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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Radio Host Angers Sikhs by Disparaging Turban Comment

When Los Angeles right-wing talk radio host Al Rantel referred to a turbaned Sikh as wearing a "diaper" on his head last week, one local Indian American man decided that he'd had enough.

"If he does not correct himself, on the air, we're going to put pressure on him," Navraj Singh told India-West by phone Sept. 17. "I'm getting calls from around the country, and Sikh temples are collecting signatures," said Singh, adding that he was ready to lead a protest outside the radio station.

Rantel is a conservative host whose show airs on KABC 790AM every weekday in Los Angeles. During his Sept. 10 show, Rantel was discussing airport security, and said that if his own 80-year-old mother had to take off her shoes during a security screening, "... then why shouldn't a Sikh be required to take off the hat that looks like a diaper they wear on their heads?" recalled Singh.

Rantel's producer, Terri West, responded to an India-West reporter's list of questions with the brief comment, "Al says the discussion was taken out of context."

Singh describes himself as a semi-regular listener to the show, and says he himself is a conservative Republican.

In a strongly worded letter he sent to KABC Sept. 12, Singh challenged Rantel to an on-air debate. Rantel's team has not yet responded to him.

"I kind of like him, generally," said Singh of Rantel, "though I don't agree all the time. But I was astonished that he'd use a term like 'diaper.'"

Navraj Singh, 59, lives in Encino, Calif., and has been a solid member of the Indian American community for decades.

After a successful career as a decorated officer in the Indian Army, Singh immigrated to New York in 1974, and says he has faced discrimination as a turbaned Sikh in the United States. He says he was laughed at when he started a job as a door-to-door vacuum salesman that year (he later became the company's top seller, he said), and maintains that he was forced out of another successful sales job in 1979 because his boss was afraid of anti-Iran sentiment during the Iranian hostage crisis.

Singh opened India's Oven restaurant on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles in 1981; that restaurant was burned down in the 1992 riots, but he then opened another location in Brentwood, and later on opened the trendy Tantra restaurant in Silverlake, with his son R.J., and sold that restaurant around three months ago.

Singh is now preparing to open a hotel in Beverly Hills that he plans to call Sartaj, in honor of his other son, who died in March 2006 at the age of 24.

Al Rantel's Web site, www.alrantel.com, leaves no doubt that the career radio host leans to the far right in his political views. The site features endorsements of books by Ann Coulter and links to the Republican Party, the anti-illegal-immigration group the Minutemen Project, and an online poll asking "Who is worse for America: Ann Coulter, the Democratic Party, Cindy Sheehan or the Dixie Chicks?"

According to his official bio, "[Rantel] challenges listeners to think but does so with a humorous delivery. Al has created a dynamic and entertaining platform for his 35-54-year-old listeners and an open forum for lively discussion accompanied with a high dose of levity."

Singh sees no levity in Rantel's "diaper" comment.

"I'm grateful to God that I am a Sikh," he said. "Our religion is an open book. I want to tell Americans that we have to somehow maintain a nice tone when speaking to each other. Then we can understand each other better, and create a better world for all of us." [Link]

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