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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cherie Blair: my doubts about the Muslim veil

Cherie Blair has questioned whether the full-face veil restricted Muslim women from being "people in their own right".

The wife of the former Prime Minister said full veils, such as the niqab or burqa, could prevent a woman from expressing her personality.

Mrs Blair told Radio Four's Today programme: "I think we can get very hung up about women's clothes. The question is whether we honour people's religious beliefs or not. I am happy to honour people's religious beliefs, provided they are freely undertaken.

"Women covering their heads, women dressing modestly, I have no problem with at all. I think, however, that if you get to a stage where a woman is not able to express her personality because you can't see her face, then you do start to have to ask whether this is something that is actually acknowledging the woman's right to be a person in her own right." [Link]

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff

[I]n our post-9/11 world, we must continue to respect the civil rights of people everywhere, including the rights of Muslims right here in our own country, and that includes rejecting racial, ethnic and religious profiling, which is not only wrong in principle, but it doesn't work very well in practice.

By respecting individual and civil rights, we're not only making this a better country, but we're positioning ourselves to speak to people around the world who are seeking a real alternative to the pseudo-religious extremism that is being promoted by our enemies. [Link]


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Sikh's Turban Torn from His Head in Hate Assault

Coalition Confirms that Assailants are Being Charged with Hate Crimes

A Sikh's turban was torn from his head in a vicious hate assault at a truck stop in Oakland, Oregon. The Sikh Coalition has communicated with both the county Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's office, and has confirmed that the three assailants were arrested and are being charged with hate crimes.

The Hate Assault
On August 5, 2007, Ranjit Singh was leaving a convenience store at a truck stop in Oakland, Oregon. As he was leaving the store, three men approached him and tore off his turban. The assailants immediately drove away in two separate cars.

Ranjit Singh called the police right away. The police arrived and were able to view the store's surveillance video. The footage showed the men stalking Ranjit Singh in the store and planning the assault. An employee of the store recognized one of the assailants as a former store employee, and related that he had assaulted another Sikh in the same manner at the truck stop a week prior. However, the first victim does not appear to have reported the incident to the police.

Ranjit Singh Contacts the Sikh Coalition
Several days after the incident, Ranjit Singh contacted the Sikh Coalition. Since August, the Coalition has communicated with staff of both the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office to ensure that Ranjit Singh's attackers are brought to justice and to ensure that the hate element of the attack is understood. .

On September 6, 2007. the Sheriff's Office arrested three men in connection with the assault. The Coalition confirmed last week that the District Attorney's Office is pursuing felony hate crime charges against the three men. We will continue to work with the District Attorney's office to ensure that the attack against Ranjit Singh is prosecuted as a hate crime.

The Coalition commends Ranjit Singh for standing up for his rights. The Coalition also commends the Douglas County Sheriff's Office for its prompt investigation of this matter, and the District Attorney's Office for its efforts to fully prosecute the men under Oregon's hate crimes law. [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Muslim woman claims discrimination at Union Bank

A Lompoc resident says she's the victim of discrimination.

The Muslim woman, wearing a traditional head scarf, says she wanted into Union Bank in Lompoc, trying to open a new account. But a bank representative and the manager said no.

Fatiha Harit was born and raised in Morocco but has lived in Lompoc for several years. Now, an incident that started about a week and a half ago has left her hurt, confused, and searching for the reason why.

"It makes me feel I want to go back to my country," Harit said.

Anger and humiliation.

Fatiha Harit tried to open an account at Union Bank in Lompoc. Instead, she said an employee and a manager told her she can't-her home country of Morocco is on a terror list, at high risk for money laundering.

"I told her that's ridiculous, because that's not true," Harit said. "I know a friend of mine, she just opened an account two weeks ago with them. Why didn't they say anything to her because I'm wearing a hejab? Maybe that's why."

Fatiha always wears the hejab as part of her Muslim religion.

The branch's vice president later apologized saying it was a mistake.

"There's several steps that a branch takes and the branch did not go through the necessary steps," said Union Bank spokeswoman, Sharon Woodson-Bryant.

The two Lompoc employees were counseled about the incident, but Fatiha says it is not enough.

"I want them to fire those two people, this is what I want. It's the only thing that can make me feel better," Harit said.

A seven year resident of the Central Coast, Fatiha says she tired of the stereotypes.

"Please stop calling terrorism of the Muslim people. We are not bad people," Harit said.

It is a negative experience that has changed her forever.

Fatiha is working to become a U.S. citizen. Despite the proper documents, the bank still refused.

She and her husband then went to a Santa Maria branch of Union Bank and opened an account without any problems.

Fatiha chose to stay with Union Bank because that is where her employer does their banking. A bank spokesperson says they deeply regret what happened. [Link]

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Raza and Fatah . Reasonably accommodated

It should be a simple matter for Muslim immigrants to settle in to Canadian society: You accommodate, and we adapt

[T]he Quebec Council on the Status of Women's proposal to bar public employees from wearing religious symbols while at work reflects fear and ignorance, not good judgment. The good women of Quebec have confused religion with culture. Let's face it -- much of the current ire is rooted in misgivings about ultra-conservative Muslim practices and increasingly emboldened Islamists. But whether it is Iran or Canada, the state should not be in the business of deciding what women should wear.

[W]hy ban the hijab or the Sikh turban? There's much work to be done within the Muslim community (with full support of the mainstream) to eradicate medievalism through education, dialogue and a vigorous, no-holds-barred debate. Banning the hijab will only make this exercise more difficult.

"Reasonable accommodation" is a separate issue. Most immigrants find Canadians to be accepting and accommodating to newcomers. Our first years are difficult and scary, but ask our children and their successes speak for themselves. Of course, the cancer of racism has not been completely defeated and occasionally raises its ugly head, but by and large, new immigrants and racial minorities do better in Canada than in any other place on earth.

Contrary to this, in most Muslim countries, non-Muslims are denied equal citizenship, don't have the same freedoms we enjoy in Canada and there's little or no accommodation for their religious and cultural needs. They have to follow the law of the land, no matter how oppressive.

Muslims discover that the Canadian Charter of Rights gives them infinitely more freedoms than the lands where Islamic law is the norm. Any Muslim who has faced the wrath of religious police in Saudi Arabia, the vigilantes in Iran and rude officials in Pakistan should think twice before damning the proceedings of the Taylor-Bouchard Commission.

So why do Muslims complain when we're asked to adapt ourselves to our new home where most of us have come by choice? After all, accommodation is a two-way street -- you accommodate, we adapt.

Accommodation also places a huge responsibility on us not to make a nuisance of ourselves. Being Muslim is not only about finding a space to pray. The first words of the Koran were to "read and write" not "pray and preach." Islam is more about respect for those around us and the adoption of an impeccable integrity in our personal character rather than the parading of our costumes and the flaunting of our rituals. If my religious freedom becomes a nuisance for others, it's no longer a freedom but a burden.

So what constitutes the fine line between reasonable accommodation and unreasonable demands?

