Sikhs

Bloodshed in the headlines: What is the current world situation with religious persecution?

Bloodshed in the headlines: What is the current world situation with religious persecution?

THE QUESTION:

What is the current world situation with religious persecution?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The slaughter of 50 Muslims and wounding of dozens more at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, provoked horror in that pacific nation, and sorrow and disgust worldwide. Why would anyone violate the religious freedom, indeed the very lives, of innocent people who had simply gathered to worship God?

Unfortunately, murders at religious sanctuaries are not a rare occurrence. In the U.S., recall the murders of six Sikh worshipers at Oak Creek, Wisconsin (2012); nine African Methodists at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C. (2015); 26 Southern Baptists in a Sunday morning church rampage at Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017); and 11 Jews observing the Sabbath at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last October.

The Christchurch atrocity was unusual in that authorities identified a white nationalist as the assailant. Most mosque attacks are not carried out by a demented individual, but by radical Muslim movements that intend to kill fellow Muslims for sectarian political purposes. The most shocking example occurred in 1979. A well-armed force of messianic extremists assaulted the faith’s holiest site, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, during the annual pilgrimage (Hajj). The reported death toll was 117 attackers and 127 pilgrims and security guards, with 451 others wounded.

After Christchurch, The Associated Press culled its archives to list 879 deaths in mass murders at mosques during the past decade. (Data are lacking on sectarian attacks upon individual Muslims, also a serious problem for the faith). Such incidents get scant coverage in U.S. news media.

2010: Extremist Sunnis in the Jundallah sect bomb to death six people and themselves at a mosque in southeastern Iran. Then a second Jundallah suicide bombing at an Iranian Shiite mosque kills 27 and injures 270.

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Sikhs, the new lions of the American trucking industry, get some timely coverage

Sikhs, the new lions of the American trucking industry, get some timely coverage

In the category of cool-religion-stories-that-no-one-knows-about, we learn that America’s trucking industry driver shortage is getting some help from an unlikely religious group.

Didn’t know the industry is in trouble? That 48,000 more drivers are needed on America’s highways thanks to burgeoning demand in on-line shopping/shipping services?

If you’ve ever dodged a truck on an interstate, you know there’s a lot of them out there and that anything you wear or eat these days was probably brought to you via truck. So what is the religion angle here?

Sikhs have stepped up to fill the gap. And thanks to stories on Sikh websites and in trucking industry outlets, we can learn why. Here’s from Freight Waves:

The U.S. trucking industry is so massive that not only does it cater to myriads of different verticals, but also houses different ethnicities under its roof, who are part of the industry as truckers, owner-operators, fleet owners, and even as people in gas stations, truck stops, and maintenance sheds. In this mix, the Punjabis or rather the Sikh population have built themselves a bastion in the North American trucking market that is second to none.

Though the terms ‘Punjabi’ and ‘Sikh’ look quite interchangeable, they are essentially entities that cannot be compared on the same breath, as its akin to reasoning out between apples and oranges. Punjab is a geographic region, that is split between the countries of India and Pakistan, the meaning which translates to “the land of the five rivers.” Sikhism however, is a religion that originated in the Punjab region in the 15th century, with most of the followers of the faith living in the Indian part of Punjab.

The U.S. is home to half a million Sikhs, of which the Sikhs Political Action Committee estimates that around 150,000 of them work in the trucking industry - which makes the sector an overwhelming favorite amongst their populace. The statistics are interesting, to say the least. 90% of all the Sikhs in the trade are truckers, and Indians, in general, are ahead of other Asian nations, controlling nearly half of all Asian-owned trucking businesses in America. And as per the findings of the North American Punjabi Trucking Association (NAPTA), California is the ground zero of the Punjabi bulwark, with 40% of truckers in the region being Sikhs.

Readers may need a bit of history to put this in context.

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RNS points out how ICE detainees' religious rights get shafted in prison

RNS points out how ICE detainees' religious rights get shafted in prison

Shortly after I posted a blog about Sikhs in a western Oregon jail last week, Religion News Service came out with piece about what kinds of spiritual counsel –- if any –- detainees get in America’s prisons.

