Posted by: Tony Carson | 11 July, 2007

The Sikhs: who are they?

We learn today that the World Sikh Organization has sued the CBC for its “dishonest and highly offensive” documentary which, the lawsuit argues, “contained significant and numerous factual misrepresentations.”

We will leave it to the courts to sort this one out but, in contemporary times within a highly muli-racial, multicultural country, the suit does raise an interesting, even vital question:

If a people hope to flourish as a minute minority within a greater multi-culture, what is their responsibility to get their message out, the message they want the masses to understand about them?

Even though I fully accept their right to thrive in this country, I don’t know the first thing about Sikhs. But the mashup of images I have of them isn’t very flattering: headgear, daggers, airplanes, court rooms, violence, hatred, maleness … well, you get the picture.

I’m not proud of this but I don’t think I have created this negative mashup, I think the Sikhs are responsible for it by their total lack of interest in telling me and all their fellow countrymen who they are. Failing that, we rely only on newspaper headlines to learn their story and those headlines haven’t been pretty.

As it turns out, I had seen the CBC doc referred to in the lawsuit. That doc included indelible images that have been included in my negative mashup of the Sikh religion/culture.

But here’s my point: when you aren’t given any positive images of a culture, you naturally absorb the negative.

I have used the term mashup here because that’s the way all these largely negative images have been put together in my brain. But, in fact, I know enough about the religion, the Punjab and their fabulously colourful cultural expressions to suppose that Canadian Sikhs are a wonderful people who will make Canada stronger and more interesting.

But I’m just supposing that because they are doing nothing to draw me to that conclusion.

Sikhs, like all minorities in Canada, have an obligation to explain to all their countrymen the religion/culture they are celebrating within the wider culture.

Once they make that effort they will find a very attentive audience.

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Responses

  1. You’re right – we have been here for more than 100 years. We are just as Canadian as any other community. We have politicians in the government, people in all public and private sector industries, and a large community. It is our fault that we haven’t yet organized to create awareness of the reality that Sikhs are a universal, humanitarian, peaceful community that practices truth and honesty, fights against tyranny and oppression, and lives a very spiritually uplifted and inspired lifestyle. I will definitely post again here to give you links and information so you can learn more about the Sikh community and separate, for yourself, the lies perpetuated by the media, from the truth about the Sikh community.

  2. I think you need to also take into account the natural bias of the media to focus on the negative rather than the positive. This isn’t something new and it isn’t specific to the Sikh community. When a group of Sikhs do something positive – i.e. feed the homeless, blood drives, etc. that’s not really considered a story because positive news isn’t exactly that interesting and also because the positive actions are seen to (rightly) reflect on only those who committed them. Now when there’s something negative, not only is it considered worthy to report, but it’s also reported in such a way to reflect on as much of the community as possible.

    When Sikhs do try to educate the broader community, they do not do so at a level playing field. It’s individual hearts and minds that have to be won through smaller mediums than the CBC.

  3. I agree with you, and I would like to thank you for understanding that Sikhs too need to be heard. You cannot judge a community based on only half the information, that is what makes the CBC story a biased story. Every community has it’s negative faults and points however just like everyone else the Sikh community has it’s excellent points, and many of them are left unheard. We are not a violent group infact the opposite, however we will fight for our culture and for what is right.

    Personally, I believer CBC should give Sikhs a chance to voice their feelings, and should do a folow up on this one-sided story.

  4. Hello Tony,

    I am a Sikh and I hear ya! How do you feel the best way is to get the message across?

    Overcoming communication barriers are tough because there is so much competition on different levels. I don’t want to sound shallow but it is akin to every guy wanting to ask the most popular girl at their school out; Some guys just won’t hit the radar.

    I am all for trying to build bridges and appreciate your candidness. Thanks 🙂

  5. I agree with J. Singh above.

    Did you know one of the largest blood donation campaigns according to Canadian Blood Services is done by the Sikh community under the banner of “Sikh Nation?”

    Did you know that one of the largest food drives for homeless persons is being done by the Sikh community under the banner of “Sikhcess?”

    Did you know that the Sikh community has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars at various hospitals across Canada to create new facilities or improve patient care?

    Did you know that there are practicing Sikhs in the Canadian military who have served in Afghanistan and on other missions as high ranking officers?

    Did you know there are also high ranking RCMP officers, successful Sikh politicians, pioneering Sikh doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, and tradespeople?

    Did you know that Sikhs have a tradition of doing selfless service and giving one-tenth of their earnings to charity?

    Did you know that Sikhs are supposed to rise early in the morning and meditate, and the central goal of Sikh spirituality is to unite our souls with the supreme soul God through rememberance of God’s essential Name and virtues?