Reasonable accommodation is the multi-faith chapel at Toronto's airport, where the largest section is for Muslims. Nuisance value is the employee who insists on a separate room allocated only for her. The onus to find time and space to pray is on us, not on our teachers, employers or colleagues.

Reasonable accommodation means including Muslim books in the library. Unreasonable accommodation is the demand to ban The Three Little Pigs from schools.

Reasonable accommodation means making vegetarian or halal food available in the university cafeteria; asking for a separate restaurant is unreasonable.

Reasonable accommodation is having the freedom to wear the hijab; unreasonable accommodation is to insist on wearing face masks in public by falsely invoking Islam.

At a critical time when liberal, progressive Muslim Canadians are trying to make a dent in the dogma, it's important to let mainstream Canada know that we don't require extra accommodation; we need better accommodation for all Canadians.

For Muslims this means that instead of spending an inordinate amount of time on inane debates about the halal-ness of maple syrup, we should be engaged in a dialogue about the future of our youth, public policies, elections and the security of Canada.

Muslims are an essential part of Canadian society, whose values of secular democracy and individual freedoms are under attack by Islamists. Muslims should realize that citizenship in Canada is not based on inherited race or religion, but on a set of common laws created by men and women whom we elect and send to Parliament. Those who wish to introduce laws based on divine texts should try living in Saudi Arabia and Iran before they force the rest of us to embrace their prescription. [Link]

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sikh Traveler's Guide for American Airports

New Tool Developed to Help Protect Sikh Travelers' Rights

October 26, 2007: On Saturday, October 27, 2007, new airport screening procedures will go into effect with respect to baggy clothing and all head coverings. To help Sikh travelers go through the screening process, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the Sikh Coalition, and UNITED SIKHS, have developed "A Sikh Traveler's Guide" to screening procedures at American airports.

The "Sikh Traveler's Guide" contains a detailed description of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) head covering screening policy and steps to be taken if you are wearing a turban. The document also describes your rights as a traveler through America's airports. It is available in English and Punjabi. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

An appeal to heart - and head

Muslim students distribute head scarves to foster an understanding of women who wear hijabs

For Kavelle Thorne, the most challenging part of wearing a hijab for the first time was figuring a way to get the earphones for her MP3 player on without dislodging the bright pink scarf covering her hair.

Luckily, Sajda Khalil, a veteran hijabi and organizer of the National Hijab Day initiative at the University of Toronto, was on hand. "You have to go under the scarf, not on top" she said, laughing.

Thorne, a third-year Caribbean studies student, was one of 70 non-Muslim women at U of T to take part in the cross-country initiative to encourage an understanding of the everyday experiences of a hijab-wearing Muslim woman.

Overall, those experiences are the same as any other woman, said Khalil. While most women face relatively few incidents of overt racism in multicultural Toronto, Muslim women on campus have been targeted in the past.

In March 2006, the university was forced to make a statement after incidents including a verbal attack on a hijab-wearing woman and eggs being dropped on two students with hijabs.

The impetus for this year's event was an attempt to open dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims, said Khalil, a volunteer with the Muslim Students' Association.

"The hijab creates a separation between yourself and somebody who is not Muslim," she said. "People are more hesitant to just come up to you and ask you about it, even if they want to. That's why this kind of event makes it a lot easier for people to start a conversation, and makes them realize that there really isn't that much difference between me and them."

Third-year student Zarie Lorne wanted the first-hand experience of wearing a hijab. She wore hers on the TTC to university and felt conscious of the inquisitive stares.

"I've gotten a lot of looks, a lot of confused looks," said Lorne. "I think they're curious and want to ask questions, but they are scared."

Nicole Miller was worried that wearing a hijab for a day would be offensive to Muslim women.

"I don't know if we can really understand their experience by wearing the hijab just one day," she said.

The inspiration for National Hijab Day came after a McMaster University professor created an event last April to draw attention to discrimination against Muslim women. A week later, her office door was vandalized with graffiti. [Link]

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Feds to ban veils at ballot

Critics pan legislation that will require all federal voters to show their faces

The Harper government yesterday introduced legislation requiring all voters -- including veiled Muslim women -- to show their faces before being allowed to cast ballots in federal elections.

Peter Van Loan, the minister responsible for democratic reform, said he hopes the bill will settle the potentially corrosive debate over the accommodation of diverse religious beliefs.

But Opposition parties and some Muslim groups suggested it will do just the opposite -- giving a national forum to a heated debate that has provoked some anti-immigrant sentiment in Quebec.

Liberal deputy leader Michael Ignatieff said while he supports requiring all voters to identify themselves, "what I don't like about this whole project is the idea that we take a bunch of women wearing veils and we make a whole big deal about this ... Let's not have politicians fishing around and creating divisions between Canadians about this."

Mohamed Elmasry of the Canadian Islamic Congress said the law is unnecessary and will feed discrimination against Muslim Canadians.

He suggested the Tories are hoping to make "political mileage among Islamophobes." [Link]

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Anti-Sikh riot victims to protest in front of Supreme Court

The victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots will stage a protest in front of the Supreme Court on October 31 demanding punishment for perpetrators of the massacre.

The demonstration under the aegis of All India Sikh Conference will appeal to the apex court to take suo motu action against those responsible for the killings in the aftermath of assassination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi.

"We have filed several petitions in this regard but the perpetrators of the killings are still free," All India Sikh Conference President Gurcharan Singh Babbar said. [Link]


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Airline company wins appeal

Colgan Air's tumultuous time before the state's Supreme Court concluded Thursday with an ideal outcome for the company.

The airline won its appeal, as the justices decided the state's Human Rights Commission erred when it found Colgan liable for the 2001 termination of pilot Rao Zahid Khan. Khan argued he was fired because of his Pakistani and Muslim heritage in the wake of 9/11.

"The HRC's decision that the failure to retrain Mr. Khan was discrimination also is not supported by the facts. The facts illustrate that, due to financial constraints, no pilots were being offered retraining opportunities for a three-month period," the opinion says.

"Moreover, the degree of inability showed by Mr. Khan to conduct an airplane in a safe manner was egregious, and retraining would present safety issues." [Link]

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Philadelphia Woman Sentenced for Federal Hate Crime Against Muslim

A Philadelphia woman,
Kia Reid, was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Philadelphia to eight
months confined to a community corrections center as part of two years
supervised probation, following her conviction on a federal civil rights
charge, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division
Rena J. Comisac and U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan for the Eastern
District of Pennsylvania announced.

At her guilty plea on June 22, 2007, Reid admitted to committing a
federal hate crime by sending a note threatening violence to her supervisor
at work, who is Arab and Muslim American, in an attempt to interfere with
the supervisor's federally protected employment activity. During the
early-morning hours of Monday, Oct. 2, 2006, Reid left an anonymous
threatening letter in her supervisor's office at the Sheraton Suites Hotel
in Philadelphia. Reid had affixed words and phrases which appeared to be
cut from publications, including the phrases "REMEMBER 9/11," "you and your
kids will pay," "tie onto the fence," "strategically planned," and "death."

