APOLOGY UPDATE: Sony Apology to Church of England

There have been a couple of volleys in the dust-up between Sony and the good Anglican Bishop of Manchester since we last checked in. So let’s bring you up to date. As you will recall, Sony produced a video game called Resistance: Fall of Man which involves battles between military units and creepy aliens across a post-apocalyptic Europe. One shootout scene was set in a digital representation of the Manchester Cathedral. The Bishop of Manchester took exception to this and demanded an apology … and a a payoff! … from Sony. Shortly thereafter Sony apologized. We assessed it as a pro forma “get off my back” apology. And there we left things in June.

If you didn’t see this coming, you haven’t been paying attention. The good bishop deemed Sony’s first apology insufficiently contrite. After various meetings and consultations, Sony put on the figurative ashes and sackcloth to grovel in true Medieval style:

SONY has apologised `unreservedly’ to the people of Manchester for
using the city’s Anglican cathedral as a backdrop to bloodshed in a
PlayStation 3 game. …

Sony has admitted offending the cathedral congregation and the wider
community in a letter sent to the M.E.N. It has also placed an advert
in today’s paper to express regret.

Dr David A Reeves,
president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, said: “It is clear to
us that the connection between the congregation and the cathedral is a
deeply personal and spiritual one.

“As a result, it is also clear that we have
offended some of the congregation by using the cathedral in our science
fiction game. It was never our intention to offend anyone in the making
of this game, and we would like to apologise unreservedly to them for
causing that offence, and to all parts of the community who we might
also have offended.”

Dr Reeves also said the firm would ensure that Manchester Cathedral was not used in any of its games again.
(“Sony says ‘sorry’,” Manchester Evening News)

Well, did that do it the second time around?

You already know the answer, don’t you?

MANCHESTER, England, July 6 (UPI) — The clergy at Manchester Cathedral
says Sony’s apology for using images of the venerable British church in
a video game isn’t enough. (
“Church says Sony apology falls short,” PoliticalGateway.com)

Now, Apology Index is by no means a scientifically comprehensive review of all apologies everywhere. But based on our small sample of two apology demands involving religious figures — this Sony case and the Apology Crisis in the Punjab! — religious leaders seem to be particularly picky about which apologies they will accept. Which, on the one hand, seems odd — aren’t they in the forgiveness business?

But, on the other hand, makes perfect sense — they are also in the contrition business and they know a not up to snuff apology when they see it!

A more cynical point of view would be that clergy know that they’ve got at least a presumption of the moral high ground in almost any dispute — especially with a big multinational corporation — and can afford to be exacting in their demands. And what are the clergy of Manchester’s demands. Grab a pen and paper:


The cathedral’s lawyers are still “in conversation” with lawyer’s at Sony over
the Dean of Manchester’s demand that the game, a PS3 “shooter” called
Resistance: Fall of Man, be withdrawn.


And cathedral clergy are also demanding a response from Sony to their request
for a donation to their work with young people and the victims of gun crime.
(“Manchester Cathedral says Sony apology not enough and issues new digital rules,” Times Online)

To get the full effect, you’ve got to read this quote from the Dean of Manchester aloud in your best Marlon Brando Godfather imitation:


Dean of Manchester, the Very Rev Rogers Govender, said: “We asked Sony to
apologise unreservedly to the Cathedral and wider community for the offence
caused. This they have done.


“We asked them to withdraw the game. They have refused to do this.


“We asked Sony to make a donation to community groups nominated by the
Cathedral. They have not responded.”
(Times Online)

So they still want the game off the shelves. And they still want their ransom. But, wait! There’s more!


Manchester Cathedral is calling for all video games manufacturers to sign up
to a new set of “sacred digital guidelines” to prevent future “virtual
desecration” of religious buildings.
(Times Online)

More Godfather fun from the Dean of Manchester:

“We also asked them to sign up to the Sacred Digital Guidelines. They have refused to do this.” (“Sony Issues ‘Unreserved’ Apology to Manchester Cathedral,” ChristianToday.com)

Sacred digital guidelines? Virtual desecration? I’m pretty sure none of that is the Bible. The Church of England is just making this stuff up on the fly. I don’t think any of that will fly in the USA, where we have a little thing called the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech … including, presumably, the freedom to have imaginary characters in fictional video games have imaginary shootouts in digital representations of buildings. So I think Sony can skate here in America. But in the U.K, who knows? They’ve been heading toward a V for Vendetta society for years now.

