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Should we be Proud of Sikhs doing Ardas in the Republican Convention? OP/ED

These are the people we want to reach the most....

Yesterday at the Republican National Convention a Sikh woman named Harmeet Kaur led an ardas to start off the convention. This has been welcomed by many Sikhs as progress for the community and questioned by others who do not like the implied Sikh support of Trump.

Trump himself has inspired prejudice against anyone who is perceived as non-American, or perhaps more accurately non-white. The Sikh Coalition has recorded a 300% increase in hate crimes towards Sikhs in the last couple years (cite). Many believe that hatred has been emboldened by Trump himself. When asked if his rhetoric was increasing hatred Trump responded, "I hope not. I truly hope not." 

So what are we to make of Harmeet Kaur reciting an ardas at the Republican National Convention (RNC) where Trump is being celebrated by many as the presidential nominee? Some feel proud of her, not only for fighting to get in such a high position in the party (she will soon be deemed as a Republical Committeewoman) but also for exposing this audience to the ardas. Many of the Republican audience probably don't know who Sikhs are, and have surely never heard such a prayer or any recitation of Gurbani.

So is this a positive development, or as some Sikhs feel, are we just being used by the Republicans as tokens of diversity? Here's my perspective...

I don't personally support the wars the USA have conducted in the Middle East. These interventionist wars have created more instability in the region and created a bigger space for ISIS to prosper. The situation was bad and our military made it worse, for everyone.

In view of my dislike of how the US military has been used in this way, am I against Sikhs serving in the army? No. I think we need more Sikhs in the army. Sikh values are exactly what we need in the military. Violence is a last resort and a spiritual warrior is one with the highest moral code. Sikh involvement in the military has led us to conduct ceremonies at the Pentagon, including singing Gurbani Kirtan. We now have a yearly function at the Pentagon. Let me say that again: We now regularly sing Gurbani Kirtan at the Pentagon. I think that's amazing and the implications of the presence of the Guru there can not be known.

In the same way, even though I don't have a common view with a lot of Republican rhetoric, I see something that could be positive with the RNC ardas.

Trump's primary run tapped into a lot of anger and xenophobic fear that people have towards "outsiders." Who is most likely to commit a hate crime? People who have a fear of others. These are the people we want to reach the most. These are the people whose perspective we hope to change if possible.

Imagine a hateful person who is "fed up with all these terrorists training in my country" and thinks everyone wearing a turban or who has brown skin is some amorphous threat. Now imagine that person going to or watching the Republican Convention where he expects to receive fuel for his hatred. But instead he sees a strong Sikh woman being treated with respect and honor. That might be the disruption that keeps him from physicalizing his anger into an actual hate crime.   

Not only do I hope there will be more Sikhs doing Ardas at these such functions, I hope we have more interfaith events and networking with the churches where education about Sikhs can have the most positive effect.

So do I appreciate that Sikh protester, Arashdeep Singh, was removed from a Trump rally where presidential hopeful commented about his turban"He wasn't wearing one of those hats was he?"? No, I don't like that. These kind of words are the seeds of violence. It is hard for me to understand how such a person could be considered presidential. Kudos to Arashdeep for his courage.   

Perhaps Arashdeep Singh and Harmeet Kaur are doing the same work from different angles. He has brought the plight of turbaned Sikhs in view of the liberals and she has now exposed Sikhs to the conservatives. Both work to bring more awareness to our minority group an a country that increasingly needs awareness. The hope is that we will ultimately be more appreciated by the general public.  

I do not mean to dismiss other opinions or concerns people might have about a Sikh prayer at the RNC, I'm offering a different perspective to hopefully enhance the dialogue.

The other thing I would like to point out is that Harmeet Kaur Dillon has worked very hard to achieve her position in the Republican Party. It is a very unwelcoming environment where she has received a lot of resistance and bigotry and yet she has forged her way forward. Regardless of whether we have political differences with the Good Old Party, this Kaur deserves some recognition for her strength.

So congratulations Harmeet Kaur for your career success and God bless you for having the courage to do an ardas in front of the people we need most to see us.

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