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The National Sikh Conference 2009


Senator Lugar's Address to The National Sikh Conference

Washington, D.C. June 18-19, 2009
Gary Singh

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 and emulate.
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.