Thought For The Day - Indarjit Singh

History can be one of the most boring subjects as well as one of the most interesting, depending on what is taught and how it is taught. In Saturday's Times, Professor Niall Ferguson, an advisor to the Education Secretary, was quoted as favouring a much shorter curriculum with an emphasis on European and Western history and the importance of the Renaissance.

Personally, I'd like it to be a little bit wider to show how other parts of the world were, like Europe, also questioning the rigidity and oppressive conformity of belief systems at about the same time. Guru Nanak was a contemporary of Martin Luther, and like the leaders of the Reform movements of the West, the Guru was hailed as someone who brought light and open debate to the darkness that then often passed for religion.

Wider study of world history also reveals interesting parallels in scientific thinking. In the West the astronomer Copernicus is credited for the discovery that the sun rather than the Earth is the centre of our planetary system. Yet this was then common belief in India. Guru Nanak, born a few years before Copernicus, refers in beautiful poetry to the infinity of Creation and to countless universes and solar systems.

These examples show how people in different parts of our world were thinking and behaving in similar ways in a common and fascinating journey to our modern world It wasn't always enlightened progress and one of the benefits from a study of history is its reminder of how easily we humans, given triggers of hate and prejudice, can regress to near barbarity despite an outer veneer of civilisation.

Perhaps the most important gain from a study of the past, is that this should help us build a better future. I see evidence of this in our cautious reaction to events in Libya. For me the most heartening news in the last few days is not the success of air strikes stopping Gaddafi's forces in their stride, but the news that British Tornado jets on a 3000 mile return mission to attack military targets, turned back home when they saw civilians in the target area.

It is a gesture close to Sikh teaching that compassion for the innocent is more important than short term military gain. It is a gesture that will help win the hearts and minds of the long suffering people of Libya.

Release date: 29 Mar 2011

3 minutes

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