The idea for the story, reporter Tom Verde said, came in September while he was watching something on TV about jailed immigrants and wondering if any of them have access to any clergy. The resulting story apparently took about six weeks of research and digging.

The short answer to his question is: Infrequently or not at all.

(RNS) — In May, Roberto Rauda, an undocumented immigrant, went to a New London, Conn., courthouse to pay a fine for carrying an open container of beer. Instead he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in a routine sweep and ended up in the Bristol County House of Corrections in North Dartmouth, Mass.

Rauda, 37, who came to New York from El Salvador as a teen and several years ago found work in construction and at a lobster processing plant in Connecticut, was released in September, after members of the New London advocacy group Unidos Sin Fronteras paid his legal fees and $3,500 bail.

Sitting in his lawyer’s living room, Rauda grimly recalled conditions at the Massachusetts facility, such as cramped and uncomfortable sleeping arrangements and inedible food.

Yet his face softened as he recounted how prayer helped him endure.

“We had a Catholic priest who came every two weeks, and we would get together in a room to pray and sing hymns,” Rauda told Religion News Service through a translator. “I was scared I wouldn’t get out, that my wife would be left alone, and I prayed to God that she would be all right,” he said.

Rauda was one of the more fortunate ones, according to Verde’s piece. Typically, there’s nothing at all.

Being that the prisons weren’t too forthcoming about this information, he had to rely on information from the International Institute of Akron, a refugee services organization, whose lawyers have access to detainees. He also got a quote from CoreCivic, a private corrections company.

CoreCivic Manager of Public Affairs Rodney E. King, in an email, said that NEOCC provides for the spiritual needs of detainees. The facility, he said, has “a full-time chaplain, as well as a part-time chaplain.”

He added that there are six active religious service volunteers who currently serve evangelical Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Sikhs for the U.S. Marshals Service and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. One of those, the Catholic volunteer, has recently been cleared by ICE to minister to detainees and approvals are pending for a Muslim and a Sikh, King wrote.

But reports from human rights organizations, immigrant advocacy groups and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general chronicle religious rights concerns at various ICE detention centers. The concerns range from prison guards mocking some faith traditions to the disruption or denial of detainees’ rights to worship.

First, getting access to a prison as a clergy volunteer can take forever.

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Reuters misses some key players in news package about Hindu radicalization of India

Reuters misses some key players in news package about Hindu radicalization of India

Beneath all the sparkle and glitz of 21st century India is another story; an ominous tale of how the leaders of the 1.3 billion-person nation do not want to turn the nation back a century but instead wish to turn it back hundreds of centuries.

In a package about Hindutva; an ideology seeking to establish the primacy of Hinduism in every aspect of Indian life. Which, according to a fascinating package of articles from Reuters, means rewriting Indian history and killing any opponents who get in the way. And which, in the Reuters universe, means Muslims, who comprise 14 percent of India’s population.

However, this approach ignores Christians and Sikhs, both of whom claim millions of adherents who’ve been in India for many centuries (or in the case of the Malabar Christians, since the time of St. Thomas the apostle). For a sample:

NEW DELHI -- During the first week of January last year, a group of Indian scholars gathered in a white bungalow on a leafy boulevard in central New Delhi. The focus of their discussion: how to rewrite the history of the nation…
Minutes of the meeting, reviewed by Reuters, and interviews with committee members set out its aims: to use evidence such as archaeological finds and DNA to prove that today’s Hindus are directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact not myth.

So what this means is that the Hindu god Ganesh –- a deity with a human body and an elephant head –- was a real person. Or that the divine prince Rama, described in the Indian epic Ramayana, is a historical figure who rescued his wife, Sita, from the demon king Ravana with the help of an army of monkeys.

