By: Mansharn Toor, Policy Analyst for Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation
Amidst the recent controversy revolving Canada’s National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s “grammatical” mistake, we’ve witnessed a humiliating lack of religious understanding from the media. Unfortunately this is nothing new.
Minister Sajjan was under a lot of heat this week for his comments made on a recent trip to India where he described himself as the “architect” of the Canada-led military operation against the Taliban in 2006. The attack was a critical moment for Canadian forces in Afghanistan in an effort to destabilize Taliban coalition forces.
The opposition are calling Minister Sajjan a liar and question his honesty. Sajjan apologized for his mistake and corrected the statement saying that “While I am proud of the role I played during my deployments to Afghanistan, my comments were in no way intended to diminish the roles of my former superiors and fellow soldiers. To them I offer my sincere apologies.”
Where he should have stated that he was an architect rather than the architect, Sajjan’s role in the military operation was significant nonetheless. The Calgary Sun ran a political cartoon on May 2nd 2017 in an effort to criticize Minister Sajjan. The commentary was intended to be “a pun on the Minister stewing in his own lies” as stated in an apology by Jose Rodriguez, the Calgary Sun’s Editor.
The Sikh community were less than pleased with this depiction. For those of you who don’t study theology and are not familiar with Sikhism, the depiction of Minister Sajjan was considered an insult by Sikhs because it was similar to the death of one of Sikh’s ten Guru’s, Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Guru Arjan Dev Ji was killed by martyrdom of the elite Hindu and Muslim. At the time of his death, Sikhism and its philosophy was spreading throughout India, which was seen as a threat to some religious leaders. The result of the ongoing tension between differing faiths was the torture and death of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Guru Arjan Dev Ji`s last moments on earth was sitting in a burning hot pot where hot sand was poured over his body until his last breath. The image here is one depiction of the death of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, look familiar? Sikh’s thought so.
Many in the community reached out to the Calgary Sun, who for their credit have replaced the image of Minister Sajjan. While the wrong has been remedied, this event has sparked some outcry among Sikhs who are troubled with the insults made about a man who proudly represents Sikhs in Canada. The question then becomes, was this “an act of deliberate ignorance of Sikh history”?
Giving the Calgary Sun the benefit of the doubt, as many may not know the history of Sikhism, however, a simple blurb apologizing to Sikh community does not show the willingness to bridge understanding with a community that continues to shape the countries landscape.
Our media plays a vital role in our society. It is time the media take responsibility and educate their staff on cultural and religious understanding. If you are going to communicate to us, get to know us first... because we all contribute to Canada’s mosaic.