Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh
Sat Nam Readers
First, let me apologize for not writing for a while. We have been very, very busy maintaining our Born A Sikh site on Facebook. We’re quite happy with the fact that as of this afternoon, that community has grown to 37,750 members and counting. It’s grown so large that we are considering adding another administrator to the site, along with a second writer, and moving it to it’s own website.
Also, I’ve been ill. With the grace of Waheguru, and some time to concentrate on my own physical and spiritual wellness, I am recovering slowly.
Finally and to get this post back on point, I’ve been wanting to write about hate. Really, honestly, truly about hate. You know – examine it, get it out there in the light and really have a good look at it. It’s an ugly thing, hate, but resist the urge to back away from it for a minute. For one moment, for as long as it takes to read this post, resist the urge to turn your eyes away and ignore it. Because backing away from it and ignoring means hate is winning.
You probably won’t like everything I have to say here. Some of it is very, very difficult. I’m not asking you to like it though, just maybe think about it.
Hate is something that I’m intimately familiar with. I was born a Sikh, though I hardly could have known that then but I was also born into a family of haters. Yes, I hear the gasps when I speak about my family in that way. Yes, I know it is unnatural for the child to speak of the parents in such a bold and blunt way. Trust me that I would rather be able to say something different about them. But it is what it is, I will not apologize for them, defend them or protect them by lying about it.
|Flyer circulated in Brampton, Ontario by a
hateful group of people. My parents would
have approved of this message. I don’t. This
sort of hate has no place in my country, or on
my planet frankly.
In my home, growing up, hate was part of so many conversations, so many aspects of life that it had its own physical presence. It had meals with us; sat around the table while my parents cut down black people. Ironically, they also cut down the K.K.K. when they put a flyer through our mailbox on Saturday morning. Hate sat on the couch and nodded approvingly while my parents cut down Asians and Africans, who they claimed were so inferior they should not be allowed to govern themselves. It poisoned the air while my parents cut down gay men and women. It giggled in a corner while my parents explained why people who were poorer than us (and that would have been very poor) were lazy or alcoholic or useless. It’s smile grew ever wider when they flipped the coin to explain why people who were better off than us were unethical, thieves, or exploiters. While they attacked people of other religions, I swear Hate’s eyes rolled over and turned pitch black in demonic glee. When my parents equally attacked “liberals” and “labour” and “conservatives” with a righteousness that bordered on a new religion, Hate stood leaning against the wall, proud of its disciples. Hate became bigger and bigger in my home and it grew far too big to ignore.
|This is the sort of message that I believe in – working
together to love one another, to bring peace to a very
troubled world, to set aside our differences for the
good of everyone. My parents would not have approved
of this message.
At first I tried to understand the hate. I tried to understand how my parents, who should have been loving and kind, could believe such wrong and awful things. I couldn’t. Then I wondered whether they were actually serious about the venom they spewed. I tested them endlessly. I brought home kids who were not white, who were better off or worse off, who were Catholic, who were Jewish, who were Buddhist, who were different in any way and I found out they were serious. They weren’t trying to trick me – they actually believed their garbage. As I grew, I tried to point out the inconsistencies and the untruths in their beliefs. That’s about when the hitting and the yelling started. Afraid of them but undeterred in my mission, and by the time I was 7 or 8 it was a mission, I pointed them to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child, I challenged them with drafts of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I pointed to passages in the Bible that they claimed to love so much. I tried to make them see they were wrong. I cried for them at night, sure that they were going to suffer in the afterlife for all the hate they spread and for the other sins they committed. I cried for myself and asked how I could have been born to such people, I cried because I never, never wanted to be them. During the day, I kept trying to convince them and I kept believing there was another way, a right way, a way of love and equality, of peace and harmony, of respect and dignity, a way to help everyone see that we all have God inside of us. Ultimately, I failed in my mission, at least with them. But I held to my own beliefs, those beliefs were my security blanket always.
Along came a husband and daughter, neither of whom was someone my parents would have ever approved of. In fact, my mother cried and told me she would not meet my mixed race daughter, her first grandchild, after she was born. When my heart was breaking after a miscarriage, she said “every line has to end somewhere”. When my partner died, the last words she ever said to me were “he died. You’ll get over it.”
|This particular hateful graffiti is from Ottawa but was not
an uncommon site on many Jewish buildings and structures
in Ontario while I lived there.
|The hateful messages are not one sided, as you can see.
