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How a California Gurdwara From a Century Ago Can be a Model for Interfaith Harmony

Mar26

by: Murali Balaji on March 26th, 2015 | No Comments »

The popular narrative in media and textbooks on the South Asian American population is that they’ve only existed in the United States for a few decades.

But such a narrative misrepresents and obscures a much longer history, especially at the turn of the century, when several thousand Indians settled in regions like Northern California. It’s the largely untold story of the migration of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims from pre-partition India from the late 19th century up until the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act (which was passed to limit Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Indian migration).

Even before the act was passed, migrants from India faced many obstacles, including systemic discrimination and outright violence. The 1907 “anti-Hindoo” riots in Bellingham, Washington, for example, targeted mostly Sikh laborers whom whites had accused of stealing lumber jobs. Bellingham is only about an hour north of Bothell, Washington, where a Hindu temple was recently vandalized.

Still, in their small conclaves, the immigrants of different faiths began to find ways to develop a community identity, in part because they were largely shunned by whites. At the time, about two-thirds of Indian immigrants in California at the turn of the century were Sikh, and as a result, the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society — a gurdwara — opened in Stockton in 1911.

Because Hindus and Muslims in the region were still small in number, and unable to get the approvals to build any sites of worship, the Stockton gurdwara served as a place of worship for all three religions. While Hindu-Sikh co-worship was common in northern India for centuries, a place for all three groups in the United States was created by circumstance and sustained through interfaith bonds.

Over the next three decades, the Khalsa Diwan hosted Hindu leaders and Muslim leaders alike, including the Hindu leader Swami Yogananda, who founded the Self-Realization Fellowship and authored the world-renowned Autobiography of a Yogi. Moreover, it served as a meeting ground for those seeking to build support for the Indian freedom struggle, especially those involved with the Ghadar Party. Despite having different religions, Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus still felt strongly connected to India and identified strongly with Indian nationalism.

While the gurdwara did not permit non-Sikhs from holding leadership positions, both Hindus and Muslims felt intimately connected to the house of worship, attending Sikh celebrations such as Gurpurab, which commemorates the birth of Guru Nanak. Baisakhi, a harvest festival celebrated by Sikhs and most Punjabi Hindus, was also a community celebration at a time when Indians were largely isolated.

Even after Muslim and Hindu populations in Stockton and other parts of northern California grew, they continued to come occasionally to the Khalsa Diwan Society out of respect for the shared history of the groups. While the India-Pakistan partition in 1947 diminished some of the interfaith cooperation, the gurdwara continued to keep its doors open to Hindus and Muslims. Even the Khalistani Sikh separatist movement that began in the late 1960s in India didn’t hurt ties among the older generation of the community living in Stockton.

Today, the legacy of Khalsa Diwan Society is a reminder that Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communities have had a longstanding history of cooperation and collaboration in this country. In California, for instance, the state’s long overdue frameworks revision could incorporate this history in order to help normalize understanding about the presence of the three religious groups — and their friendship — long before post-1965 immigration became the dominant narrative about South Asian Americans.

From a practical sense, the story of a gurdwara built over a century ago might even provide a model today in areas where the three faiths continue to be small and marginalized, and where the search for both community and safe space remains elusive.

Murali Balaji is director of education and curriculum reform at the Hindu American Foundation. A former journalist, he previously taught at Temple University, Lincoln University, and Penn State University, and has been a social justice advocate for nearly two decades.

The Militarists and Haters Win in Israel

Mar25

by: on March 25th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Winners:  Netanyahu, AIPAC, the U.S. Republican Party, Sheldon Adelson (the American Jewish billionaire funder of the right), Hamas, the Islamic State, and the right-wing Mullahs in Iran.

Losers: Israelis, World Jewry, the Palestinian people, the forces for peace and nonviolence everywhere, the Palestinian Authority, the people of Iran, and the people of the United States.

According to Israeli newspapers reporting on the outcome of the Israeli election on Tuesday, Likud increased its lead in the next Knesset of 120 members. It will now hold thirty Knesset seats, compared to the Zionist Union (former Labor Party) with twenty-four seats. As the frontrunner, Netanyahu will be asked to create the government coalition.

The Joint List of Palestinian Israelis, the third-largest party, gets 14 seats, followed by Yesh Atid with 11, Kulanu with 10, Habayit Hayehudi (ultra right) with eight, Shas with seven, United Torah Judaism with six, Yisrael Beiteinu (fascist right) with six, and Meretz (once the peace party) with four.

Though the Israeli president has said he will ask for a government of national unity, it will be unity around the policies that Netanyahu put out clearly in the last days of the election: no Palestinian state, no deal that would allow Iran to develop nuclear energy, no willingness to count Arab Israelis as “real Israelis” (Netanyahu went so far as to warn the Israeli public that they were in danger because Arab Israelis had formed a Joint List and might become a real force in the Knesset unless the Jewish Israelis rallied around Netanyahu’s Likud party).

