461.The Man in Blue – Wednesday, Friday and Saturday

I have been in Sint-Truiden, Belgian Limburg for almost 8 months. By now I know the local Sikh community quite well, and I have found some new good friends amongst them.   

Since the 1st of January I live in a small ‘studio-apartment’ in central Sint-Truiden, but I still spent most mornings in the Gurdwara. In the late afternoon I again cycle to Halmaal to attend Rahras and Sukhasan and help Granthí Singh when needed.

What I have not yet achieved is to have a full variety of friends of all ages, male and female and from different communities. But I am making progress.

Last week Wednesday I went to Leuven. I went to see a student who is writing a thesis on the Sikhs. We met a number of times in the Gurdwara but this was the first time I went to Leuven to see her. She was at the station and we went to one of the University buildings to discuss the progress of her project.

After that we walked back to the station taking the ‘scenic route’ and I took the train back to Sint-Truiden. Nothing special happened, but we do feel at ease with each other in spite of the age difference. I enjoy talking to her and walking with her and I know that she also feels at ease with me.

On Friday I went to Hasselt to meet somebody we closely work with in the ‘campaign’ to convince the educational sector and the politicians that allowing hijáb, turban and patka in schools will not cause a revolution in Belgium.

She works for an outfit that supports organisations set up by immigrants or children of immigrants. On this visit I first met a young woman who is partly of Kurdish descent and then I spoke to the person I came to see who hails from Kosovo, and to a young Berber trainee, who wore a híjáb.

Three women of different ages, all three from Muslim countries but with quite different cultural backgrounds, and different degrees of commitment to the faith they grew up with.

This 63 year old Sikh Netherlander, born in Dutch Limburg, living in Belgian Limburg, cannot even begin to tell you how much he enjoyed talking to and listening to these fellow human beings.

You can wear a híjáb and work together peacefully with people with a different outlook on life. You or your parents may come from Morocco, Kosovo or south-eastern Turkey but you can find a place for yourself in Belgian Limburg, speak Dutch with a local accent and not lose your connection with your background.

On Saturday I went to see friends in Brussel. The wife grew up in Austria and is of Panjabi Sikh background and he is from France. Long live diversity !

460.The Man in Blue – Intolerant Bigots

King Philips II of Spain (1527 – 1598) was the ruler of most of South America and Central America, Lord of the Netherlands, successor to the Dukes of Burgundy and to the mightiest nobles of the German Empire, the Habsburgs.

When in 1492 Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile conquered Granada, the last Muslim kingdom in Spain, they treated the conquered Muslims and Jews so badly that even many of those that converted to Christianity left the country.

When in 1580 Philips II conquered Portugal the descendents of those Granada Jews left Portugal. On both occasions Spain through bigotry and intolerance lost populations that everywhere they went contributed greatly to trade, science, philosophy and the arts.

In my previous article about the Netherlands I wrote about the 80 years war between the mostly Northern Protestant Dutch and their ruler Philips II. There were several moments when a peaceful solution of the conflict was possible.

But Philips, who was an intolerant bigot, did not know how to compromise. The religious strife was not the only cause of the war, another important aspect was Philips’ attempt to centralise the government of the Netherlands. But Philips would not budge even an inch, and the rebels won their independence.

He did manage to re-conquer what are now West and East Flanders and most of Brabant, including Antwerp. After the fall of Antwerp and other Flemish and Brabant cities that were in the forefront of business and culture in those days, many of their citizens went north to the young Dutch republic and added to the development of the arts and science and contributed to the Dutch world trade.

Later France revoked the edict of Nantes, which offered religious freedom to the French Protestants or Huguenots. Many Huguenots left France and a good few of them settled in Dutch cities like Amsterdam.

Baruch de Spinoza, the brilliant Dutch Jewish philosopher had his roots in Spain, and was allowed to discuss his original and controversial ideas in the Netherlands. René Descartes, the French philosopher, was neither a Jew nor a Huguenot, but got himself in trouble with the authorities in his country because of his controversial ideas. He settled in the Netherlands.

Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was often successful in the battle, but lost the peace. His predecessors gave defeated Hindu kings a position in the Empire. Aurangzeb just could not do this because he was an intolerant bigot. As a result he got involved in never ending conflicts which greatly weakened the Empire.

The Dutch republic thrived in the 17th century because of its tolerance and Philip II and Aurangzeb destroyed the might of their empires through their intolerance.

459.The Man in Blue – The Netherlands

Map of the Netherlands showing the states that made up the area

As history is my hobby, and ignorance about the ‘lowlands by the sea’ is widespread, I will attempt to bring some light in your historical darkness.

