, 5:22 PM.

There have been two incidents, one of physical threat and one of actual physical assault, in Richmond Hill in the last two weeks. Sikh-Americans should be prepared through self-defence courses, pepper spray, etc. and legalized firearms. How do you educate a bigot ready to shoot you, thinking that you are a taliban or follower of bin Laden? It is our right as Americans to carry a weapon for our defence and we should not hesitate to utilize it.

11: Himmat Singh (Belgium), October 09, 2013, 5:42 PM.

I'm curious: is the concept of education too difficult to understand by the average person per se, or is it that it gets complicated for one who easily gets excited about guns? I am amazed at how many supporters of gun-ownership taunt the opponents of guns by asking how one can educate a bigot while he is attacking you. Amazing! I've come to the conclusion that BEFORE we get to educating the bigots, we need to educate the gun-lovers. When one talks about educating the masses in order to combat bigotry and hatred, no one is talking about doing it WHILE the attacking is taking place. Education is a long-term, ongoing process, which should've been on our agenda ages ago. However, if we start working on it today, it'll bear fruit for our children. The fact that we have the problems that we are facing today is because we haven't done to date what we should've been doing all along. Today, we as a community are paying the price of past neglect. If some of us will continue being dense about this issue and turn to quick, knee-jerk solutions, one thing is for sure ... our problems will continue, and our children will still be having these asinine discussions years from now. So, let me repeat: let's start by educating ourselves. We can work on the bigots later. [Lord! I'm so embarrassed by the level of intelligence shown by some of the comments posted here and for the previous article!]

12: Biba Kaur Singh (New Delhi, India), October 09, 2013, 6:16 PM.

I have yet to discern even the slightest evidence of saintliness -- even a whiff of spiritual wisdom -- from any of the commentators beating the "Saint-Soldier" drum in support of guns. Hey, guys! Go home and first turn into real-life sants and then, and only then, will you have any real understanding of what it means to be a 'soldier' in the Sikh sense. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for being prepared, and learning self-defence. Heck, I wear a kirpan and we have firearms at home. All the adults in our family have had firearm training. But we don't go around blabbing about it. Without "munn neeva(n)" there is no "mat ucchi", and without ucchi mat, you can't be a saint-soldier. Who wants just soldiers? Isn't the bigoted attacker a soldier? What we are trying to do is counter him with the added element that Sikhi brings to the table. And, as pointed out by S. Himmat Singh ji, it ain't gonna happen in the heat of the moment; it takes a lifetime of learning and living.

13: R Singh (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), October 09, 2013, 7:09 PM.

The saint-soldier concept pervades all aspects of a Sikh's life. You cannot be a sant with being a soldier and you cannot be a soldier without being a sant.

14: Hardev (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), October 09, 2013, 8:08 PM.

New Delhi. November 1984. Never again. Be prepared.

15: Ari Singh (Burgas, Bulgaria), October 10, 2013, 2:56 AM.

In 30-40 years the demographics in Western Europe will change. The Muslim population will out-number the non-Muslim population, especially in Belgium, Germany, France, UK. It is because of their population productivity rate (8.1) compared to W. European average (1.8!). Before this happens, one can expect a backlash. Who do you think will be the victims? Your guess is as good as mine. Be prepared. Another 1984 is around the corner. Be prepared!

16: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), October 10, 2013, 8:10 AM.

A Sikh does not use a weapon as an aggressor. His weapon is used in self defence. I am sure if the Prof. in New York had been armed, he would have put his weapon in use or the thugs would have run away. Guru Gobind Singh has written: "kharagg hath jinha tajae / kharag dhara saho" - "Those who slacken their grip on the hilt of the sword have to face the blade of the sword!" (Charitropakhayan, Dasam Granth).

17: A Singh (Stanford, California, USA), October 10, 2013, 12:27 PM.

As an organizer for 'Sikholars', its unclear to me how the event doesn't cater to a diverse audience. Can the author help?

18: SSN (USA), October 10, 2013, 2:51 PM.