Sadly, Sony might be better off to go ahead and give the Very Offended Reverend his wergild. We shall see.

But I still stand by my original position that lost in all of the good reverend’s umbrage is the fact that no actual cathedrals were harmed in the making of Sony’s video game!

See some good discussion of the whole mess in reader responses at GamePolitics.com.

For completeness, here is Sony’s still-not-good-enough apology:


Letters to the Editor, Manchester Evening News


Dear Sir,


At a recent meeting with Dean Rogers Govender and Canon Denby of Manchester
Cathedral we discussed the use of the Cathedral as a setting for one of the
scenes in our video game Resistance Fall of Man.


It is clear to us that the connection between the congregation and the Cathedral
is a deeply personal and spiritual one. As a result, it is also clear that
we have offended some of the congregation by using the Cathedral in our
science fiction game.


It was never our intention to offend anyone in the making of this game, and we
would like to apologise unreservedly to them for causing that offence, and
to all parts of the community who we might also have offended.


Furthermore, we will ensure that Manchester Cathedral is never used as a setting
in any future Sony Computer Entertainment video game.


Yours faithfully


Dr David A Reeves


President


Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

(“Full text of Sony’s letter of apology,” Times Online)

APOLOGY UPDATE: Apology Crisis in the Punjab! Again!

Time to check in again with our wacky friends in the Punjab. No, not Hillary and Obama … our pals in the Akal Takht!

(Which, for those who weren’t paying attention, are the five clerics who make up the high council or governing body of the Sikh religion in the Punjab region. Or something like that.)

As you recall, Dera Sacha Sauda said sorry again for dressing up like a revered Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, after his first just-under-the-deadline apology by press release was rejected by the Akal Takht. Let’s see how the new apology went down:

AMRITSAR: The Sikh high priests on Wednesday rejected the second
“apology” submitted by dera Sacha Sauda and announced to hold a Sikh
conclave in Ratia town in Haryana to press for arrest of the dera head
Baba Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh. (“Akal Takht rejects dera Sacha Sauda apology for second time,” Punjabnewsline.com)

Ouch. It went down like a lead balloon. But why?

The Sikh clergy which held its meeting at Akal Takht in Amritsar for
more than six hours expressed shock over arrogant behaviour of dera
head and said that dera authorities have issued a “press note” instead
giving proper apology. The Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Joginder Singh
Vedanti in a written statement said that dera head had not expressed
any remorse for the sin he had committed and neither gave an assurance
not to repeat the same in future.

Yeah, that fax it in thing is just not working. I don’t know about you, but I get the impression Dera Sacha Sauda (aka Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh) isn’t really that sorry. He’s just trying to get by with the minimum:

The fresh “apology letter’ issued by dera Sacha Sauda has been amended
to seek an apology from Guru Gobind Singh and the Sikh community. The
letter didn’t carry the signatures of dera chief.

We discussed this before. But the Akal Takht is having none of that, rightly focusing on his lack of expressed remorse or assurances of not repeating his offense–two key elements of any sincere apology.

Now they want Dera Sacha Sauda aka Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh thrown in jail.

Apology Index readers in the United States are now saying: “Huh? The guy’s a bit of a jerk, but where’s the crime?” That’s because we live in a country that enjoys freedom of speech and freedom of religion packed into one delicious First Amendment. Add some peanuts and caramel and you’ve got a great name for a candy bar there.

Here in America we can practice our own religion, practice no religion, make fun of other people’s religions, dress up like whomever we want to, make obscene art involving religious figures, smoke, drink, cuss (well, maybe not smoke these days) and spit to our heart’s content. Is it any wonder people rushing the door to get in? America throws the best party, bar none.

Well, there is Ibiza.

But in many other countries, you better watch your mouth. And, in the Punjab apparently, your wardrobe. They take their blasphemy seriously. It may not be a hanging offense in India … but spontaneous human combustion is not out of the question.

