Granting special status doesn't help integration
Published 19/08/2007 | 00:00
A woman I knew whose father had been a Japanese prisoner of war during the Second World War once told me of a Catholic nun he'd met after the liberation of Singapore.
The nun had been taken prisoner along with two Sikh men and was confined to a small hut with the two men for several months. Not merely was she not raped or in any other way violated, but the two men violated their own religious code in order to protect her dignity: they unwound their turbans and used them as a curtain to divide the hut. It is a story of extraordinary nobility, and of course also carries the echoes of the horrors of that war in particular, and its dreadful complexities in the far east.
During the week, the President of the Irish Sikh Council, Harpreet Singh said that "asking Sikh community members to get rid of the turban is like asking a Sikh to remove his head." It's a fairly extreme statement, but most of us, however vague and slight our knowledge of the Sikh tradition and culture may be, would have little trouble accepting it. It is the one fact universally known: wearing the turban is a primary and deeply spiritual matter for a Sikh. And spirituality is particularly strong in all eastern traditions.