Archive for January, 2009

Obama meets a Sikh

According to this Washington Times Article, Rajwant Singh represented the Sikh community as part of Obama’s National Prayer Service at the Washington Cathedral. If you have any photos of this event, do post them in the comments. :) So I don’t know if Obama actually met with Rajwant Singh, but Obama definitely saw him, as he showed up early to get front row seats to the event. :)

Here’s a quick excerpt from the article:

The omission nettled Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education to the point that he contacted Mr. Dubois, asking for tickets to the service.

Wearing a bright yellow turban, Mr. Singh showed up at the cathedral at 6:20 a.m. to be sure to get a seat on the front row in the north transcept facing the new president.

“We have a lot of work to do to educate our leaders,” he said. “Obama mentioned Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and non-believers in his inaugural speech but not Sikhs. And we are the world’s fifth-largest religion.”

I’m glad that Rajwant Singh had the contacts and the foresight to be able to get in on this event. There’s no one person that can represent the Sikh viewpoint to Obama, just as there is no one Christian, Jew, or Hindu (well, in the Christian case, perhaps the Pope?) — but it’s good to know that Rajwant Singh is out there — willing to wake up early and get a front row seat at high profile Washington events. Thank you Rajwant!

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  • This is really exciting news. The MSA has partnered with NYU Sikhs to organize a workshop where Sikh professionals can advise Sikh students considering various careers. Cool stuff — this sort of thing shows we’re really coming of age as a community. I hope this inspires more interaction of this sort. As a side note, several Sikhs I know have tried to start the Sikh Entrepreneurs Network — or some sort of Sikh Angel or VC Fund… Can somebody please organize that? :)

    Dear MSA members,

    In collaboration with the United Sikh Association at NYU, the MSA will be hosting its first-ever career mentorship workshop on Sunday, February 8th from 2 - 6pm at NYU (flyer below). We are looking for representatives from a diverse set of industries to speak with students about their careers and how to navigate the daunting job search processwith their Sikh saroop intact. Not only will you be a positive role model for the next generation of Sikh leaders, but also you will have the chance to meet and mingle with fellow Sikhs in the workforce.
    If you are interested in volunteering, please email Zoravar Dhaliwal (zoravar at gmai) and Nimeeta Sachdev (nimeetaks at gmail) as soon as possible with your contact details and please indicate which industry you belong to. We will follow-up individually with you. Thank you in advance for your help! - PSK

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  • Here’s an interesting poster. When this photograph was taken in Seattle, WA a few years ago, I had no idea it would make it on to the flyer for a British Turban Tying Competition…

    sikhturbanposter

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  • Pew Forum: Why Sikhs were left out

    Some dedicated readers may remember that in February 2007, I wrote to the Pew Forum regarding the omission of Sikhs in the Religious Landscape Survey. Well, they have finally replied to my query. I’ve posted the reply below. Thank you to Ms. Loralei Coyle for responding:

    Dec 30, 2008
    Good Afternoon Savraj,

    I am writing in response to your query that you sent to the Pew Forum. Thank you for contacting us.

    I wanted to let you know that respondents did have the opportunity to volunteer their religion as “Sikh,” and that several respondents did exactly that. In total, however, we found that fewer than three-tenths of 1% of our sample described themselves as Sikhs (which is not inconsistent with the DOJ estimate you cite), which means that we had too few to analyze them as a separate group. Sikhs are included in the “other world religions” category in the RLS reports.

    Thank you again for your interest.
    Loralei G. Coyle
    Communications Manager
    The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

    So today’s question to readers is — are Sikhs really that few and far between that they don’t fall in to the scope of an American Religious Landscape Survey? Or do we have significant numbers as Sikhs, and we’re just not on the Pew Forum’s Survey mailing list? You decide. At any rate, I hope the Pew Forum will contact me for the next survey! And Pew Forum folks, if you’re reading, I know many Sikhs that would be happy to participate in future surveys. ;) Many thanks to the Pew Forum for replying to my query.