Hateful graffiti has appeared and reappeared on mosques
since September 11th, often striking the same structures
I thought I left Hate behind when I left my parents home. But Hate followed. Sometimes blunt and sometimes subtle, Hate is still here and still, though I long to be free of it, a part of my life. I lived in Ontario while synagogues and homes were vandalized with hateful messages, a crime which continues to happen even in Canada. I grew up in the age of Apartheid, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Vietnam War. While my child grew, she was called all sorts of names for being of mixed race and my husband and I experienced our share of hate directed at our mixed race marriage from all manner of people, including other Asians. I sat in my bar courses in Edmonton and
Calgary while people asked whether I ate cat, whether another student, an aboriginal girl, had her drinking in check and while a third student, an Asian girl was asked about when her marriage would be arranged. I lived through and after 9/11 in ways that I would rather forget. I’ve known Muslim friends who have been attacked for who they are, who are worried about what might happen to them just for being Muslim. And I’ve been asked ignorant questions (and also thoughtful, intelligent questions) about my turban, my kara and my faith. I’ve been called a raghead, a spintop, a camel lover and a ragtop (at least get your slurs correct people, geez). I’ve had people try to ‘normalize’ my turban and I’ve had people who are non-Sikh and know little about our faith explain to me, with great certainty, that Sikh women don’t wear turbans. My heart sank two years ago when six of my own lost their lives to a white supremacist in Wisconsin. I worry myself sometimes of what the hate lurking inside another person may cause but I remain unafraid.
So all that to say, I know hate and I can tell it from simple ignorance. Hate has been the driving force to shape who I am today. I know it in all of its forms and I can recognize it from 1500 metres, it’s ugly face is that familiar to me. That is a good thing – to know the face of the enemy. I should know it, it is an enemy I have been in battle with for all of my life. And in all these many years, I have learned a lot about the enemy.
I have learned that Hate is the only real enemy we have though it will use other troops in its fight – ignorance, patriotism, fear, ambition, greed … It is insidious. It is controlling and it is used by some who seek power and advantage, to control others. It can be a very effective tool but a completely destructive one. It loves propaganda and lies. It relies on our ignorance, our distrust of others, that one negative experience we might have had, our desire to categorize absolutely everything – it relies on all of that to invite it in, so it can implant itself in us an grow stronger. It relies on parents to teach their children and on its own preachers – often in the guise of ‘authority’ or ‘experience’ – to convert the masses.
Hate is absolutely the easiest way to control someone else. Make someone afraid of another group, one you want to discredit or diminish, and you have an ally. Make them hate that other group and you have a staunch ally who will support even your most questionable acts against the hated group. Want to destroy a person? Make other people afraid of them or hate them and have the other people do the work. Governments use this tactic, with more or less effect, regularly and it has been happening since the beginning of time. George Orwell knew it when he wrote the book ‘1984’, an extreme sort of look at how propaganda, rewriting history, threats and lies can be used to shape the behaviour of the masses. We are living in an Orwellian world but we buy it because we don’t want to believe that we could possibly be duped. Frankly, if we fail to do the research ourselves, if we blindly believe anything, if we allow hate in for even a moment, if we stand by silently while hate plays itself out, we’ve become a character in an Orwellian world. We have allowed someone or something else control when we hate. We fail each other when we hate. And here’s a mind-warp for you – the people we fail most when we hate are the people we love the most. We fail God and we fail ourselves.
Stepping away from the examination of hate for a moment, Sikhi has been wonderful for me. I have found God, truly found God, and I’ve never been more at peace with life. The message of our Gurus – that no-one is our enemy, that we are to love one another, lift one another, defend one another from oppression and hate, that we are each the equal of one another – that resonates with me as the truth. It is what I have believed since I was a child and what I continue to believe, and learn more about, today.
I thought that being part of Born A Sikh, here and on Facebook, would be fantastic and a way to express and explore my faith, to remain more connected to God. And it has been – I love sharing information with the world about who we are. We really love connecting with the community. I can speak for all of the administrators when I say we feel so very, very blessed. I’ve wholeheartedly joined the battle to fight hate with education. However, the hate also rears its ugly head there – even among ‘Sikhs’. This fact is something that I struggle with. I’m not being disrespectful when I put the term Sikhs in quotes, just questioning how people with a faith based in love, honesty and equality can believe some of the things they post on Born A Sikh and many, many other sites. How can anyone not see that our Gurus never hated, ever and that the very same is expected of us? Our gurdwaras are welcoming to all, our langars open to all. So how can hate show up even in us?
When I posted a link about Sikh youth in Delhi hosting iftar our Muslim brothers and sisters on Facebook, I was met with at least three people who tried to shame me. Look what ‘they’ did in Saharanpur. They killed the sons of our Gurus. Same on you! Sorry, not shame on me and not shame on the youth in Delhi either. I refuse to blame an entire group of people for the sins of a few. I refuse to hate, because my Gurus expect me not to hate and because Waheguru gave me a heart full of love and then protected that heart all of my life, even before I realized that I am a Sikh, even while I was battling (alone I thought) in the darkness. We need to separate our anger at crimes against us from the temptation to turn that into hate. We need to separate our pain and focus that energy on obtaining justice, rather than on writing off an entire class of our brothers and sisters. Not shame on me. Not shame on us.
