Guest blogged by Moninder Singh
I am for Palestinian statehood, and at the same time I am for the existence of the state of Israel. I am against rockets fired into civilian areas killing innocents indiscriminately, but I am even more against what can only be seen as purposely targeted air strikes against the children and innocents of Gaza. I am against those who think the existence of Jews and Israel must be challenged, and in the same breath, I am against Zionist and Israeli nationalism that doesn’t recognize the state of Palestine or the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. It is indeed that simple in my mind.
It was only a recent photograph of a forward thinking and young Sikh waving a Khalistan flag at a pro-Palestine rally in California that pushed me to give my views on the topic as well– but as a Sikh and not a wannabe political analyst. For weeks I have been listening to conversations from many within the Sikh community on the issue of Palestinian statehood versus the existence of Israel. The underlying question nobody is really touching on is, why does it have to be one or the other?
This illegal occupation and massacre instigated and carried out by Israel with excuses of Palestinian aggression has nothing to do with the fact that Yasser Arafat (former Leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization) was close to Indira Gandhi or the fact that Israel was instrumental in training Indian law enforcement agencies on dealing with threats to their national security which were also deployed in Punjab against Sikhs throughout the 1990s. These actions do not define the masses or their rights. It defines only misguided leadership and corrupt governments. What is even more troubling is the refusal of many Sikhs to comment on this issue by stating, “I am not an expert in Palestinian/Israeli affairs.” But who said you had to be? If it is only the “experts” that are needed to make decisions on the fate of an entire population, then we as Sikhs should take up shovels for digging graves and hauling carts of wood for funeral pyres because the oppressed peoples of the world who are resisting tyranny like the Palestinians will need them today, and make no mistake that we ourselves will likely need them tomorrow…just like we did yesterday.
A revolution never did and never will need “experts.” A revolution needs nothing but the people. And from them it demands their minds for the ability to think without fear, it demands their voices for the ability to speak without fear, and if needed, it will demand their blood to accomplish their dream to live without fear. It should never be that the oppressed of yesterday becomes the oppressor of today, but when that does happen and as it has happened in the case of Israel oppressing our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we as Sikhs have a duty to uphold the principles of our Gurus and stand in solidarity with and struggle alongside those who are being oppressed.
For me, to understand a Sikhs position in any situation, we must not let popular opinion or political opportunism cloud our vision. We must delve deeper into the writings of our Gurus to ensure we provide real life context to the concepts they provided us. I don’t believe in using Gurbani to pick physical sides in any conflict. Gurbani transcends the physical and forces us to look further into the thought process behind the actions that are being committed. We are sitting in a month where traditionally we celebrate “Miri – Piri Divas” (loose translation would be the bonding of both Spiritual and Temporal Power by Guru Hargobind Sahib) and with it many other concepts as well including “Sant – Siphahi” (Saint – Soldier) and “Degh – Tegh” (loose translation would be the upliftment of the downtrodden/shunned/oppressed sections of a community through charitable service and physical resistance). If we take these concepts, dissect them for understanding, and then apply them to what the plight of the Sikh and Palestinian is today (and also of the Jew pre-1948), we see very clearly where we as Sikhs need to stand when it comes to the right to determine one’s own destiny.
From many different sources we understand that “Degh” is defined as a wide mouthed cauldron which symbolizes the charitable distribution of food in Sufi tradition (Langar in Sikh tradition). But its definition cannot stop at just physical food. It is essentially a support network that is being provided by the Sikh community for any human being that will ever exist. Our practice is not to feed the well-fed (which is essentially what we are practicing today), but rather to go to those who are weak, unhealthy, shunned, oppressed, etc. and be their support network through the provision of basic necessities that would link them further with the divine which pervades in all life forms around us. This “Degh” was and still is a source of inspiration and hope that all is not lost.
Equally, “Tegh” is literally translated as a sword, but it too is much more than that. It is a symbol of resistance that challenges inequality and discrimination. It is needed in those dire times when all modes for the protection of the truth and freedom have failed and one has to defend themselves or others. In a literal sense it was a sword, but figuratively it was a mode of resistance. It was Guru Nanak’s voice when his lalkar to Mughal Emperor Babur called him a tyrant and forced him to change his ways and it was also Guru Gobind Singh’s pen that sent the “Zafarnama” (Letter of Victory) to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb after the physical destruction of his entire family to show that moral and ethical victory is of higher importance than the physical. Make no mistake; Sikh tradition has never been against the use of weapons and arms when other means of obtaining rights and justice have failed. Having said this, the “Tegh” is actually best defined by Guru Hargobind Sahib as the Guru explains that the “Tegh” is for the defence of the oppressed and the destruction of the oppressor.
Garib Ki Rakhia (defence of the oppressed)
Jarvane Ki Bhakkhia (destruction of the oppressor)
Guru Gobind Singh takes this concept and gives it eternal life through his writing:
ਦੇਗ ਤੇਗ ਜਗ ਮੇ ਦੋਉ ਚਲੈ
Degh and Tegh will both prevail in the world.
