There has been a little storm in a teacup over the itinerary of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent visit to India in the pages of the National Post.
Some people have expressed unhappiness with Harper for his journey to Amritsar in Punjab, the sacred city of the Sikhs, and in visiting the Golden Temple for political mileage with Canada’s Sikh community.
Others were put off by the prime minister for going to Mumbai, the city terrorized by Islamist warriors (jihadists) sent from Pakistan in Nov. 2008.
In Mumbai, he visited the Chabad House of the Orthodox Jews where six people were murdered, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife Rivkah. Again, it is implied Harper was cynically exploiting his official visit to India for the political purpose of securing Jewish votes in Canada.
There is some legitimate ground to be critical of Harper’s visit to the Golden Temple and how such a visit might be viewed as pushing the buttons of ethnic politics that is demeaning to all Canadians. The same cannot be said of Harper taking time to pay respect at the Chabad House.
But this visit was neither about merely remembering the horror of Islamist terror descending upon India’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, nor the obscene hunt by the jihadists for a few Jews and their murder in a city of more than 14 million people. It was instead much more with Harper displaying a sense of compassion, grieving and solidarity with India after Indians had suffered their own version of 9/11.
The Chabad House in Mumbai symbolizes what modern India represents as the world’s largest democracy and what the Islamists hate.
India’s nationalism is a composite nourished by diverse streams of ethnicities and religions over many centuries.
Jews arrived in India about the time Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the 6th century before Christ. This is more than a millennium before Islam arrived and nearly two millennia before Sikhism was preached in the Punjab.
In recent decades, an unfortunate distance grew between India and Israel when New Delhi leaned towards the Arab world.
But in 1992, the two democracies established full diplomatic relations and this has grown into a strategic partnership befitting the history of the two people. This includes India’s Muslims – the second largest community of Muslims in the world after that of Indonesia – whose leaders have travelled to Jerusalem and embraced Jews and Israel in the fullness of their faith-tradition.
India’s blemishes and virtues are not hidden. They are out in the open – the poverty of her multitudes, the sacrifices in the making and preserving of her democracy, the struggle to make the transition into a modern industrial society – and openly discussed as the founders of modern India wished it.
India, as an open, secular democracy where all of the world’s faiths are present, was under assault by the Islamist terrorists. And by murdering Jews in Mumbai, these terrorists were indicating Jews are not safe anywhere.
In visiting the Chabad House, Harper went the distance to affirm Canada’s solidarity with India and the contempt for Islamists everywhere.