When another administrator posted a humourous response to a hateful tweet last week, the post was met with racists comments about white people. Really? Just wow. I could go into a lengthy description of my racial heritage but what a waste that would be, because it simply does not matter. Still, should I hate those who made the comments? Not at all. I will pray that they open their hearts though and reject their racism in the future, truly living by the examples of our Gurus.
When we repost items from other Sikhs, we also notice that sometimes we are guilty of attacking one another. We struggle with that too because it is disappointing.
And so you see that even ‘Sikhs’ are not immune but… Sikhs are.
Waheguru gave me a mind with which I can learn and think for myself. With respect for that gift, we won’t be led by propaganda, emotional appeals to ‘right’, or the lies and stereotypes spread by others either. As hard as it gets, and it is hard in the world we live in today, we are not willing to give up our souls to hate. Hate back is not the answer. Hate cannot be allowed that kind of control over us, we are Sikhs after all. There’s a more productive approach to the hate that is flung at us.
|Prabhjot Singh Ji (left)|
I personally love the example of Professor Prabhjot Singh Ji, who was attacked in a hate crime in New York City last September, while walking his wife home after an evening out. His attacker called him ‘Osama’ and ‘terrorist’ before punching him and pulling at his beard. Did he hate his attacker? No. He’s been busy educating others since the crime against him happened.
|An example of the hateful messages that spread quickly
over the internet in the days and weeks after the Oak Creek
Or the example of the family of Punjab Singh Ji, a victim of the Oak Creek shootings, who focus on prayer, God’s grace and endless optimism to respond to life after the shooting that so grievously injured Punjab Singh Ji and took the lives of 6 others. The shooting is not the only hate they’ve had to face. After the shooting, there was a barrage of disgusting hate messages that spread everywhere, just as there was an even louder, stronger message of love and support. What force are they allowing to control them? The love and principles of Waheguru.
Or the example of Sikh Knowledge, who tweeted the message you see below:
Or most recently, the example of Sandeep Singh Ji, who was run over in an apparent hate crime in New York City. While being visited by a Sikh group in serious condition in hospital, Bhai Sandeep Singh Ji relayed a message of the need to build a more peaceful world together.
These are Singhs and Kaurs who are living the example of our Gurus and they restore our faith in others every time we hear from one of them. Bless them for their faith and commitment to a loving and peaceful way of life. These brave and kind men and women are unlikely to allow hate in to let it control them, no matter how hate is directed at them.
I’m not judging. These words were written from my heart, with as much love as I could fill them with and with the grace of the God I have faith in. You all can believe what you want to believe and I won’t decide to hate you back, ever. But if you are being hateful, I’ll call you out on it. No matter how many cries of Shame!! you throw at me, or at us on the Facebook site, I will not feel any shame so long as I am living the example of our Gurus. So yell shame as much as you like, it is your own breath you are wasting. Toss up as many posts as you like that are meant to appeal to our emotions in order to hate. The memes are not going to work, you are only wasting your own time. No flyers will work, you are just wasting paper and killing trees needlessly. I am never going to hate a Jew for being Jewish, a Muslim for being Muslim, a gay man or woman for their sexuality, a white man for being white, a brown man for being brown. We are going to continue to stand up for people who are oppressed and we are going to continue to stand up to the haters. The only thing to hate is Hate itself. No apologies ever. No fear. Himmat always. Love always.
If you’re still in doubt, let me give you a little peak at what it is like over here. It’s not always easy and we make mistakes on this side of the love-hate battle. People get hurt. They feel pain. But we lift one another up and we support each other. Love is natural but it also takes work to maintain against a tide of negativity. We try to lessen the pain and hurt. We serve one another and we see God in one another. We practice patience and kindness, understanding that none of us is perfect. We speak up and we intervene and sometimes that puts us in danger but we do it anyway. We feel blessed when we behave lovingly. We’re not better over here, it’s not about superiority. We’re just different, happy, grateful and blessed. Love is better than hate. Harder sometimes, but so much better.
The battle against this insipid enemy has been my burden and obligation for all of my life. If I am able to leave this world any legacy, I hope that it is this: I am a Sikh. The only love I ever needed is the love of Waheguru. I never hated. I fought the hate always and I tried, wherever and however I could, to share that love with everyone. It is what is expected of me as the humble servant of God. If that is all that is remembered of me, then I have done what I could to serve Waheguru and truly my life was blessed.
Bless you all and thank you for taking the time to read this. Also, if you wanted to join the battle, by speaking out, by standing up to intolerance and hate, we would love to have you on our side. It’s easy to get started. Just speak up. If our words changed something for you, even just a little, then bless you for your courage.
Much love. Himmatpreet
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh