Football and the Sikh way of life

In his final blog for newstatesman.com Harwinder compares a Sikh approach to life to watching a foot

Watching a game of football is a national pastime in the UK and one that I partake of as regularly as possible. The atmosphere, camaraderie, competitive-nature is as good an indication of modern English culture as you would care to find.

In football, there are certain footballers, not just at the highest stage but also in amateur leagues, who gain a much greater exposure than their team-mates and have more of a public profile. These are almost always players who are involved in the most intense instances of a football match such as goal scoring opportunities or penalty decisions.

From a fans point of view (armchair or season ticket holder) these players are the ones whose names are mentioned the most and whose skills are debated at grounds up and down the country. But there is another type of player, lesser well known and certainly less mentioned, who makes a football team what it is.

Sometimes described as the ‘engine-room’ of a team, these players are involved in building up possession, running off of the ball into space, closing down opposing players etc. The list of tasks that they fulfil is incredible. They get credit from the fans of course, but often their talents go unappreciated when held in contrast to the popular players.

I’ve always felt that this is due to the perspective in which we watch a game of football, that is to say the televised format of following the ball. If we were to also watch a game of football from above the stadium in a blimp and see the bigger picture our post-match conversations might redress the balance of focus where players are concerned.

So what has any of this got to do with religion? Or the Sikh way of life for that matter too? Well, quite simply it is the concept of perspective. Watching a game of football from a number of different vantage points aids our ability to understand how the game transpired and to better appreciate the talents on display.

Our perspective of life works in a similar way to assist or disturb the way in which we perceive the World. In reading these blog entries you might have noticed that I always refer to my faith as the Sikh way of Life. This is how Sikhs interpret and practise the teachings of Guru Nanak: it is a lifestyle that encompasses your entire being. There is no compartmentalisation of our lives into categories that distinguish between our spiritual life and for example our social experiences. We are Sikhs at all times, representing the Sikh Way of Life, but most importantly learning and acquiring experience all of the time.

Thinking as a Sikh in every part of our lives, we are able to broaden our spiritual experiences and comprehend our beliefs in differing contexts. A Sikh will try not to refrain from any part of life, but to embrace it and gain from it.

If a Sikh were a tree, his/her trunk would be Gurbani (the words contained in The Guru Granth Sahib,) whilst his/her branches would be the experiences that they gain in life. Some are high and some are low, but they have all helped to make the tree what it is. The fifth Guru Nanak, Guru Arjun depicted it best: “O Nanak, meeting the True Guru, one comes to know the Perfect Way. While laughing, playing, dressing and eating, he is liberated.” Guru Arjun explains that when a person starts on the path to realisation they are soon met with a kind of Divine intervention, a mini-realisation if you will.

As they progress along this path, what they do becomes of less importance as they are nearing or have gained a realised state of mind and that itself is the fundamental function of being a Sikh: realisation of Truth. Although Sikhs live by a broad code of conduct, it is implemented in varying ways. The unique entity which binds Sikhs is the Gurbani of The Guru Granth Sahib and the path to realisation that it leads us to. The Guru Granth Sahib is not merely a Holy book, rather the culmination of Guru Nanak’s philosophy, established for all eternity. The words are dynamic as is this way of life, where interpretation holds the key to realisation.

In writing this blog I hope to have enhanced your perspective of the Sikh way of life. I wouldn’t class myself as a typical Sikh as I believe there is no such thing, but hopefully what I have written over the past few days has inspired you to ask further questions of your beliefs and even yourself. Looking at the bigger picture, the content of this blog at this point in my life is quite different to what it would have been 5 years ago and is probably very different to what it could be in 5 years time. Looking at the even bigger picture, my life is very different to any previous or future experiences that my soul will encounter. Realisation, or enlightenment, for a Sikh is the culmination of countless lifetimes of experience and learning. At the point of enlightenment a soul becomes at one with… well with everything and merges with The Truth. I purposely omitted an important part to the Sikh-tree that I mentioned earlier: the root. It is of course that which binds all of us together, the human experience. Furthermore, it is all life and existence that is around us. In fact, it is much greater than that still: existence that we can see, that which we can’t, reality that we understand and realities that we have yet to find. Put simply, The Truth.

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.
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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.