Update on Jagmeet Singh and Cultural Inclusion

By Dr David Laing Dawson

A comment on my last blog asked what the question to Jagmeet Singh was and wondered about the relevance of his turban.  Well, the question posed to him by the CBC was if there were any circumstances in which he would support violence. The background to this was his equivocation regarding the Air India mass murder, and his attendance at gatherings alongside Sikh extremists.

Canada is a wonderful experiment. So far one hundred and fifty-one years of a gradually evolving, gradually improving liberal democracy of inclusion. The world needs to watch Toronto: People from a hundred different cultures speaking dozens of different languages living and working within one large metropolis and (as a friend put it with a tone of incredulity) they are not killing one another. This is unique in our world.

There has been a recent increase in gun violence in Toronto but usually it’s young men killing other young men from the same tribe (or gang).

We struggle with, argue about, but make accommodation for religious practice and the wearing of religious and tribal symbols. As long as it does not conflict with the laws of Canada and the rights of others we usually accommodate.

These symbols (dress, hair cutting or covering, metal adornments, tattoos, markings, face coverings) are statements of separation, exclusion, and speak of membership in a specific tribe, religion or cult that may or may not want to adhere to our evolved Canadian social contract. Hence we need to be vigilant and ensure that the practices within these cults do not contravene our laws and our charter of rights and freedoms.

But there is another unspoken but clear message declared by these symbols. And it is the very message we are trying to eliminate in Canada. And that is the message of superiority, of tribal superiority.

These symbols (wearing a cross, a turban, a ceremonial dagger, ringlets and yarmulkes) are statements of membership, but also of superiority. For the unspoken, subtle message is that “I am righteous and you are not; I am going to heaven and you are not; I am favoured by God and you are not.”

I trust that by living in Canada, attending our public schools, and finding life here not too bad, after a couple of generations most will relegate the wearing of these symbols to celebrations and yearly rituals, and think of them only as historical reminders, connections to a past of struggle and sacrifice.

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3 thoughts on “Update on Jagmeet Singh and Cultural Inclusion

  1. Jagmit Singh is a force in Canadian politics at this time.

    However, like all politicians, he has a nuanced relationship with the objective truth and is seemingly incapable of answering questions fully and completely without equivocation or evasion.

    And, for a politician, in this era, that is logical and pro forma.

    There has been an absurd amount of tacit support for the disturbing developments in the present global Sikh political movement, religious leadership and interpretation of doctrine especially after September 11th.

    I believe that violence is never the answer when belligerents have access to a non-violent legal settlement in any dispute whether it is religious, political, social, legal, moral, ethical or other.

    Growing up, I was surrounded by a large extended family that included Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Ismailis, and many other cultures or faiths. To my mind, my Sikh family members have always lived lives of kindness, ethics, and pluralism. They always greet me with “Salaam” or “Hello” or “Sat Sri Akal “(Truth is the ultimate God). We are all linked together as family and community because of the links between our cultures, faiths, families and humanities. Perhaps, the pre-Idi Amin multiculturalism and ethos of 1970s Uganda was an anomaly, and left to their own devices human beings are always, in Christopher Hitchens observations, led astray by religion.

    As a Muslim I have had to face the reality of my life and identity being permanently devastated by self-appointed Islamic religious/political leaders who used their control of Mecca, Medina, Quranic and all other relevant texts, doctrine, clergy, and politics to implement “fatwas” which have led to the most abhorrently false interpretations and analyses of the Quran. These “fatwas” in addition to the endless Hadiths are by definition post-Prophetic and to that end, not logically part of Islam. The Hadith system was developed contrary to Prophet Muhammad’s own directives that the Quran was not to be amended or added to in any way. I believe that like the doctrines of Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Ismailis, Hindus, Sikhs and every other faith, are corrupted by leaders to serve their own political, national, social, financial, or personal interests. Political Islam is the development of the Shia and Sunni schism that developed after the death of Prophet Muhammad as political power and control usurped faith as the purpose of Islam.

    To that end, the present leadership of the Sikh religion has implemented changes to centuries of ethical practice and social custom by implementing policies and directives that are forcing Sikhs to follow a radically biased interpretation of the teachings of the founders of Sikhism. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith saw all religions as equal, he travelled the world, and he spoke many languages, and was very well read and educated. All the Sikhs that I grew up with, like all the Muslims I grew up with, were raised in a pluralistic and global environment. That is no longer the case for anyone.

    According to British journalist Sunny Hundal:

    “In 2005 Rajinder Singh made history by being the first non-white Briton to feature in an election broadcast by the British National Party. Ironically, he wasn’t even allowed to join the BNP, but he didn’t care. ‘I say adapt and survive and give the brave and loyal Rajinder Singh the honour of becoming the first ethnic minority member of the BNP,’ their communications officer wrote at the time. The party ignored that advice. Singh had developed a deep hatred for Muslims from India’s partition of 1947 when he blamed them alone for the violence and carnage that took place. ‘Britain had a role to play,’ he admitted to the Guardian in 2009, ‘but the violence [during Partition] sprang from the Qur’an. The Muslim answer to reasoned argument is knife, dagger and bomb.”

    From the University of Southern California, summary of Sikhism:

    “Many Sikhs follow both cultural and religious dietary practices written in the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy book). Sikhs are forbidden from eating halal and kosher meat. They are also forbidden from consuming alcohol and other intoxicants.”

    “The five articles of faith (Panji Kakar) are required to be worn by baptized Sikhs at all times. They are commonly called the “Five Ks,” and are not only symbols, but also articles of faith that collectively form the devotee’s external identity and commitment to the Sikh “way of life” (rehni). The Five Ks include Kesh (uncut hair), Kangha (hair comb) Kara (steel bracelet), Kachera (cotton undergarments), and Kirpan (a strapped curved dagger/small sword).”

