Faith & Reason: Arms Trade a Sign of Global Moral Drift Members of the United Nations Security Council Must Face the Fact That Standing Up for Human Rights Is Never a Cheap Option

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NEXT WEEK sees the 300th anniversary of the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi when Guru Gobind Singh, the last of the 10 Sikh Gurus, created a new community of equals dedicated to the worship of God through service to their fellow human beings.

It is an appropriate coincidence that Vaisakhi falls close to the Christian festival of Easter. Both have their roots in the brave martyrdom of a religious leader and the human frailty of those that follow. The story of Peter's denial at the time of Jesus Christ's crucifixion is mirrored in the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadhur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs. The Guru was publicly beheaded for defending the rights of Hindus facing persecution and forced conversion to Islam at the hands of the Mughal rulers. His courageous stand was later echoed in Voltaire's sentiment: "I may not believe in what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."

The Mughal Emperor challenged the Guru's followers, who then had no recognisable appearance, to come forward and claim their master's body. But Sikhs in the crowd hesitated to do so and the body was eventually removed by stealth. The Guru's son and successor, Guru Gobind Singh, was concerned about this momentary lapse of courage. He constantly reminded Sikhs of the need to stand up for their beliefs however great the odds. Then he decided to put the community to the test. On the spring festival of Vaisakhi 1699, as crowds were celebrating the gathering of the winter harvest, the Guru suddenly emerged from a tent, sword in hand, and asked for any Sikh willing to give his life for his faith, to join him in the tent. Without hesitation, five Sikhs instantly responded to the challenge. In a simple ceremony in which sweetened water, called Amrit, was sprinkled on the five, the Guru initiated the "five beloved" as the first members of a new community of equals who were to combine steely resolve with saintliness of temperament. They were required neither to intimidate nor be intimidated by others. To complete the ceremony, the Guru gave the first five members of the Khalsa, the community of equals, the symbols or visible identity - including the long hair covered by a turban - by which we are recognised today. Finally he asked the five to drop any name linked to caste and take the common name "Singh" - literally "lion" - as a reminder of the need for courage. In the same way, women were asked to take the common name "Kaur" - literally "princess" - as a reminder of dignity and complete equality. Sikhs then, like members of the Salvation Army with their uniform, have a visible identity to remind us of our principles and ideals. …