As it happens, Dera Sacha Sauda already has an outstanding arrest order against him:

A Bathinda court on June 20 last had issued arrest warrants of Gurmit
Ram Rahim Singh in a case registered against him for hurting the
religious sentiments of Sikhs. The arrest warrants are valid till July
1. As per the condition of the court, the Punjab police has sought
state government’s permission to arrest dera head. It is expected that
state government would grant the permission and onus of arresting dera
head would be shifted on Congress Government in Haryana.

He’s definitely playing with fire here. As you can also infer from the excerpt above, he has become a bit of a hot potato. The Sikh hardliners are pressing for his arrest but no one in the local or regional government seems to want to be the one to give the order.

You know what that means! More Apology Crisis in the Punjab! fun to come! We’ll let things simmer for a while and check in later.

APOLOGY DEMAND: Pakistan to UK — Unknight Salman Rushdie

It’s not quite the Punjab, but people in Pakistan are just as excitable, if not more so.

In U.S. literary circles there has been a fair bit of hand wringing lately about the decline of the column inches devoted in America’s newspapers devoted to book reviews. It seems the ubiquitous internets (UI) are eating the lunch of old time dead tree reviewers. Many are convinced this may portend the end of civilization as we know it.

Personally, I think the end of civilization, if it comes, is more likely to be triggered by book critics in Pakistan. If they don’t like your book, they don’t just give it a bad review. They encourage people to kill you. Take Salman Rusdie:


ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s parliament renewed a call
on Friday for Britain to withdraw a knighthood for author
Salman Rushdie and apologize for hurting Muslim feelings.

Rushdie, whose 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” outraged
many Muslims around the world, was awarded a knighthood for
services to literature in Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honors
list last week.

Pakistan and Iran have protested against the honor and the
Pakistani parliament condemned it in a resolution on Monday. (
ABC News.com)

Still no word on when Pakistan plans to apologize for propping up the Taliban regime pre-9/11; helping North Korea, Iran and God only knows who else with their nuclear programs; and, for all we know, putting up Osama bin Laden in a Peshawar bed & breakfast for the last six years.

Did mean old Queen Elizabeth hurt your feelings, Pakistan?

Apparently:


The National Assembly lower house of parliament passed
another resolution on Friday expressing dismay Britain had not
reversed its decision.


“The British government has not withdrawn the title which
has not only disappointed the entire Pakistani nation but has
also hurt it,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afghan Niazi
told the assembly.


“This august house again calls on the British government
and its Prime Minister Tony Blair to immediately withdraw the
title… and tender an apology to the Muslim world.” (ABC News)

Okay, I do see your point. And that does seem like a polite and reasonable request for  … excuse me, what’s that you say, Pakistan Religious Affairs Minister Mohammad Ejaz-ul-Haq?

“If someone exploded a bomb on Rushdie in
response to the British government’s decision, he will be within his
right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws
the ‘sir’ title.” 
(CBS News.com)

Never mind.

Oh, and in case you thought I was kidding about bin Laden:


A group of hardline Muslim clerics said on Thursday it had
bestowed a religious title “Saifullah” (Sword of Islam) on
Osama bin Laden in response to the knighthood for Rushdie. (ABC News.com)

So just to recap the Pakistani position: Honoring a guy who wrote a book you don’t like? Grounds for death threats. Honoring a terrorist mastermind responsible for plotting and causing the deaths of thousands of innocent people? That’s a great idea.

This one goes beyond the apology demand as political leverage to an apology demand as intimidation, extortion and, dare I say, terroristic threats. Implicit … well, explicit really … in the Pakistani national assembly’s resolution and their Religious Affairs Minister’s remarks is the threat that if the British government doesn’t do what they say, then there’s gonna be trouble.

Granted, much of the trouble will be deranged Pakistanis burning, looting and tearing down their own neighborhoods. Have you ever noticed that? Yeah! Burn down Islamabad! That’ll show the infidel dogs of the West who’s boss!

Or at least save them the trouble of doing themselves later.

But, I digress. There has been a troubling trend in recent years of angry Muslim mobs — or mobs of angry Muslims, take your pick — backed by their governments demanding all kinds of ridiculous things. They riot over cartoons. They riot over books they don’t like. They riot over the Miss Universe pageant. Any excuse for a riot.