"Attacks against individuals because of their race, ethnicity, or
religion are contemptible and un-American, and will not be tolerated,"
Acting Assistant Attorney General Rena J. Comisac said. [Link]

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Teens charged in assault on Sikh men, other attacks

Four teenagers from Silver Spring have been charged in connection to three separate assaults in Burtonsville last month, including an attack on two elderly Sikh men that was ruled inconclusive as a hate crime, Montgomery County Police said.

A 13-year-old boy, two 14-year-old boys and a 15-year-old boy were charged as juveniles with assault, said David Baker, hate crimes coordinator for county police.

The attacks began Sept. 15 along a trail in the woods near the 3600 block of Childress Terrace, when police allege the teens punched two Sikh men, a 77-year-old Burtonsville man and a 75-year-old man from Springfield, Va.

Baker said the attack is being called ‘‘inconclusive” because there is not enough evidence to convict the teens of a hate crime but investigators cannot exclude the incident as one.

During the afternoon of Sept. 16, police allege the teens punched the face and head of a 27-year-old man who lives in the 14300 block of Beaker Court. Hours later, the teens confronted and punched a 48-year-old man in the 3600 block of Silver Spruce Lane who was driving home, police said.

While the other two assaults were not investigated as hate crimes, the victims ‘‘all appear to be gentlemen that could be mistaken for the same ethnicity,” Baker said.

The suspects were released to the custody of their parents or guardians, Baker said, and their cases are pending in juvenile court. [Link]

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AT&T Reverses Kirpan Ban After Sikh Coalition Intervenes

An AT&T office in Brecksville, Ohio has reversed its workplace ban against kirpans. Harcharan Singh (Sandhu), an IT consultant from India will be allowed to continue consulting for AT&T and will not be sent back to India. AT&T reversed its decision one week after the Sikh Coalition's intervention.

Harcharan Singh is an amritdhari Sikh employed by called Tech Mahindra. As mandated by his faith, he carries a kirpan. Tech Mahindra sent him from India to Brecksville, Ohio in May of 2007 to provide IT consulting services for AT&T. Shortly after Harcharan Singh started, he voluntarily disclosed to Tech Mahindra and AT&T that he carried a kirpan. Over the course of the summer the two companies discussed the issue of whether Mr. Sandhu should be allowed to carry his kirpan while working at AT&T. [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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State of Oregon Apologies to Sikh American Denied Driver’s License due to Turban

SALDEF continues its campaign to address discriminatory DMV policies against the turban

The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nation’s oldest and largest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization, received a formal apology from Lorna Youngs, Administrator, Oregon Department of Motor Ms. Meherbani Kaur KhalsaVehicles (DMV) for denying a Sikh American woman from obtaining a driver’s license because she wore a turban.

When applying for a driver’s license in Portland, Oregon, Ms. Meherbani Kaur Khalsa was informed that she would have to remove her turban for the license photograph. Ms. Khalsa immediately contacted SALDEF for assistance. SALDEF wrote to Administrator Youngs about the violation of Ms. Khalsa’s right to wear her turban as allowed by Oregon law.

In a written response to SALDEF, Administrator Youngs wrote, “I would like to reiterate that [removal] is not required when the headgear is part of the applicant’s normal identification and apologize that Ms. Khalsa received misinformation”.

“We are grateful that Ms. Youngs acknowledged the mistake in denying Ms. Khalsa her driver’s license. We are encouraging her to take immediate steps to inform all DMV personnel about the religious and medical exemptions for head coverings in license photographs to prevent another Oregon resident from being denied a license,” said SALDEF National Director Rajbir Singh Datta. “SALDEF is pro-actively addressing this issue by urging the DMV administrators of those states that have a religious head covering exemption to take measures to ensure their personnel are well versed with the policy.”

While many states have exemptions for religious head coverings in license photographs, some DMV employees are not aware of them. This unfamiliarity often results in Sikh Americans not being able to obtain a driver’s license in a timely and uneventful manner. Commonly, the burden falls on the Sikh American applicant to inform and educate DMV personnel that the Sikh turban is a religious head covering and that exemptions exist in the DMV policies. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hate-crime fighters

Forum is a start toward community action

What can we all do to combat hate crimes?

That was a key question at a forum Sunday in Sarasota.

The event marked the beginning of what is to be an ongoing community discussion, and none too soon -- three months after a fire burned a Bosnian Muslim family out of their Sarasota County home.

Since that appalling episode -- which included violent, anti-Muslim graffiti -- no arrests have been made. The state fire marshal's office is leading the arson investigation but apparently has not yet determined if the fire should be classified a hate crime.

The investigation should be vigorously pursued. However it is classified, the fire sent a cruel message of exclusion.

We would like to believe that this crime is an aberration, not the norm, in Sarasota County. But such violence can gain a toehold if communities fail to act against it.

As speakers explained at Sunday's forum, hate crimes are particularly dangerous because the harm they do goes beyond an individual. They can sow fear and intimidation among a class of people. Distrust and violence can spread, ultimately damaging the whole community.

The forum was hosted by the Coalition for Inclusion and Diversity, initiated by the nonprofit community study group SCOPE (Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence). They plan to bring back ideas for exploration and implementation. Their efforts should be commended. [Link]

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Young U.S. Muslims struggle

Prejudice against Arabs overlaps religious bias among students

Zeinab Sleiman has faced modern teenage temptations, such as drinking and partying. What helps her keep her distance is the guidance set down by her Muslim upbringing.

The 18-year-old graduated from Fordson High School, a public school here. Most students are Arab-Americans, and many are Muslims like Sleiman.

"I think my religion helps me in that way that it forbids it, so I just know that it's wrong," said Sleiman, who served on the mayor's youth advisory council. "I think, 'In the long run, is this going to help me?' If not, then I don't think I should be choosing it."

While most Arab and Muslim youths share this view, balancing beliefs and American society can be challenging, especially because many non-Arab-Americans are still ignorant and suspicious of Islam.

David Crumm, who has been the religion reporter for the Detroit Free Press for 21 years, sees those challenges all the time in his news reporting. He said non-Muslim Americans knew almost nothing about Muslims in their communities in the 1980s.

But since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, Crumm said, Americans are more aware of Muslim Americans, and that's both good and bad.

"Nine-eleven was a tragic event for all Americans, for people around the world, and especially for people in this community, because they knew, and most thinking people knew, that even though these people who committed these terrorist acts claimed to be Muslims, the claim that they made was not really the true Islam," he said.

Speaking with kids from high schools and youth organizations in the Dearborn area, Y-Press learned about some of the stereotypes many Americans hold about Arab-Americans and Muslims.

The issues affecting Arab teens range from everyday high school challenges to discrimination.

The Abusalah family, natives of Palestine, ordered their meals at a restaurant and watched as the white family next to them got more attention from the waiter: Their order was taken first, the food arrived faster, and the waiter was simply friendlier.
He barely smiled at the Arab-American family.

"It's all the time," said Reema Abusalah, 15. "We always get the dirty looks and stares. It's not around Dearborn usually, but when we leave Dearborn, we see people who are not Arab stare at us, give us dirty looks and look funny at us."

