Monday, August 6, 2012

Today, Call Me Singh

UPDATE: Suggestions on how to stand in solidarity with the Sikhs of Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Tonight there is no cocktail because, amazingly, I'm too agitated to drink. Why? People are insane, and it has to stop. I started to post this all under my personal Facebook status, but it got too lengthy. Also, I feel I should use what limited mouthpiece I might have to urge people not to be crazy, violent, and stupid, and to stop tolerating or encouraging, wittingly or unwittingly, people who are crazy, violent or stupid. So I'm doing that.

This is a Khanda. It's a Sikh symbol. Sikhs aren't Muslims. And it doesn't matter.
I spent a morning in early September 2001, just a few days before 9/11, at a Sikh gurdwara in Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. I'd studied a little about Sikhism in college, and I'd always wanted to visit a Sikh community, because I loved the belief that each person is responsible for contributing to the community and for protecting each other. If my failing memory serves, when the Mughal emperor Akhbar visited one of the early Sikh gurus in the 16th century, the story is told that he ate in the communal kitchen with everyone else and had to clean up his own dishes. From my experience of Indian mothers, having lived with one and befriended several, I'm fairly certain he was too afraid to do otherwise, emperor or no.

On that morning, the community welcomed us without reservation, inviting us to sit with them for the prayers and readings (obviously not in a language we spoke) and then eat with the community afterwards - lentils, rice, vegetables, and some kind of extremely sweet pudding that was delicious but sent me on a sugar high so intense I could briefly see time. The people were very kind. We cleaned up our own dishes.

Later in the week, we woke up on September 12th to find out that in the night (for us), the towers had fallen and the Pentagon had been attacked. Seeing me in tears, people came up to us in the streets in that Muslim country to ask if we were Americans and tell us how sorry they were that this had happened to our country. I saw a report that a Sikh had been shot in Arizona for the offense of wearing a turban, and I grieved even more for humanity and the terrible, stupid things of which we are capable.

Events like the massacre of a Sikh temple on Sunday in Wisconsin, the destruction of a mosque in Kentucky after a second fire this summer (the first definitely arson, the second pending investigation), the bigotry of those who fear consenting adults who love differently than them, they all give me so much despair. At the same time, I truly believe we are collectively better than this. If I didn't, I wouldn't be able to get up in the morning. Our founding fathers, deeply flawed though they may have been, had faith in future, also deeply flawed, generations like us that we would eventually figure out how to have a just, ethnically and religiously diverse society. I can't give up on that idea.

I wish I had something eloquent to say in conclusion, but the edges are too ragged to tie into a neat end. We are better than this. Please, let's be better than this. That's all I can hope and pray right now.


  1. "I could briefly see time" -- love your writing, and your sentiments. Would ask permission to call you Kaur instead? (Not to pigeonhole you by gender since you defy categorization....). When I lived in London, my Sikh friends used to joke that Chivas Regal is the only alcohol they're allowed to a toast to resilience and a prayer to common sense.

  2. Yael, a writing compliment from you is guaranteed to make my day. Thanks! And, you can call me whatever you like.


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