Where Unity Is Strength
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The excitement and wall to wall press coverage of the football World Cup, has temporarily diverted our attention away from appalling suffering in Yemen, Syria and much of the Middle East. Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly’s famous saying that football is more important than life or death, has a ring of momentary truth for many.

It is much easier to lose ourselves in the excitement of England’s thrilling victory last night over Tunisia with Captain Harry Kane’s winning goal in injury time, or Christiano Rolando’s hat trick in Portugal’s earlier match against Spain, and other highlights of the tournament, than come to terms with the continuing suffering in the Middle East, made worse by Saudi Arabia’s attack on the Houthi rebel port of Hodeida, now mostly under Saudi control. Peace imposed by force, simply tilts things in favour of one of the combatants, and can even add to suffering and a heightened sense of injustice.

Guru Nanak, reflecting on similar suffering in 15th century India, courageously declared that: the one God of us all, looks beyond supposed superiority of birth or creed; that we all belong to the same one human family of equals, all deserving the same rights. God, he taught, is not interested in religious or other labels, but in what we do for our fellow beings.

Following the suffering of the second world war, the UN Declaration of Human Rights carried similar sentiments The Security Council was created to ensure such rights were respected. The tragedy of politics today, is those charged with keeping us to norms of civilised behaviour, without taking sides, (referees of political foul play) are often active offenders, sometimes taking sides to further their own self-interest. It is worth reflecting that much of the weaponry fueling conflicts across the world is supplied by members of this peace keeping body.

Football may at times be fractious, and has its own share of problems, but in football and sport generally, there is genuine respect for different teams, as well as for members of different faiths within teams. The world of sport readily accepts, what the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks called: the ‘dignity of difference’, and has a lot to teach the world of politics.

My computer and I are not the best of friends. It frequently accuses me of being a robot, or not even knowing my own date of birth! Fortunately, when it is in one of its really ratty moods, I can usually re-set it, back to a date when it was working properly, or make it behave itself, by closing it, and restarting.

It’s far more difficult to see what we can do about an increasing human ‘rattiness’ in discussion and behaviour towards those who do not share our opinions or prejudices on Brexit, immigration or anything else. A little re-setting of the tone of debate towards respecting the sincerely held beliefs and opinions of others is clearly needed.

I believe, religion in its true essence, is supposed to help us to do just this, and help us develop more tolerant attitudes to those who may not share our views. But, unfortunately, over the centuries, religions themselves, have displayed intolerance and violence, not only to others, but even to members of their own faith.

This week Sikhs are commemorating the martyrdom of Guru Arjan, the 5th Guru of Sikhs, who literally gave his life trying to end fractious in-fighting between religions, by building bridges of understanding and respect between them. Guru Arjan was the founder of the famous Golden Temple in Amritsar. To emphasise Sikh respect for the followers of Islam, he asked a Muslim saint, Mia Mir to lay the foundation stone. The Guru was a prolific poet and scholar and the main compiler of the Sikh holy scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib. In it he also added verses of Hindu and Muslim saints to emphasise important commonalities.

Guru Arjan was well aware of the dangers of emphasising tolerance and respect in an age of bigotry. He was arrested by the country’s rulers and tortured to death in the searing heat of an Indian June. In traditional commemoration of Guru’s martyrdom, and in the spirit of his teachings, Sikhs make no show no anger or bitterness Instead, sweetened cold drinks are served to all who pass by Sikh homes or gurdwaras.

Guru Arjan gave his life for interfaith understanding, and tolerance and respect for the sincerely held beliefs of others. His life serves as an inspiration not only to Sikhs, but for all seeking to nudge society in a less fractious direction.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY – 13/11/16

November 14th, 2016 | Posted by Singh in Thought for the day - (0 Comments)

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Yesterday’s service at the Cenotaph was a touching reminder of the tragic loss of millions of young lives in the first and second world wars and in numerous subsequent conflicts. Today we are all too aware that lasting peace, based on universal respect for human rights, still remains a distant and elusive goal.

Guru Nanak whose birth anniversary Sikhs celebrate today, was himself a witness to the savagery of conflict, with forced conversions and atrocities. He was a man far ahead of his time. Instead of restricting himself to praying to God for peace, he also attacked the underlying causes of conflict, including supposed religious superiority and exclusive relationships with God; then used, and still used today to justify cruel and intolerant behaviour. The Guru in his very first sermon taught that the one God of us all was not in the least bit impressed by our different religious labels, but by what we do to ensure peace and social justice for our fellow human beings.

The Guru also criticised the belief that any one nation or group of people were inherently superior to those around them. He taught a belief in the equality and interdependence of all members of our one human family. Following the huge loss of life in the second world war, similar thoughts led to the creation of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The reality of the world today is that while instant communications and interdependence in trade and commerce, push us to the realisation of a shared and common destiny, long engrained attitudes and prejudices, make it difficult for many to accept the new reality. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot be true to those, who, in the words of the Kohima Epitaph, ‘gave their today for our tomorrow’ unless we look towards a world that recognises an equal respect for all. It’s not easy to change deep rooted attitudes, but as Guru Nanak reminds us, it’s the only way to true and lasting peace.

 

 

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The 17th century poet John Dryden, reflecting on democracy wrote:

‘Nor is the people’s judgement always true, the Most may err as grossly as the Few’.

Many on the ‘remain’ side of the referendum may feel this speaks to them. While both sides agree that the democratic decision must be respected no matter how close the result. The incoming Prime Minister Theresa May has already pledged to respect the decision to leave as she begins the task of steering the country through uncertain times, as for the first time in many years we are now forced to look afresh at basic questions of identity, sovereignty and aspirations, in our relations with Europe and the rest of the world.

It’s a sad aspect of human nature that sometimes the easiest way in getting someone on our side in discussion or debate is to find someone else we can blame for all our problems. In the 50s and 60s it was people from the Commonwealth. In recent debate we have heard unhelpful nasty language about immigrants and refugees which has led to a rise in hate crimes. It all reminds me of what I call Indarjit’s law: that when two or more people can find sufficient in common to call themselves ‘us’, they will immediately look for a ‘them’ to despise; to strengthen their new found unity. We see it in rivalry between football fans but in its extreme form, it can lead to horrors like the holocaust and more recent genocides.

In the India of the 15th century, Guru Nanak witnessed unnecessary divisions in the religions around him and stressed the importance of recognising common beliefs and aspirations. Guru Arjan, the fifth Guru, took this emphasis on commonalities further by incorporated some verses of Hindu and Muslim saints into our scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, to emphasise common ethical teachings, while the ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadhur gave his life defending the right of all people to freedom of belief of all people.

My hope is that later today when Theresa May assumes office as Prime Minister, she will similarly use her considerable experience to focus on commonalities like the pursuit of social justice and respect for the rights and beliefs of others, as she leads the country to a new future.

 

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