Reema feels that people who don't live in diverse communities such as Dearborn rely on biased opinions to generate a picture of Arab-Americans.

For example, a lot of movies cast Arabs as villains, and the news media reports more negative stories about Arabs than positive ones.

Yusef Saad, 16, saw a documentary called "Real Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People." Arabs come out looking bad in such films as "Back to the Future" and even the Disney movie, "Aladdin," Yusef said.

For Muslim teenage girls wearing the traditional Islamic hijab, or headscarf, stereotypes are sometimes intensified.

"They think that all Muslim girls are oppressed and forced to put on the hijab. Well, it's actually the other way around," said Nour Hijazi, 17. "We want people to look at us and not evaluate how we look, but actually how we are and the way we treat people."

Noor Salem, 14, gets angry when news programs link reading the Quran to suicide bombing, because she knows that's not what Islam stands for.

"(Discrimination) affects everyone because once you start discriminating on one type of person, that person might discriminate back and you might pass it along," Noor said. "You know, discrimination and racism are contagious."

Crumm is hopeful that a thoughtful education will help broaden understanding of Islam.

"There are some people who have a really intelligent and balanced view of diversity and the Muslim community. There are some who still have a very bigoted view because they haven't learned enough, or what they've learned has been inaccurate or skewed," he said.

Jamal Agemy, 15, is half-Lebanese, half-black, and sometimes has experienced dual prejudices from the two cultures. His mother is a Christian, and his father is a Muslim.

"The thing is with the religion, Arab people and Christian people agree on almost 97 percent of the story in the olden days," Jamal said. "And the three percent that they argue on they . . . explode on it and throw the 97 percent out and continue to argue."

The discrimination young Arab-Americans face actually has a plus side, several Arab youths said.

"I think discrimination has made us all a bit stronger because we experience a little bit more than regular people do," Jamal said. "I think it prepares us a little bit more, and it helps us become more mature when the time is right."

It's also made him become an outspoken advocate for his people.

"We're not the people you see on CNN every day, bombing the airports," Jamal said. "We have a conscience, and we are good people. You know, we wake up in the morning and we put on our pants one leg at a time like everyone else." [Link]

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Three face charges in mosque vandalism

A Shreveport man and two teens have been charged with spray-painting profanity and drug symbols on a local mosque in July.

Russell Price, 22, a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy were issued summonses for criminal mischief. Criminal mischief carries a penalty of not more than $500 and six months in jail.

The July 30 Islamic Association of Arabi Inc. case was solved through a Crime Stoppers tip, Shreveport police spokeswoman Kacee Hargrave said Thursday. Price and the teens told investigators they did not vandalize the building because it is an Islamic place of worship.

Some who pray at the Broadmoor neighborhood mosque, in the 3700 block of Youree Drive, said last summer they thought the spray-painting was a hate crime.

The mosque has been there since 1991. It was vandalized once and its American flag was stolen in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. [Link]

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Sikhs laud new airport rules for passengers with turbans

Many Valley Sikhs who felt singled out by new federal rules that give screeners more discretion to inspect turbans are breathing a sigh of relief after learning they won't be forced to remove their turbans after all.

The Transportation Security Administration has agreed to allow alternative methods of inspecting turbans for those who are uncomfortable about removing them in public.

"This is a really big achievement for the Sikh community," said Harry Gill, a Sikh community leader from Caruthers. "I'm getting a lot of e-mails. ... Everyone is saying it was the right thing."

Gill helped mobilize a signature-gathering effort after the administration implemented new guidelines Aug. 4 that gave airport screeners the option of examining turbans and other head gear even in cases when a metal detector does not go off. Before the change, screeners were allowed to inspect turbans only if a metal detector went off.

In Sikhism, long, unshorn hair is a symbol of spiritualism, and the turban is a symbol of royalty and dignity. The turban is mandatory for baptized Sikh men, and optional -- though uncommon -- for women, who tend to wear headscarves, at least inside the temple.

About 35,000 Sikhs live in Fresno County.

After the new rules were announced, Sikhs gathered signatures to urge local members of Congress to change them. The administration announced Tuesday that it revised the rules. The new policy will go into effect Saturday.

Under the policy change, screeners will have different options when checking passengers who choose not to remove a turban. They can pat down a traveler, swab the turban, or use a machine that blows puffs of air to detect traces of explosives. Private screening also is offered.

Nico Melendez, an administration spokesman, declined to comment on whether the policy change was made because of complaints from the Sikh community.

"We dialogue with very different groups, and we take all of them into consideration," Melendez said.

Fresno Yosemite International Airport doesn't have the machine that blows puffs of air to detect traces of explosives, but it does have the swabbing device, Melendez said.

"These are less invasive," said Naindeep Singh of Fresno who, like Gill, wears a turban. "They can be done in a culturally sensitive way. ... Basically it's still addressing the security needs." [Link]

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Three charged in mosque vandalism

A Shreveport man and two teens have been charged with spray-painting profanity and drug symbols on a local mosque in July.

Russell Price, 22, a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy were issued summonses for criminal mischief. Criminal mischief carries a penalty of not more than $500 and six months in jail.

The July 30 Islamic Association of Arabi Inc. case was solved through a Crime Stoppers tip, Shreveport police spokeswoman Kacee Hargrave said. Price and the teens told investigators they did not vandalize the building because it is an Islamic place of worship.

Some who pray at the Broadmoor neighborhood mosque, in the 3700 block of Youree Drive, said last summer they thought the spray-painting was a hate crime.

The mosque has been there since 1991. It was vandalized once and its American flag was stolen in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. [Link]

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Quebec hearings get worked up about what to wear

Hijabs, baseball caps, burkas, kirpans, green hair and Bermuda shorts -- what people wear and the way they look preoccupies Quebecers, a government commission heard Wednesday.

On its third and final day of hearings in the Montregie area, near Montreal, the Bouchard-Taylor commission on "reasonable accommodations" of religious and ethnic minorities got an earful from residents about the manner of dress allowed in schools, shopping malls and swimming pools.

Day-care worker Louise Condrain said she was shocked one hot summer day at a mall to see a woman in a burka strolling behind her husband, who was comfortably dressed in Bermuda shorts.

Robert Dubois, a father of five, said he's "seen a lot worse" than the hijab where he works, the Universite de Montreal, including students with green hair, for example.

Horeya Elmaraghi, a lawyer originally from Egypt, said she wore the veil at work in court here for eight months in 2004, the year she made a pilgrimage to Mecca, but finally stopped wearing it because people complained.

Roger Larrame, a retired union activist, said he thinks Sikh students in school wear their kirpan "like a jewel" -- out of vanity, not religious devotion.

