See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love

One World. Jun. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9780525509097. $28. SOC SCI
Kaur’s debut is part memoir, part cultural commentary arguing that one way to combat hatred and ignorance is to take the Sikh approach of empathy and forgiveness toward those who harm or fear others. A Sikh activist, filmmaker, and political commentator, Kaur was born and raised in a large and loving Sikh family, one of few in an insulated California farming community. She became an activist partly because of her Sikh beliefs which involve equality, empathy, and love in response to escalating violence toward Sikhs in the United States following the September 11 attacks. The book is strongest when the author focuses on her personal experiences, her family life, and her activism during and after her time in law and divinity school. However, there are stretches where her rhetoric of “revolutionary love” slows down the narrative and becomes derivative. This flaw does not take away the central purpose of the book, which is the act of loving others—even ones that do grievous harm—is revolutionary in a time of confusion, heartache, and racial violence.
VERDICT A beautifully written exposé of activism, rebirth and “revolutionary love” that is much needed for all readers in our current times.
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g singh

book review by gurdhyan singh 
Valarie Kaur’s book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, is “foranyone who feels breathless.” She first thought her breathlessness revealed her weakness until her wise friend told her, “Your breathlessness is a sign of your bravery.” The memoir narrates her discovery of revolutionary love on her journey of awakening. The memoir's formulation rests on what is moral and strategic for her. Her moral paradigm is a liberal worldview, and her strategic is what advances her personally and professionally.
The memoir’s catchy title entices a potential reader’s interest with the understanding that thememoir deals with infinite compassion and unconditional love in times of crisis that can be used to solve America’s well-known social, economic, cultural, environmental, and politicalproblems. The memoir does not offer innovative and compassionate solutions; rather, it suggests replacing conservative ideals with liberal ideals. Valarie’s compassionate worldview excludes conservatives, tea party activists, racists, misogynists, traditionalists, and all others who fall outside her worldview.
The memoir does not seem to be meant for Sikhs; and has successfully targeted primarily thebroad spectrum of the well-educated, white liberal, progressive, and left segments of thepopulace. Still a potential Sikh reader who has heard of Valarie and her work, may expect tolearn from her experiences in putting compassion, one of the core tenets of the Sikh faith, inpractice. She not only fails that Sikh reader but raises fundamental questions and doubts about the Sikh faith, its divine foundation and practices, and the Sikh faith’s relevance in thecontemporary world. Regardless of her intentions, the memoir represents her narrow version of the Sikh faith to both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. It lacks the reverential and devotional vibe one might expect in such a memoir.
Valarie gives an impression that her memoir is driven by an intense compassion emanating from a bleeding heart, but it is a calculated, philosophical masterpiece. Every letter, word,punctuation, and metaphor is marvellously woven into a dream-like tapestry. She interweaves the story of her personal evolution, her relationship with the Sikh faith, and her professional growth in a unique style that deludes the common reader. She discloses partial facts on most issues dealing with the Sikh faith and makes her own conclusions based thereupon, which results in inaccurate representations about the Sikh faith.
In the memoir, she omits any inquiry into the appropriateness of her choices throughout her life, and avoids accepting responsibility for her actions, a hallmark of western culture and a core value of the Sikh faith. She downplays her own privilege and overplays her and her family's sacrifices.
Valarie is likely to mesmerize her liberal readership and to lose a dispassionate and independent reader’s trust due to her self-righteous and self-absorption. For Sikh readers, it is going to be a challenge to cope with perplexing representations of the Sikh faith. She makes efforts to create an ideal image of herself as a Sikh warrior-sage, without adhering to any Sikh religious practices.
The memoir tells the story of a suffering Sikh woman, which is a sadly common experience of
women everywhere, with a Sikh subtext lingering in the background. The memoir describes her inability to reconcile her exhausting experiences of womanhood with the Sikh faith. Her deep pain and anguish, resulting from racist childhood bullying, sexual harassment as an adolescent, and discrimination as a woman of color can have psychological ramifications and leave long lasting impacts unless treated or healed. Her description of these painful events is disturbing and revealing. In the process of growing into the woman she is today, she finds more comfort in the individual freedoms of modern liberalism than in the warmth of Sikh faith.
Her professional and activist credentials as a civil rights lawyer and documentary filmmaker are top-notch, having attended three elite universities: Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School. Yet, she chastises others in her community who pursue higher academic earning in “safe careers” such as the medical fields when, in fact, being an attorney out of Yale is itself a guarantee for a safe career in private, public, or international law. Her story reminds of the privilege of education, opportunities, and of the potential benefits of being born in that context.
Parents, especially hardworking immigrants, should be able to dream big and encourage theirchildren to become doctors. It should also be acceptable for children to work and study hard tofulfill their and their parents’ dreams of success and prosperity. Additionally, these doctorsprovide health services to the larger community, and continue to pave the way for furthermedical innovations. These doctors earn decent incomes, and, as a devotion for their faith, and affection towards their country and community, share their earnings to build Sikh places ofworship, organize mass humanitarian assistance drives, and fund Sikh community groups.As an activist, Valarie represented the Sikh faith at many interfaith events; the memoir is unclear on which version she represents. She seems most comfortable in her progressive socio-political milieu that celebrates individual choice. She has found increased popularity through See No Stranger, on top of her widely known image. Her rhetoric may sound radical but she has positioned herself as a moderate by unconditionally praising Obama and feeling sorry for his constrained presidency. Her memoir is in fine tune with the foundational stories of American exceptionalism, individualism, and aversion to discipline.