    None of these things – nor the countless other interesting facts about Sikhs – will ever appear in the Vancouver Sun or on the CBC. The popular media currently has a monopoly over the amount and the type of information that is available about the Sikh community.

    Perhaps the Sikh community needs to invest in its own channels, its own reporters, its own newspapers – but also perhaps there needs to be a change in the current media organizations.

  6. The reasoned and impassioned response to this post has been exceptional, thank you all for your thoughts. It is striking how little I did know about the Sikh community.

    What each of these comments contain, to me, is a willingness to communicate across cultures, but also a frustration with the process of it. Harminder Mann’s “asking out the popular girl”.

    This subject is at the very center of our new multicultural world, in Canada and the UK. How do cultural identities and communities, such as the Sikh, or the Slav, or the Samoan stake their claim in the new society? Where does the burden of responsibility lie for accommodation of this?

    We shall continue to discuss this at Carson’s Post, and encourage people to respond. Also, if any impassioned reader wishes to “guest blog” on this subject or any other, don’t hesitate to contact us at carsonspost [at] yahoo.co.uk.

    In the meantime, K. Singh’s last comment deserves it’s own post.

  7. […] are the Sikhs? The response to Tony’s recent post “The Sikhs: who are they?” has been fascinating. The following was posted as a comment by K. Singh: Did you know one of the […]

  8. It’s pretty hard to get a good message out when the newspapers and media love to harp on minorities. This is something a lot of the Sikh Community members agree with. We do plenty of good yet it’s not “headlining” news. Yet, if something negative comes out, it’s front page. Why is that a non-Sikh can commit the same crime or be going through a negative ordeal and not take the headline and not appear as they’re oh so bad?

  9. You’re absolutely right, that Sikhs as a community have a responsibility to the let the world know who we are. We are seeing more of this in recent times, and as the youth start to step forward and take over the reigns of leadership, I believe we will see far greater engagement with the mainstream community. For a long time, many of the elder community leaders have held back from crossing their comfort zones and have stuck to using the same formulaic approach to leadership. With the youth, we will see a definite change, and we are already seeing it.

    The last thing I would like to add is that, although the Sikh community has a responsibility to tell Canada about ourselves, the mainstream media and the likes of Kim Bolan and Terry Milewski have an even greater responsibility to be objective in their reporting.

  10. The Sikhs are a race of “soldier saints”. This is the meaning of being a true Sikh. Our masters gave us a princely image of flowing hair and the Dastar (the turban) with rules of piety and service of mankind. Let not the currents of secularism blown by the materialistic idealogy of Capitalism taint our glorious deeds. Never to hide among the masses, always to be recognized as the soldier saint that is our goal in life. When the two young sons of Guru Gobind were bricked alive never did they waiver in their belief, then who are we to shirk our duty to human beings everywhere.

  11. Sikhism is the synonym for Humanity, peace, love and brotherhood. Thats all I can say. Sikhism = Global Peace

  12. Below is an excellent resource on Sikhism which covers many topics in quick 3 minutes modules!

    http://www.ProjectNaad.com

  13. But just as quick summary here are some of the UNIQUE aspects of the Sikh way of life:

    1) the first group of people to promote gender equality 500 years ago. Sikhs had 4 women bishops in the 15th century
    2) the first group to create a “red cross” which gave medication and water to friend and foe alike
    3) the 9th Guru is the only prophet to die for Freedom of Religion i.e. the right for people to practice a religion of their choice so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else
    4) Sikhism is the first religion to unify world religious thought by revealing that Allah, Raam, Jehovah are all the one and the same God.
    5) Sikhism accepts that there are many paths to God but important spiritual keys are crucial to achieve liberation
    6) Sikhism recognises the human race as one family. No religion, culture, ethnic group is more important than another
    7) Sikhism encourages respect to nature including mother Earth and its creatures. Human beings and the especially the Khalsa are guardians of nature and its resources.
    8) Sikhs do not see wealth or family as a hindrance to spiritual practice. Sikhs are encouraged to live and contribute to society and apply a spiritual consciousness to everything they do
    9) The Sikh scripture is one of few world scriptures to be written by the masters themselves and so is regarded as the word of God

  14. Sikhs are people. I think it is very naive to generalize what is portrayed in the media to an entire community. If one feels that they want to learn more, there are plenty of websites and books. It is our responsibility to become more educated and tolerable about other citizens. Telling minorities it is their fault for their negative image seems to be an excuse. We are people and we deserve respect regardless of what religion we practise. To show us as terrorists is disrespect and to believe the media is naive.

  15. They are right.I think all sikhs should understand their duties.we have been given divine Power,blessings of the lord(GURU SAHIB JI).we have a wonderfull past which put our ambitions forward in front of everyone.we just need to get confidence and yes!! we have that power just need of the Balance which is given by the Guru himself.