Yves Lavoie, a Montreal fireman, said Muslim women have been told to stop wearing full clothing when they bathe at local swimming pools, and objected that his son can't wear his baseball cap in high school, even though hijabs are allowed there. [Link]

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TSA Develops New Procedure for Screening Turbans at US Airports

Community Groups are Cautiously Optimistic and Insist that the TSA Implement Safeguards Against Profiling

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) yesterday announced a new security screening procedure that will apply to all religious head coverings at U.S. airports. The new procedures will go into effect on October 27, 2007. The new procedures, designed to detect non-metallic objects, do not allow a TSA screener to touch a Sikh's turban without cause unless the Sikh traveler gives the screener permission to do so. The change is a direct response to the concerns raised by Sikhs and Sikh organizations, including the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the Sikh Coalition, and UNITED SIKHS over the last two months.

The New Procedure for Detecting Non-Metallic Threat Items

The TSA has instituted new additional screening procedures for non-metallic threat items, like plastics or chemicals. These procedures come into effect after a traveler clears a metal detector. If a screener believes the passenger's clothing is "bulky" and may be able to hide a non-metallic threat item more easily than form-fitting clothes, the screener can do an additional screening procedure. "Bulky clothing" can include items like jackets, shoes, flowing clothing, or non-form fitting headwear.

Under these procedures, a Sikh's turban will not be touched during additional screening, unless the Sikh traveler permits it.

Instead, if the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) believes a Sikh's turban needs to be screened, the passenger now has three options:

1. The passenger can have his/her head covering patted down in public or in private by TSA personnel;
2. The passenger can pat down his/her own head covering in public or private, and then have his/her hands swabbed with a cotton cloth to check for chemical residue; or
3. The passenger can opt to go through a "puffer machine," if one is available at that airport.

A TSO should always offer a traveler a private area for the secondary screening of his/her religious head covering.

The option of a self-pat down by a passenger will not be pro-actively offered by the TSA screener. Sikh travelers must tell the TSO that they would like to pat-down their own turbans, or must first refuse to allow a TSA screener to do the pat-down, before being told that they have the right to pat their turban themselves.

A Sikh turban or other religious head covering may only be asked to be removed if the traveler wearing it does not successfully clear the additional screening after undergoing one of the three screening options.

Please remember that, along with the new procedure, all travelers must still clear metal detectors. That means that if a Sikh's turban sets off an alarm while going through the metal detector and/or a metal-detecting wand, the TSO may ask to pat the turban down. If this happens, please request a private screening area for the pat-down.

How Is This New Policy Any Better Than the Post-August 4th Policy?

The new procedure is encouraging and addresses the Sikh community's concerns in the following ways:

1. Turbans will not be listed in any TSA guidance as an item that should be subject to additional screening.
2. The TSA recognized that security screeners should not be allowed to touch a Sikh's turban indiscriminately, and should seek explicit consent before doing so, if no alarm has been set off.
3. By accommodating religious head coverings, the TSA has acknowledged the distinction between secular and religious garb, including the Sikh turban.
4. Before the Thanksgiving 2007 travel season, all 43,000 TSA screeners will undergo the following mandatory training about Sikhs.

SALDEF, the Sikh Coalition, and UNITED SIKHS, are encouraged by the steps the TSA is taking to fix the faulty procedure. We thank both the TSA and Department of Homeland Security for their collaborative efforts in finding a solution that guards national security and protects the civil liberties of all people of faith.

Continuing Concerns

Nevertheless, there are some pressing concerns about the implementation of the new procedures.

To ensure national security, screeners have been given discretion on when to perform the additional screening. Some screeners could use this discretion in an inappropriate manner and single out or harass travelers of a certain national origin or religion. Sikh civil rights groups remain concerned that the new procedure could lead to religious profiling of our community. We will continue to press the TSA to collect data that demonstrates that the new procedure does not disproportionately affect any specific national origin or religious groups.

In addition, even if Sikhs are not subject to disproportionate scrutiny, we are concerned about the negative perception created when a Sikh is pulled aside for additional screening. With the three options, a passenger can request the most comfortable screening method for himself/herself. We will continue to work with the TSA to minimize the humiliation that some Sikh travelers could feel when their turbans are screened.

We are also concerned that, because the screening options are not being mentioned early in the additional screening process, many Sikhs may feel pressure to submit to a screener pat down even though they have a right to refuse it and pat down their turban themselves. We strongly believe that screeners should offer the option of a self-pat down at the beginning of the additional screening process.

Finally, while our organizations also welcome the options for secondary screening, we recognize that the ideal solution is for the TSA to install 'puffer' machines or other detection technology at all airports. This would help avoid the need for additional screening that involves the handling of religious head coverings like the Sikh turban. We will continue to press the TSA to install "puffer" machines and other detection technology in all airports.

SALDEF, the Sikh Coalition, and UNITED SIKHS will continue to monitor implementation of the new procedure in the coming months. We will take all necessary action to ensure that Sikhs are not singled out for extra screening due to their religious practices. [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

TSA: Turbans Don't Have to Be Removed

Air passengers will no longer have to remove bulky headwear such as turbans at screening checkpoints if doing so makes them uncomfortable.

A revised federal guideline, effective Oct. 27, gives airport screeners the option to pat down headwear at the metal detector if a passenger does not want to remove it for personal reasons.

In August, the Transportation Security Administration changed its guidelines and subjected travelers to secondary screening at security checkpoints if they were wearing head coverings, such as cowboy hats, berets or turbans. The screenings could have included a pat-down search of the head covering, if the screener found it necessary.

But some religious organizations were outraged at the new rule and felt it was a form of racial profiling. For instance, in the Sikh religion, the turban is considered private, and removing a turban would be like removing a woman's blouse, according to the New York-based Sikh Coalition. Since 2001, federal policy has required screeners to search turbans only if they do not clear a metal detector.

TSA officials listened to these concerns, and now passengers wearing bulky clothing — including bulky headwear — can be subjected to a mix of screening, such as pat-downs, X-ray devices and portal machines that check for explosives. If an item still cannot be ruled out as a potential threat, the screener still has the option to request that the passenger remove it in a private screening area.

Experts say mixing up the screening techniques is good security. "We must use security measures that are unpredictable, agile," TSA Administrator Kip Hawley told a Senate panel Tuesday.

Notice of the change was posted on the TSA Web site Tuesday. [Link]

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Canadian reality is multicultural

Clearly, all of Canada continues to struggle through multiculturalism issues and to define what it means to be a Canadian. Few countries have opened their doors to such a wide cross-section of immigrants as Canada and no city has embraced it more than Toronto.

We can be proud of our diversity, of our willingness to embrace a wide range of cultural and religious differences. Yet many of our recent newcomers still face bigotry, racism and job discrimination.

Canada is not at a point that has been reached in European countries like Britain, France and Germany where tolerance for minorities has eroded and riots have broken out. But our elected leaders, as well as every one of us, must remain vigilant to attacks on multiculturalism and ensure immigrants and minority groups are treated fairly and that their integration into Canadian society is as smooth as possible.

Instead of questioning multiculturalism, we should reaffirm the inclusiveness and tolerance that has made modern Canada a success.