How can the right wing grow to so much power in an Israel filled with mostly decent human beings, some of whom have even been influenced by Judaism’s teachings of love for the neighbor and love for “the other,” though of course most Israelis are secular?

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Then You Win: What Swarthmore Means For Open Hillel

Mar25

by: Evan Goldstein on March 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

Jewish students holding signs protesting against Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the many voices being silenced by Hillel International's policy of dictating what is and is not acceptable dialogue within the Jewish community. Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Popular sayings are often more useful as pithy evasions of analysis than as actual descriptors, but in this case it seems Hillel International is determined to enact Gandhi’s dictum. Recall October 2014, when Eric Fingerhut dismissed the Open Hillel movement as a “small group of activists.” In December 2014, Fingerhut likened us to the Biblical rebel Korach (cf. Numbers 16), and suggested our cause would not endure.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you.

By March 2015, Hillel International apparently has no choice but to fight: Formerly known as Swarthmore Hillel, Swarthmore Kehilah was forced to drop the Hillel name, following legal threats from Hillel International. Swarthmore’s sin was to plan an event entitled, “Social Justice Then and Now: Lessons From the Civil Rights Movement,” which will feature three Jewish veterans of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Since these particular activists support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, their very presence threatens Hillel’s “name and reputation,” and therefore, apparently necessitates legal threats.

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Collaboration, Willingness, and Leadership – Now and in the Future

Mar20

by: on March 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

640px-Metamorphosis_frog_MeyersFor years, I’ve been saying that I don’t know how the world of our dreams would come about. The gap between what I see in the world and what I want to see is so vast, that I don’t have any linear “theory of change” that makes sense to me. For some weeks now, I’ve been going to sleep, many nights, thinking about what could bring about a true shift to a collaborative future given how completely intertwined all the pieces of the existing social order are.

In my recently published book Reweaving Our Human Fabric: Working Together to Create a Nonviolent Future, I humbly acknowledge my inability to show a path. Instead, I do two things in that book. One is looking at where we are and what we can do, now, in this world, to move in that direction, however small the steps are. The building blocks I see are a disciplined commitment to nonviolence, to learning how to work together with others to reclaim collaboration, and to a massive revision of our understanding of power and leadership. The other focus of the book is on painting as vivid an image as possible of what a fully collaborative future can look like, so as to inspire and nurture these commitments and to provide a direction to move in.

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Wielding Truth and Nonviolence in the Fight of Our Lives

Mar15

by: Michael N. Nagler on March 15th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Sixty-seven years after Gandhi’s assassination, we find ourselves in a world still direly in need of his influence. Half the members of the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate have proudly declared that they don’t believe human activity is causing climate change. The wealthiest 80 people worldwide – all billionaires – now have as much material wealth as the poorest 350 million. The triumph of ideology over reason and greed over compassion is frightening.

While I have never owned a television set, I perforce watch snatches of commercial television in the locker room of my health club; enough to horrify any civilized person. Recently I saw something about the film “American Sniper”. The film is extremely violent, full of lies (see this article) designed to glorify cowardly violence and dehumanization, making both seem “patriotic.” It has grossed $300 million. Sparing you further details, it would not be too much to say that this country is steadily descending into barbarism – and no country that did that has ever survived.

Many generations feel that they are up against the critical battle between good and evil, but this is different. For the first time in the history of life on earth one species – us – has the capability to make the planet uninhabitable and we don’t have the wisdom, or even the common sense, to refrain from doing it.

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Uncle Pentagon: Growing Up in the Shadow of the American War State

Mar11

by: Frida Berrigan on March 11th, 2015 | No Comments »

A black and white photograph of a young boy holding a woman's hand as they walk in front of the Pentagon.

Growing up as the daughter of two prominent activists, Friday Berrigan spent much of her childhood at the Pentagon. Above, the author (at about two) and Rosemary Maguire at the River Entrance to the Pentagon in 1976. Credit: Frida Berrigan.

The Pentagon loomed so large in my childhood that it could have been another member of my family. Maybe a menacing uncle who doled out put-downs and whacks to teach us lessons or a rich, dismissive great-aunt intent on propriety and good manners.

Whatever the case, our holidays were built around visits to the Pentagon’s massive grounds. That’s where we went for Easter, Christmas, even summer vacation (to commemorate the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). When we were little, my brother and sister and I would cry with terror and dread as we first glimpsed the building from the bridge across the Potomac River. To us, it pulsated with malice as if it came with an ominous, beat-driven soundtrack out of Star Wars.