  16. I request to ALL SIKHS to plz write their full names becaus they are given by the GURUJI himself.

  17. waheguru jee ka khalsa
    waheguru jee ke fateh
    Satkarjoog jio,
    My name is Simran jit singh.I want to tell u something that Every true Sikh has a deep Dream that his Guru’s blessings and sermons should reach to every person in this world so that they can purify their mind with the help of this holy NAAM. I belong to a sikh organisation whose motive and Destiny is to reach the Guru’s thoughts to all the ppl so that everybody should purify his/her mind with his blessings. There are many Circle in India which are running in India for the purpose of Growing Sikhism but somewhere they are tackling the problems. we need External help from our Sikh ppl who are living outside the India. It is a Humble request to u to plz sponsor some of our programmes . Guru ji wants that i should meet ppl like u for the changing occurring in the Sikhism. I would see for ur positive reply for it.I will send the further information to u after getting ur positive,hopeful and valuable information. If anything might have said wrong i apologize for that.
    Wahegurujee ka khalsa
    Wahegurujee ke fateh

    send me the answer to Akalji_sahai20@yahoo.com

  18. While the fact that you are willing to learn more about Sikhism is positive, your general thesis that the onus is solely on a minority group to demonstrate their beliefs and characteristics is absurd. While it is obviously in the interests of Sikhs to do this and the majority of us make an effort to educate those around us of our religion, ignorance is NOT and excuse for not thinking. Sensationalist journalism as we see on CNN, FOX and other US networks (and sadly now on a recent piece defaming Sikhs by CBC) targets the uneducated and ignorant members of a society who don’t have the mental capacity / critical thinking skills to think objectively. I’d like to think that the majority of the Canadian population does have the mental capacity to think for themselves but whether they choose to or not, the onus is NOT on Sikhs to prove themselves innocent – period.

    Sandeep Kandola

  19. Hey, Sandeep, chill, man, I never once suggested for a second that Sikhs had to prove themselves innocent of anything. My message has always been: “Sikhs, like all minorities in Canada, have an obligation to explain to all their countrymen the religion/culture they are celebrating within the wider culture.”

    They don’t have to, of course, but if they want to be understood as a culture within a culture — as most of us would hope they would want — they have three choice: 1. hope that we get off our collective asses and search out information about Sikhi; 2. allow the media to do the educating, knowing that media ONLY reports the bad, 3. the Sikhs become proactive in getting out their message, which, I am coming to understand, is a message we can all wonderfully benefit from.

    But, hey, no one says you have to. You want to leave me in miserable ignorance of your religion and culture? Fine. But when you do, I lose and so do you because we all seek understanding.

    And get off the kick about the media. It’s not just your reality, it’s everyone’s reality: when shit happens the press is there, that’s what they live for. But they can also be used to positively get out your message — you just have to want to do it.

  20. While it is true religion inflicted massive damages to the global community. While it is also true that simple terms “Catholic and catholic” when misqouted in vice cersa formate could create a religious furore of unimaginable dimensions, then the size of bigotory of CBC to Sikh religion Mr. Michael is no ordinary Media blob, it is on the contrary a scam to Taint Sikh religion with complete coninvace of Govevnment of the time and other corporate share holders of this Corporation. ICICI Bank, Air India, CIDA like players with hundreds of Billions of Dollars base, part of which is comming from Sikh Community contributions help such bigotry channle through Crown Corporations like CBC otherwise Sikhs have raised voice only against tyrrany since time of Kamagatmaro, never hurt Canada. A casual incident in over hundred years might have occurred concluded a Police Chieves Assembly in BC.
    Mr. Michael it is utmost ignorance of to say that Sikhs failed to aprised noble co- Canadians about themselves. If you only had checked Secretary Of State of Canada’s Office which finananced and sopncered so many book on the subject besides nemurous others directly donated to local libraries would abundantly say on the subject. And you would have been awared differently. As regards average Sikh, they have no time planning scams and making paid filling in to CBC. They are tireless Workers and that is what they do.
    Ignorance is no exception to factual Scenerio, take a look below.
    -Of all land based trade frieght, to and from Americas, 30% hauled by the Sikhs
    -largest blood donation
    -largest food drives
    -largest funds contribution in Children Deceases research & Hospitals
    -largest contributions in Cash and Kind to-wards Natural Calamities delivered directly to victims.
    – 93% sacrifices for Indians’ Liberties and Freedom.
    Too bad above is short of references, space shortage.