Our diversity is a source of strength, not weakness. Millions of new Canadians have settled successfully in Canada over the last 100 years. They and their children are proof that multiculturalism works. [Link]

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Teen forced to sit out soccer game because of head scarf

A Muslim teenager in Florida ended up sitting out her soccer game this weekend after a referee objected to her head scarf.
Related Links

Fifteen-year old Iman Khalil has never had a problem wearing her scarf in the two years that she's played for her team. But Saturday, a referee ruled the scarf violated game rules despite protests by parents, teammates and even opposing team players.

League officials contacted the ref during the game, telling him she wasn't breaking the rules, but he still refused to let Khalil play. [Link]

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

U.S. State Department: Humor Helps Break Stereotypes About Muslims

Muslim comedy subject of Ramadan panel

There isn’t anything funny about Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and reflection, or about the threat of violent al-Qaida terrorists around the world, but that doesn’t mean the average person can’t appreciate a good Muslim joke.

Sometimes the best way to deal with a sensitive subject is to make fun of it, says Muslim comedian Azhar Usman.

Muslims, like everybody else, are capable of laughing and being funny, Usman said at American University in Washington at the virtual town hall meeting “Laughing While Muslim.” The October 3 meeting held during Ramadan used digital video conference technology to link Muslim panelists at American University (AU) and the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles to talk seriously about comedy.

During the month of Ramadan, which this year ended on October 11 or 12, depending on the sighting of the moon in the various Muslim countries, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours and break their fast at iftars after sunset.

In the United States today, Muslims use the month of Ramadan to reach out to their fellow citizens and to build bridges with the community at large.

Since 2004, Usman, born and raised in Chicago by Indian parents, has performed his “Allah Made Me Funny -- Official Muslim Comedy Tour” in more than 12 countries over five continents. Although Usman is a lawyer by training, he has taken his comedy show on the road to counter misconceptions about Muslims.

Comedy is a funny way of being serious, Usman said, quoting the late actor Peter Ustinov. “People always come up to me after my show and say, ‘thank you so much for making me think,’” said Usman, whose jokes about racial profiling lighten up the seriousness of what he calls the “unnecessary evil of life after 9/11.” [Link]

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Feds often yield to states in hate-crime cases

Punishment likely to be stiffer than when handled under U.S. [federal] laws

During the Holy Muslim month of Ramadan, someone fires shots into a Corpus Christi mosque. In the back yard of a Spring residence, attackers yell "white power" as they brutally assault a Hispanic youth. And in a Louisiana school yard, white students hang nooses from a tree after black classmates congregate underneath.

While many civil rights leaders and community groups considered these high-profile episodes hate crimes, only one — the mosque shooting last month — may end up being prosecuted as such. The other two, federal officials said, did not the meet the criteria under U.S. civil rights laws.

To many, the Justice Department pursuing an act as a hate crime has great significance. But the reality is that crimes of intimidation or violence based on bias often garner stiffer sentences when they are prosecuted under state laws. [Link]

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USA Today: Religious discrimination complaints increase

There were 2,541 religious discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2006, up nearly 9% from 2005 and up more than 30% since before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. [Link]

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Friday, October 12, 2007

TSA Holds Community Meeting in Washington, Begins Responding to Some Concerns

Profiling, Data Collection Remain Top Issues

he Sikh Coalition participated in a meeting today organized by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The meeting, attended by TSA Chief Kip Hawley, provided community organizations an opportunity to understand TSA operations and to raise concerns about TSA policy. The Sikh Coalition directly raised reliigous profiling concerns to Administrator Hawley at the meeting.

Action by TSA in Response to Concerns Raised by Sikhs
Since the Sikh Coalition first alerted the community to the new TSA headwear search policy, we have worked hard to raise Sikh concerns directly to the TSA, Members of Congress, Senators, and the media.

In response the TSA has taken a number of steps to address community concerns:

* The Headwear Search Policy is Being Reevaluated - While we do not yet know what the modified policy will be, we do know that it is being revised in response to Sikh community concerns.

* The TSA is Advising its Screeners to Offer Air Travelers the Option of Going Though Trace Portals (Puff Machines) as an Alternative to Manual Patting Down- In airports with these machines, air travelers should now be offered the alternative of going through these machines instead of a pat down of the turban.

* The TSA's Office of Civil Rights and Liberties will visit San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Investigate Complaints from Sikhs There - The Coalition has filed a number of complaints from Sikhs traveling through SFO. The worst incident, involving the removal of a turban and placing it through an x-ray scanner, occurred there. The TSA's Office of Civil Rights will travel to SFO to investigate these complaints in late October.

* The TSA's has Updated its Website to Make Complaint Filing Easier -There is now a link for "Civil Rights Complaints" on the front page of the TSA website, www.tsa.gov.

* The TSA will Make Available the "On Common Ground" Video in its Online Learning Center - The video is a concise introduction to Sikhs and Sikh practices. It will be mandatory, required viewing for all screeners.

* The TSA has Issued an Educational Poster on Common Sikh Coverings for all Airports - this poster will be distributed for viewing by screeners in all airports.

* The TSA will Issue a Fact Sheet for Travelers on its Headwear Search Policies - The fact sheet will be posted on the TSA's website. Its purpose is to inform the public on what to expect when going through security.

Concerns Remain

While the Sikh Coalition commends the TSA for taking or committing to take important steps towards addressing our issues, we remain concerned that:

* The TSA guidance on how to implement the policy specifically lists the turban as an example of headwear that can be subjected to secondary screening at the discretion of the screener.

* Religious profiling is possible, even inevitable, if screeners have unfettered discretion to subject a Sikh to additional screening. The Coalition expects that the TSA will have adequate controls in place, including the collection of data on who is stopped by screeners, in order to make good on its pledge not to engage in profiling.

* It is not clear what threat items could be hidden in a turban that could not be hidden in any other article of tightly-fitted or bulky clothing. [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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Texas Radio Station Apologizes for Anti-Sikh Remarks

Local Sikh American community and SALDEF work together to secure apology

esterday, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nation’s oldest and largest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization, received a formal apology from Mr. Jaipal Reddy, Chairman and CEO of Radio Salaam Namaste in response to complaints from the Sikh American community in Texas and a letter from SALDEF.

On the evening of October 6, 2007, Radio Salaam Namaste DJ’s Sadat and Talha made several jokes and disparaging remarks about ‘Sardars’ (male members of the Sikh faith). They then encouraged listeners to call-in to the station with more jokes about members of the Sikh faith.

“Your comments demonstrate a significant lack of judgment and professionalism and perpetuate an extremely hurtful and demeaning stereotype about members of the Sikh faith. [Additionally] such stereotypes not only directly affect Sikh American listeners, but also color the perceptions of your listeners and affect their relationships with members of the Sikh American community,” wrote SALDEF to the DJs and station management. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mosque Attacked By Group Of Men

Rocks Thrown, Windows Broken In Possible Hate Crime

The Kern County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a possible hate crime against the Islamic Center of San Joaquin Valley last Saturday morning during worship prayers.

Witnesses said two men entered the 701 Ming Ave. mosque at about 2 a.m. on Saturday and disrupted the all-night prayer service that was celebrating the month of Ramadan.