And that’s fine. It’s their town. Let’s call it Crazytown. They want to keep burning it down and rebuilding it, I don’t care. What frightens me is not these paroxysms of rage but the fact that, to some extent, the intimidation seems to work.

Recall the recent apology demand by the Church of England directed at Sony over their video game. Remember the Bishop of Manchester saying that, had Sony set their fictional gun battle inside a mosque rather than a cathedral, there would have been questions raised in Parliament, an official investigation and the game would have been  withdrawn?

The sad thing is, he’s probably right.

Remember the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad? Riots and death threats ensued … and many media outlets, in reporting on the story, refused to reproduce the cartoons.

Gosh, we wouldn’t want to offend the Muslim world.

Or, rather, the more excitable elements thereof. I haven’t conducted a survey, but my guess is that the vast majority of Muslims around the world have too much sense and better things to do than riot over cartoons and books. They may well take offense at such things but are grown up enough to realize that it’s a big world and, you know, sometimes things will offend you.

In our present media culture it is trendy, chic even, to print, say and do things offensive to Christians. Because no one is terribly scared of Presbyterians. Or Catholics for that matter. Salman Rushdie wrote a novel called The Satanic Verses that many Muslims found offensive, even blasphemous. I forget exactly why, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa urging Muslims to kill Rushdie, who spent nine years in hiding.

Dan Brown wrote a novel called The DaVinci Code that many Christians found offensive, even blasphemous. The Pope did not declare a fatwa against Dan Brown. Brown is not, to the best of my knowledge, in hiding. There have been protests and complaints but no riots that I’m aware of. No one has burned down Cleveland over Brown’s book. For the most part, Christian religious leaders have been content to refute those elements of The DaVinci Code that they consider erroneous.

Which is as it should be. That is how civilized people respond to being offended. Turn the other cheek, as it were.

So what happens? Offending Christians is cool. Offending Muslims is a no-no. Bad behavior is rewarded. Which only encourages the mobs of Crazytown to become even more demanding. It takes less and less to offend them. As the Minister of Religious Affairs reminds us, we wouldn’t want any trouble, now, would we?

So now comes this latest demand for an apology.

The British government, to their credit, has diplomatically told Pakistan to get stuffed.

Reacting to the reported passage of the resolution by Pakistan’s
parliament on Monday, demanding the withdrawal of the title, a
spokesman for the British Foreign Office said, “The honour was ‘richly
deserved’ and the reasons for it were ‘self-explanatory’.”
(TheNews.com)

Translation:  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will knight any of her subjects she damn well pleases.

Which is precisely the response this demand for an apology deserves.

APOLOGY UPDATE: Apology Crisis in the Punjab!

Speaking of the Punjab —

CHANDIGARH: The dera Sacha Sauda of Sirsa on Wednesday submitted a
revised apology to the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs
for hurting Sikh sentiments.
(“Dera Sacha Sauda sends revised apology to Akal Takht,” Punjab Newsline Network)

I know you’ve all been wondering if he would re-apologize. Well, he did!

APOLOGY DEMAND: Church of England vs. Sony

So far I’ve avoided demands for apologies to focus on apologies actually made. But this one is too odd and colorful to pass up. Officials of the Church of England are demanding an apology from Sony Corporation for what the good reverends say are offensive graphics in Sony’s PlayStation3 video game Resistance: Fall of Man. And that’s not all they want. First, some background from Wikipedia:

Resistance: Fall of Man is a science fiction / first-person shooter video game for the Playstation 3 developed by Insomniac Games, creators of popular series’ such as the Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank. The game follows in the footsteps of Nathan Hale as he and the human resistance forces attempt to drive out of Britain a mysterious alien invasion.

Science-fiction military-themed shooting game. Got it. Why does the Church of England care?

The Church of England is considering legal action
against entertainment firm Sony for featuring Manchester Cathedral in a
violent PlayStation video game.

The Church says Sony did not obtain permission to use the interior in the war game Resistance: Fall of Man.

The game, which has sold more than one million copies,
shows a virtual shoot-out in the cathedral’s nave in which hundreds of
enemies are killed.
(“Cathedral row over video war game,” BBC)

Okay … I feel pretty certain no actual cathedrals were harmed in the game, just pixels. But let’s run with it. Sony, what do you have to say for yourself?

