Lugar's Address to The National Sikh Conference
Washington, D.C. June 18-19, 2009
It is an honor to have the opportunity to address this assembly
today and to be a part of a landmark celebration for the Sikh
Community and the Library of Congress. I congratulate the Kaur
Foundation and organizers of this conference for outstanding lectures
and programs on Sikh history, culture, and contributions that
will continue into the afternoon.
It is also a pleasure to greet friends whom I have met at other
events around the Capitol in recent years. These events have brought
the Sikh Community together with Senators and Representatives
for fellowship and a very productive sharing of views and concerns.
My understanding and appreciation
for the Sikh Community has been enriched by my long friendship
with K.P. Singh of my hometown of Indianapolis. We first met
in 1967, shortly after I was elected Mayor. K.P. was then a senior
planner in the Department of Metropolitan Development. We shared
a common vision that the political, social, and infrastructure
elements of our city could achieve harmony and sustain progress
in a turbulent time. Among other successes, K.P. became a driving
force behind the preservation of Indianapolis’s Union Station.
Ultimately, we found that his talents went well beyond civic architecture
and planning. His extraordinary artistry in drawing cultural landmarks
gained widespread attention, and he decided to devote his career
to this pursuit. Since that time, he has become one of the most
recognized and cherished artists in my state. In addition, his
educational writings and multicultural initiatives have helped
raise the international awareness of Hoosiers. He has influenced
the perspective of numerous Hoosier leaders and thinkers who have
experienced his thoughtful mentorship. I have benefitted greatly
from his reflections on world events and his unfailing encouragement
for my initiatives in the Senate.
K.P.’s contributions to the cultural life and civic success
of my hometown and home state have been remarkable, but he would
be the first to say that they are not unique. Throughout the United
States, the roughly one million Sikh Americans are excelling in
innumerable professional, academic, entrepreneurial, and artistic
fields of endeavor. The reputation of Sikhs for service to their
neighbors, communities, and country is well-deserved.
I appreciate especially the awareness and activism of the Sikh
community in the national issues of the day. In my experience,
faith-based communities have become increasingly sophisticated
in their understanding of the political process. In general, I
believe that this is a good development that has contributed not
just to a stronger voice for moral and cultural concerns in government
decision-making, but also wider participation in politics by citizens
of all faiths and heritages. The task for spiritual leaders and
political leaders alike is to encourage cognitively complex worldviews
that promote understanding of divergent opinions without compromising
basic moral imperatives. Admittedly, this is easier said than
done. But if the United States is to continue to prosper and provide
global leadership in the coming century, it must ensure that every
citizen has an opportunity to contribute.
The United States continues to enjoy blessings that we all should
celebrate. Most notably, our free and open society will continue
to attract talented people from around the world who want to work
and to visit here. Our societal mobility and our entrepreneurial
traditions historically have enabled our economy to flourish and
adjust more quickly than other economies to changing circumstances.
Our respect for knowledge -- on display at this conference --
and our unrivaled higher education system will continue to be
a source of global influence and will buoy our technological prowess.
Undergirding these elements of strength is the American moral
identity, which has been bolstered and shaped by the religious
and ethnic diversity of our population. That identity is closely
associated with religious tolerance, democratic governance, freedom
of the individual, the promotion of opportunity, and resistance
to oppression. This set of ideals was espoused in our founding
documents and reaffirmed through the sacrifices of our own Civil
War. It was amplified during two World Wars in which the United
States opposed the forces of aggression and conquest. And it was
reinvigorated through the struggle of our civil rights movement.
Our moral identity has been illuminated by an idealistic rhetorical
tradition that flows from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln,
through Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Rarely
do we undertake a major foreign or domestic policy initiative
without some attempt to justify it on moral grounds. Rarely are
failed policies spared morally-based criticism.
In making this observation, I am not claiming that the United
States is the most moral nation in the World. Rather, I am saying
that no nation is more closely associated with a set of historic
moral precepts. And for better or worse, no nation is judged more
meticulously according to its own articulated values.
Despite evident missteps, the United States has been and still
is a force for good in the world. Our democratic institutions
and political and social freedoms here at home have been models
for the world, and we have actively and generously helped to nurture
democracy and development in numerous nations. Even Americans
themselves do not fully appreciate the international impact of
the example set by our transparent political debate and the extraordinary
degree of self-examination that accompanies American political
and societal decisions. Despite this ongoing record of moral action
and concern, living up to our historic moral identity is not easy
or automatic. Like all societies, we are frequently in need of
a reflective debate on the moral underpinnings of our great nation.
For example, the specter of catastrophic terrorism after the September
11, 2001, attacks led to more frequent incidents where American
principles of humanitarian behavior were compromised out of fear
or ignorance. The Sikh community knows this first hand. It suffered
discrimination and even violence in the post-September 11 period.
The admirable stance of Sikh’s who responded with patient
efforts at education and calls for greater understanding set an
example of resilience and courage that all Americans should appreciate
More recently, economic pressures have intensified the nativist
outlook of some Americans. Our immigration debate sometimes has
exhibited isolationist and protectionist feelings in American
society that run counter to historic national achievements based
largely on the contributions of generations of immigrants.
Wishes by some that we could be free from the constraints of
our moral identity are misplaced. It is true that American moral
traditions are a heavy responsibility, but I believe that, ultimately,
they are a source of power and strength that we should never relinquish.
Exercising authority in the present age requires allies and the
ability to build coalitions. It is far easier to do that if the
United States builds respect that derives from our moral traditions.
More to the point, I am convinced that the majority of American
people do understand that we have moral responsibilities, both
at home and abroad. Despite frustrations with the global community
and cyclical tendencies toward protectionism, they usually are
ready to make sacrifices on behalf of doing the right thing, particularly
in response to thoughtful leadership and meaningful dialogue.
I appreciate so much the generous spirit with which Sikh leaders
have engaged in this dialogue at the national and local levels.
As we contemplate the direction of our country and our local communities
in this time of extreme uncertainty, we should keep in mind that
humanity possesses remarkable abilities and energies that can
be brought to bear on our conditions. I am confident that the
influence of your fundamental vision embracing fairness, inclusiveness,
and service will grow and you will continue to find friends and
partners who will join with you in constructive endeavors. I look
forward to being a part of those efforts. Thank you.