  21. a great website on Sikhism

    http://www.ProjectNaad.com

  22. Hey Tony, it looks as if you have chilled enough since your ancestors first came here as a minority and explained themselves to the then majority “Aboriginals of Canada”. They did not listen them that is why it took about three Centuries to bring them out of closet to form a new Province Nunavut for them after safe turn over of cultural majorities. Your Ancestors ( old immigrants ) left understanding of them unto the then majority to follow but when they(Aboriginals) did not agree, they were scatered all around in smaller groups by brute force to be lead by hand” Divide and Rule”. Your tone is reflection of that chauvnism of being part of present majority cultural(you Claim Big of course but dwarfed little bit since same sex marriage lagislation). You lack reality of time of the pluralist Societies.
    Sikhism is not cross to any Civil system in any country. Its practice is purely for self humane values that manifest adherents dwell upon Lords Meditation, proceeds of Honest Earning and share the virtue of honesty with others. I am not a Christian but I have done painstaking study of New and Old Testaments, Koran and sensible stance of others sans Dogmas. That is minimum Canadian Mosaic expects of me. For past 34 years I have not found in any book , seminar, Radio/ Tv Talk shows etc. that I have an obligation to wake up next door nieghbour to force him to devote his precious time for my missionary modulation. Purified by my faith, I live and let live, respect my nieghbours, respect their property Rights and participate in Civil Duties. My background like others of my co-religionists prepares us for this co-existance. Win Win , isn’t it?
    I appologize for any sour comment and second avail.

  23. I humbly apologies for my chauvanist tone and I’m sorry that you think I’m wrong in wishing that the Sikhs explain to us who there are — but I’m delighted by those who have written in to do precisely that. Because I am learning from them. For instance I learned today that Naad means ‘the essence of all sounds,’ a beautiful image and I visited Project Naad — Infinity through Simplicity, a wonderful site.

    Because some of your fellow Sikhs took the time to nudge me in their direction I’ve had a wonderful day: The term ‘infinity through simplicity’ is one of the most profound thoughts I’ve ever read. In fact, it’s the very thing I tried to capture in my avatar (but failed).

    Thanks for writing in.

  24. Tony bro! you’re doing amazing! Please don’t mind the few Sikhs who for some unknown reason take offence at you suggesting that Sikhs have not done much to teach other people about their way of life.

    You’re point is 100% valid and should be a wake up call for fellow Sikhs!

    Keep going bro…and keep the love flowing
    Param

    http://www.projectnaad.com

  25. Hi,

    A Sikh is a student of spiritual knowledge and Satguru = Christ Nanak Dev Ji was the Second coming of Christ Jesus as He predicted.

    Sikh is known by qualities and not by his beard and turban. Beard and turban is our cultural aspect of the people of East nothing to do with religion.

    You will find my web site full of this aspect of Sikhism and my lectures are FREE.

  26. though i had love to agree with many viewpoints that are put up, i dont? more than halp the sikhs that are discriminated against cant really start explaining what sikhism is all about without being laughed at. i am a speaker at gurdwaras and school. (orator of sort0 (age 15 yrs) ) i know how to talk yet i cant really go along explaining it to everyone.

    sikhism though a great religion cant seem to go to offensive mode without being picked on. i was picked on three times at my school. its a different thing that the guys who did it regreted it later. . i am just trying to say that fear manytimes holds a man back from whats right. but there is always a difference between wat is necessary and what is right.

  27. Hi,

    Sik women are seen as second class citizens, we should be able to do what sikh men do….

    Chak de fatah

  28. Right on!

    Kamalla Rose Kaur
    http://kamallarosekaur.wordpress.com/

  29. It’s quite sad that our culture is often confused with our religion.

    It’s significant to note that, while our culture often portrays something else altogether, our religion was essentially created to promote compassion and equality amoung all!

    True Sikhs see and embody this.

  30. You are quite right Pravjit Kaur. Women need to be proactive to promote equality in all aspacts of life.

  31. Hey Tony!
    I think you have written a very nice article by asking about Sikhism and how we need to speak out more. I think people just get hyper and maybe get offensive because our religion Sikhism is very sacred to us and passed down by our parents with lots of love. And sometimes we feel bad when people do not take it seriously. Thats why ppl comment and maybe take ur article in the wrong way. Its because we all have been through it a countless number of times. Trying to explain to others. But i understand what you are saying.
    In Sikhism we are taught peace and respect. Please excuse comments that make u feel uncomfortable or confused.
    I know many Sikhs when they read this will not understand your point of view, but many do. And i respect the fact of your interest. Its very nice thing and makes me proud to hear that. Thank you for your article. We all try our level best to educate others about our religon. We are simple people who believe in one God… But at the end of the day each and every one of us trys to do our bit. Hopefully one day, the real picture and true meaning will come out. Just as light removes any darkness.

  32. Thank you for asking these questions Tony – that’s what I teach my students – ask questions about everything you see and hear and then make informed choices. We can blame the media or we can lead media literacy forward by encouraging dialogue and diversity of thought.


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