The company said in a statement: “Sony Computer
Entertainment Europe is aware of the concerns expressed by the Bishop
of Manchester and the cathedral authorities… and we naturally take
the concerns very seriously.

“Resistance: Fall of Man is a fantasy science fiction game and is not based on reality.

“We believe we have sought and received all permissions necessary for the creation of the game.” (BBC)

Sounds reasonable. Church of England, have you been tippling the communion wine or what?

The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch,
described the decision to feature the city’s cathedral as “highly
irresponsible” – especially in the light of Manchester’s history of gun
crime.

“It is well known that Manchester has a gun crime problem,” he said.


“For a global manufacturer to re-create one of our great cathedrals
with photo-realistic quality and then encourage people to have guns
battles in the building is beyond belief and highly irresponsible.

First of all, I thought the United Kingdom banned handguns a few years ago. Not working out so well, huh?

The Dean of Manchester Cathedral, the Very Reverend Rogers Govender, added the game was “undermining” the work of the church.

“We are shocked to see a place of learning, prayer and
heritage being presented to the youth market as a location where guns
can be fired.”

Yes … never mind that a large proportion of video gamers these days are not part of the youth market, I find it unlikely that young players of this game will thereby be influenced to trot down to Manchester Cathedral to fire some guns. Particularly given that 99.9% of them don’t live in the UK and probably couldn’t find Manchester on a map.

So what do you want, Right Reverend?

The cathedral’s David Marshall said Church leaders would meet on Monday to draft a letter and discuss what other action to take.

He said the letter would make four demands:

  • An apology for using the cathedral
  • Withdrawal of the game, or modification of the section of the game to remove the cathedral interior
  • Sony to make a substantial donation from the
    games’ profits allowing the cathedral’s education department to target
    more effectively those aged 18 to 30
  • Sony to support other groups in Manchester fighting against gun crime.

(“Cathedral to demand Sony apology,” BBC)

This is where it gets interesting. The Church of England has issued a list of demands. And they don’t just want an apology — they want a payoff! This is practically a ransom note they’re drafting. Sony to donate game profist to the cathedral’s education department? Sony to support local anti-gun groups?

As the Brits might say — cheeky. Collection plate must be a bit light these days.

And, naturally, the politicians are piling on, along with the usual do-gooders:

Community groups and MPs have expressed support for the
Church’s stance against the game, which has sold more than one million
copies so far.
(BBC)

Sony is sticking with the “It’s not real” defense for now:

For its part Sony Computer Entertainment Europe pointed out that the
enemies in the game are not human and that the game takes place in an
alternate universe. “It is game-created footage, it is not video or
photography,” said spokesman David Wilson of the Cathedral in the game.
“It is entertainment, like Doctor Who or any other science fiction. It
is not based on reality at all. (
“Church of England threatens to sue Sony,” GameDailyBiz)

BUT they could still cave: Sony said it would contact the cathedral authorities on Monday “to understand their concerns in more detail”. (BBC)

This one bears watching. When the inevitable apology comes, it will be interesting to see just how far Sony give in to the good Bishop’s demands.

PS: This does all seem a bit forward for the Church of England, though, doesn’t it? I wonder where they got the nerve?

Defending his position on a BBC radio show, “the bishop claimed that had the fictional setting for the alien versus
human battle taken place in a mosque, “questions would have been asked
in the House (of Commons)” and the game would have been withdrawn.”

Yes, if only the Church of England would behave more like bomb-loving Muslim extremists, people wouldn’t go around setting small portions imaginary games in fictional digitized representations of cathedrals…

Apology Crisis in the Punjab! — Part 2!

We left off in Part 1 of Apology Crisis in the Punjab! with tensions rising over a perceived insult to a revered 17th century Sikh guru. In recent weeks, the region has seen  mass demonstrations, strikes, effigy burnings, boycotts and the deployment of heavily armed security forces. The Akal Takht  — the highest religious body of the Sikhs — set a deadline of May 27 for the offending leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) sect to apologize — or for his followers to vacate their ashrams and get out of town.

As the deadline ticked every closer, all of the Punjab was on edge. Would Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh

say sorry, bringing an end to the crisis — or would Punjabis get another chance to show the world who puts the “jab” in Punjab by erupting in fury of religion-fueled violence and mayhem?