It was important to delve into this subject of Sikh concepts as we have now provided some context to how one would come to understand their role as a Sikh in the world and even more importantly, how to put that role into action and where. “Degh” and “Tegh” from the Sikhs currently MUST be for the Palestinian people. Most definitely, Sikhs should be arm in arm with Palestinians at rallies for Palestinian statehood and their right to self-determination. Our solidarity with other oppressed peoples and sharing in their experiences will push us further in truly living the Guru’s message. But now I am forced to ask my own people a question that I am sure many will not like. Why is it that so many Sikh activists find it so easy to recognize Palestine and they cannot do the same for Khalistan? If Palestine is the liberation of the Palestinian people and their right to think, speak and live without fear, then what is Khalistan for the Sikhs of Punjab? So quickly does the majority in our community run to join hands with oppressed minorities throughout the world, but we shy away immediately when it comes to the issue of Khalistan, its validity, and its definition. In the opening paragraph I made very clear what the position of a Sikh should be when it comes to conflict and the innocent lives involved, but as I have stated in the past in response to some individuals who point at mistakes made during the Khalistan movement, no single act committed in the name of a movement that carries the aspirations of an entire nation of people, can be a reflection of that entire movement as a whole. I would never say that you have to pick one or the other, but when the Sikh nation is under a religious, linguistic, and social attack from the Indian state and its agencies, why is it that our young minds, our most valuable resources, are running off to solely wage “war” with an internationally accepted movement rather than bring about the same position for their people as well?
I am going to define this double-standard as just what it is– it is fear. This fear comes in many different ways, but there are two particular ways that Sikhs have been affected and primarily the youth of this generation. The first is the fear of loss. This loss could be monetary in the form of career aspirations; it could be the loss of physical connection to Punjab by being blacklisted by the Indian Government; it could also be loss in the form of increased scrutiny at the hands of law enforcement agencies; and finally it could be the perceived loss of family and friends around an individual. The second is the fear of the unknown. The unknown stems from the unknown of what Khalistan actually is and does not stop until it hits that point of if formed, what Khalistan might actually become. It has been our complacency that has not allowed us to both define Khalistan ourselves (rather than Indian Government propaganda) and bring it into the homes of Sikhs across the world. It is a further injustice on our part to simply dismiss the idea of Khalistan due to us thinking that it may be worse than the present day situation within India. I am pretty sure not a single Palestinian activist (with whom many in our community have forged solidarity) would agree with this line of fearful thinking when it comes to their existence within Israel.
ਭੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਜੰਮੈ ਭੈ ਮਰੈ ਭੀ ਭਉ ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਹੋਇ ॥
In fear one is born, and in fear they die; fear always exists in their mind
This fear should not stand ahead of what a Sikh knows to be true based on Gurmat, Gurbani and Gur-Itihas. Just like we do not fear physical death but rather the death of our conscience, we should not fear any loss or be complacent when it comes to the truth of our own freedom. The truth is there to strengthen the resolve of an individual and to ensure that by committing to it, one needs not fear anything anymore.
ਮਨ ਰੇ ਸਚੁ ਮਿਲੈ ਭਉ ਜਾਇ ॥
Fear departs by attaining and understanding the Truth
Where we are actively propagating a country for Palestinians, we should be doing the same for our own in Punjab. Israel is in gross violation of international law and is bringing destruction and death to Gaza with its superior military technology. But even so, the state of Israel and its Jewish population have a right to exist. At the same time, the self-determination of the Palestinian people and Palestinian statehood must be allowed to move forward as a fundamental right. The state of Israel is the oppressor at the moment, and it is our role as Sikhs to stand with the oppressed and displaced Palestinian population and push for their right to self-determination. We should not be defending actions committed on either side that are morally and ethically wrong not only in the Sikh context but from humanity’s perspective as well.
No one can deny that Palestine has the right to exist, and through the sacrifices of the Palestinian people it will be established. The right to defend yourself, your family/friends, and your way of life is something that I as an individual and as a Sikh hold very dear. When two sides are so unevenly matched due to international interests in the area which has strengthened the military might of Israel to an unknown capacity, it is my hope that the words of our very own Shaheeds of Khalistan will capture the feeling of the Palestinian people in their all too familiar struggle.
“We wish to remind you that by misusing your vast resources you have tried your utmost to humiliate us as a nation. In every field you have tried to make us helpless. You are empowered with your massive armed force and equipped with the most advanced military arsenal of our times. You have made us inadequate to fight you in the open battlefield. In the present situation there is no other alternative with us except to use the kind of method that we employed on General Vaidya to punish the tyrants for their evil deeds. When you are already waging an undeclared war on our nation, guerrilla attacks are not our pleasure but a historical compulsion.”
-Shaheed Bhai Harjinder Singh Jinda & Bhai Sukhdev Singh Sukha
(Letter to the President of India)
KHALISTAN ZINDABAD! (LONG LIVE KHALISTAN!)
PALESTINE ZINDABAD! (LONG LIVE PALESTINE!)
INQUILAB ZINDABAD! (LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!)