It says it right there in our National Anthem. The final two lines that singers of the thing typically drag out and try to reach the high note on. It’s a concept that we so want to believe in about ourselves. It’s a concept the Pope played homage to in the opening lines of his speech to Congress earlier this week. Count me as one person who was offended that he did so. Given what seems to be at the core of his belief system, I find it hard to imagine that he really believes that America is the land of the free or the home of the brave. But maybe that was his point, given the context of his speeches, his ideas, and his guiding principles. While it played to the masses, his “homage” to the ideal was really a jab at us for not living up to that ideal.
You ask how could that be.
Well, let me tell you a couple of stories.
Every day I see Sikhs, mostly of the older generations, walking in my neighborhood. I marvel at their courage. And that is a sad thing. How, you might ask, could I marvel at their courage? This is America, after all. The land of religious freedom. And freedoms of all sorts. It says it right there in the very first amendment to our constitution. Freedom of religion. So …
A few years ago, a couple of miles from my home, two Sikh gentlemen took a break from their walk and sat on a bench. And for the crimes of wearing their turbans, and walking their neighborhood, and taking a break, they were gunned down in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Their murders remains unsolved and I’m willing to bet there are people, other than the shooters, who know who did it and they aren’t talking.
And yet the Sikhs keep walking.
Only, there is this…
Over the last few months and years I’ve observed an older Sikh man who does something none of the others do. He not only walks, he also jogs. I see him near my home and, frequently on my way to work, I see him on a road I take to get to the freeway. It’s about four miles away from my home. He wears a jogging suit, a white scarf on his head, and a baseball style cap on top of that.
Last weekend, as I approached the end of a morning run, I crossed paths with him as he was finishing his morning exercise. I stopped and talked with him. As best as I could. His English isn’t so good. My Punjabi is non-existent. But, this is what I got from that conversation. Every morning for the last 6 1/2 years, he has exercised by going 9 1/2 miles — five minutes walk, five minutes jog, five minutes walk, five minutes jog. He believes in a God that brings all good things to him.
And the reason he wears the white scarf and the baseball cap instead of the turban his religion requires is that twice while on his walks he has been attacked. Once with a bat and once with a traffic cone. His son, who still lives in India and who reads what happens to Sikhs in America, has insisted that he not wear his turban while on his walks. He also has trimmed his beard.
I’ve checked a few websites out to see if I can understand why Sikhs wear turbans and keep long beards. Here’s what one site says about the turban:
The downtrodden followers of the Sikh faith did not have the means to display aristocratic attire, nor were they allowed to, even if they had the means. (Doing so was usually equivalent to a death sentence.) It was in this context that Guru Gobind Singh decided to turn the tables on the ruling aristocracy by commanding every Sikh to carry a sword, take up the name Singh or Kaur, and have kesh (hair) and turban displayed boldly, without any fear. This effectively made his followers see themselves on a par with the Mughal rulers.
Think about that. What was created as a tradition for the Sikh people to declare their identity and do so without fear is now something that is denied, not just to this gentleman, but many other Sikhs in this country because of fear. And, here’s what one website says about the beards:
Sikhs do not shape, trim or colour their beards. We just let it grow naturally. Same with the hair on our heads as well. That’s why we tie it up and wear a turban. There are a number of reasons for not cutting any of our hair: Sikhs believe that it is a gift from God i.e part of the natural form given to man by God and that we shouldn’t interfere with it.
This morning, I came across this gentleman again on my morning run. I decided I needed to try to tell him something. I asked him to take me to his home, hoping there was somebody there who could translate for us so we could communicate with each other better than we had. We went to a neighbor instead and here’s what I told him. It is sad to me that he cannot wear his turban and grow his beard. This is not my America and most Americans would agree with me. This is not representative of a land that would call itself the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I read this piece this morning and watched the video that came along with it. I ask you to read the piece and watch the video, but I warn you that the video is disturbing. Just reading the piece is disturbing enough. But I believe we have a responsibility to know what is happening in our world and the video and the story that goes along with it is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen. Let me give you a few of the details in case you can’t go there.
A young man received a ticket for reckless driving and could not pay the $772 fine. He was arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail. He was placed in a unit where he was subject to 24-hour video surveillance, and shared his cell with other inmates — none of them were allowed to wear one single stitch of clothing. Just stop and think about that for a moment. In America, somebody has apparently decided that it is OK, it is acceptable, to incarcerate somebody for a traffic ticket and then deny him the basic dignity of clothing while sharing a jail cell with somebody else.
But there’s more …
He was on three different prescription medications, which were denied him while he was in jail.
He lost 50 pounds in 17 days in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
He did not make it to the end of his 30 day sentence.
He died on day 17 in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
While nobody did anything to prevent his death in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The video, which is a synopsis of his time in the jail, is just about the most disturbing thing I have ever seen, made most disturbing by the fact that his jailers did not afford him the most basic forms of human dignity and respect, and ultimately did nothing more than watch him while he died.
One of the two major parties have candidates running for the Presidency who think nothing of disqualifying an entire religion for that office. Think nothing of arguing for a wall to keep “the others” out. Who fundamentally believe that the only America is a white America built around the Judeo-Christian belief system and all others are second class. More and more, this party and its candidates play to the intolerance and fear that all too frequently darken the hearts of humans, rather than playing to the principles in that statement — you know the one — we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And this is where I leave you.
We are not the land of the free and the home of the brave. As long as Sikhs cannot freely wear their turbans and grow their beards, as long as people die in custody and are unnecessarily killed by cops, as long as a major party campaigns on the ideals of fear and disrespect, lack of dignity and freedom for those who look, think, and believe differently from them, we will never be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Instead we are nothing more than this … we are the land of enslavement by intolerance, and the home of cowards.