In the final hours, the apology came:

“Finally after 14 days, the conflict
between Sikhs and dera followers seems to have ended, as the Dera Sacha
Sauda apologised to the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh following the
controversy over newspaper advertisements that showed the dera chief
Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh attired like Guru Gobind Singh.

Tendering
an apology through a press note issued at about 8 p.m. at the dera
headquarters, the dera stated that there is no question of imitating
Guru Gobind Singh, as we could not even think to do so.”
(“Dera apologises, but to Guru,” Tribune India)

Here is the actual text:

As you can plainly see, this apology raises a few questions.

What? You don’t read Hindi? That’s okay, neither do I. A full English translation has been hard to come by (Come on, Indian media, get with the program!) but I have pieced together the gist of it from several articles.

‘We are pained by the developments of the last
several days. We are sorry for the misunderstanding and would like to
apologise to Guru Gobind Singh,” the statement said.

”Baba Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim did not try to copy Guru Gobind Singh; he could never imagine doing that”. (“Dera Sacha Sauda issues apology,” NDTV.com)

“We never intended to imitate Guru Gobind Singh and we are regretful of the whole chain of events,” … The sect admitted that the ad had “created misconceptions” and was “unfortunate”.

“Whatever incidents had happened for the
past few days have hurt us. We have high regards for all Sikh Gurus and
have lots of love for Sikhs and the Sikh religion and the entire
humankind. We never intended to hurt anyone; we want to do good to
everyone and would never like to hurt anyone,” the sect said.
(‘Dera Sauda regrets hurting Sikhs,’ IBNlive.com)

Normally, I would parse the apology for you, but this is a special case — so I’m going to outsource the analysis to India. It’s quicker and cheaper that way.

First reactions from observers were cautiously positive:

“The apology had a substantial section
of Sikh masses jubilant while the Jathedars of the Takhts and the
Punjab Government were awaiting details of the statement issued by the
Dera before reacting.

It,
however, made the union government and the Punjab and Haryana
governments heave a major sigh of relief as, sources said, it would go
a long way in assuaging the hurt caused to the Sikh sangat by the dera
actions.

“Apology is an
apology and if tendered to the founder of the Khalsa panth, it becomes
all the more significant and valuable,” commented a senior officials.”
(“Govts heave sigh of relief,” Tribune New Service)

But the Akal Takht (supreme body of Sikh clergy) were not impressed:

“The priests of the Akal Takht questioned the “spirit” behind the
apology but didn’t outrightly reject it and announced that their
agitation against the Dera would continue peacefully.

While noting that the Dera had sought “pardon” from Guru Gobind Singh,
their edict said the revered Guru is “the one who can pardon” but the
persons apologising must do it in the right spirit. “If that spirit is
missing, such apologies go waste”. The words used in the apology, the
edict says, make it abundantly clear that the Dera chief is an arrogant
and shrewd man.”
(“Dera apology: Sikh priest not impressed, not furious either,” Indianexpress.com)

Lashing out at the sect for their “indirect apology” over the row
surrounding 10th Sikh guru Guru Gobind Singh, the Akal Takht said the
Dera head was an “egoistic and shrewd person” to apologise through a
press release.
(“Dera apology: Akal Takht dissatisfied,” IBNlive.com).

Apology rejected!

“Amritsar, May 30 : People belonging to the Sikh
community today endorsed the decision of Akal Takt to reject the
apology by Dera Sacha Sauda sect for alleged ‘sacrilege’ of Guru Gobind
Singh, and continued to boycott them.” (
Sikhs endorse Akal Takt’s decision to reject Dera apology,’ newKerala.com)

The Akal Takht’s main issue with the apology seems to be that it came in the form of an unsigned press statement, distributed by DSS press aides, rather than a personal apology by DSS leader Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh himself. And the language was, apparently, a bit slippery. Perhaps that is more apparent in the original Hindi. Hard for me to evaluate without a good translation, but certainly the “impersonal corporate voice” apology is always less effective than a direct personal apology.

Ah, but did Ram Rahim Singh intend to make a sincere and effective apology, expressing true remorse for his actions?

