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Monday, September 23, 2013

Sikhs as a Firewall for Hate Crime

By the time this reaches you, you would likely already have heard about the heinous hate crime attack on a Sikh professor from Columbia University in New York. All too predictably, the attackers referred to the victim as "Osama" and "terrorist".

In building construction, a firewall is built as a barrier to prevent a fire in one part of the building from spreading through the rest of the building.

Building on the analogy (no pun), in Web or Internet technology, which is where I earn my living, a firewall is used as a first line of defense to block unauthorized access from sources that wish to perpetuate attacks of various kinds on a Web site.

I have borrowed the term "firewall" to describe the role Sikhs have played, from their origin leading up to current times.

The Sikh religion was formed, in some part, due to the dire need to protect India's predominant Hindus against unrelenting attacks from Muslim invaders from Mongolia, Persia, and beyond.

Fast forward to today. And we find that, in America and in other Western nations, Sikhs have become a perpetual "mistaken identity" for Muslims and have faced uncountable "mistaken identity" attacks (starting with Meso, Arizona). In doing so, unwitting Sikhs have served as a canary in a coal mine, warning the Muslim community of what awaits them once the firewall melts and is no longer able to stop the spread of the fire.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Learning to Fly: Learning to Swim

The IIT Delhi Swimming Pool
(This is the first of a series of posts I intend to write in order to document my life. The series is called "Learning to Fly". This post is called "Learning to Swim". The posts in this series will be chronologically random, a stream of consciousness, if you will -- typically, thoughts triggered by an event.)

I can't recall the last time I had to work on a Saturday. But taking the kids to swim is not work. It's a joy to see kids learn, and grow. I remember learning to swim at the swimming pool at IIT Delhi (India). My father, who was a professor at IIT, used to stress that it was an "Olympics size" pool. I have no reason to doubt that it was. IITD had awesome facilities. And I am lucky to have grown up on campus.

I remember my father doing length-wise laps in the pool. He was a good swimmer. (My mother's strokes were a bit more labored. She could only manage breadth-wise laps.) My father used to tell us that a good swimmer causes little or no splashing in the water. The strokes must be smooth, like a knife through butter. He didn't say that last part. I added that because it describes what he had tried to convey. We (my younger brother and I) got the message, loud and clear. But I never became as accomplished a swimmer as my dad. In fact, I doubt I'm more accomplished than him at much at all. Perhaps squash? Perhaps parenting? Taking the kids for swimming lessons is good parenting. But my dad taught me himself. There were no swimming lessons to be bought.

We were instructed to hold on to the lip around the pool and splash our legs. Of course, we had inflated tire tubes around our waists holding us up. We weren't going to sink. And we weren't going to swim. The most I ever managed was to push my self off one side of the pool, splash wildly, and land on the pool floor, often just short of making it from one side of the shallow end to the other. But not quite knowing how to swim didn't stop me from joining white water expeditions during college in Windsor, Ontario (Canada). Of course, I had no life vest and had not contemplated the possibility of the raft tipping over! And when it did, I had to recall everything I had learned about making a few lunges from one side of the pool's shallow end to the other and, somehow, I managed to grab hold of a boulder sticking out of the water. Once the group found out about my swimming prowess, I was banned from joining them on wilder expeditions to follow.

And, yes, somewhere between the raft tipping over and the group managing to get it back under their command, we lost the beer we had ingeniously tied to outside of the raft (so that the water would keep it oh so cold). I sincerely hope that my kids will turn out to be better swimmers than me and will show better judgment than I did when asked to partake in a crazy adventure. But then, they might not have anything to write about.