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Caution: debatable word play follows.

  • Newsday: The US Secret Service gave the World Sikh Council a choice: leave your ceremonial daggers at the door or forgo a meeting with the Pope. So the Sikhs will not join a Washington, D.C. interfaith gathering with Pope Benedict XVI in April. The Secret Service considers kirpans a security issue, but Sikhs consider carrying the curved blade one of five sacred duties.

Headlines of nearly every article published in American and British media on this story suggest that Sikhs gave the hand to the Pope. And some continue in their brief summaries to describe the kirpan as a dagger.

I can imagine what editors were thinking when selecting synonyms for kirpan: “hmm, sword, the cutting edge of an enlightened mind, weapon, dagger. Eh, same thing.”

And why is the kirpan still a security issue with the Secret Service? Why hasn’t our work with the TSA carried over to other agencies? How could they not be aware of our panj kakaar when Akal Security provides security services to a range of government agencies including the U.S. Army and the Department of Homeland Security?

The World Sikh Council’s press release is aptly titled “Sikhs To Miss Papal Event, Secret Service Bars Kirpaan.” It has all the elements of a good headline. Catchy. Accurate. Avoids hyperboles. Why couldn’t I have woken up this morning and seen this in the paper instead? Let’s put it this way: if I did you may have been spared from another dull blog post.

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The wonderful folks at SALDEF developed and recently released a video designed to help law-enforcement agencies become familiar with Sikh customs and principles. It illustrates various scenarios in which law-enforcement personnel may interact with Sikhs (i.e., Mr. Awesome Kirpan Wielding Sikh awaiting assistance for his crappy Jeep’s flat tire, Mr. Sharp Looking Off-Duty Sheriff Sikh photographing Famous Government Structure, Mr. Regular Dude Sikh walking through security at an airport) and also addresses the proper etiquette to be observed when handling an article of faith or entering a gurudwara.

The video highlights both the Sikh community’s desire to correct public misperceptions and the welcoming attitude of government agencies in furthering cultural competency within their ranks. Hopefully, this video will prevent future mishaps and misunderstandings by maintaining free-flowing dialogue between both groups.

I have to admit that this video also serves some selfish purposes because of its general applicability: I think I may show it to anyone who asks me “so tell me about Sikhs.” And the SALDEF folks will get a little plug as well. Superb.