I grew up in Baltimore at Jonah House, a radical Christian community of people committed to nonviolent resistance to war and nuclear culture. It was founded by my parents, Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister. They gained international renown as pacifist peace activists not afraid to damage property or face long prison terms. The Baltimore Four, the Catonsville Nine, the Plowshares Eight, the Griffiss Seven: these were anti-Vietnam War or antinuclear actions they helped plan, took part in, and often enough went to jail for. These were also creative conspiracies meant to raise large questions about our personal responsibility for, and the role of conscience in, our world. In addition, they were explorations of how to be effective and nonviolent in opposition to the war state. These actions drew plenty of media attention and crowds of supporters, but in between we always went back to the Pentagon.

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Print Issue Exclusive: What Would Happen If Debtors Went on Strike?

Mar6

by: Tikkun on March 6th, 2015 | No Comments »

Content from our print issue is usually only available to subscribers, but this week we’re offering free access (for a limited time only!) to one article from our current issue on Jubilee and Debt Abolition. Click here to read the article, “Power Without the King: The Debt Strike as Credible Threat.”

If you are already a subscriber, please share this article with your friends! And if you have not yet subscribed, we invite you to check out this straight-shooting article to see what you are missing.In this piece, author Paul Hampton explores what it would take to achieve Jubilee (debt abolition) through organized pressure from debtors. Considering the historical context of the first mass debt cancellations, he argues that the only way to abolish debt is to do so ourselves from outside of the confines of the market system. Without threatening banks with mass nonpayment, he claims, debtors have no leverage when it comes to negotiating with profit-motivated lenders and legislators. Read his article now to learn how activists are already working to build a targeted debt refusal movement.

This article is also linked to from Tikkun‘s website, where you can leave your online comments. If you find this article worth discussing, please do share it via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

We won’t be able to continue lifting up important perspectives such as this without your support. If you appreciate the chance to read hard-hitting spiritual and political analyses such as this one, please do subscribe to the magazine or join our staunch activist and supporter network, the Network of Spiritual Progressives.


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Abundance, Inequality, Needs, and Privilege

Mar5

by: on March 5th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

consumption-520085_640I am deeply involved in experiments in gift economy, both my own and those I hear about and engage with from the sidelines. The entire thrust of my work with organizations is about supporting a massive shift from adversarial relationships and systems to a collaborative overhaul of all our human affairs. I have just published a book in which I describe my vision of a possible future that is fully collaborative and based on gifting and a revival of the commons.

Given the unmitigated joy I experience at the prospect of giving away my work and being supported by the flow of generosity of those who believe in what I do rather than by people paying for services, I am continually and immensely curious to understand the obstacles to having this experience be the norm rather than the exception. soilsoul3rdIn this post, I am writing about one piece of this huge puzzle that fell into place for me: why the idea of “deserving” might have come into existence, and how it’s related to the difficulties in establishing gifting and collaboration.

Recently, Alastair McIntosh sent me a gift copy of his book Soil and Soul, in response to a review of mine that was published in Tikkun about David Bollier’s book Think like a Commoner. Gifts and shared resources were in the air as I started reading the book and was instantly transported into the semi-pre-modern milieu that was Alastair’s upbringing in Scotland, on an island fifty miles off its coast. I have most of the book still ahead of me to enjoy, and already it supported me in pushing my thinking forward.

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Once White in America: Raising Black Sons in a White Country

Feb28

by: Jane Lazarre on February 28th, 2015 | No Comments »

A white mother and her biracially Black son waving on the beach.

Novelist and memoirist Jane Lazarre offers an intimate, lyrical, post-Ferguson look at what it’s meant to her to raise her two black sons in a world that isn't so black-and-white. Credit: CreativeCommons / Everett Harper.

For Adam and Khary

Black bodies
swingin’ in
the summer
breeze
strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

It was 1969 and 1973, both times in early fall, when I first saw your small bodies, rose and tan, and fell in love for the second and third time with a black body, as it is named, for my first love was for your father. Always a word lover, I loved his words, trustworthy, often not expansive, sometimes even sparse, but always reliable and clear. How I—a first-generation Russian-Jewish girl—loved clarity! Reliable words—true words, measured words, filled with fascinating new life stories, drawing

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Globalizing Black History Month: Recalling the Professor and the Punjabi Lion

Feb25

by: Murali Balaji on February 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

As February winds down, one of the most overlooked aspects of Black History Month is how African Americans influenced and were influenced by global movements, particularly before the start of the civil rights era.

A long-forgotten part of the global exchange is during the periods between the World Wars, when African-American activists and intellectuals had frequent interactions with counterparts in other parts of the world. In this spirit, it should be noted that long before Mahatma Gandhi’s activism inspired the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights leaders, another trans-Atlantic relationship would play a significant role in shaping African-American thought: the close friendship between W.E.B. Du Bois and Indian freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai, known by many as the Lion of Punjab.

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