Maybe not. Let’s back up a few steps and look at this whole situation again. As I said in Part 1, sometimes a lot can depend on an apology. If you read the extra credit assignment from the BBC that I recommended yesterday, you get a little more insight into what’s really happening here. This article also sheds some light. And this interview with a Sikh leader.

While the Sikh religion is strong in the Punjab, many other religious sects, like the DSS, are active in the region. They compete with the established faiths for followers and for political influence. In February elections, the DSS made an overt appeal for voters to support a particular party, contrary to custom. This angered the Sikhs, who generally supported a different party.

Did Ram Rahim Singh intend to imitate the revered Sikh guru in the newspaper ad that started this kerfluffle? He says no, and maybe he’s telling the truth — in which case he would feel he’s done nothing wrong and has no need to personally apologize. Whatever his true intentions, the ad became a convenient opportunity for the Sikhs to strike back at the DSS for asserting itself too overtly in the elections.

While I am sure the outrage of most Sikhs was sincere, we can’t overlook a certain level of calculation in the situation. The protests, the strike, the boycott and the demand for an apology all look like the Sikhs seeking to put the DSS in its place. If you own multiple cats or multiple dogs, you know what I mean. Every so often, the pack has to sort itself out and establish who the Big Dog (or Top Cat) — especially when a newcomer arrives on the scene.

Often the demand for a public apology — especially when backed by threats and ultimatums — is simply a power play. By ultimately forcing an apology from the DSS, the Sikh leaders reassert their dominance in the region’s affairs. Knowing this, the DSS resisted for as long as possible … right up to the deadline. Ultimately, the pressure was too great. But a personal apology from the sect leader would concede too much. To save face, the apology was in the anonymous corporate voice, delivered by fax. LIkewise, it was not addressed to the Akal Takht, as demanded, but to a long-dead guru.

So the DSS leader’s goal here, as I read it, was not to deliver the perfect apology … but to issue a “good enough” apology. Good enough to ease the pressure and defuse the situation without being a complete capitulation to the demands of the Sikhs. In rejecting the apology, the Akal Takht recognized the ploy … but they also could not deny the fact that an apology was in fact made.

So the apology does not end the conflict, but moves it to another phase:

“The statement reprimanded the dera chief to desist from his pretensions and not to hide his wrongdoings.


The Akal Takht said the social boycott call against the sect and its
followers would continue. It said that peaceful protests against the
dera would continue till all its campuses were ‘uprooted’ from Punjab.


The statement urged Sikh followers of the sect to return to the Sikh religious fold.


It further stated that legal steps would be taken to bring the dera chief to book.”
(
Sikhs endorse Akal Takt’s decision to reject Dera apology,’ newKerala.com)

As my karate
instructor used to tell me:  “Block and counter! Block and counter!”
When you block a blow against you, you must immediately counter it.

The lesson here is that sometimes a public apology — or the demand for an apology — is not really about expressing remorse.

Sometimes apology is policy.

DATE OF APOLOGY: May 27, 2007
APOLOGIZER:
Dera Sacha Sauda sect of India
APOLOGIZEE:  Guru Gobind Singh — who died in 1708
FOR: The “misunderstanding” that the DSS leader was imitating the revered guru in a photo advertisement.

Apology Crisis in the Punjab!

Sometimes a lot can depend on an apology. For the geographically challenged, the Punjab region is in northern India — and also Pakistan. Which country actually owns the area is one of many sources of conflict between the two countries.

The current situation has nothing to do with that, however. Rather, it concerns whether the apology of Baba Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim to the Akal Takht for dressing up like Guru Gobind Singh is acceptable enough to bring an end to the Sikh social boycott of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect and related violence.

I’m not making this up. It’s a crisis in the Punjab! Granted, it doesn’t take much to cause a crisis in the Punjab. Richard Gere kissing someone can cause a crisis in the Punjab. They are many excitable people in the Punjab. Keep that in mind. If you’re ever in the Punjab.

I will admit up front that I don’t quite understand all the nuances here. But I’ll explain this as best I understand it. There is a sect in the Punjab called Dera Sacha Sauda.  We’re gonna call that the DSS. Their leader is a guy named Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. I’m sure friends call him something less wordy. Let’s say Ram Rahim Singh for short. Anyway, a few weeks back he appeared in a newspaper ad for the DSS dressed up like Guru Gobind Singh.

