Friday, June 18, 2010
Sikhism and South Carolina
South Carolina has been involved in controversies before, many of them seeming to involve sex scandals, such as former governor Mark Sanford and his mistress in Argentina last year around this month. This year, governor candidate Nikki Haley has run into both a sex scandal also, but more relevantly a controversy about her religious faith as well. Born Nimrata Randhawa to Indian immigrant parents, she was raised in Sikhism, the fifth largest religion in the world, begun in India, following the teachings of ten gurus who sought God through meditation on the symbol Ik Onkar. But in her early 20s, she converted to Christianity (Methodism to be precise) and allegedly only goes to Sikh services a few times a year out of respect to her parents (like I did on that Easter service this year, right?). But one Jake Knotts decided to throw out the new popular racial slur that has not yet become as taboo as the n-word or the k-word for Africans and Jewish/Israeli respectively, raghead. Similar in nature to the sand n***er epithet thrown at Middle Eastern people, Senator Knotts was supposedly using this in jest, though frankly, this guy used it in relation to Obama as well, which means he still buys into the long debunked hypothesis that Barack Obama is actually a Muslim and is lying about his faith to infiltrate the United States (or something like that nonsense, I never can get it clear). The term was originally used to refer to Indian immigrants, many of whom were Sikh (pronounced Seek, not Sick, which I mistakenly thought myself for about 4 years as a religious studies major).
Knotts’ attempt to apologize and appear regretful will probably save him as much as Ted Haggard’s homosexual de conversion therapy and resurgence as the pastor of a small church recently. But Haley has been on the defensive about persistent questions about her faith recently. South Carolina preachers and voters are a bit too inquisitive about something that shouldn’t be any more important than whether she’s a Muslim or a Jew. Albeit, Sikhism doesn’t share a sacred text or prophets as the Abrahamic Triad does, but it believes in a deity, albeit it is referred to as a monistic or pantheistic religion, where God is identified as synonymous with the universe and not separate from it as in the other theistic religions more commonly known to Americans. But Stephen Prothero’s short commentary on this reflects my thoughts in a more succinct fashion. If Nikki Haley has to be so precise in her wording of her Christian faith so as not to confuse what are potentially ill informed or willfully ignorant voters, then South Carolina is still behind in terms of advancing a basic principle of equality under the law. If Haley is willing to serve America and her country or state in an honest and straightforward fashion, her association with Sikhism and previous adherence to its tenets (in whatever way that might have been) should make little to no difference in terms of whether you vote for her or not. It’s as if her opponent just used the tactic of name calling to make himself seem like he made an honest mistake and recover, while he puts the spotlight on his opponent (though he’s not running for governor of course) so as to make her less trustworthy and give more credence to the candidate he’s backing. That’s not only unfair in that it’s a bait and switch move, but it borders on mudslinging: even if he apologizes, he made an attack on her character based on her past and more importantly her ethnic heritage. All Indians are not Sikhs by nature, nor are they all Hindus or Buddhists or Jains by nature. Haley made a conversion and people should take her word at it. The sex scandal is practically an easier thing to deal with, since she promised she would resign if it was ever proven she was unfaithful to her husband. But with religious/ethnic discrimination still present in America, she will have a difficult time persisting in her popularity with the voters. Here’s hoping she wins out as the honest woman she has shown herself to be. Until next week, Namaste and Aloha.