According to witnesses, two Hispanic males, who may have been intoxicated, entered the mosque, ate the mosque's food and argued with worshippers after being asked to leave.

Kern County Sheriff's Department said the two men eventually left the mosque. When Sheriff's deputies arrived after 5 a.m., they could not find the men, who had fled.

Shortly after the Sheriff's deputies left, a Sheriff's Department report said the two men returned with a group of possibly as many as fifteen men.

According to the report, men confronted members from the mosque outside and yelled ethnic slurs. Witnesses claimed the men yelled, “Go home terrorists!” and “Arab terrorists!”
According to the report, the men also broke windows and slashed tires on several cars, then threw rocks at worshippers.

Witnesses said three people were hurt. The Sheriff Department report said two mosque members suffered minor injuries.

Sheriff’s deputies said they saw people throwing rocks, but weren’t able to catch anyone.

The Sheriff's department is now investigating this as a hate crime and is searching for 10-15 Hispanic males between 16 and 20 years old. The case has also been reported to the FBI. [Link]

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I'm 23 and have been a Dallas Cowboys fan since I was six.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Monday night game against the Bills. The atmosphere was incredible. There were a lot of Cowboys fans, but Bills fans voiced their opinions to every one of us in Dallas jerseys.

I watched a documentary on two Sikh fans who went to a Browns game in Cleveland and were ridiculed for the way they looked because of their religion. I'm also a Sikh (East-Indian background), and I went to the game with two other Sikhs, one of whom was wearing a turban.

We expected comments with regards to our religion, but the only ridicule we faced was for being Cowboys fans.

I have new respect for Bills fans. They were unbelievably passionate about their team, and I loved it.

I appreciate going to a game, and expressing my views without being stared at by everyone in my section like I'm some sort of illiterate person, with no etiquette. [Link]

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Political courage needed on accommodation

Quebecers strongly oppose almost any cultural or religious accommodation of immigrants and other minority Quebecers, according to survey findings published yesterday in La Presse. The findings are a sobering measure of the size of the problem Quebec faces and a clear indication that some political courage is going to be needed.

The poll results are dramatic: A hijab on the soccer pitch? 70 per cent of respondents are against. Turbans for Sikh Mounties? Nearly 80 per cent against. The kirpan? Female-only swimming? Male-only driving testers for Hasidic Jews? No, no, and no, by large margins.

People of common sense and goodwill can certainly disagree on many of these issues. But in Quebec's current happy social context these strikingly one-sided results - if not the entire debate - seem to us somewhat irrational.

Immigrants, by and large, integrate into our society rapidly and well. To Quebec's credit, newcomers are not parked in homogeneous ghettos. In our red-hot economy there is opportunity for all, removing the economic-fear component from the equation. You don't hear many, if any, claims that visible minorities are "coming here to steal our jobs."

So why all this opposition? One figure offers a hint: 58 per cent object to providing prayer spaces in public buildings. That's far fewer naysayers than on most such issues.

This leads us to suspect that the less visible a practice, the more acceptable it's deemed. Praying to Allah or anyone else is bothersome to fewer old-stock Quebecers if done in private; but Heaven (so to speak) help the 13-year-old girl who wears a scarf to play soccer. Even the Quebec Council on the Status of Women, an organization dedicated to social equality, is campaigning to forbid public-sector employees from displaying any overt signs of culture or religion.

It's doing this in the name of a secular state, but the subtext is far different. If an SAAQ clerk or a teacher is barred by law from wearing a hijab, a turban or a kippa, what is the message? What is retained - by adults and kids - is that there's something wrong with these symbols - and, by extension, their wearers.

There is some good news in the survey. Younger Quebecers revealed themselves to be far more accommodating than their elders. That openness bodes well for the long term.

In the meantime, it will be the duty of elected politicians to make sure that the smooth integration of these immigrants - and their acceptance - continues. The Bouchard-Taylor Commission and the water-cooler discussions it has engendered have revealed, for better or for worse, some unexpectedly deep pools of cultural insecurity, or at least anxiety, among established populations.

Premier Jean Charest has been steadfast so far, in his public comments, in supporting an open and modern society. He'll need to keep doing that, and it won't be easy.

As for opposition leader Mario Dumont, so close to taking power, and for Pauline Marois, considered by many to be the best potential premier, they could continue to profit politically by talking about the narrow "nous."

But before they do, they need to ask themselves: what kind of society will we have if we try to jam everyone into the same mould? [Link]

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Tell KABC Radio Host Al Rantel to Apologize for Calling the Turban a Diaper

Sign the Petition and Tell Him the Turban Stands for Equality, Liberty, & Justice

Radio Commentator, Al Rantel, host of a daily program on Los Angeles radio station KABC 790AM, was discussing airport security on September 10, 2007, when he said:

KABCIf my 80-year-old mother has 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?”

SALDEF urges you to show your support in demanding Mr. Rantel issue an on-air public apology to the Sikh American community. Add your name to the petition, demanding Mr. Rantel apologize for his comments comparing a religious article to shoes and diaper.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Muslim scarf row victory

A FRENCH court yesterday fined a guesthouse owner who refused to give a room to a woman wearing a Muslim headscarf unless she removed it in common areas.

Found guilty of religious discrimination, Yvette Truchelut, 54, was handed a suspended four-month prison sentence and fined 1,000 euros (£700). She will have to pay a total of 7,400 to the plaintiff and rights groups that brought the action.

Horia Demiati, who is of Moroccan origin, chose to leave the guesthouse in eastern France rather than comply with the owner's demand.

In 2004, France passed a law banning religious garb, notably Muslim headscarves, from state schools. [Link]

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Man admits breaking into Naperville mosque

A fourth teen admitted Tuesday to a role in burglarizing the Islamic Center of Naperville.

Mark Domingo is expected to receive probation and a stint in jail, similar to his three co-defendants, when he's sentenced later this fall.

The 19-year-old Naperville man pleaded guilty to burglarizing a place of worship - a felony punishable by probation or up to 15 years in prison.

Police installed a surveillance camera in summer 2006 inside the mosque at 450 Olesen Drive after officials complained of as many as 10 break-ins in which money was stolen from a donation box.

One week later, on July 21, 2006, police spotted Domingo and his three friends leaving the building at 450 Olesen Drive. Domingo and a second teen, Andrew Talty, 19, of Plainfield, were arrested outside the mosque.

Two other teens led police on a car chase that ended in Hinsdale when they crashed. Three police officers received minor injuries during the fracas.

Domingo is the final teen to be sentenced. Talty and Charles Htun, 20, of Naperville, spent time in DuPage County jail and were placed on three years probation. Each also paid $2,000 restitution.

David Henderson, 20, of Naperville, was sentenced to a prison boot-camp program and is on parole. He and Htun, who drove, were involved in the car chase.

None of the young men were charged with a hate crime. Prosecutors characterized the burglary as a crime of opportunity, not one motivated by faith or religion. [Link]

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Ban teachers from religious dress, Quebec group says

The group that 12 years ago fought vehemently for the rights of students who wore a hijab in Quebec's public schools is now trying to ban their teachers from wearing the Islamic headscarf and other "ostentatious" religious symbols while at work.