Oh no, he didn’t!

Yes, he did. Who, you might ask, is Guru Gobind Singh? Clearly, you are as ignorant of the Sikh religion as I was before I read the Wikipedia article.

This article sums up the problem: The sect’s leader, Gurmit Ram Raheem Singh, appeared in an newspaper
advert as Guru Gobind Singh, one of 10 revered saints in the religion,
and was pictured offering holy water to the faithful. The advert upset
the main Sikh religious governing body, the Akal Takht, and triggered
violent protests in the Punjab earlier this month that left one dead
and scores injured.”

Apparently, you do not dress up like Guru Gobind Singh. Or, presumably, any of the other 9 Sikh gurus. I’m crossing Sikh guru off my list of Halloween options. You should too.

So, the Sikhs of the Punjab, and there are many, were upset at the apparent DSS insult to their religion. Violent protest and clashes ensued. Nobody throws a crisis like the Punjab:

Tens of thousands of Sikhs and DSS supporters have been gathering in various places in Punjab and Haryana.

Some Sikhs have been armed with swords and bricks. They
are reported to be surrounding a DSS campus near Salabetpura in the
Punjab.

Many DSS supporters have gathered in Sirsa in Haryana, where the sect has its headquarters, to ward off any attack by Sikhs. (“India tensions over Sikh protests”,BBC News).

Even the national government got into the act: The central government has sent two battalions of the Rapid Action Force, a paramilitary force comprising commandoes, to Sirsa.”

Local leaders were not impressed. Only two battalions? You can’t throw a decent crisis with two battalions. It’s like central government isn’t even trying.

“Punjab’s Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, has asked
the federal government to despatch 50 companies of paramilitary forces
to ensure peace.”

That’s more like it. Meanwhile, the Sikh clergy did their part to get the barbecue roaring by calling for a social, political and religious boycott of DSS followers. I’m not entirely sure what that means. I think it means nobody talk to them.

Could it possibly get any worse? Could the Sikh leaders possibly dial up tensions any higher than a social, political and religious boycott?

Of course they can! This is the Punjab, baby!

Take it, BBC:

“Cities and towns across the northern Indian state of
Punjab are shut in response to a general strike called by the Sikh
community.” (“Strike by Sikhs hits Indian state,”
BBC News).

Where are the cops when you need them?

“Thousands of machine-gun wielding soldiers are on alert
and the anti-riot Rapid Action Force personnel have marched through
some of the sensitive areas.”

Did anyone remember to bring the burn in effigy kit? It’s just not a party without a burning effigy.

“In the state of Jammu, Sikhs have held protest
demonstrations, burning effigies of the leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda
(DSS) religious sect.”

Oh, good. They remembered. How are the DSS followers holding up?

“Fearing possible violence by outraged Sikhs, security
forces have erected barricades around the headquarters of the Dera
Sacha Sauda (DSS) religious sect in Sirsa town [in the neighbouring
state of Haryana].

An estimated 20,000 DSS followers live on or near the campus.

The sect also has many smaller campuses across Punjab.”

This is just a suggestion, but maybe the DSS folks should stick close to their campuses until this blows over.

Sikh leaders have demanded that all campuses where sect members live be closed within a week.”

Or not. (Thank you, BBC, for that informative report). See, this is why there is no crisis like a Punjab crisis. Just when you think they’ve taken the tension as far as it can go without someone breaking out the high explosives, the Sikh leaders play their trump card and demand that all the DSSers get out of town.

Is there any way out of this mess? Is there anything the DSS can do to end this madness before the whole Punjab goes up in flames.

Why, yes: “Sikhs are demanding an apology from the leader of a
religious sect who appeared in an advert dressed like one of the Sikh
religion’s most important figures.”


An apology might make it all better. This being the Apology Index, you had to see that coming. Honestly, I gave it away way back in the second paragraph. And the title. Speaking of which, this post has gotten rather long, so we’ll examine the apology and its consequences in Part 2 of Apology Crisis in the Punjab!

PS: If you’re interested, the BBC offers some socio-political context and analysis of what led to this mess: ‘What is behind Sikh protests?”. No? Didn’t think so.