Interviews with members of the 14-person committee and ministers in Modi’s government suggest the ambitions of Hindu nationalists extend beyond holding political power in this nation of 1.3 billion people - a kaleidoscope of religions. They want ultimately to shape the national identity to match their religious views, that India is a nation of and for Hindus.
In doing so, they are challenging a more multicultural narrative that has dominated since the time of British rule, that modern-day India is a tapestry born of migrations, invasions and conversions. That view is rooted in demographic fact. While the majority of Indians are Hindus, Muslims and people of other faiths account for some 240 million, or a fifth, of the populace.

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Expensive Washington state senate race: A Sikh vs. a Christian and no one's covering that

Expensive Washington state senate race: A Sikh vs. a Christian and no one's covering that

In terms of political leanings, the West Coast is a wall of blue, but there’s still a stubborn cadre of Republicans controlling the Washington state legislature, much to the disgust of Democrats.

So, right now there’s a huge fight for a single state Senate seat with two Asian-American women duking it out for the coveted position in Washington’s 45th District, which houses behemoths like Microsoft and other tech businesses that have turned Seattle’s Eastside into a mini-Silicon Valley.

I used to live in that district years ago and currently live in an adjoining district, so naturally I was interested in reading about this race. Yes, there is a interesting religion angle to this story. The issue is whether anyone wants to cover it.

High Country News’ latest edition explains what’s at stake:

Campaign donations are pouring in for a Washington state Senate seat contest because the outcome likely will determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the chamber. Oil companies have written $100,000 checks for political action committees running ads against the Democratic candidate, Manka Dhingra, and in support of Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund. A pair of billionaires who want action on climate change, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, each gave $125,000 to political action committees funding ad campaigns against Englund, and supporting Dhingra.
When all is said and done, $8 million dollars likely will have been spent on this state legislative race, political consultants predict. That’s more than triple the amount ever spent on any other Washington state legislative race and more than has ever been spent on any U.S. Congressional race in the state.

Dhingra and her family are pictured above this blog post. Englund is the person with the black-and-white-checked blouse. Elsewhere I read this could be the “costliest state primary in history,” so my ears perked up.

What’s interesting are the religious professions of the two women involved. One is a Sikh American who, if elected, would be the nation’s first Sikh woman to be in a state legislature. The other once worked for an overseas charity affiliated with Pentecostal healing evangelist Heidi Baker.

Few of the publications I scanned were interested in an religion “ghosts;” that is, religion angles hidden in ordinary news articles.

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With Canada's shifting demographics, Sikh politician’s rise may be glimpse of future

With Canada's shifting demographics, Sikh politician’s rise may be glimpse of future

How many American journalists, including the dwindling number of staff religion reporters, are capable of accurately writing about the Sikh faith without first needing to resort to a quick Goggle search? Very few, I'd bet.

I'd also wager that Canadian journalists are similarly challenged. This could change, however, now that our northern neighbor has just witnessed the first Sikh being voted head of one of Canada’s major political parties.

That would be Jagmeet Singh, the son of Indian immigrants, who is now the national leader of the liberal New Democratic Party. NDP is Canada’s third largest party, though it was number two for a spell earlier this decade. (Remember, Canada operates within a parliamentary system, unlike the United States where just two parties dominate).

Singh, a provincial parliament member from Ontario, is also the first non-white to head a major Canadian party. Click here for The New York Times story on Singh’s election. Click here for a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation profile of the man.

Note that Singh wears a turban and other symbols of the Sikh religion. I'd call that a bold move for a national politician in a country with a majority white Christian population.

Imagine if Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who was born into a Sikh family that lived in Canada prior to moving to South Carolina, had not converted to Protestant Christianity and still wore traditional Sikh garb.

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Top notch New York Times who-done-it story comes up short on Hindu roots of India's caste system

Top notch New York Times who-done-it story comes up short on Hindu roots of India's caste system

The New York Times ran a fascinating story out of rural India over the weekend that to my mind underscored -- with one big caveat -- some of the complicated mechanics and very best qualities of foreign reporting.

Headlined, “How to Get Away With Murder in Small-Town India,” the piece, written in the first person by a veteran correspondent, showed — without explicitly explaining — the powerful connection between religion and everyday cultural expression. The writer was Ellen Barry, who shared a staff Pulitzer Prize while previously working in the paper’s Moscow bureau.

