Islamophobia, Sikhophobia and Media ProfilingSIMRAN JEET SINGH
On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks shook the American nation to its core.
Nineteen individuals associated with al Qaeda coordinated to hijack four passenger jets and use them as weapons of mass destruction. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 claimed approximately 3,000 lives, including all 256 passengers on the four planes, 125 people at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and more than 2,600 people at the World Trade Center in New York.
The global community watched the destruction and devastation with horror. Law enforcement agencies focused attention on detecting and preventing further terrorism on American soil, while news media scrambled to collect, synthesize and present an enormous amount of information in a remarkably short period of time.
Photos and videos of the destruction flooded the news media, and these representations characterized the terrorists responsible for the attacks as fitting a Muslim, Arab or Middle Eastern profile. As a result, Islamophobia began to sweep across the nation.
Reports and studies demonstrate that an increasing mistrust of Muslims fueled a violent post-9/11 backlash throughout the U.S. Within a week of the terrorist attacks, Arabs, Muslims and South Asians registered more than 1,000 incidents of criminal discrimination, including murder, assault, vandalism and verbal harassment.
According to crime statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S. increased by 1,600 percent between 2000 and 2001. Furthermore, a study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice found that approximately 75 percent of hate crimes are not reported in official FBI statistics.
It is also important to note that Islamophobic violence is not a thing of the past, and unfortunately, we don't have to look far to find a tragic example. A couple of months ago, five children in San Diego lost their mother in a hate-crime. Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi-American, was brutally beaten to death in her own home. Her daughter found her corpse in the living room, along with a note that read: "Go back to your country, you're a terrorist."
In August of 2010, Time Magazine ran an article about the controversy surrounding the construction of an Islamic center near Ground-Zero, and the cover of that particular issue asked the question: "Is America Islamophobic?"
The national attention on President Obama's religious background, the scandal related to NYPD surveillance of local Muslims, Quran burning displays in Florida -- these are all recent examples of how Islamophobia operates within our society.
Strikingly, Muslims have not been the only targets of Islamophobic violence.
A number of different American communities have been impacted by Islamophobia, and practitioners of the Sikh religion make up one of the most adversely affected minority groups. The distinctive physical appearance of typical Sikh males in particular -- brown skin, turban, beard -- correlates with the stereotypical images of terrorists projected in western media.
Scholars have recently described this perceived relationship as a racialization of religious identity. This process has led to a conflation of Sikhs and Muslims, and therefore, has produced a corollary to Islamophobia -- Sikhophobia.
In fact, the first casualty of a hate crime in post-9/11 America was a Sikh-American named Balbir Singh Sodhi. According to official reports, his murderer said he killed Balbir Singh because "he was dark-skinned, bearded, and wore a turban."
In other words, Balbir Singh fit the profile of "the Islamic other."
With law enforcement and news media fanning the flames, the increasing sense of Islamophobia has led Sikh-Americans to be publicly profiled as suspicious and threatening.
For instance, the day after the 9/11 attacks, a turbaned Sikh-American male named Sher Singh was traveling from Boston to New York on an Amtrak train when it stopped in Providence, R.I. The FBI had sent federal agents, local police and bomb-sniffing dogs to arrest him. Officers rushed to the platform, pointed rifles at Sher Singh and shouted "Get your f--- hands up."
The officers removed him from the train at gunpoint and handcuffed him. According to a report by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, bystanders gathered around Sher Singh during the time of his arrest and began shouting obscenities and hate-speech, such as: "Kill him!" "Burn in Hell!" and "You killed my brother!"
Strikingly, Sher Singh reported that one of the arresting officers joined in the vitriol by asking, "How's Osama bin Laden?"
Neha Singh Gohil and Dawinder Singh Sidhu have pointed out that the arrest of this Sikh-American male, as well as its widespread publicization, wrought major damage to the image of Sikhs in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
"News stations replayed the video of his arrest in connection with its coverage of the attacks, thus associating Singh and other turbaned Sikhs with the planners of the attacks ... Thus any connection between terrorists and a turbaned male with a long flowing beard was further embedded in the hearts and minds of emotional Americans. On the contrary, no media coverage followed news of Sher Singh's release, just three hours later. There was no reason -- beyond the turban and long beard -- for the public or law enforcement personnel to be concerned about his presence on a train. In other words, he did nothing to arouse suspicion, aside from looking the way he did in a public space."
Despite his innocence and relatively quick release, news stations continued to replay the arrest and detention of Sher Singh for the next three days, and this continuous loop helped shape and perpetuate basic stereotypes of "the Islamic other." Moreover, the mutually reinforcing actions of racial profiling by the federal government and news media offered the general public with a sort of sanctioning of Islamophobia and Sikhophobia.
The consequences of these attitudes have been severe and costly.
Since 9/11, tens of thousands of Americans have been alienated and
victimized. The overly simplistic profile of "the Islamic other" has
done more harm than good, and it has negatively affected Muslims and
non-Muslims alike. From job discrimination and school bullying to racial
profiling and police surveillance, the various manifestations of
Islamophobia continue to divide the nation and increase tensions.
It's time to leave behind our Islamophobic, Sikhophobic and other-phobic tendencies and look at one another as fellow human beings.
We can't afford to produce more examples like Sher Singh, Shaima Alawadi and Balbir Singh Sodhi.
The author is a Doctoral Candidate in Religion at Columbia University.
[Courtesy: The Huffington Post. Edited for sikhchic.com]
July 11, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Karam (Delhi, India), July 11, 2012, 1:14 PM.
You should hammer these ignoramuses with print-outs of Tav-Parasad Savvaiyye. If possible, the complete Akaal Ustat. Let them know that the Gurus had a deep sense of God ... it'll teach them to be better Christians, Jews, etc. As well, we Sikhs should read it too, before Japji and Jaap Sahib. We need it too.
2: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), July 11, 2012, 2:32 PM.
It is so wonderful that the Huffington Post is giving voice to many of our writers. It is so wonderful that Simran Jeet Singh, Valarie Kaur and others are using this platform to tell our stories. Keep writing!
3: M.K.S. (New York City, USA), July 11, 2012, 3:23 PM.
Check out some of the comments on the Huffington site. Very impressed by Bachitar's response for which '2can' had no answer. 2can, 5 Fans at 10:50 am: The behavior against Singh was not race-ial, it was costume-ial. Could you dump the turbans and the knives without going to some kind of hell? Is "showing off" wearing your fancy "set-us-apart" costumes really required? Bachittar Singh responded at 12:09 pm: Well, we don't really believe in a Hell ... Or a Heaven. So we aren't really trying to appeal to any of those notions. Truthfully, you should just go on a search engine, i.e., Google or Yahoo, and type 'Sikh'. Or, maybe even get a book at your local library. It is a very fascinating religion with very beautiful beliefs concerning equality, love, and the understanding of the concept of 'God' within every living thing (animals and plants alike).
4: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), July 11, 2012, 3:47 PM.
I don't think that any Sikhophobia exists. Why? That would imply that these morons are aware of the Sikh religion and therefore afraid of it. These incidents happen because our people are being confused with Muslims, not because they are seen as Sikhs. This is further worsened by the fact that none of the Muslim advocacy groups care if Sikhs are mistaken for Muslims and made the subject of discrimination. I'm sure they are relieved when it's not one of their own being victimized.
5: Rosalia (Baltimore, Maryland, USA), July 11, 2012, 5:36 PM.
As a non-Indian, non-Sikh American, this ignorance sickens me to the core. Not only is it anti-American, as the very fabric of the US is comprised of the genius, culture, traditions, pride, and gifts -- of every immigrant group that came and contributed to this nation, it demonstrates a lack of security in our own basic tenets of innocence before being proven guilty, of the rule of law, and all the ideals for which we stand. What many Americans do not realize is that the majority of Muslims in our nation are African-American and many Arabs are Christian who have fled their lands where others are opposed to their Christian faiths. No one should be harassed or killed because they look different in a nation where everyone's roots come from elsewhere. The best way to combat flat out ignorance is through education. For this reason, I joined SALDEF's email list so that I can send letters to appropriate legislators when needed and support the education efforts that are mushrooming. http://www.saldef.org/ But there is strength in numbers, so I urge everyone, Sikh and otherwise, to speak up and be heard so that at least the rule of law will be in favor, and trump the ignorance of those who attempt to harass others because of hate. Well, that's the idea.
6: R. Singh (Canada), July 11, 2012, 8:40 PM.
When someone is on a ignorance high, there is no discrimination- they are equal opportunity. There was not much of a Muslim problem at the turn of the century, the treatment was not exactly warm even then. Therefore hiding behind the logic that everything is happening because of confusion with Muslims is not going to help us. The fact is religious intolerence is not region specific, it exists everywhere. When a propaganda machinery takes over and begins to blame an entire community, the loud proclamations about standing up for the wronged is put on the back burner. Instead of taking a stand against any wrong it becomes an exercise in loudly disassociating, by joining in the blame game or desperately trying to distance oneself, pointing fingers. Be it Muslim, Sikh, or anyone with a yarmulke, there is no justification for this kind of a behaviour.
7: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), July 16, 2012, 3:20 AM.
It is sad that the first person arrested on the day after 9/11 was a Sikh-American, Sher J.B. Singh. Amid national panic, more than 60 law enforcement officers converged on the Providence Amtrak station on September 12 searching for four "suspicious" men who had left Boston and might have some knowledge of the hijackers who had flown two jets into the World Trade Center towers on September 11. Sher Singh was thus caught in this frenzy. One should note that the first doctor who reached the New York site of the attack to offer help was a Sikh also imparting a lot of credit to the Sikh-American community. You may not know it because our own community failed to recognize this fact which could be promoted to highlight the Sikh contributions. Furthermore, Sher Singh received hundreds of letters of support from various individuals, organizations and churches from around country. This led him to say, he was pleased that his arrest had educated others about his religion. Sikh-Americans have found their place, and I'm glad we can continue to be recognized ... to be a part of society. I also read somewhere that the Providence administration complimented Sher Singh on his reminding them that they were forgetting their forefathers who brought 'foreigners' to this land and had to fight for their own human rights.
8: Thomas (U.S.A.), August 05, 2012, 10:09 PM.
There just is no cure for ignorance ... Ooops! Just happened again in Milwaukee!