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  • So the gracious folks at Warner Brothers decided to include some special features on the Towelhead DVD: specifically, Rajdeep Singh of SALDEF debating the film’s director, Alan Ball. Rajdeep is hard at work compiling the DVD reviews that mention the included special features. It’s clear from the snippets below that people seem to generally ‘get it’ and Rajdeep did an excellent job representing SALDEF’s position. I think this is an example of activism done right, and it’s still reaping returns as people buy and watch the DVD. Thanks again Warner Home Video!

    DVD Verdict

    “The only extras provided are two roundtable discussions about racism and the film’s title. Ball hosts both, joined in the first by MacDissi, Bashil, and Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Ball is joined in the second by the book’s author, Alicia Erian, and Rajdeep Singh Jolly, legal director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. These features are interesting, but overlong—the first discussion comes in at 30 minutes, the second at 50. They are not really satisfying as the only extras—we don’t even get a theatrical trailer, let alone a commentary track. Both discussions center on the same question of whether the title of the film is justified, and the basic procedure seems to be “Islamic or Sikh representative objects to title” followed by “Ball defends title and points out that he is gay.” Ball falls back on his sexual orientation a bit too often in these discussions, apparently subscribing to the belief that intimate knowledge of one form of prejudice makes him an expert on all forms of prejudice. On a related note, Ball also naïvely claims, “When you watch the movie, you become a towelhead. You know what it’s like to be called that.” It’s a noble ambition, but one that is not realizable by any film, and certainly not by this one. You do have to feel a little bad for Ball in all this, who obviously thought he was going to get a pat on the back for making a movie that deals with race. To his credit, he is pretty open-minded and receptive to criticism in these discussions. On the other side, Jolly does the best job of articulating why the title is objectionable (and for that reason, I’d recommend the more heated second discussion over the tamer first discussion), saying quite frankly that he believes it to be a shock-value marketing ploy. He continues persuasively, “The million dollar question for us is whether a movie studio would straight-facedly consider marketing a movie as ‘Nigger.’ And if the answer to that is yes, we just have a fundamental disagreement about good taste and tact and what’s appropriate and what’s in the interest of the public…if the answer is no…we have a contradiction, because the term is as hurtful as the n-word is for African-Americans.” While this “million dollar question” is hard-hitting and fair, Jolly hits on the real “million dollar question” for Towelhead at another point: ‘What does this movie tell us about race that we don’t already know?’”

    Home Theater Forum

    “The discussions are both cordial and frank, with Ball acting as moderator and ensuring that all participants have ample opportunity to express their views on the controversy surrounding the film in general, but its title in particular. The advocates for the American Islamic and Sikh communities both make a point against the use of the title with which I happen to agree. Using a racist slur as the title for a film from a large distributor presents unique problems no matter what the intent since films tend to be saturation marketed so that posters and advertisements will be seen by a lot of people who will never see the film or know its content. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that this particular film was not all that aggressively marketed, but I still am not all that crazy about the title of this movie showing up in the thread header for this review or on the Home Theater Forum ‘Software Reviews’ and ‘Forum News’ splash pages.”

    DVD Talk

    “The only extra is the two-part featurette “Towelhead: A Community Discussion” (1:20:34 total), in which writer/director Ball engages in self-important discussions of the film’s title and racial themes. The first discussion features Ball, Bashil. Macdissi, and Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Hussam Ayloush; the second features Ball, Alicia Erian (author of the novel the film is based on), and Rajdeep Singh Jolly (Legal Director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund). I had literally forgotten about the controversy surrounding the film’s title (no doubt encouraged by distributors Warner Independent–controversy can help sell tickets, after all), but watching this (rather dull) discussion of it highlights how arbitrary the title and racism in the material are. It’s really not about any of that; in fact, the xenophobia feels more like a headline-grabbing red herring. A return to the film’s production title (Nothing Is Private) and a few minor line changes, and the film could have been about a girl of any race; its portrayal of teen sexuality is much more disturbing and cringe-inducing.”