Conveying the daily experiences of ordinary people living in a distant and different culture requires a level of empathetic insight and writing skill greater than that of the average newspaper reporter. Barry’s that kind of journalist; she’s able to turn the travails of ordinary individuals into highly readable copy

This story focuses on how a man got away with murdering his wife -- a circumstance that unfortunately happens far too often in rural India.

For that he can thank corrupt local officials and ingrained male disrespect for women -- particularly poor women -- rooted in South Asia’s Vedic-origin caste system. The Vedas are Hinduism earliest scriptural writings and are estimated to be between 2,500 to 3,500 years old.

This, despite Indian laws making caste discrimination illegal.

(Before any non-Hindu readers dismiss this as solely a Hindu problem, note that the Wikipedia link in the previous paragraph, repeated here, makes clear that in India and neighboring (and primarily Hindu) Nepal, some Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Jews also have adhered to caste system protocols over the years.)

Barry’s story is long, around 3,500 words, but it stays interesting to its conclusion and it's worth reading in full.

I like how Barry documented her dogged reporting technique, returning time and again to re-interview people, often asking the same reworded questions over and over. That kind of intensive reporting becomes more rare with each passing news cycle.

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A world religion few readers know about: Sikhs get some news coverage from ProPublica

A world religion few readers know about: Sikhs get some news coverage from ProPublica

ProPublica, the investigative journalism powerhouse, doesn’t have a religion reporter even though it has a raft of other specialties ranging from civil rights, the military and health care to consumer finance, tech and education.

Why this newsroom doesn't cover the motivating force behind how billions of people live their lives is a puzzle but recently the organization did come out with a piece about religion.

Called “Sikhs in America: A History of Hate,” it chronicles how a blameless religious minority has been mistaken for Muslims for years and often murdered in cold blood because of that misperception. Remember, it was not a Muslim but a Sikh: Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was murdered at a gas station in Arizona right after 9/11.

The lengthy first-person feature begins with an incident that took place not far from where I live.

The 1907 episode in a seaside timber town in Washington came to be known as the Bellingham Riots. Really, though, there were no riots. There was a pogrom.
At the time, the U.S. was suffering through deep economic distress, a panic-filled recession that had begun the year before. Angry anti-immigrant sentiment was ascendant. And hundreds of Sikh men who had traveled from India to Bellingham to toil in the lumber mills paid the price.
Some 500 white men, many of them members of the local Asiatic Exclusion League, descended on the Sikhs and other South Asians, routing them from the bunkhouses where they roomed and chasing them into the streets. Within hours, the entire Sikh population of Bellingham had fled, frantically piling onto trains and boats in search of some sort of refuge. Many had been physically battered.

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Toronto Globe and Mail misses it on religious roots of sex-selective abortions

Toronto Globe and Mail misses it on religious roots of sex-selective abortions

Ten years ago, I wrote a four-part series about the horrific imbalance of boys and girls in India due to the rampant aborting of female fetuses. I spent three weeks in India tracking down doctors who were assisting in those abortions and activists who were trying to prevent them.

People kept on telling me that I needed to also check on whether female Indian immigrants to the United States were aborting their female children. I heard rumors that they were but I ran out of time and could not pursue that angle.

So I was glad to see that The Toronto Globe and Mail not only tackled the topic recently, but actually had some statistics to back it. However, the newspaper only told half of the story. As it said:

Fewer girls than boys are born to Indian women who immigrate to Canada, a skewed pattern driven by families whose mother tongue is Punjabi, according to a new study.
One of the most surprising findings of the study, to be published Monday in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada, is that the preference for boys does not diminish, regardless of how long women from India have lived in Canada.
“It’s counterintuitive,” said Marcelo Urquia, a research scientist at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Health Policy and lead author of the study. “We know that the longer immigrants are in Canada, the more likely they are to align to the host country.”

The longer they are in Canada? So western feminist values haven’t rubbed off at all? Are we sure that there is no religion ghost in this subject?

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