Truth is his name

Who is to say who is right or wrong when only god is perfect?

If there is one thing that I hate doing, it is admitting when I am wrong. I am comfortable compiling my finances; I can visit the dentist without fear; doing the household laundry and other domestic chores can even be positively euphoric; but, admitting when I am wrong is something that I deplore and what is more, I just can’t seem to do it as often as I should.

As a teenager, I gained something of a reputation for endlessly questioning my friends, family and peers. I just couldn’t let go of a topic that I felt inclined to know about (which happened to be just about everything!) Relentlessly, I would hound somebody as to their opinion or experience.

This in itself was fairly harmless as I had always been taught that an inquisitive nature was the very essence of learning. However, it was the manner in which I would counteract during a conversation that led to my notoriety. To share your own opinions is tolerable, but I tended to declare my own thoughts as absolute fact.

I would take a stand on a point in question and unequivocally deride others (whom I now viewed as opponents) pressing them into submission. As if that wasn’t ghastly enough, I often found myself in a position where I needed to expand my argument further, but could not as I had already limited myself when making earlier assertions!

Admitting that perhaps I had gone too far or that I had hastily made statements was tantamount to admitting defeat and I just couldn’t admit that I was wrong. With age comes wisdom and over the years I have become a better conversationalist, but the agony in admitting I may have erred remains. I often wonder why this is. Is it as simple as the stubbornness of male-pride? Or is there some part of my personality that craves confrontation? I continue to ask these questions of myself, but have already found satisfaction from the philosophy of the Sikh way of life.

Guru Nanak espoused that there is only One absolute: God. Sikhs do not think of God as a being or deity, rather we believe that God is the very fabric of all existence: The Guru said Truth is His Name. It follows that beyond this absolute, unique perfect Divinity, everything else is not without flaw. It is comforting to know that we are not perfect.

To truly believe and practice the principle that only God is perfect is humbling. It helps us to refrain from the idea that we cannot be wrong. And yet we find ourselves in that position every day because we spend our time looking at the rest of the world who like us are imperfect. If they are imperfect too, who is to say that I am wrong and they are right? Perhaps I am right and they are wrong! It is this type of thinking that I believe has led me to hate admitting when I am wrong, a belief that perhaps I could be right!

This is why the Sikh way of life emphasises the greater importance of practising an ideal. Guru Nanak declared that “Truth is the highest virtue, but higher still is Truthful living.” We recognise that we are imperfect, but when we are put to the test and should accept that we could or have been wrong we fail to follow through. Sikhs believe that everything exists at the whim of the single Creator & Destroyer. That entity alone is responsible for life and death, for war and peace. Sikh philosophy dictates that our energy is better focused on that entity and to not get caught up in the petty squabbles of the World. Guru Nanak said that in life we should be like the lotus flower, floating within the water but not becoming sullied by the murky depths: to live within the World and embrace it whole, to attempt to resolve society’s problems and enhance the spirit of its people. But we should not allow ourselves to become embroiled or overcome by the differences that exist. Truly, it is human to err, but I would like to take licence with the idiom and add that to admit when one is wrong is also divine.

Harwinder Singh is a 26-year-old Law graduate turned film and TV producer. He is also a record label boss. Born in the UK to Punjabi parents, he been practising and studying the Sikh Way of Life for about 20 years.
GETTY
Show Hide image

Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue