We’ve just come back from a wonderful holiday exploring glacial valleys and stunning mountain scenery. We also experienced warm and kind hospitality despite our distinctly our foreign appearance. It was in Norway and we left the country on the same day that Anders Breivik launched his murderous assault. Since then, I’ve been asking myself how could such an outrage have taken place in such a wonderful and tolerant country?
There is a well known verse in Sikh scriptures which says
There is a the inner light of God in all and it becomes manifest as we reflect and act on religious and ethical teachings, centred on a belief in the oneness of all humanity..
Unfortunately the opposite is also true and, as we saw in Norway, we can also carry within us, ungodly concerns and suspicions about those who appear different , especially newcomers to our country, despite evidence that immigrants generally bring new skills and vigour into a community. Fear of possible economic or social disadvantage, can all too easily lead to irrational prejudice and hatred, and I believe it’s this is that triggered the recent carnage in Norway, as it has done in countless other hate fuelled outrages throughout history.
Travel can help us develop more enlightened attitudes to others, when we see people in different lands with similar concerns and aspirations, laughing, joking, rejoicing and, grieving at the same sort of things.
But, we don’t really have to go very far to understand this truth ; we can see it in the lives and concerns of those of different cultures who are our near neighbours—if we care to look! I remember the suspicion and stand off a few years ago when Sikhs sought planning permission to extend a gurdwara in Southfields in London. There was no dialogue between Sikhs and local residents and rubbish was sometimes thrown into the existing gurdwara premises. A few of us decided to knock on every door in the immediate neighbourhood and invite the residents to discuss their concerns over refreshments. To our surprise, most came. Few concerns were raised and much of the discussion was about recipes for making chapattis.
We are told that it is good to talk, and dialogue between different cultures helps understanding, but both settled communities and new arrivals need to make an effort to change prejudice and misunderstanding into mutual respect.