Archive for March, 2011

2010 Global Sikh Civil & Human Rights Report

“Identity at its core, is the root of freedom. The ability to explore that which is different and       express one’s one manifestation of self is at the crux of creativity.  It is the ability to have an identity that provides the diversity in the world that makes it such a vibrant and interesting place.  Some may argue that it is the differences in groups or peoples that create the difficulty and the conflict we see in the world.  This is simply not the case.  With the exception of resource based wars, the majority of conflict has arisen where difference is attacked for the purpose of creating homogeneity, or worse to wipe out the difference all together.  Furthermore, diversity of identity is simply part of the past and present human condition; a homogeneous human species is not the way our reality has evolved. ”

So begins the  Global Sikh Civil and Human Rights Report for 2010.   The report assesses experiences of Sikh minority communities with regard to profiling at airports, airline travel, and being counted in the Census, particularly in the United States;  29 countries are described in terms of their religious demography, general civil and human rights, rights of minorities, Sikh community rights,  and issues that are country-specific such as women’s rights, articles of faith, discrimination, prisoner rights, and hate crimes.

United Sikhs also held an expert panel discussion focused on the findings and their implications. Speakers discussed the challenges faced by Sikh minority communities globally, including the tightrope balancing act of rejecting profiling while being acknowledged and accepted for one’s individual and community identity. They also noted the importance of building alliances with groups who share experiences of discrimination, and breaking out of a mindset that inflicts many marginalized groups –a mindset which rejects profiling of their own group but accepts it or even endorses it under certain circumstances for other groups.    Strategies for practical next steps include know your rights trainings,  mobilizing the community to act in support of the findings, and advocacy at local, national, and international levels.

Speakers included: Dr. I.J. Singh,  Professor Emeritus, NYU; Speaker, Writer;  Professor Thane Rosenbaum, Novelist, Essayist and Law Professor; Pabrita Benjamin, Rights Working Group; Attorney Daniel Mach, ACLU; Dr. Bobbi Nassar, Professor, NGO Committee on Human Rights. Moderators were representatives from United Sikhs: Ilana Ofgang, Legal Fellow and Hansdeep Singh, Staff Attorney


Prayers for Japan Reflect City Diversity

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First came the Muslim imam, singing an Arabic prayer in an undulating melody. Next came the rabbi, chanting in Hebrew, followed by the Hindu leader praying in Sanskrit, the Christian in English, the Sikh in Punjabi and the Buddhist in Japanese.

One by one, they stood in the chancel of Riverside Church on the Upper West Side on Sunday evening and beseeched the heavens for support of the victims and survivors of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

For all the city’s ethnic diversity, there are surprisingly few occasions, outside of subway cars and rush-hour sidewalks, when the population truly blends in a common pursuit. The service on Sunday — called Interfaith Time of Reflection for Japan — was one of those moments.

ParticipantsRobert Caplin for The New York Times Participants in the service.

Officials at the Interfaith Center of New York, which helped organize the service, say the event flowed from their mission to help the city’s different faiths find common ground and purpose.

“Our goal is to get those religious groups to work together and understand each other better and build a more tolerant city,” said Matthew Weiner, the center’s program director. “Coming together in response in times of crisis is a natural outcome of convincing grassroots religious community groups to work together.”

Mr. Weiner said that many of the organizations and religious leaders involved in Sunday’s service began working together after the Sept. 11 attacks and have collaborated on similar interfaith events after other major disasters, both man-made and natural, including the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004 and the attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

The event’s spiritual goal went hand in hand with a material one: fund-raising for disaster relief.

“This is both a memorial and benefit event for Japan,” explained the Rev. T Kenjitsu Nakagaki, a Jodo Shinhsu Buddhist priest who led the service. The donations were collected on behalf of the New York Japanese-American Lions Club, Humane Society International, the Religious NGO Network on Humanitarian Support, the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches.

The two-hour service was attended by about 200 people, who together reflected the ethnic and religious diversity of the city. It included ceremonial offerings of incense, flowers and fruit; the recitation0 of haikus; silent meditation; musical interludes by the pianist Taka Kigawa and the koto player Masayo Ishigure; and reflections and monetary appeals by representatives of the three Japanese prefectures most acutely affected by the natural disasters.

“In prayer, in music, in silence, in simple shared presence, may solidarity, compassion and reverence bathe this sacred space, these sacred moments,” said the Rev. Robert B. Coleman, the church’s chief program minister.

“This,” added Gary Moriwaki, president of the Japanese American Association of New York, as collection plates were passed through the pews, “is really America at its best.”

Can the Secular State Really Cope With Religious Diversity?

Can the United States and other democracies learn about harmonizing secularism with religious pluralism from the Indian democratic model?  Rajeeva Bhargava argues “yes.”  He notes that the “Indian conception of secularism has better ethical and oral potential to deal with deep religious diversity.” To learn more, read his article, “States, Religious Diversity and the Crisis of Secularism” in Open Democracy!

Ex-Patriarch Irenaeus Fed by Local Muslim Grocer

Today in the NY Times, buried within an article, an important interfaith story- “A Monk in Confinement, Waiting to Reclaim a Title” by Isabel Kershner notes that a Greek orthodox monk, once the patriarch of Jerusalem is now in a partly self-imposed exile for over 3 years– choosing not to receive food from the central kitchen of the patriarchate compound:

“For food and medicine, Irenaeus says he relies on the good will of a local resident- a Muslim who runs a nearby grocery store, and who places supplies in a basket that Irenaeus lowers to the street at night from a rooftop terrace abutting his apartment.”