Her pathway to becoming a civil rights activist is common within the American experience,where idealistic individuals, particularly from minority communities, tend to gravitate towardscivil rights activism due to their own life experiences. Their activism remains confined withinthe national/political concept of civil rights, which occasionally branches out to human rights. Infact, the scope of human rights is wider than civil rights. Human rights are available to allindividual beings; civil rights are granted based on national legislation.
Human rights advocates outside of the western hemisphere are mind-boggled and shocked at the aberration of the American human rights scene, which lacks a substantial and national human rights community that campaigns for the human rights of all, without regard to any individual’s political persuasion or identity.
In much of the world, the human rights community does not consider the government as areliable stakeholder, and maintains strict independence from the political process. This isimperative for the human rights community to effectively maintain independence and neutralityby presenting the image of being above politics so as to independently promote and protecthuman rights in a country regardless of a country’s philosophy and system of government.The vibrant American civil rights scene, of which Valerie is a part of, is partisan and is rootedwithin the liberal framework, limiting its ability to achieve wider credibility among the generalpopulace. In that scene, there is little separation between civil right campaigners, politicalprocesses, and governmental institutions. Rather, a good number of civil rights activiststransition into politics. She may have a bright future as a rising politician.
In describing her relationship with the Sikh faith, she raises many issues, regarding itsfoundation, divinely ordained protocols and processes, and, most importantly, its revered divine figures such as the ten Gurus, saints and martyrs. She spurns most, selectively chooses some that suit her, and then unrestrainedly re-interprets them to convey her version to the readers. Valerie first frees herself from all religious encumbrances, then spiritualizes herself, creating her own Sikh paradigm that shortcuts divine processes.
She is candid about not serving the demanding, divinely-inspired path envisaged by the SikhGurus. Their path requires deep devotion, compassion, ardent discipline, meditation, long spells of despair, a painful reordering of priorities, and individual and congregational practices. She ignores the idea of devotional love, the very basis of Sikh faith, but offers her own revolutionary love, which she admits is rooted in existing concepts of love in western philosophical writings. 
My critical concern regarding the memoir is what kind of impact it will have on Sikhs, and particularly those who are on the way to be initiated via administration of the khande di Pahul, the nectar of the double edged sword. If the author formally joins politics or has a film made out of the memoir, resulting in even wider circulation and publicity for herself, the title is likely to entice young Sikh daughters to read the memoir. 
These young Sikh daughters, particularly in the West, are already in a very delicate situation.Day in and day out, they are under tremendous pressure to compromise their internal andexternal Sikh way of life. They are already straddling the political correctness of conservativesand liberals, both inside and outside the community. Despite all odds, many are trying to hold on to the Guru’s ordained lifestyle. But the memoir treats such a lifestyle, including Sikh initiation, as dispensable and minimizes its relevance in the contemporary world.
Her memoir has a potential to create doubts and disbelief in the realm of faith. Despite herefforts, the memoir shows her inability to see no stranger at all; in fact, she tries and falters, and she sees only strangers in the group of likeminded people that fit her scheme of personal,professional, and spiritual ambitions. There is a logical disconnect between the title of thememoir and its carefully crafted content.
Her memoir is not a required read for Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike, but they may choose to read it. For young Khalsa daughters in particular, it will give them a point of reference to see Valarie’s spiritual compass in depth and compare themselves within the context of the Sikh faith and their inner journey. Other than that they won't learn anything new that they are not already aware of. For independent non-Sikh readers, it represents only her version of the Sikh faith, and may give misconceptions of widely accepted aspects of the Sikh faith, particularly her representations of prominent Sikh Divine figures and her interpretations (or lack thereof) on common Sikh practices. The memoir more appears to be a manifesto of her political and professional aspirations, which undoubtedly is her prerogative.

Posted : Oct 02, 2020 04:14

Parker Palmer

For me, the star and the “Verdict” are the most accurate and important parts of this review. The text of the review puts so much emphasis on the author’s Sikh roots that it misses the universality of her spiritual orientation. As one who is involved with the Revolutionary Love Movement, I know that it attracts people from a wide ranger of wisdom traditions, including secular humanism. I also believe that what the reviewer calls "the rhetoric of revolutionary love” is as essential and energizing as good rhetoric is to any movement. “Is this the darkness of the tomb or the darkness of the womb?” opens people to hope in our dark times just as “We shall overcome!” did in the Civil Rights era. Indeed, I think that right now, a question that can only be answered by our response to it is more helpful than a proclamation or exhortation. So my counsel to potential readers is, focus on the rare star and on the overall verdict.

Posted : Jun 05, 2020 02:13



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