Sikhs and Soft Power

We can make friends in the West, minimize ignorance or hatred of turbaned individuals, and therefore undermine the drivi...

The first week of President Barack Obama’s administration has been important in several respects, perhaps most notably because of the announcements that the Guantanamo Bay facility will close and that the United States, “without exception,” will not torture.  While these statements are vitally significant in their own right, they are, in my view, part of a broader theme that the new administration is putting forth — namely, that the United States will regain its position in the world and safeguard its security interests by demonstrating, through action and example, what the nation truly stands for.

This concept, put forth most eloquently by Joseph Nye, Jr., is called “soft power.”   It calls for a state to attract others to its causes not just by force or economic coercion, but through attraction.  The Obama administration, including newly minted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has rebranded this foreign policy strategy, generally naming it “smart power.”  (Perhaps the term “soft power” sounds weak and overly accommodating.)

I believe this concept applies not just to soveriegn nations, but also to our Sikh community.  We can make friends in the West, minimize ignorance or hatred of turbaned individuals, and therefore undermine the driving force of discrimination and harassment by exhibiting underlying Sikh principles.  Specifically, Sikhs performing seva (or service) in cities and neighborhoods throughout the West can only improve our image and draw others to our community and its members.

For this reason, I wish to draw your attention to an upcoming Sikh community service event in Washington, DC — ironically enough the site of Obama’s inauguration and the place where “soft power” is being embraced as a matter of American diplomacy and public policy:

Date: January 31st, 2009
Time: 9:00 AM - 11:30 AM

Sikhcess Washington DC will be launching a ‘Feed the Homeless’ campaign the first month of 2009!
Please join Harminder, Sunmit, Amrit, Nawreen, Jaskaran, Pamela, Navneet, Pawan, Jassimran, Jap, Puneet, Angela, and the rest of the Sikhcess Washington D.C. Crew in preparing and distributing fresh, nutritious meals!
Every month, the homeless and needy take delivery of these food packages. In exchange, Sikhcess volunteers receive countless hugs, smiles, and a heart-felt “thank you”, many times over.
Come out to lend support to the ‘Free Community Kitchen’, and bring your friends too!
For more information, please write to Harminder at [email protected].

I hope Sikh-Americans continue to hold such events. They not only fulfill the Sikh mandate to give to others, but they can also help elevate the state of the Sikh community in the United States, where Sikhs continue to encounter discriminatory treatment. (For previous TLH coverage of Sikhcess, please see here.)


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