The post by Ari Singh (#15) is telling. Let me be the devil's advocate and spell out the doom. 1) Civility and better sense are prevailing slower than the increased extremism (read Islamism). Mother earth can hold only so many of us within its limited resources. Poverty, lack of opportunities to lead a happy life, increased ignorance, etc., etc., would be simply too much. Hordes of Muslims from Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other Muslim-majority lands will become too many for their native nations to handle. Chaos and illegal (and legal, as allowed) immigration will prevail. Frustrated men and women would start finding channels to bring out their frustration. 2) We don't need to look far. Muslims around each one of us in the western hemisphere are getting radicalized. Muslim countries are increasingly getting devoid of non-Muslims. French laws around banning turbans is to make the law "secular" - that French are giving equal share of heartache to all communities - and what Sikhs actually end up getting is a direct result of frustrations around burqa-clad women crowding the streets of Paris, right in the cradle of western society. Turban wearing Sikhs just got swept along in the whirlpool. And so we would when the backlash happens with 1). I was on the fence when I heard the argument for gun-rights / arming yourself last week and against it with this article. But going through the comments, what I see in Kenya with Muslim-generated carnage (Yes, the beacon of hope in Christian Africa), my own experiences with "educated" Muslims at the office and at home, I say at least start getting a proper fire-arm training, please. Please, not another 1947, and not another 1984. This time around, we need to be ready ... to win.

19: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), October 11, 2013, 12:10 AM.

Sikhi teaches the simple truth of Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of mankind. The Sikh community should aspire to become a majority community. Faith and power are the two pillars of Sikhi.

20: Rajindra Singh Minhas (Millburn, New Jersey, USA), October 11, 2013, 2:08 PM. On CNN today - Blind man beaten, with bystanders looking the other way. This video has three such cases. These attacks have nothing to do with faith. Just a part of life these days. When bad guys come prepared with weapons, what are victims supposed to do? Do you seriously believe that the proposed gift basket given for Hannukah and Christmas will come to the rescue?

21: Jeet Kaur (Birmingham, United Kingdom), October 11, 2013, 2:20 PM.

#20 - Rajindra Singh Minhas ji: I believe post #11 above may have some answers for you.

22: R .S. Minhas (Millburn, New Jersey, USA), October 11, 2013, 8:10 PM.

Crime has always been part of human civilization and sadly will continue. With the right to bear arms, the constitution has shown pragmatism. Freedom to make a choice. In the end, of course, life and death are in the hands of the Creator. There is no escaping by human means.

23: Gurinder Singh (Stockton, California, U.S.A.), October 12, 2013, 1:27 AM.

It is not possible to bring awareness about our religion to all and sundry. On 9/11, I was in Las Vegas attending an equipment seminar. While coming to the hotel that afternoon, a gentleman signaled with his hand mocking a gun shot at me. My colleague who was a Caucasian ran after him with a view to discipline him as he thought it was an offensive gesture. I stopped him requesting him to ignore it. Many months afterwards, during the course of a discussion, he asked me if my religion was really different from Islam. This is from a gentleman who is working with me for about two years and has college education. Self defense is the best option.

24: Mervyn Prentice (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), October 12, 2013, 4:52 AM.

I've been following this and the earlier discussion on guns and self-defence, on ths site. I am amazed at the similarities between the Sikh character and values, and those of the ideal American. However, I'd like to add that your ideal of the 'Saint-Soldier' is a higher one and Sikhs shouldn't settle for 'enough' -- you are required to by your Faith, you are expected to by your Gurus, and indeed, you SHOULD strive for greater and higher goals!

25: Kaala  (Punjab), October 13, 2013, 8:56 AM.

How are we supposed to achieve great things with incompetent and corrupt leaders who have bartered everything we had for their own selfish good. With no political, economic and military power and hence no control over our destiny, we can only be gun fodder for someone else. We need to be always ready and prepared.

26: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), October 15, 2013, 11:55 PM.

Gurbani's message is for one and all. God, according to Sikhi, resides in one and all. Langar is for everyone. Harmandar Sahib's four doors are open for all, The sangat of the Guru is open to all. Khandey da Pahul was given to the ones who came forward, without any discrimination. These are all indicators that the Sikh way of life is meant for one and all. We should formally accept Sikhi as an inclusive way of life which it is. Strength will be a natural outcome.

27: Ravinder Singh (Mumbai, India), October 16, 2013, 12:19 AM.

The best way to inform people about Sikhi is to make them believers in the lofty values and principles of Sikhi.

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