Open Letter to Minister Conor Lenihan
Leinster House, Dublin 2
Phone: 459 6285
Fax: 451 2002
August 16th, 2007
Sartaj Singh Dhami
Thanks to the power of the Internet, recently I read in the news how a Sikh male in your country (link 1, link 2) of Ireland wished to volunteer as a reserve in your police force of Garda Siochana. Unfortunately, this Sikh was not allowed to due to his distinctive identity of wearing a turban which is mandate of the religion Sikhism.
Furthermore, news reports have stated your comment about social integration that “If we are to take integration seriously, people who come here must understand our way of doing things.” You went on to add that “When the president and ministers travel to the Middle East, they accept cultural requirements of the country and the culture they are operating in. It is a vice versa situation with regard to Ireland.”
I wanted to share with you some thoughts as you potentially work towards resolving this matter positively:
1. The literal translation of Garda Siochana, as I understand it, means the Guardians of the Peace of Ireland. As you learn more about the Sikh history and culture, which I’m sure you’ve had some experience as you were a reporter in London for some time, one of its core essence is to promote peace and social harmony throughout society. As both Canada and the UK have learned, having Sikhs in the police force can be an asset (whether it be cultural understandings or language translations) especially when targeting areas that have a high population concentration of Indian/Pakistani descent.
2. On your comments of Middle East cultures, you should understand that Sikhs are not from that area of the world. Although some still continue to confuse this, Sikhs originate from Punjab which is now a portion of land split between Pakistan and India. Many Sikhs migrated to East Punjab and now call India their home. So it is a bit unfair to impose the cultural influences of the Middle East to Sikhs who are not from that area. If anything, you’ll come to learn that a strong Punjabi cultural trait is to welcome and love guests as if they family members. Another trait of Punjabis, and strongly embraced by Sikhs, is to promote good will wherever they go. This trait has benefited many countries as Sikhs have formed their own Diaspora around the World.
3. Indeed the Sikh population of Ireland has made great strides to understand Ireland’s way of life as well as accept the cultural requirements of your Country. In particular, Sikhs have participated in various high profile parades in Ireland demonstrating their love for your Country as well as their cultural pride. Under the banner of the Irish Sikh Council, Sikhs have participated in both the Saint Patrick’s Festival Ireland and the Festival of World Cultures. In both of these events, Ireland is promoting its duty towards integration by highlighting its unique diversity. You can see photos of the Irish Sikh Council’s participation at the following web link:
4. Final thought: I’d argue that a central theme that Ireland has shared with the world is to promote good will and harmony for all. One of Ireland’s greatest Sons is Paul David Hewson, better known as U2’s singer Bono, who shares this theme with the world with his various humanitarian and social goodness based efforts.
Personally I feel that as we start to learn about various world cultures, democratic establishments need to work towards integration efforts versus easily accepting ideals of assimilation. Unfortunately as experienced by this sole Sikh who wanted to participate in Ireland’s civil service by volunteering, the incorrect principles of segregation cannot be tolerated in this new modern era.
As Integration Minister, I encourage you to find a proactive solution that will make the Sikh Diaspora feel even more welcomed in Ireland.
Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts. Although I am not a citizen of Ireland, I felt inclined to share my thoughts thanks to the digital email revolution that we live in.
Sartaj Singh Dhami