Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hide and Go Sikh: Are We Stupid, Racist or Both?

Historical persecution of minorities is an ugly pattern that never seems to fade, no matter how “sophisticated,” “educated,” “evolved,” or “enlightened” humanity may think it has become. That poor, illiterate people have deeply suspicious feelings against unfamiliar, unknown persons entering their world may draw snickers from urban sophisticates or citizens of well-developed economies, but such prejudices are fairly well-entrenched even among those theoretically more “enlightened” people. When things go wrong, scapegoating seems to be an innate human failing.
Cultural anthropologists, animal behaviorists and historical biologists have traced the fear of the “different” or “unfamiliar” to atavistic survival instincts. “Curiosity killed the cat” sums it up nicely. Animals facing an unknown being, particularly one that appears large enough to hurt them, typically do not rush out to find out what the new beast might be. They stare, circle cautiously, occasionally attack, or even back-off and run away. Rather than taking the time to discover what that unfamiliar presence might really be, it is so much safer to reject it, challenge it or just avoid it entirely. That ancient instinct is still embedded in all of us.
Throughout history, there has been predatory discrimination, toxic scapegoating and mindless bigotry, all in the name of fear or trying to explain why a powerful negative force has entered the relevant social structure. Blaming others, suspecting and eradicating those who are visually different or hold themselves out as different, is nasty human reaction to social challenge. Skin color (darker is often seen as more dangerous or less desirable) is an easy identifier. Alternative dress codes, religious patterns and even language, speech patterns and accents can help implement that evil perception of unacceptable differences. As an accelerant to bias, if there are social groups with truly dangerous factions, it is often easier to tag the entire social group as toxic and act accordingly.
Chinese immigrants. Jews. Black Americans. Shiites. Muslims. Mexicans. Palestinians. Japanese Americans. Arab Christians. Sikhs. Each of these groups has been identified, often repeatedly, and blamed for everything from economic hegemony, murderous practices, criminal tendencies, stealing jobs and collapsing economies, rape and savagery, deviousness and untrustworthiness. The list appears to be endless. Those evincing the fear feel justified in killing, deporting, enslaving, slamming them with second class citizenship (with lots of restrictions and severely limited rights), imprisoning them or simply discriminating against them at every turn.
It’s always easier to reject and discriminate than to accept those with seemingly great and obvious differences from ourselves. Generalizations and easy-solution-slogans are the easy path, and for those willing to compromise the Judeo-Christian value of tolerance and brotherhood, reject the notion of equal protection embedded as a cornerstone of our constitution, catering to fear, enhancing those slogans and generalizations are often a simple path to gain power and getting elected. It never works and often backfires. Those discriminated against grapple with feelings ranging from depression and inadequacy to a rippling rage and a craving for horrific revenge. Nothing good.
For the United States, facing extreme economic polarization and terrorist attacks, those atavistic tendencies are rising fast. Some presidential candidates have seized on those underlying emotions, reaching into the worst of us and amplifying our fears accordingly. History has shown us that such negative catering never works, but for those embroiled in emotional responses, history just plain does not matter. A lot of innocents have been hurt, killed, their lives destroyed, with hopes and dreams dashed. Our labeling people as enemies has given permission to those wrongfully designated to rise to our worst feelings, as acts of revenge or defense… perhaps catering to their own fears of the different.
One particular group has been targeted, repeatedly, for traits they do not have and practices that they actually reject. They look different, long beards and turbans for the men, and stand out in a crowd. They are Sikh, a religious sect, most closely identified with northern India that have been a positive and successful force wherever they have settled. Who are these people, really? “Sikhism …. is a monotheistic religion that originated in South Asia during the 15th century. The fundamental beliefs of Sikhism include faith in one Creator God, unity and equality of all humankind, engaging in selfless service, striving for social justice, and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder life. With over 25 million adherents worldwide, Sikhism is an Indian religion spread out around the world.
“Sikhism is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru, and the ten successive Sikh gurus. After the death of the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh [Singh means lion], the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib became the literal embodiment of the eternal, impersonal Guru, where the scripture's word serves as the spiritual guide for Sikhs.
“Sikhism considers spiritual life and secular life to be intertwined. Guru Nanak established the system of the Langar, or communal kitchen, in order to demonstrate the need to share and have equality between all people. Sikhs also believe that all religious traditions are equally valid and capable of enlightening their followers, rejecting the practice of proselytism, and rejecting any claims that a particular religious tradition has a monopoly on Absolute Truth.” Wikipedia. Sound like some pretty darned good people, right?
But for too many Americans, looking for scapegoats, Sikhs “look like Muslims,” whatever that means. They have been singled out, beaten up, their property destroyed, from California to Wisconsin by “good ole Americans standing up for their values.” They may be good solid, productive American citizens here, embracing a religion of openness and tolerance, but they “look like Muslims,” and that’s enough to justify the very barberry we claim we abhor and are defending against.
The December 28th Washington Post illustrates the scope of the problem: “The bearded man in the blue turban was attacked before dawn on Saturday morning, while waiting for a ride to work… Two white males in their 20s pulled up and began to curse at Amrik Singh Bal, according to police in Fresno, Calif.
“Fearing for his safety, police said, the 68-year-old Sikh man attempted to cross the street — but ‘the subjects in the vehicle backed up and struck the victim with their rear bumper.’ The car stopped, and the two men ‘got out and assaulted the victim, striking him in the face and upper body.’
“During the assault, police said, one of the suspects yelled: ‘Why are you here?’… Bal fell to the ground, striking his head… He also suffered a broken collar bone in the attack — the latest in a string of incidents targeting U.S. Sikhs, who are frequently conflated with Muslims and often wind up absorbing the backlash against Islam.
“Earlier this month, just days after a married Muslim couple opened fire at a social services center in San Bernardino, Calif., a Sikh house of worship in nearby Orange County was vandalized with hateful graffiti, according to the Sikh Coalition. A truck parked outside the Gurdwara Singh Sabha was also vandalized, with graffiti that included the phrase ‘F– ISIS,’ the coalition said. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State militant group.
“In September, Inderjit Singh Mukker, a father of two on his way to the grocery store, was savagely assaulted in a Chicago suburb after being called ‘bin Laden.’
“‘Sikhs have been mistaken for terrorists and radicals and continue to suffer after 9/11,’ Iqbal S. Grewal, a member of the Sikh Council of Central California, told the Fresno Bee after the Saturday morning assault. ‘This is the latest episode of what Sikhs have been enduring when they are very peace-loving and hard-working citizens of this great country and not members of al-Qaida or ISIS or any other radical group.’… The Fresno Police Department is investigating the attack as a hate crime.”
Such attacks against Sikhs are unforgiveable, completely un-American. But so are attacks on Muslim Americans as well as any form of overt or covert discrimination. And the angry rhetoric of Trump and those who adhere to such un-American practices should be an embarrassment to us all, not a reason to vote for him or them. How bad is it? David Duke, current head (Grand Wizard) of the Ku Klux Klan and a member of the Louisiana legislature, labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the ’most recognizable figure of the American radical right, a neo-Nazi, longtime Klan leader and now international spokesman for Holocaust denial,’ described Donald Trump’s platform on his YouTube channel, “He speaks a little more, actually he speaks a little more, a lot more radically than I talk.”
By the way, the Sikh officer pictured above is New Jersey raised U.S. Army Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi. Think about that.
I’m Peter Dekom, and either we believe in our value system or we are no better than the true enemies we are trying to defeat.

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