At Sydney airport on Saturday, the woman in front of me had to surrender a small tube of moisturiser. I was then pulled aside by a hijab-clad official who dragged a metal wand under my arms, over my shoes and inside my carry-on bag, searching for traces of explosives. Thanks to religious fanatics flying planes into buildings in 2001, these inconveniences are now a part of modern day living.
So forgive me for not being my usual liberal self when I read that a group of local Sikhs are getting over-excited about not being allowed to secrete their ceremonial daggers under their clothing when they attend Cricket World Cup matches in New Zealand. When it comes to issues of security, relaxing the rules to those professing an intense religious belief seems rather counter-intuitive.
Prime Minister John Key says that after speaking to Sikh leaders, he's sympathetic to the Sikhs' viewpoint, suggesting that the kirpan was "a small blunt weapon" and that "if you want to make the case that someone could cause harm with that, they're probably much more likely to be able to cause harm with anything else you can get at the grounds, including a wine bottle or something else."
Mr Key must have been in Hawaii on holiday in early January when a Sikh prayer leader was slashed in the face with a kirpan by another temple member at the Otahuhu Sikh Temple. A witness told the Herald: "I saw one of them injured, his face had slash wounds and blood was dripping down. Someone said the other man had used the religious knife to attack this man."
It would seem these religious symbols are not as blunt or harmless as the Prime Minister was led to believe.
The local Supreme Sikh Council has complained to the Human Rights Commission about seven Sikh fans being refused entry to Saturday's Eden Park game between India and Zimbabwe after they refused to hand over their knives. They're claiming religious discrimination, saying baptised Sikhs have to wear their kirpan at all times.
The local Sikh council should get out a bit more and check how their co-religionists are adapting to the security realities of the modern world. For example, when India played South Africa at the Melbourne Cricket Ground last last month, local Sikhs co-operated with the World Cup organisers.
The Canberra Times reported spectators handed in their kirpans at the turnstiles and got them back after the game. "We're working with the Sikh community to encourage them not to bring kirpans to stadiums," a World Cup 2015 spokesman said.
The aggrieved Eden Park seven, all New Zealand residents, might also check how close to their bodies visiting Sikhs wore their kirpans on the journey to New Zealand. Air India bans kirpans in the cabin of all international flights. I'm guessing other airlines do the same. Once here, New Zealand Aviation Security Service regulations ban one carrying into a plane cabin "objects with sharp points or edges capable of being used to cause serious injury" and "blunt instruments" including "cricket bats" and "didgeridoos".
In May 2007, local Sikhs agreed to this. The chairman of the Auckland Sikh Centre, Verpal Singh, told a parliamentary select committee reviewing aviation security legislation that "in the increasingly unsettled political conditions around the world, the Sikh community has made a conscious decision to accept the requirement that the kirpan be removed and put in the check-in luggage while boarding a plane."
Since the 9/11 attacks on America, attempting to protect the rest of us from the random fanatic has become a part of everyday life. Tubes of toothpaste and other liquids are banned from plane cabins because they could be bombs in disguise. So are knives. In their wisdom, the International Cricket Board, chaired by Indian industrialist N. Srinivasan, has banned knives from its cricket games. After 9/11, and Otahuhu, that seems reasonable.
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