Thursday, September 29, 2005
Teens accused of killing two elderly Sikhs make first court appearance
On September 22, 2005, The Vancouver Sun reported, "Surrey Provincial Court overflowed with dozens of members of the city's Sikh community Wednesday as two teenagers were set to make their first court appearance in connection with fatal attacks on two elderly Sikh men in July.
Mewa Singh Bains, 82, and Shingara Singh Thandi, 76, died after they were beaten and robbed in separate incidents at Bear Creek Park. Thandi, who was attacked July 19, died Aug. 6, while Bains, who was attacked July 18, died Sept. 3. Both assaults took place in a public bathroom near the park's 88th Avenue entrance.
Two youths, aged 13 and 15, have been charged with assault and robbery in connection with the attacks. Surrey Crown lawyer Michelle Wray said more serious criminal charges, including murder charges, are under review by her office."
Judge: Safety trumps religious protection in Muslim firefighter case
On September 23, 2005, the Associated Press reported, "A Muslim firefighter cannot wear a beard on the job because of the safety risk that facial hair poses, a judge ruled yesterday. Curtis De Veaux sued the city on grounds that the ban infringed on his Muslim faith, which generally requires men to grow beards. But the state judge sided with the city, calling safety a compelling interest that warrants an exception under the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act. The city had argued that beards interfere with the tight seal firefighters need on their respiratory masks, which deliver oxygen and keep out dangerous toxins. The American Civil Liberties Union's local chapter, which represented De Veaux, plans to appeal the ruling to Commonwealth Court, lawyer Mary Catherine Roper said."
This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News. There, you can read more on Backlash and Bias in the Workplace (after 9/11) or more broad issues concerning religion in the workplace.
UN report shows global increase in religious discrimination
On September 22, 2005 the UN News Centre reported, "As a result of the proliferation of anti-terrorist policy, discrimination against religious groups, minorities and migrant populations is on the rise, particularly at waiting areas at airports, ports and borders, the United Nations' top official for monitoring racism warns in his latest report to the UN General Assembly. 'The General Assembly is invited to draw the attention of Member States to the alarming signs of a retreat in the struggle against racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia as a result of the growing number of counter-terrorism policies that generate new forms of discrimination against groups and entire communities, religions and spiritual traditions,' writes Doudou Diene, the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on racism and related intolerance. In that context, he said that discrimination against Muslims must be given special attention, but greater vigilance might also be needed against anti-Semitism and 'Christianophobia.' As discrimination is increasing in waiting areas of transportation facilities, the report recommends that Assembly Members take measures to prevent those areas from becoming so-called 'no rights zones.'"
This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News.
French court to view film on turban
On September 26, 2005 Sify reported, "Punjabi film producer-director Mangal Dhillon has plans to screen his 55-minute documentary The Inseparables—A Sikh and his Turban before the judge of the French court where the turban case will be heard. A sensitive theme, like the relation of a Sikh with his turban and the impact of the French government's decision to ban the use of head gears, has been deftly handled in the documentary from the historical and religious perspective. Made in Punjabi and English with sub-titles in French, it contains statements of some Sikh scholars and covers most of the prominent historical and religious aspects of Sikh history relating to the turban and Sikh identity, concluding on the Sikh martyrs buried in France, who sacrificed their lives during the world wars. The film, which was screened for select audience in Chandigarh on Sunday, aims at finding a permanent solution to different kinds of controversies taking place in various parts of the world, which are associated with the turban."
This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. There, you can read more about the Ban of Religious Symbols in French Public Schools and the Sikh protest of that ban, as well as more articles on the broader topic of Controversy Over the Turban.
Report shows discrimination against Muslims in French army
On September 24, 2005 IslamOnline.net reported, "Muslims serving in the French army are routinely mocked at, discriminated against and sometimes denied their religious rights, according to a new report. The report, entitled French Servicemen of Immigrant Origin, found that racist jokes and derogatory remarks are often played on Muslims inside the military establishment, Le Figaro reported on Friday, September 24. French soldiers make fun of their Muslim peers by trying to mimic their native accent when speaking in French, according to the report, undertaken by the independent French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). Though Muslim servicemen are allowed halal meals and flexible working hours during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, this is not the custom inside the army. It is done randomly and not systematic as many Muslim servicemen do not get their halal meals for days, said the report. The military top brass are increasingly opposed to allow Muslim servicemen to practice their religion, it added."
This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. There, you can read more about Islam in European Society, with many articles detailing the many social and governmental issues raised by increasing immigration and growth of the Muslim population in European countries.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Public School named for Fred Korematsu
Earlier this month, the Davis Board of Education voted to name the school district's newest school after civil rights icon Fred Korematsu. The name -- the Fred Korematsu Elementary School at Mace Ranch -- "recognizes the contributions of a Californian who waged a legal battle to the Supreme Court and beyond, appealing his arrest and internment during World War II."
The public was invited to speak before the board made its decision. "Many speakers favored naming the school after Korematsu." For example, Loriene Honda, whose father was interned said, "As a resident of Davis, who is raising children who will attend the school, it's important to remember that even during a time of war, we do not agree with members of the community being scapegoated."
Mr. Korematsu, who passed away in March, will be best remembered for challenging the military order allowing for the forced exclusions of Japanese-Americans before the U.S. Supreme Court. The divided court sided with the government, thus sanctioning the blanket discriminatory treatment of Japanese-Americans. The case, Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), is widely cited as one of the worst decisions in our nation's history.
Recent news on abuses by Punjab Police
Bringing the focus back to systematic human rights abuses committed by the Punjab police during the counter-insurgency of the 1980s and 1990s, a man allegedly killed in a police encounter has resurfaced:
[Jagdeesh Singh Deesha] was declared dead in one such encounter in 1993 for which 24 police officials, including a serving SSP, got awards and promotions.Jagdish Singh stated that the police killed innocent persons and claimed that one of them was him, securing awards. He has called for the divestment of these awards.
The family of Joginder Singh, who was killed last week in an alleged police encounter, have accused the police of staging the encounter:
Talking to the reporters at their residence Gobindsar Morh today, Waryam Singh, father, and Darshan Kaur, mother, said “ their son was never involved in any criminal activity, which could be verified from the local police.Jwala Singh last week filed a petition in court alleging that three policemen from Phase VIII police station in Kharar ganged up with three villagers and beat and assaulted him:
It may be recalled that the police had killed two alleged kidnappers in an encounter near Defence road here on the night of September 21. In the alleged kidnapping episode, one Arun Masih was also killed, while Ashwani Kumar was arrested. Three alleged accomplices of the gang managed to escape as alleged by the police....
Levelling serious allegations against the police for killing Jaggi [Joginder Singh] and Arun Masih, they said since the body of Arun Masih was buried in the graveyard the story of false encounter could be easily determined if the post-mortem of Arun Masih was ordered again by a board of doctors.
They alleged that both victims were first overpowered and then killed in a false encounter.
According to the petition filed by Jwala Singh under Sections 323, 447, 452, 506 and 34 of the IPC, he was allegedly “beaten up and abused” by Paramvir Singh, Ajmer Kaur and Gurmail singh on September 19 at his residence. He informed the court that he had filed a civil writ petition against these three persons in a property dispute and they, along with the police, were trying to pressurise him into taking back the case...In other news, the Chandigarh police have filed a case of criminal intimidation against two unidentified armed Punjab police personnel for threatening a local businessman's son:
He further alleged that after he was beaten up by the three persons, they were joined by the two policemen who took him to the Phase VIII police station in Mohali and beat him up there along with another police officer. He was made to sign blank papers, he alleged adding that he was then involved in a false case before being let off on bail the next day.
Sanjeet [Randhawa] was taken out of his car by the two armed Punjab PoliceThe police promised to identify the policemen in a few days; no further update has been reported.
personnel who showed him their AK-47 rifles and reportedly said: ‘‘You stop
bothering our son, or you have seen these AK-47s. You would be in trouble.’’
Monday, September 26, 2005
August 22, 2005- After speaking with DEAN KOH at Yale Law School, we had a long and rich conversation with KENJI YOSHINO (pictured), Deputy Dean of Intellectual Life and Professor of Law. I first met him on Yale Law’s admit day, when we had a small group discussion about law and discrimination. We picked up the discussion today and delved deeply into assimilation, discrimination, and covering.
Since revolutionary times, Professor Yoshino began, the magic of assimilation has been part of the American dream: that if you assimilate, you will be able to escape discrimination. But since the 1960s, people began to see the dark underbelly of assimilation: that pressuring people to assimilate and hide parts of their authentic identities is a form of discrimination called covering.
To cover, he explained, is to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream. When racial minorities are pressurd to 'act white', women to downplay their child-care responsibilities at work, gays not to 'flaunt' their homosexuality, they are covering. The law no longer allows categorical prohibitions against groups based on race, class, or sex. But it does not extend far enough to protect people who choose not to lose authentic parts of themselves by conforming.
The assimilation ideal was already gaining strength in recent American consciousness. Then 9/11 sealed the pressure on particular groups of Americans to cover: to lose their Arabic, drop their veil, or remove their turban. The law continues to enforce this assimilation: it still does not allow a workplace to discriminate against Sikhs categorically, but it will allow a workplace to discriminate against Sikhs with turbans. The law still does not protect those who maintain parts of their identity that they could change.
Attorney AMARDEEP SINGH of the Sikh Coalition spends all his time fighting precisely these battles for recognition. For example, the law was not set up to protect KEVIN HARRINGTON (below right) who was asked to remove his turban after working as a train operator for the MTA for twenty-three years. Or AMRIC SINGH RATHOUR (below left) who faced years of litigation in order to wear his turban in the NYPD.
Professor Yoshino proposes that we work toward a pluralistic society that removes the legal and cultural pressure to cover. Perhaps the most appealing part of Professor Yoshino's argument for pluralism is that it applies to everyone, because all of us cover. Each of us feels pressured at one time or another to hide parts of our identities that are outside of "the mainstream." What is the mainstream? The mainstream is a myth, he explained. Even if you are a straight, white male, you may still be obese, poor, depressed, or insecure about a part of yourself. Each of us has our own struggle for authenticity and recognition. This is precisely why all of us would benefit from the expansion of civil rights and a culture that embraces difference.
After our interview, Professor Yoshino and I (he's the one on the right) discussed his upcoming book, Covering: the Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights, available early next year. Our conversation made me eager to start law school next year-- it had the same affect on the rest of our crew who were all engaged in the discussion:
After a long day at Yale, the film crew traveled back to New York City for one final interview... More to come. Join us!
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]
Friday, September 23, 2005
Dean of Yale Law School
August 22, 2005-- Today we continued our production travels on the road with a trip to Yale Law School , where we interviewed the Dean of Yale Law School, HAROLD HONGJU KOH, a champion of human and civil rights. I first met Dean Koh at Yale Law School's admit day this spring, and after hearing him speak, I was certain of two things: that I wanted to study at YLS next year and that this documentary film needed his voice. He offered a larger perspective on the shift in law and politics in post-9/11 America.
Dean Koh described three different reactions after September 11. The first was anger and grief as someone with friends who were killed in the Twin Towers. The second was concern as a human rights lawyer: “I knew that in times of terrorism, or claimed terrorism, that human rights tend to be suppressed. It happens in Uzbekistan, in Indonesia, in Russia. Behind a veil of terrorism or anti-terrorist activities, governments engage in repressive human rights activities.
His third reaction was as a child of immigrants. “I remembered that the Japanese internment took place against American citizens and that the people who condoned it were people like Earl Warren and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. These are great Americans who nevertheless in this time of war adopted human rights violations as measures that were largely supported by the American people and the US Supreme Court.
These reactions made Dean Koh worry about law in post-9/11 America. “When we’re at war, people forget about law. But the structure of law was created precisely so that we would have other tools to turn to in a time of crisis, not just war.”
Dean Koh identified three new problems: the use of sweeping executive powers without checks and balances, the power of government to spy on its citizens, and the creation of pockets of the world now deemed outside the scope of human rights.
"To be honest, our system was working pretty well. We didn’t need radical solutions. The laws that were in place were working to combat anti-terrorist activities. There was no reason to go outside criminal law."
In response to racial profiling, he answered, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all people have certain inalienable rights, including life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And its not up to some people to give up other people rights. Everyone has to give up their rights themselves. If people don’t want to give up their rights, it doesn’t matter that a legislator tries to demand that they do. That’s the magic of our constitutional system. There are more enduring principles, than just the latest crisis. In every generation, there’s going to be some crisis.
"I remember that as a young boy I used to come into the airport with my father from Asia. He was not a US citizen; he was a permanent resident. Since I was a citizen, we would go into different lines. Sometimes it would take hours before he would get out of his line. And my brother and I would be waiting on the other side. This is the image of families split up because of suspicion brought upon a group of people... I have many former friends at the state department who told me that suddenly after 9/11, their job was keeping people out of America who were exactly like themselves one generation earlier.
"I think we need to consider a very basic notion: you cannot kill all the terrorists. You have to plant the ideas and principles that are going to defeat the ideas of terrorism in the marketplace of ideas. That means America has to stand up for its best principles and not stoop to the level of the terrorists. What that means in this environment is that the US has to preach the values of democracy and human rights and practice them. "
My final question to Dean Koh: what makes him hopeful?
"While I'm the dean of a law school, I’m also an Asian American. There was a time when there was a yellow peril. Asians were inherently suspect and now it turns out that Asians can be loyal American citizens. They can be deans of leading law schools. I think it’s not a bad idea for people who were in that situation fifty years earlier to say, Let’s stop."
Stay tuned for the conversation we had next with Yale Law Professor KENJI YOSHINO. In the mean time, we welcome support for our film project.
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
FX series "30 Days" to be Honored by Muslim Group
Morgan Spurlock, best-known for his documentary film, "Super Size Me," is receiving praise for “30 Days,” his series on the FX network [see previous posts here and here]. Indeed, the Muslim Public Affairs Council "plans to present one of its 14th annual Media Awards to Spurlock and FX for the episode of '30 Days' called 'Muslims and America,'" in which Dave Stacy, a Christian, spent 30 days living with a Muslim family.
Stacy noted after completing the 30 days:
I have a whole new appreciation for what it’s like to be discriminated against.... A lot of Americans have a stronger sense of nationalism than we do even our own faith.... We’re not as tolerant as we should be.... You can’t stereotype one and a half billion people, or even 500 people, for the actions of five.”
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Massachusetts Governor: Mosques Should be Wiretapped
In a speech delivered last week, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney asked:
“How about people in settings, mosques for instance, that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror? Are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping? Are we following what's going on? Are we seeing who's coming in? Are we seeing who's coming out? Are we eavesdropping, carrying out surveillance on those individuals from places that sponsor domestic terror?” As a result, several Muslim organizations, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and others, are calling on Governor Romney to apologize. In a letter urging the Governor to retract his comments, these organizations argued, “Your willingness to profile and scapegoat an entire community based on religious affiliation only serves to erode trust and increase fear.” The state's ADC chair added, "When you do blanket surveillance without specific intelligence, then the whole community becomes suspect."
Governor Romney, however, remained defiant and refused to apologize: “When it comes to protecting our citizens, there is no place for political correctness.” He continued:
Most mosques are teaching doctrines of love and consideration, but there have been places of extremism where certain teachers have been identified as having been involved in or led to terrorist attacks. Let's not pretend that's not the case.The National Review Online's Andrew C. McCarthy defended Governor Romney, stating that he simply "told the truth" and that "we should be giving him a medal."
Monday, September 19, 2005
DNSI's Valarie Kaur in the News
The East Valley Tribune (Arizona), contains this article on Balbir Singh Sodhi's family four years after Mr Sodhi's tragic death. The article also profiles Valarie Kaur, DNSI's co-founder and co-director, who recently sat down with the Sodhi family:
A feature-length documentary due out early next year examines why some Americans became so violent and aggressive against Sikhs and other groups after Sept. 11. It tells the stories of the people changed forever by that violence, including Balbir Singh Sodhi’s family.
To the film’s creator Valarie Kaur, "Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath" is essentially the story of two young adults on the most important journey of their lives.
That journey started as Kaur sat in her bedroom for three days after learning of Sodhi’s Sept. 15, 2001, murder. Kaur was 20 then and a student at Stanford University. At the time, she was preparing to take the fall quarter off, fly to Punjab, India, and document oral histories with her cousin Sunny Gill through a grant. But when the terrorist attacks happened, they canceled the trip. At the same time, Kaur, a third-generation Sikh who grew up in California, was receiving e-mails on a Sikh
mailing list. Sikhs were getting chased and beaten across the country, the e-mails said.
Then Sodhi was killed. She learned about it on TV, then by phone calls from her family. Sodhi was a friend of Kaur’s family. It knocked her flat. "I really was just kind of paralyzed," Kaur said. "I was in my pajamas for three days. I just avoided the television for three days."
For those days, she thought hard about what came next. What would she do? Then, her grandfather’s words in Punjabi came to her: Naam Daan Isnaan. Or, loosely translated: In order to connect to God and yourself, you must give of yourself. You must act. "I just realized I couldn’t stay in that black-and-white world. I had to face the grayness outside," Kaur said.
She rewrote her grant proposal and hit the road with Gill at her side as cameraman. Neither had any film experience, but they wanted to document the violence. He who holds the camera, holds the power, Kaur said.
For the next four months, Kaur and Gill drove from northern California to Mesa to New York and Washington D.C. to document the aftermath of Sept. 11 in the Sikh, Muslim and Arab American communities. There were endless stories to tell and the two told many, logging 100 hours of footage talking to politicians, lawyers, scholars and the victims of hate crimes.
At the end of the four months, Kaur finally traveled to India. But this time, it was to talk to Sodhi’s widow. With all Kaur had learned on her trip, of countless crimes against Sikhs in the U.S., she expected the widow to be full of anger toward Americans, the same anger Kaur started to feel along her journey.
But the still-grieving widow wasn’t angry. She had only this to say to Americans: "Thank you. Thank you for taking my husband into your hearts. The action of one man can’t overshadow that...."
Rana Sodhi said the solution is education. He tries to do some of it himself. He has gone to the Mesa classrooms of all three of his children to explain to other students what it means to be Sikh, that they don’t cut their hair and that’s why they wear a urban.
He’s grateful Kaur is making "Divided We Fall." He and his family have given several interviews. And despite the occasional problems at the store or around town, Sodhi said most people in the Valley have rallied around his family and welcomed the Sikh community after Sept. 11.
"I think our family loves this country and loves, in this country, people," Sodhi said. "And we’ve had so much love received from people. "But we have some people that don’t understand the value of this country. And if everyone took the opportunity to understand each other and help each other, then that makes things better."
The footage Kaur and Gill shot on the road was pretty raw, Kaur said. At the end of the four-month journey, she edited it down to a short and showed it around North America, at colleges and film festivals.
At one such festival, she met Sharat Raju, a director who won awards for a fictional short film about Sikhs after Sept. 11. Raju and Kaur decided to make Kaur’s footage into a feature-length film. Raju’s team got Kaur to go on the road again this year to re-interview all the people she spoke with the first time. Both sets of footage are being combined in Los Angeles, Kaur said, but the crew still needs financial help to finish on time.
Kaur said the journey and these stories have changed her life. She is now a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School and occasionally speaks across the country about her experience. "The whirlwind came when I was paralyzed by fear," Kaur said of mayhem in her fourmonth trip. "It swept me up and it hasn’t let go."
9/11 Anniversary Marked with Call for Racial Profiling
"I want all Arabs to be stripped naked and cavity-searched if they get within 100 yards of an airport," argues Jillian Bandes in The Daily Tar Heel. Bandes notes:
You can debate a lot of things about post-9/11 foreign policy, but one thing you can’t debate is that taking out terrorists — or blatant human-rights violators — is a good thing.
You also can’t debate that of the 19 hijackers on those planes, all 19 were Arab.
And you can’t debate that while most Arabs are not terrorists, sadly, most terrorists are indeed Arab.
Given this combination, I want some kind of security.
Done in a professional, conscientious manner, racial profiling is more likely to get the bad guys than accosting my 12-year-old pipsqueak of a brother on his way to summer camp.
Sure, while terrorism should be eliminated, racial profiling is not the answer. The 19 9/11 hijackers were Arab, however relying on a specific profile is not only difficult -- if not impossible -- to develop or implement with any reliable consistency (e.g., the shooting death of a Brazillian by British police, or the murder of Sikh Balbir Singh Sodhi by an American "patriot"), but it will invite the terrorist masterminds to recruit individuals who defy that profile (e.g., White women, Asian men, etc.). A prominent judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit privately agreed with me on the latter point.
Moreover, we should not forget that terrorists aren't all Arab (and Bandes offers no support for her conclusion that "most" are Arab), as the Washington Post's Colbert King noted:
· White male Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people, including 19 children, and damaged 220 buildings.
· White male Eric Rudolph, whose remote-controlled bomb killed a woman and an off-duty police officer at a clinic, whose Olympic Park pipe bomb killed a woman and injured more than 100, and whose bombs hit a gay club and woman's clinic.
· White male Dennis Rader, the "bind, torture, kill" (BTK) serial killer who terrorized Wichita for 31 years.
· D.C.-born and Silver Spring-raised white male John Walker Lindh, who converted to Islam and was captured in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban.
· The IRA bombers who killed and wounded hundreds; the neo-fascist bombers who killed 80 people and injured nearly 300 in Bologna, Italy; and the truck bombings in Colombia by Pedro Escobar's gang.
Finally, a polite deprivation of rights and gracious deviation from bedrock American principles of individualized suspicion and equality under the law does not excuse or remove the noxious quality and effects of the practice.
[Bandes was fired after writing this column for an apparent lack of journalistic professionalism.]
[Thanks to Abhi of Sepia Mutiny for the tip.]
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Four Years Ago Today
Four years ago today, BALBIR SINGH SODHI was murdered in front of his gas station in Mesa, Arizona. His murderer Frank Roque yelled upon arrest, “I am a patriot.” Sodhi (pictured) was the first person of as many as nineteen people killed in the thousands of hate crimes that followed 9/11.
This summer, I have traveled across the country to meet with families in targeted communities to find out how much has changed. Although numbers have fallen, there are continued reports of vandalism, beatings, and shootings. Perhaps most troubling is the way that subtle prejudices have become a daily part of the lives of millions of Americans, including thousands of Sikh Americans. Many of my interviewees talked about the stares, the avoidance, the name-calling they encounter everyday they walk their city streets, in the subway, the workplace, the schoolyard. Many children face constant teasing at schools. DAMAN SODHI, nephew of Balbir Singh Sodhi, notices the stares he gets at school.
The scholars, lawyers, and legislators I met this summer offered diverse views on how to combat this prejudice. We can pass legislation that documents and condemns hate crimes and protects targeted minorities. We can integrate educational materials into our schools, and raise our representation in the mainstream media. (Pictured is a cartoon remembering Sodhi.) Most importantly, we can participate as individuals in the larger American community and tell each other our stories. In this culture of snapshots and sound-bytes, we are starved for stories, real stories, personal authentic voices that lay claim to who we are as Americans.
When the widow of Balbir Singh Sodhi (pictured) told me about the support she found when she went to Phoenix for her husband’s funeral, it gave me great hope in the power of storytelling as a medium for recognition and togetherness. People came out in the thousands for her husband’s memorial. I came to look at Phoenix as a shining example.
But this summer, when I visited Phoenix again, I found a different story. There were more stories of hate violence. RANA SODHI (pictured below) the brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi, was verbally assaulted in Phoenix just after the London bombings. How do I reconcile this?
The caring and compassion of the Phoenix community upon the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi is a testament to what is possible. It is possible to live in a world where we recognize one another as human beings, embrace one another’s differences, and stand with one another in times of crisis. And Phoenix will always be a place in my memory where this happened.
But we are up against powerful forces. As long as unspeakable violence takes place in both acts of terrorism and an unending war on terror, we will see the face of the enemy held up in our national consciousness. And it will be my face. It will be Balbir Singh Sodhi’s face. It will be the faces of millions of Americans. This is why in the very place that held the most hope for me, the place where Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed, things have not really changed. And this is why it is important now more than ever to share our faces and voices in telling our stories— so that we can draw upon what happened in Phoenix as a testament to what we can make possible again today.
Pictured: Friends, family, and crew in Phoenix working together to raise up our stories in this film. We invite you to join our team.
[This entry is cross-posted at "Into the Whirlwind."]
9/11 backlash against Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs still prevalent in Australia
On September 11, 2005 the Australian Associated Press reported, "The world changed on September 11, 2001. For Muslims and Arabs in Australia, it changed for the worse. People started abusing them in the street, physically assaulting them, sexually assaulting them. The media vilified them and they faced discrimination and harassment. Four years after hijacked airliners destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and killed more than 3,000 people, the hatred continues, according to a report published by the Community Relations Commission (CRC) for a Multicultural NSW. The report's author, Tanja Dreher, said the events of September 11 seemed to compound existing tensions and prejudices in Australia. Arabs and Muslims in Australia were physically and verbally abused and made to feel they were not welcome in the months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, her report says. And the fear and insecurity continues to impact on those communities, it says."
Read the full article here.
Read more articles and access archives on the subjects of In the Wake of September 11 and Hate Crimes and Violence at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.
Rebuilt Canadian Hindu temple a "symbol against hate"
On Sept. 10, 2005, the Indo Asian News Service reported, "A [Hindu] temple in the Canadian province of British Columbia that was destroyed in hate crimes following the 9/11 terror bombings in the US has been rebuilt and will be inaugurated Sunday - exactly four years later. Called Project Elimination of Hate Crime, the temple located in Hamilton, will be inaugurated at a public function. The temple, destroyed on Sep 15, 2001, has become known as the Canadian Ground Zero and received donations from across the globe, the South Asian Observer newspaper here reported. Multi-faith groups from Hamilton and the surroundings joined hands to rebuild the temple and eliminate hate crimes from the face of the world. The project also initiated programmes to heal victims of such crimes."
To read the full article on NewKerala.com, click here
Read more articles and access archives on the subjects of In the Wake of September 11 and Hate Crimes and Violence at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.
Sikhs demand race-hate protection
On the fourth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Sikh Federation (UK) urged the government to do more to protect Sikhs from hate crimes after 9/11 and the July 7, 2005, London bombings. The Sikh Federation called for greater legal protection at a conference held this past weekend, and which wsa attended by approximately 10,000 people.
The group's chairman, Bhai Amrik Singh, noted that Sikhs were "the prime target of hate crimes as the largest and most visible ethnic minority." However, the "government has at best been paying lip service to Sikhs since 9/11, when we were first targeted by what many termed 'mistaken identity'."
Singh was of the opinion that the government has perhaps failed to vocally condemn hate crimes against Sikhs because of the unintended implication that attacks against Muslims would be acceptable. [The wisdom and efficacy in singling out a single group for protection, where this may expose the remaining ethnic minorities, specifically Muslims, is discussed at length here at Sepia Mutiny.]
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
When the Aftermath Began
Today we filmed the streets and skyline of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and finally we returned to Ground Zero. There we met AMRIK CHAWLA (pictured), a Brooklyn-raised Sikh American, who first told me his story in December 2001. Amrik was probably the very first victim of a hate crime after 9/11. It happened only minutes after the second plane hit the Towers.
That Tuesday morning, Amrik was in a cab three blocks south of the Towers, on his way to work when traffic stopped. He saw the family in the car next to him looking up at the sky, and Amrik followed their eyes to see the north tower on fire. He got out of the cab. There was a lamp post broken in half, and there embedded into the cement, a large tire wheel. It took him a few seconds to realize that this was the tire of an airplane. He heard a loud noise and looked up to see an airplane overhead.
"The plane is loud and and moving so fast, and I follow it right into the building. It’s like the building just sucked up the plane. There’s a huge explosion and fire and smoke on the other side. And the debris goes everywhere. There’s already paper falling, because the wind blows in all directions. With papers falling everywhere, you see pieces of things burning in the air coming out of the building.
"I start running from the street to get underneath the scaffolding, and the debris is falling. I wait for the debris to fall. I wait to hear the noise all fall down. There’s a lady crawling on her hands and knees, trying to get underneath the scaffolding, her legs bloodied up to her knees. I pull her underneath the scaffolding, and help her on her feet. I’m thinking, 'Head east, head south. Get off the island, get off the island.' I walk east. Everyone’s in a walk-sprint, like a walking jog, because there are masses of people, and you can’t run.
"I turn south onto Broadway. Now I’m south of the World Trade Center, going east. Broadway comes to a fork with another street. I’m crossing on the north side of the triangle to the next street, and I see two guys coming the opposite way, crossing from the west side of the street. They point at me.
"The first guy says, 'Hey, you better take off that f-- turban!' The second guy says, 'You terrorist, you better take off that f-- turban!' I look at them, ignore them, and continue walking south. A third guy trailing behind them yells, “Hey you f-- terrorist!” I turn left down the street and keep walking south. I look behind me and see them following fast. I break out into a run..."
Amrik ran for his life the second time in fifteen minutes. He escaped into a subway and made it out alive. This hate incident was the first of thousands that took place in the days and weeks and months and years that followed.
Today, Amrik told me that the trauma of that day has subsided. Immediately afterward, he would dream about it and wake up remembering it. But now he focuses more on what that event revealed about America's relations with the rest of the world, and Americans' relations with each other.
"9/11 made us understand that from a national security standopoint, we underestimated the potential of our threat, and from a social and civil standpoint, how much we need to learn about each other... Still when I walk down the street everyday, inevitably somebody is staring. They want to make a comment, it’s just on their lips. People look at you. Even here in New York, it's anywhere you go, whether it's in a bar for a drink, a restaurant to eat, or on the path train. You know they want to say something. Sometimes it's 'Aren't you a Sikh?' and sometimes, 'Hey towel-head.'"
Amrik is married now. He has a good job and lives in Hoboken. He is happy, and this was a contrast from our last meeting in December 2001. It was good for me to see this- hopeful. (In the picture, Sharat and Amrik are 'beaming' their numbers to each other over fancy phones. It did not work of course.)
An interesting side note: I interviewed Amrik at the same time as pulitzer-prize winning author DALE MAHARIDGE who was working on a book about the backlash. That winter, Dale became my writing professor at Stanford University, where we continued to share notes about our journeys. Last year, Dale released his compelling and textured book HOMELAND (pictured), which features Amrik's story.
I have always been intrigued by what happened to Amrik. The men chased him before they even had a chance to turn on a television set. How is it that turban equaled terrorist to them even before the news showed the face of Osama bin Laden? And why was Amrik's story never covered by any major news outlets?
We went to the Columbia School of Journalism to discuss these issues concerning the role of the media. Professor JOSHUA FRIEDMAN (pictured) explained that Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, and anyone else who looks like them have often been derogated as terrorists since the Iran Hostage Crisis. Even after the Oklahoma City bombing, he was sent to do stories about terrorism but instead discovered attacks on South Asian Americans. He then reflected on why Amrik’s story and thousands others after September 11, 2001 never made the nightly news.
“It’s not like a conscious decision was made to use Sikhs as scapegoats. It was a lot of scared people running enterprises that had economic problems. Ads were down, the economy was not good, newspapers were doing terrible, and there was tremendous pressure on the press to be very patriotic. Newspapers were flooded with emails of complaints when they ran any stories that attempted to explain what might have motivated the terrorists or that raised the question about the rightness of our behavior. The bottom line is profit. Hate crimes were probably not what their readership wanted to hear. I’m afraid that attacks on minorities are just not something that appeals to the majority.”
Professor Friedman asked me whether there were any Sikh reporters in major newsrooms who could have brought up the story. I didn’t know. He explaind how minority communities could better shape how the media represents them with a proactive approach.
“The media is not a sort of high class of priests in the ivory tower; they’re Americans like everyone else, hopefully more sophisticated. Minority communities need to invite their local reporters into the temples and homes to build relationships that show them who they are.”
After a day of interviews, we met up with good friends for a night in the city. When the traveling and scheduling and interviewing and storytelling becomes heavy and difficult, the company of friends is a sanctuary. It also gives us the opportunity to be very silly, as demonstrated by Don, our first camera assistant (pictured). Thanks to RICK FREEMAN, JEFF ELRIDGE, JOHN LEROI, and DAVE DENHERDER for joining us tonight. And to my lovely friends SHANNON MOORE-LANGSTON, whose laughter I always miss, and BRYNN SAITO, whose friendship saves me, over and over again.
We invite you to help us make this film. Every contribution, large and small, goes a very long way.
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]
September 11-related Articles
The fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has forced Americans to reflect on that horrible tragedy, such as the images of the World Trade Center and where one was when one first heard about the terrorist acts. September 11, 2005, also presented Americans and the rest of the world with an opportunity to re-examine the conditions facing Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, and South Asians since that fateful fall morning. This post looks at two of the articles discussing this condition and three incidents that took place on or around the anniversary:
Sept. 11 has forced local Muslims to defend their religion as one of peace: "'9/11 brought about a major change for a lot of Muslims,' said Ghada Osman, an assistant professor at San Diego State University and director of its Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies. 'It somehow extenuated both identities. It made it much clearer that they are part of American society and yet at the same time put them on the spot to explain their religion.'"
Terrorists 'hijacked the Muslim faith' on 9/11: The terrorists, who hijacked the planes before using them as human bombs to kill nearly 3,000 people, did not just attack the freedom of the Western world on that day. They also made the lives of Asian people across the globe hell.
Vandals hit Muslim center Sept. 11: Standing near a broken window, Ahmed Elmalky said the vandalism "broke his heart." any Muslims have expressed concern after a Sept. 11 break-in at the Islamic Center of Irving.
Firefighter charged with assault following 9-11 memorial: A firefighter who had just attended a memorial service for a comrade killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack was charged with assaulting an immigrant worker who claimed his attacker told him he looked "like he's al-Qaida," authorities said.
Two Muslims offloaded from plane as nervous passengers refuse to fly: The Excel Airways flight from Larnaca to Manchester was due to leave Cyprus on Sunday - the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks - but was cancelled after passengers refused to fly amid fears they were being targeted by bombers. The scare began when two Muslim men, believed to be British of Pakistani origin, boarded the flight.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Islamic Center Attacked on 9/11 Anniversary
On September 13, 2005 WFAA - TV (Dallas, Texas) reported, "Many Muslims have expressed concern after a Sept. 11 break-in at the Islamic Center of Irving. On Sunday, someone smashed the windows of portable classrooms used by students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. The crime came at the end of two weeks of the center donating not just money, but shipping several trucks of food, supplies and medicine after Hurricane Katrina... Police said while the suspects did leave prints and blood, nothing was missing or taken. To the people who worship and gather at the Islamic Center of Irving, the vandalism was disheartening and disappointing... With regard to this being a hate crime, police said that there isn't any proof of that yet. However, many in the Muslim community said the date and location the vandals chose seemed more than a coincidence."
Read more articles and access archives on the subjects of In the Wake of September 11 and Hate Crimes and Violence at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.
Breaking News: John Roberts on Civil Liberties in Wartime
John G. Roberts [pictured], testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing to become the Chief Justice of the United States, was asked by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) about the state of civil liberties and individual rights during times of war. The exchange, as reported by the Washington Post, is as follows:
The hearings may be viewed live at c-span.org, among other places.
LEAHY: In his book, "All the Laws But One," Chief Justice Rehnquist, the late chief justice, concluded with this sentence, "The laws will not be silent in time of war but they'll speak with a somewhat different voice."
He offers a somewhat different voice, of course -- the Supreme Court decision, an infamous decision, a horrible decision in my estimation, Korematsu. As we know, in that case, the court upheld the internment of Japanese-Americans in detention camps, not because of anything they had done, not because of any evidence that they were at all disloyal to the United States, but solely based on their race, as sometimes this country has legislated very, very cruelly and very wrongly solely on the question of race.
Now, the Korematsu majority's failure to uphold the Bill of Rights I believe is one of the greatest failures in the court's history.
Now, we can't -- I don't believe -- have a Supreme Court that would continue the failings of Korematsu, especially when we're engaged on a war on terror that could last throughout our lifetime; probably will.
We'll always face -- we'll always -- this country, all the Western world, all democracies will face terrorist attacks, whether internal, as we had in Oklahoma City, or external at 9/11.
I just want to make sure you're not going to be a Korematsu justice....
ROBERTS: I read the chief's book that you quoted from. And for someone who sits on the court that I sit on now, we famously look back to one of the first cases decided in the D.C. Circuit. It was the Aaron Burr trial. And if anything's a model... it's, sort of, a motto of our court, an opinion that was written out of that, in which the judge explained that it was our obligation to calmly poise the scales of justice in dangerous times as well as calm times -- that's a paraphrase.
But the phrase, "calmly poise the scales of justice" is, if anything, the motto of the court on which I now sit.
And that would be the guiding principle for me, whether I'm back on that court or different one, because some factors may be different, the issues may be different, the demands may be different, but the Bill of Rights remains the same. And the obligation of the court to protect those basic liberties in times of peace and in times of war, in times of stress and in times of calm, that doesn't change.
"Stars, Stripes, Crescent: A reassuring portrait of America's Muslims"
A "featured article" on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page addressed what has been on the minds of many Americans since the July 7, 2005, London bombings: if "homegrown terrorists" can strike London, then is it possible or likely that American-born Muslim youths will attack the United States?
The authors of the article, Bret Stephens and Joseph Rago, argue that there are five differences between American Muslims and British Muslims that should assuage American concerns that "homegrown terrorism" will strike the United States. (To clarify, American-born terrorists have attacked the U.S. before, e.g., Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph. Therefore, the "homegrown terrorism" that is at issue here is of the Muslim variety only.):
- Muslim Americans, like Arab-Americans, have fared well [economically] in the U.S.;
- [T]he overwhelming majority of Muslims arrived here legally, and many of those who didn't were deported after Sept. 11, 2001;
- 21% of Muslim Americans intermarry.... And because 64% of Muslim Americans are foreign born, there is reason to expect that figure to grow among second and third generations;
- [T]he average mosque-goer is 34 years old, married with children, has at least a bachelor's degree, and earns about $74,000 a year. If this is representative of Muslim Americans as a whole, it suggests that the religiously committed among them hardly fit the profile of the alienated, angry young Muslim men so common today in Europe; and
- Muslim Americans benefit from leaders who, despite some notable exceptions, are generally more responsible than Muslim leaders in Britain and Europe.
The authors note, in conclusion, that "if it can be said that 'it takes a village' to make a terrorist, the U.S. enjoys a measure of safety that our European allies do not. It is a blessing we will continue to enjoy as long as we remain an upwardly mobile, assimilating--and watchful--society."
A few quick comments regarding these five differences. First, as to point 2, illegal status isn't determinative of whether a person will commit an act of terrorism against the United States (again, e.g., Timothy McVeigh - a natural born citizen). As to point 3, the suggestion seems to be that if more Muslims marry people of other faiths, that they are less willing to be terrorists and conversely that we should be more concerned if Muslims marry eachother. This is pretty offensive on its face. As to point 4, one of the 7/7 bombers had a newborn child, which cuts against the argument that a stable family with something or someone to live for is less likely to end his life through a suicide bombing.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Belgium Bans Turbans in Schools (Updated)
France is not the only state that has banned turbans from being worn in public schools. Belgium has reportedly followed suit by banning "the religious symbols of the Sikhs in their educational institutes."
Meanwhile, a proposal in Australia "to ban Muslim girls from wearing traditional headscarves in state schools has been rejected by Prime Minister John Howard and all the main political parties in Victoria." PM Howard was quoted as saying that, "If you ban a headscarf you might, for consistency's sake, have to ban a … turban." An official in opposition to the proposal said, "We're at war with terror, not young girls wearing scarves or (people wearing) crucifixes or skull caps." A member of parliament also noted, "I'm delighted that we are living in a country where religious tolerance is part of our creed and I don't think there's any enthusiasm for the views of Mrs Bishop or Ms Panopoulos on this matter in the Coalition party room."
UPDATE: Two Sikh students in France have violated the ban on conspicuous articles of faith in public schools, one has been excluded and the another has been "forced to wear a small cloth instead."
Gurinder Singh, 17, was barred from class in a Paris suburb because he refused to remove the keski, or under-turban, that his school let him wear last year, said Kudrat Singh of the United Sikhs pressure group.
Hardeep Singh, 13, was only allowed into class when he agreed to wear a small cloth over the top-knot of his uncut hair.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Returning to Ground Zero
It is the eve of the fourth anniversary of September 11, the event that changed the world for many people and shifted the entire course of my life. In the aftermath of 9/11, I journeyed across America with my camera
, documenting stories of hate violence against minority communities, including my own. Now four years later, I am a graduate student making a feature film about my journey
. Still consumed by these stories and their questions, I traveled with my film crew to revisit Ground Zero.
I first visited Ground Zero in December 2001. I remember it well, the piles of rubble, the bent metal, the burning smell, the rain. And the people pressed up against police barricades, snapping pictures. I remember the nausea. Even then, retaliation was well under way.
I returned there today. The ruins are gone, the site is wiped clean. There are wide open spaces now, white sidewalks, almost sterile. It is the result of many patient and persistent human hands, clearing rubble, recovering control, reconstructing a new vision. There were still people, but now there is enough space for them to wander, to read the timeline mounted on the bars of the fence, to photograph in comfort.
I did not feel nauseous this time. I just felt blank, staring at the empty site, bewildered by what this event has done to us. What new war, what vast measures, and to what end. I could not comprehend it, so I thought of nothing.
But then I thought of the people I have met in the last four years, and there, filling the emptiness, appeared a mass of stories, a whirlwind of stories, hundreds of voices and faces
. They were all there, dazzling and devastating, and each laid claim to the meaning of September 11:
--------∞--------At Ground Zero
, a turbaned man gazes at the ruins. Minutes after running from the collapsing towers on 9/11, he was chased by men who called him a terrorist and ran for his life the second time that morning. He was the first of thousands of Americans who encountered hate violence after 9/11.
--------∞--------In a living room in Phoenix
, a young boy begins to cry when remembering his uncle who was killed on September 15. He was the first of an estimated 19 people killed in post-9/11 hate crimes.
--------∞--------At a Ramadan dinner in San Francisco
, a family sits quietly at the table. They are afraid to tell their story, but I know that their son is missing. He was one of 13,000 Muslim and Arab men deported or in deportation hearings for immigration violations since 9/11.
--------∞--------In an office in Washington, DC
, a law school professor tells me about his new client, an 18-year old boy who has been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay since 2001. He has been tortured. He is one of 520 boys and men still detained at Guantanamo Bay.
--------∞--------In a home in the SF Bay Area
, an Afghan refugee woman sits beside me and cries into her hands. During battle with the Taliban, a bomb fell on her home and killed her husband and son next to her. Her husband is another death in the war on terror, 3,000 civilians killed in Afghanistan and 24,665 civilians killed in Iraq.
--------∞--------At a Harvard Square cafe
, my friend tells me that two classmates from high school in Clovis, California have been killed in the war in Iraq. They are two of 1508 American soldiers killed in the war in Iraq.
--------∞--------On a street corner in San Francisco
, a stranger on the street tells me her story in tears. She has kidney disease and will die without healthcare. She blames our current government. She is black and poor. Her story
resonates with the plight of hundreds of thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina, largely black and poor, who were withheld from resources concentrated elsewhere.
All this violence still defies my comprehension, but I believe that there is redemption in hearing and retelling these stories. These people have endured TERRORISM, DISCRIMINATION, DETENTION, DISPLACEMENT, TORTURE
, and WAR
. Many of them live in ways invisible and unrecognizable to the public. Their suffering is not recognized, not dignified, not grievable.
But when they tell their stories — when the Afghan widow weeps beside me, when the turbaned Sikh boy wants his uncle back, when the black woman wonders why no one cares – they make me see them, recognize them and remember them.
Standing at Ground Zero, remembering each story, I began to see a common anguish. And I began to hear a common cry -- THAT IT COULD BE OTHERWISE
. We have the resources to build a state and society that does NOT
persecute minorities in times of war, that does NOT
allow the poor to suffer, that does NOT
engender more violence. It is possible to work toward this common vision.
On this four-year anniversary, we can retell and remember the stories of people who died on September 11, and
the people whose lives have been broken in its ongoing aftermath, and RESPOND
in ways that stop cycles of violence, in big steps and small gestures, starting now.My hope is that this film can be a small part of the solution.
(NOTE: If you have been following our production this summer, THANK YOU. More journal entries are coming soon from our final days in New York and Washington, DC... Stay tuned.)
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."
Friday, September 09, 2005
Third Annual Spinning Wheel Film Festival
The Spinning Wheel Film Festival presents films "by, about, and for Sikhs and the wider public." This year's festival, which will be held at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto, Canada from October 14-16, 2005, will feature a number of interesting films.
DNSI's own Valarie Kaur, as some of you may know, is traveling across the country working on her own film, "Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath," which is supported by the Sikh Film Foundation.
The Festival's site contains this description of "Divided We Fall":
A turbaned Sikh man was killed on September 15, 2001 by a man bent on eliminating anyone “Arab-looking.” The murderer screamed: “I am a patriot!” Similar stories of hate crimes swept across the nation in the aftermath of September 11. Armed with only a camera and a question, an American college student journeyed into the heart of a suffering nation in search of answers. She met people, some born and raised in America. Others who came seeking a better life and adopted a new land as their own home. All believed in the American dream. Captured on film are their stories – hundreds of them. Stories of sadness. Of unimaginable loss and fear. But hope, resilience, and love.I urge you to learn more about this film and attend the Festival.
Their stories were never before shared. Until now.
Two filmmakers. One camera.
Fourteen American cities. Four months on the road.
One hundred hours of footage.
And the question: why?
British Sikhs and Hindus More Vulnerable than Muslims?
Continuing our discussion of the experiences of British Sikhs and Hindus after the terrorist bombings of July 7, 2005, a series of articles are now stating that Sikhs and Hindus in Britain are "more vulnerable" to hate crimes than Muslims [please see e.g., here, here, and here].
While Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims have been targeted in part because of the failure of a hate crime perpetrator to ask or care about what religion the "brown" person actually is, it is surprising to read that Sikhs and Hindus are more vulnerable to hate than Muslims. That is, Sikhs perhaps may be thought of as more susceptible because of their distinctive use of the turban and the association of the turban with Islamic fundamentalists, such as bin Laden. However, the suggestion that Hindus are also more targeted than Muslims is a bit more troubling.
The suggestion comes after the following data was released:
Figures released by the Metropolitan Police revealed that from July 7, 2005 until August 10 there were 932 instances of faith hate crime against Indians(predominantly Hindus and Sikhs) as opposed to approximately 600 instances of faith hate crime against Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims.And now for the analysis:
"In June there were only three instances of faith hate crime against Hindus and Sikhs," said Ramesh Kallidai, secretary general of the Hindu Forum of Britain at the special meeting organised by the Hindu Forum of Britain and the Metropolitan Police Hindu Association.
It should be evident from an objective look at the figures and the spin from the Hindu Forum of Britain that the statement that Sikhs and Hindus are more vulnerable to hate crimes in Britain is bunk. Moreover, it should also be noted that this story has only been picked up by Indian news organizations, none wholly based in the U.K. or anywhere else outside of India for that matter. In fact, one of the sources of this article is the Press Trust of India.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
The Obligation of Sikhs and Hindus to Muslims After 7/7 and 9/11
On Monday, The Guardian (UK) featured an exceedingly fascinating article, written pseudonymously by Shivani Nagarajah, on British Sikhs and Hindus. Nagarajah's article, entitled "Mistaken Identity," addressed the difficulties facing British Sikhs and Hindus, and the attempt by some to separate themselves from British Muslims in order to avoid harassment and discrimination.
Nagarajah notes with respect to the backlash after the July 7, 2005, attacks that, "There's been a huge focus on the impact on Britain's Muslim community, but the plight of Britain's 560,000 Hindus and 340,000 Sikhs has been largely ignored." This despite the fact that the first reported hate crime was against a Sikh and there have been numerous other discriminatory incidents involving Sikhs and Hindus. Indeed, Dal Singh Dhesy, argues, "The turban-wearing Sikh community is under siege." Nagarajah notes that Dhesy "experiences name-calling and stares from white people on a daily basis, and describes other Sikhs facing physical attack and intimidation."
The explanation as to why Sikhs and Hindus are targeted, according to Nagarajah, is quite simple: "your average hate-crime perpetrator isn't going to stop and ask what religion you are before attacking you - or even care, for that matter, about such distinctions." Thus, Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims have all been subject to hate crimes and other discriminatory acts in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, seemingly because of their physical appearance and superficial resemblance to Muslims.
As a result of this apparent aesthetic similarity, Sikhs and Hindus have attempted to distinguish themselves from Muslims. For example, as Nagarajah describes, Sikhs are wearing stickers and t-shirts that read "Don't freak, I'm a Sikh." In addition, after being verbally abused, Ishvar Guruswamy, a Hindu, was told by his sister "to shave off his beard and wear a large crucifix so no one would mistake him for a Muslim." Also, Mahendra Dabhi stated of certain Hindu students: "They felt that if they didn't differentiate themselves, they would be at risk of social stigma."
The question becomes whether the intentional differentiation is morally justified. Tariq Modood, professor of sociology at Bristol University, believes that Sikhs and Hindus distancing themselves from Muslims is "selfish." According to Nagarajah, Sikhs themselves are divided as to the moral efficacy of drawing a line between the faiths: one reportedly said, "We need to think of ourselves first - let the Muslims take care of themselves," while another reportedly disagreed.
