BOOKS

Radicalism and religion

UNHOLY TERROR: THE SIKHS AND INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

JANE O’HARA July 11 1988
BOOKS

Radicalism and religion

UNHOLY TERROR: THE SIKHS AND INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

JANE O’HARA July 11 1988

Radicalism and religion

BOOKS

UNHOLY TERROR: THE SIKHS AND INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

(Key Porter, 250 pages, $21>.95)

On June 5, 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched a massive military attack on the Sikh Golden Temple of Amritsar in the Punjab. During the siege, hundreds of Sikhs were killed, including fundamentalist leader Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. To Sikhs everywhere, Bhindranwale became a martyr who died trying to create a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan. His death was like a detonator for Sikh extremism, setting off a chain of violence around the world that reached Canada’s shores. Now, in his book Unholy Terror, former Globe and Mail reporter Ian Mulgrew examines Sikh extremist activity in British Columbia and its links to an international terrorist network.

Mulgrew traces how Sikh separatism developed out of a minority religious faith to become a mainstream political crusade. He chronicles the way in which many moderate Sikhs were radicalized by a series of laws—imposed in the early 1980s by Gandhi in the name of national security—stripping them of many legal rights. Then, following the storming of the Golden Temple, Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards. Most Canadians remained untouched by those events until June 23, 1985, when Sikhs here were linked to two terrorist bombings: an Air India crash into the ocean off Ireland, killing 329 people, and an explosion in Tokyo’s Narita Airport less than an hour earlier, causing two more deaths.

Despite Canada’s three-year, multimillion-dollar investigation, the bombings remain unsolved. According to Mulgrew, vast cultural differences between Sikhs and white security agents hampered the inquiry. But Mulgrew himself was unable to infiltrate the province’s tightly knit fundamentalist Sikh community: most of his own interviews are conducted with Westernized moderates who shed little light on Sikh extremism. Still, Unholy Terror succeeds as a primer on Sikh politics and religion. And as events in the Punjab continue to make headlines, it provides much-needed background on a foreign holy war that extends all the way to Canada.

-JANE O’HARA