The Netherlands is a term that dates back to the European middle ages, describing an area that includes parts of what is now northern France, parts of what is now north-western Germany and all of what is now the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, the Kingdom of the Belgians and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Around 1500 most of these Netherlands were part of the Habsburg Empire. This was also the period of the reformation, the reform movement of the Roman Catholic Church that ended up setting up its own churches and its own states.

The Netherlands in those days were made up of 17 small states and most of them had through conquest, inheritance and marriage politics come to be ruled by one man. During the religious war (80 years war) caused by the reformation 7 of these small states became the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

The remaining area came to be ruled by the Austrian branch of the Habsburg family. In 1815 the countries that had defeated Napoleon wanted a strong buffer state north of France and created the Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of what are now Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg.

This kingdom of the Netherlands lasted only from 1815 to 1830 when a new Kingdom was created in the south, the Kingdom of the Belgians. The new King Leopold von Sachsen Coburg was a relative of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. The kings of the new smaller Kingdom of the Netherlands were until 1890 also the grand-dukes of Luxemburg.

The old 17 Netherlands are now three countries : 1) The Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, a very small independent country. 2) The Kingdom of the Belgians, divided in a French, a Dutch, a German-speaking region and the bilingual Brussel/Bruxelles area.  3) The Kingdom of the Netherlands, which people often wrongly refer to as Holland. Holland was the most important area of the Dutch republic and still is the most densely populated and economically most important part of the Netherlands, but Holland is not the name of the country.

The Dutch speaking region in Belgium is now officially called Flanders, which is equally incorrect, as Flanders is the west of Belgium, while the other Dutch speaking provinces of Antwerpen, ‘Flemish’ Brabant and (Belgian) Limburg all have a very interesting history, but not as a part of Flanders (Vlaanderen).

Finally, west of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg is the Belgian province of Luxemburg and east of the Belgian province of Limburg is the Dutch province of Limburg ! And to add to the confusion there are three provinces called Brabant : Brabant-Wallon and ‘Vlaams’ Brabant in Belgium, Noord Brabant in the Netherlands.

More schematic map showing in brown the states involved in the protestant rebellion
Flanders was in the forefront of the rebellion and the reformation, but ended up under Roman Catholic Habsburg rule
The red line shows the border Dutch and French speaker areas and in Luxemburg between French and German

Published in: on February 14, 2011 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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458.The Man in Blue – Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar; Mander Street Wolverhampton

Discussion ?

Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar; Mander Street Wolverhampton

A while ago I published a picture of the Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar and wrote underneath it : If you are a Sikh please do not visit this Thath. This is not a Gurdwara, what is practised here has nothing to do with Sikhí. If you are curious and want to have a look, fine, but behave as you would in any mandr.

I received a comment from somebody calling himself  Khalistan4 Panjab : You truly are an idiot. I have spent the best part of my life engrossed in Sikh history and Politics. I could type an essay explaining your lack of understanding. But i’m tired and only come by your site by accident. I do not consider you a Sikh, rather one of the growing number of trouble causing morons in our community. Spend more time in Naam Simran, sangat and Gurbani vidhiya, less time typing rubbish.

I answered : Thank you for your kind words. Seeing that they were caused by my posting on the Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar I suspect that you follow Sant Babé instead of Guru Gobind Singh’s Guru Granth, Guru Panth. I hope that the Babé will make you truly happy, and will encourage you to be useful member of the society. Gurfateh, God Bless, Harjinder Singh.

Wonderful isn’t it. It shows you the level of a lot of the discussions between Sikhs. Carefully avoid discussing issues, just declare that those that disagree with you are in the pay of the ISI or the GOI, or call them idiots or morons.

I am not a fan of self declared sants, not even if they run their deras more efficiently than many parbandhaks. It is not that I deny the existence of holy people. But as Guru states very clearly in Sukhmani Sahib, a sant should have utter humility. I just cannot see any humility in declaring yourself to be a sant, the spiritual leader of the Sikhs in the UK or of the Sikhs in the western hemisphere.

To my understanding the panth and Sikh institutions should be run on the Guru Granth/Guru Panth principle, and not led by single man or woman, however holy. The fact that the people behind this place of worship call it a Thath is a sure pointer to the fact that this is not a Gurdwara.

And even its counterpart off the Lady Margaret Road in Southall, which does use the word Gurdwara in its name, is known for practices that do not fit in with Sikhí. Sikhs worship The One, Sikhs follow the Guru Granth Sahib and the word of God as comes to us through truly holy men like our Gurus and Bhagats.

The Nanak of the Guru Granth Sahib is the humble spokesman of God. Our eternal Guru does not tell us to follow people, but instead worship the Guru of Gurus, the Formless One, the Immaculate, the All-Pervading, the All-Powerful.

Equally the simran which I have to do is on God, Gurbani Vichar is trying to understand God’s word, not the word of Sant Babé. I am pretty sure that the above is true, but I feel no need to call my ‘opponent’ an idiot or a moron.