North of 49: A Story about Arson, Forgiveness and Healing in a Post Sept 11th World
What kind of community - What kind of world?

by Ralph Singh
Ralph Singh serves as spokesperson for Gobind Sadan, USA. Following the post-9-11 arson attack on their place of worship he delivered a powerful message of forgiveness from their preceptor Baba Virsa Singh. Over the last 30 years, he has been involved in a variety of community building efforts both locally and nationally and continues to speak and write on issues focused on overcoming barriers to peace.

“A powerful reminder of the depth of prejudice that continues to seethe beneath the surface of the democratic tolerance we claim for our nation. Still, good triumphs over evil in this film, for it documents the most remarkable process of forgiveness I have come across since 9/11 put that virtue on hold.”
-Huston Smith, Author, The World’s Religions

North of 49 is based on the story of a Sikh spiritual community that when confronted with a horrific act of hatred and ignorance – the post 9/11 arson attack on their place of worship by four local teens – responded with forgiveness and called for rebuilding the broader community based on love and understanding. It is not a film about religion per se, but rather about a group targeted for their difference who stood as examples of the teachings of their tradition and all traditions at a time of crisis.

It is not a treatise on Sikhism, though it offers glimpses of the Gobind Sadan community here and in India, showcases its dynamic leader, Baba Virsa Singh and his pioneering work breaking down the barriers to peace, and shares the story of how a Holy Scripture that preaches love for all traditions survived the fires of hatred. Rather it shows the impact on the area when a group practiced their faith, rose above adversity, and in the process began to involve and galvanize the surrounding community.

It is based on an act of forgiveness but it doesn’t explicitly speak to how the forgiveness was offered. It couldn’t show the drama in the courtroom, as a powerful statement of forgiveness was offered to the defendants and couldn’t capture the emotion of the correspondence which continues to flow from the jail cells of the two boys still incarcerated. It doesn’t include the phrase “by forgiving our enemies we have the opportunity to create peace” originally read at the Sheriff’s press conference at the time of the teens’ arrest, but it shows the response of the community.

It presumes the ignorance that exists in our world breeds hatred and shows the violent result. And while it plumbs the depth of the feelings that led to it, it is not simply a study on the prejudice that seethes beneath the surface of society.

What it does show is the potential of a negative event, if seen as an opportunity, to transform the people and communities involved, and provide hope that we as a society can overcome the conflicts in our world.

This was, and is, intentional community building based on a (spiritual) simple message “love one’s neighbor – don’t see anyone as an enemy or stranger – recognize all people as one human race – and forgive us our trespasses.”

The film and film makers became an extension of this message - the medium for reaching out to the surrounding community and involving them in the process. To reach out and call the question, “What kind of community do we want to live in? Do we want a world of hate and perpetual conflict, or can we learn to live in peace as children of God?”

The film exposes different elements of our community which some may find uncomfortable, just as difference is uncomfortable and even threatening to others. Still the hatred this difference generates in those others is perhaps even more disquieting. It is this fear of difference that underlies much of our conflict. Whether it is taught and by whom seems almost irrelevant at this point. What is needed is a way to teach that we are all part of the human family. And this film provides an excellent start.
The film has been shown in schools (high school and college) and civic and church groups.

Copies of the hour-long film are available on VHS ($30) or DVD ($35) plus $5 shipping plus tax. To schedule a showing, visit <www.northof 49.net> or contact Ralph Singh at (315) 440-1242 or Richard Breyer at (315) 443-9249.