    The reality is that, like most faiths, there are many more secular Sikhs than radicalized Sikhs. But, as is the case in the US with the Christian Evangelicals, the Middle East with the Sunni or Shia Conservatives, and other nations or faiths, extremists are much more vocal, organized, and forceful in controlling narratives, practices, and social or cultural engineering.

    Returning to Jagmit Singh and the NDP, they have never answered the following questions:

    Jagmit Singh (and other prominent Sikhs) wears his turban in a style that is representative of Sikh extremism, bigotry and intolerance. Does he share the views of the extremists Sikhs that claim that style of turban as their own narrative or symbology? Is it appropriate for Mr. Singh to wear this symbol and adhere to his stated commitment to the principles of the NDP and indeed Canada?

    NDP Leader Jagmit Singh and Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan have:
    (1) attended Sikh temples that evoke extremist theology and doctrine
    (2) socialized or engaged with Sikh individuals who are part of the extremist community
    (3) have never provided an open an honest repudiation of the evolution of Sikh doctrine:
    (a) Sikh religious leaders enforcing gender bias and forcing Sikh women to grow facial hair similar to Muslim extremists forcing women to wear hijab or Burkha
    (b) Sikhs now refusing to engage any non-Sikhs with “Sat Sri Akal “(Truth is the ultimate God)
    (c) The radicalisation of the World Sikh Youth and other organizations,
    (d) Sikh groups in Europe and India spreading bigoted, racist, and false videos through the global internet to further a bigoted and false narrative that has been embraced by racist and fascist organizations like British National Party

    We live in an age, like all others, where humanity is both ethically and intellectually lazy. President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau have used the same manipulative, corrupt, and false processes to obtain and maintain power as well as implementing their policies. Religion, indeed leadership of any form, is prone to corruption whether material or ethical. However, because humanity is aware of that, does not mean that it should be accepted, the public must always work against ignorance, bigotry, extremism, and hate. The idea that we find or build “Camelot” or “Heaven on Earth” is simply ridiculous.

    Any analysis from the best Lego set in history to the Brown v. Board of Education decision will be influenced by the biases of the analyst, however, that dialogue, exchange of ideas, and debate is what has helped the world evolve into modernity. But, we still have Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman being fêted by Oprah, Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump, the global press wrote glowingly about “America’s Pastor” (the late) Reverend Billy Graham and knowingly ignoring his rabid anti-Semitism, lies, bigotry, and lifelong profiteering from Evangelical Christianity and extreme US conservatism. The Aga Khan, is revered by the global press as a religious leader, but no mainstream media or leader have ever objectively analyzed the origins of the Aga Khan’s (or his family specifically his father and sons) wealth, lifestyle, or profiteering from their followers. Myanmar is conducting a genocide while the press abandons them and the world makes many empty statements but does nothing. In the end, like Africa, Bosnia, Iraq, Apartheid, the Jewish Holocaust, and the rest of the world, the analysis is that intervention is not a sound investment. Instead, in the majority of cases, the world will wait until the atrocities are completed then build monuments, have speeches, and work with whomever is left standing.

    To my mind, NDP Leader Jagmit Singh, is simply representative of the human condition that we ALL share to some degree. Humans are inherently selfish. The duty of an evolved and self-aware leader is to overcome his or her baser instincts and work for the betterment of humanity.

    Hopefully, NDP Leader Jagmit Singh and Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan will deal with these issues and move forward. However, if the examples of politicians, leaders or advocates for all other faiths are an example, that is not going to happen.

    “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness”. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Complexity should not frighten humanity, it should drive us to the future.

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  2. ‘Wearing a cross, a turban, a ceremonial dagger, ringlets and yarmulkes are statements of membership, but also of superiority’. Why stop there? What about about three piece suits, monocles, bow ties, ties, waxed mustaches, rolex watches, tuxedos, kilts, high heel shoes, lipstick the list goes on, …. When I see a kirpan, or a cruxifix or someone wearing a burka, I think of violence and oppression. Not of superiority or separateness. Generally it is male violence and oppression, but we still are not identifying it as such. All these school shootings, the Air India disaster, and 911 were carried out by the male species. The crucifix reminds me of a mother’s son dying an agonizing and humiliating death, not superiority. The burka reminds me of man’s ownership of sexual access. Other female clothing like that worn by Stormy Daniels does not reflect superiority but a reflection of what men have determined is attractive. Yes, perhaps people will be less diligent about the violent aspects of their culture after a few generations, but not before some innocent girls have died in honour killings because they have brought shame to their families by not following the expectations of their culture. Some would argue that Canada did not begin 150 years ago as it was inhabited by Indigenous people before this time whose existence I was really never aware of until relatively recently. I did not ever learn about the history of Indigenous people in school text books. I spent some wonderful summers on my grandparents farm in Saskatchewan not realizing that nearby Indigenous children had been kidnapped from their homes put in Residential schools and forced to speak English, were stripped of their clothing, religion and parental love and support.
    I don’t care what people wear as long as it does not reflect violence and oppression. I am a card carrying member of the NDP party, but I will not be voting for Jagmeet Singh not because of his turban but because of the kirpan that he wears.

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  3. Hardly noticed by other relgious denominations “Vatican 2 ” or the second Vatican Council between 1962 and 1965 may very well have started the move toward social inclusion.
    Vatican 2 replaced the Latin liturgy with vernacular language, got rid of outdated accoutrement for men and women of the cloth, , initiated reconciliation with Judaism, and most importantly promoted the role and influence of women in many domains…..

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