This debate is identical to the one that took place in the United States after September 11, 2001. After the terrorist attacks, some Sikhs in the United States, myself included, began to discuss how we should respond to the backlash and protect the Sikh community, as they were suffering the brunt of the backlash. Combating ignorance through education was, of course, of utmost importance. While we wished to inform others as to who Sikhs were and that the turban was a symbol of the Sikh faith, we ultimately did not want to send the message that, 'now that you know we are Sikhs, leave us alone,' and by implication 'going after Muslims is acceptable.' Thus, we settled on a two-pronged approach: the first was more of an isolationist one, namely to educate and inform others about Sikhs and Sikhism; the second was to submit a broad appeal for tolerance, encompassing not only Sikhs, but Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and anyone else who may be perceived as a "terrorist." This is not to say that this two-pronged position is morally superior to the one that only attempts to draw a thick line between Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims.
[This entry is cross-posted on "IntentBlog".]
Targeting the Turban
Today we drove into Richmond Hill, New York, to meet the three Sikh men Amardeep Singh at the Sikh Coalition told us about yesterday. The Sikh Coalition represents Rajinder Singh Khalsa, Kevin Harrington, and Amric Singh Rathour (pictured). Each case centers on the turban, the religious uniform for many Sikh men. Here are sketches of their three stories.
We met RAJINDER SINGH KHALSA (pictured) in front of his brother’s restaurant, where he told us what happened to him on July 11, 2004. On the street, several men accosted him and his brother. “Give me that dirty curtain,” they said.
“I tried to tell them that it’s not a dirty curtain, it’s a turban,” Rajinder Singh told us. “But another guy came and said, ‘Go back to your country.’ I said, ‘But we are American, where should we go?’ He thought that we were Iranian. So I told him, ‘We are not Iranian. We are not Muslim. We are Sikhs from India.’ He said, “Then go back to India.’
“Then they started beating my brother at once. I said, ‘Don’t do this; he’s innocent!’ They left him and everybody started beating me. They beat me and crushed my nose. They punched me in the nose, eyes, head, everywhere. They left me unconscious on the sidewalk. They threw my turban away.”
People on the street watched as the men beat Rajinder Singh unconscious and left him for dead in broad daylight. Nobody intervened. His brother ran to get the ambulance. Although witnesses reported five men taking part in the beating, the next day, the police charged only one man with assault. Rajinder Singh’s lawyer Amardeep Singh told us why the community protested:
“The community had suffered so many hate crimes without anyone being charged that the community just boiled over in rage. Only because of a spontaneous protest did the police re-open the investigation.”
Rajinder Singh Khalsa became the first to file a civil suit against his perpetrators. This is not the first time that he has stood up against injustice. Back in India, he fought the Indian government for human rights atrocities against the Sikh community after 1984 (pictured). He was tortured by the police. This is why he came to America in the first place.
We finished our interview in Rajinder Singh’s backyard, where he showed me pictures and newspaper clippings from his protest days in India. And his family served us tea and biscuits (pictured). This is when Amric Singh Rathour joined us.
AMRIC SINGH RATHOUR was born and raised in Queens, New York, and his father was one of the first Sikhs to settle in Richmond Hill, now a thriving Punjabi community in New York. In 2000, Amric joined the NYPD, but was subsequently fired for wearing his turban. In his quiet Queens accent, he told us his story.
“In 2000, I went to the police department, wanting to serve the city I was born and raised in. I passed the exams and they hired me. I quit my other job and paid money for the uniform. But then they told me to take my turban off, or they would fire me. They trapped me.
“I had always felt that this was my home. This is the greatest city in the world. But after getting fired, the discrimination really disturbed me. I took it to heart. I got really depressed. I stopped having a social life. You think that you’re not human. It may seem like nothing to someone who doesn’t understand believing in something, but when you’re judged like this, it really hurts.”
Amric decided to fight the NYPD. Amardeep Singh and the Sikh Coalition took up his case, pointing out the long history of Sikh service in the army and civil forces. And after 2 ½ years of litigation, they won. They won because of a court order, desipte pleas to meet Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD and to avoid going through the courts. Amric now wears his turban as a police officer on the streets of Manhattan.
“While I’m out there, directing traffic, people come up to me and shake my hand. It was a victory for our community. It feels really good.”
Next, we met KEVIN HARRINGTON, a tall American of Irish decent who converted to Sikhism in his youth. His case against the MTA had also made news this past year. In June 2004, after twenty-four years as a train operator for the Transit Authority, Kevin was asked to remove his turban. He told us his full story:
“In 1981, the Transit Authority called me to work for them as a bus cleaner. It was hard to find a job as a Sikh with a turban. Because if you are an American [converted] Sikh, people think you’re crazy. If you’re an Indian, they assume it’s heritage. But if you are a white American wearing a turban, they think you’re nuts. As a result, most American Sikhs are self-employed. But I took the job and became a train operator.
“On 9/11. I was operating a Number Four train, and we lost signal power when the first tower fell. That meant the train could not move more than twenty feet at a time without being stopped by the emergency breaking system… So I would recharge the train, move it twenty feet, it would stop again, and I would redo it. I evacuated the people on my train to the Wall Street station.”
Kevin was honored as a hero of 9/11. His passengers still come up to him and thank him for saving their life. In June of last year, the superintendent of the Number Four train approached him:
“He told me that because I wore a turban, I wasn’t allowed to work where the public could see me. I had to work in the yard. Or else I had to wear a MTA patch on my turban, if I didn't want to be fired. But to me, I felt that my turban was being used as a billboard.”
Kevin is still fighting the case with the help of the Sikh Coalition and Amardeep Singh, yet again. Several other turbaned Sikhs and Muslim women with veils have also been targeted by the MTA’s new policy.
In front of the Richmond Hill gurdwara, our three interviewees met for the first time (pictured above). Their conversation was fascinating. They talked about the NYPD compared to the MTA, the process of filing suits, and their gratitude for the Sikh Coalition. Amric pointed out that the three of them represented different parts of the Sikh community: Rajinder Singh the Indian-born Sikh, Amric Singh the American-born Sikh, and Kevin Harrington, the American who converted to Sikhism.
This was a very full day. And it went smoothly, because starting today, our crew grew to seven people. There were the usual suspects: Sharat Raju (director), Matt Blute (cinematographer), Don Presley (first camera), and myself. But now MARCUS CANO(pictured), our production coordinator, master of permits and transportation and back-up plans, has joined us on the road.
And so has TRACY WELLS (pictured), our astounding director of communications, who also juggles scheduling and hair design, not to mention female moral support for her frazzled executive producer. And DALE SAINI (pictured below), who volunteered to be our east coast production assistant and flew himself from Atlanta to join the madness. Each person has taken up the responsibilities that would be assigned to a small department on a bigger budget film. And they are doing it gracefully.
One more delicious fact: many religious traditions are now represented on our tiny crew: Sikh, Hindu, Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and the Church of Don (our first camera). For a movie that seeks to bridge divides, what could be more fitting than such an interfaith crew?
From left to right: Tracy Wells, Marcus Cano, Sharat Raju, Dale Saini, Matt Blute, Don Presley (and I'm taking the picture):
A special thank you to Gurpreet Singh, who fed us at their restaurant Tandoori Express, and to Rajinder Singh who fed us at his house (pictured below). And a big thank you to my aunt, Chitranjan Brar, for housing our crew while in New York!
Join our team and help us make this movie come true.
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind," and was initially posted on August 20, 2005.]