The Quebec Council on the Status of Women, a 20-member body that advises the government on issues relating to women, is urging the province to force public employees to remove visible religious signs when they are on the job. Aside from large Christian crosses, Sikh turbans and Jewish yarmulkes, these also include the hijab, a veil that generally covers the hair and neck, and the more controversial niqab, which covers the face, leaving only the eyes exposed.

The council argues that equality between men and women trumps religious freedoms, and that the symbols oppress. [Link]

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Sikh cabbie shot in possible heist attempt

A taxi driver was fired upon “numerous times” and hit once in the back as he drove away from gunmen while awaiting a fare by Golden Gate Park on Sunday morning.

Hariqbal Singh, 25, of South San Francisco, was waiting to pick up a 5 a.m. fare when two men approached him on the driver’s side of his car at 4:50 a.m. on the corner of 24th Avenue and Lincoln Way, San Francisco police Lt. Mike Caplan said.

One of the men then pulled what appeared to be a dark-colored revolver from his front waist pocket and showed it to Singh, Caplan said.

Singh then put the car into drive and sped off, but one of the men fired at him “numerous times” as he drove away, Caplan said. One shot traveled thorough the driver’s side seat and struck Singh’s back, he said.

One of Singh’s fellow drivers at Town Taxi went to visit him in the hospital Sunday, Town Taxi dispatcher Fadiano Michels said. That driver said Singh would be released by Sunday afternoon, Michels said.

Singh, who was alone in his taxi at the time, was not robbed.

“It might have been attempted robbery, but he didn’t stick around to find out,” Caplan said.

The taxi’s passenger-side rear window was also broken.

“We don’t know if it was a passenger or if this was somebody who tried to rob him or somebody walking on the street,” Michels said. “The information that I have right now is that he seems to be OK.”

No arrests were made Sunday. The first suspect was described as a 19-to 20-year-old black man wearing a black hat, jacket and jeans. The other suspect was a black man of an unknown age wearing all black clothing, according to police. [Link]

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Sikh taxi driver shot in back

A San Francisco taxi driver was shot in the back early this morning in the city's Sunset District, according to police.

The driver, who is expected to recover, was shot about 4:54 a.m. near 23rd Avenue and Lincoln Way, police reported. The driver then drove about two blocks where he met police and paramedics who transported him to San Francisco General Hospital, police said.

It was unclear if the driver was shot from inside the taxi.

San Francisco's Town Taxi company identified the driver as Hariqbal Singh.

"We don't know if it was a passenger who shot him or if the shooter was someone walking in the street," said Town Taxi dispatcher Fadiano Michels. "We know he was on his way to that area to pick up a call and we think he had a passenger at the time. We're just not sure right now."

Singh is expected to be released from the hospital today, Michels confirmed. [Link]

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Anti-Muslim posters cause stir

University officials are investigating several hundred posters hung around campus this morning attacking the Muslim community.

The posters, on standard letter-sized paper, read, "Hate Muslims? So do we!!!" Below the statement is a picture of a Muslim man next to a diagram describing a "typical Muslim." Some features mentioned include "venom from mouth," "suicide vest," and "peg-leg for smuggling children and heroin." [Link]

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

SALDEF Trains Law Enforcement Officials in Pittsburgh and West Virginia

Over 400 officials receive SALDEF's Sikh cultural competency training

In late September, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nation’s oldest and largest Sikh American civil rights organization, trained over 150 law enforcement officers in Pittsburgh and West Virginia on Sikh religious and cultural practices.

“Until today, I was completely ignorant of Sikhism,” said Pittsburgh Police Detective Julia Stoops. “I learned a lot. This was great, one of the best training sessions I've taken in a long time.”

Representatives from the FBI, Pennsylvania State Police, West Virginia State Police, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), City of Pittsburgh Police Department, and many others learned about the significance of the turban, the five articles of faith, and recommendations on how to properly interact with the Sikh American community.

“The training was a great tool to sustain and develop relationships before an incident occurs,” said SALDEF National Director Rajbir Singh Datta. “I was very pleased to see members of the local Sikh American community attend to cultivate those friendships.”

Additionally, all 250 agents of the FBI – Washington Field Office underwent Sikh American cultural awareness training and viewed On Common Ground, the first and only Sikh American cultural training film for law enforcement.

The training is part of SALDEF’s Law Enforcement Partnership Program (LEPP). SALDEF’s LEPP has trained over 36,000 law enforcement officials on Sikh religious practices; 12,000 of which have occurred in 2007 alone. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Government checks discrimination claim against local hospital

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed suit against a Nashville hospital alleging that it discriminated against a health-care technician because of his religion.

According to the suit, filed last week, Wali Telwar had worked at Southern Hills Medical Center for nearly three years when in 2005 he requested paid time away from work he accumulated to attend the hajj.

Every Muslim is required to attend the hajj — an annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, birthplace of the Islamic religion and its prophet — in their lifetime. The hospital allegedly refused to grant Telwar the time, according to the suit filed by the EEOC in Nashville's federal district court Sept. 28. Telwar also was allegedly told that if he insisted on attending the hajj he would have to quit and reapply when he returned.

Telwar resigned, according to the suit. When he returned, Southern Hills did not rehire Telwar. Instead, the hospital hired three other medical technicians.

Southern Hills Marketing Director Karen Baker declined to comment on the details of the suit.

"We did not discriminate against Mr. Telwar," Baker said in a statement. "We intend to defend our position vigorously." [Link]

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Teens Arrested in Maryland Hate Crime

SALDEF commends Montgomery County Police for efforts in apprehending alleged perpetrators

Yesteday, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nations oldest and largest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization, was informed that five teens have been arrested in connection with a string of attacks in Burtonsville, Maryland. SALDEF spoke directly with Chief Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department who discussed the arrests and indicated that additional arrests are expected.

On September 15, 2007, two Sikhs, Darshan Singh Sarang and Bhupinder Singh Nibber, were walking near their home when they were approached by a group of six young men. One of the teenagers struck Mr. Sarang on the side of his face, fracturing his eye socket and causing him to fall to the ground. When Mr. Nibber threatened to call the police, he was also assaulted by the group.

Additionally, on September 16, 2007, a Muslim American man also from Burtonsville, was accosted in a similar incident by a group of teenagers while he was standing in front of his apartment complex. This individual informed SALDEF of the attack in order to determine if the attacks were linked. It has also been reported that a third victim experienced a similar violent attack days after these two incidents. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

N.J. Muslim Sues Over Discrimination In Prison

A New Jersey man has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing workers at a U.S. prison in Illinois of mistreating him and other Muslims after the 2001 terrorist attacks, at one time defiling his holy book and torturing him with a nightstick when he complained.

Guards allegedly placed Hakeem Shaheed's Quran on a spit-stained floor, then assaulted him with a baton in 2005 when he reported that and other alleged abuses to Justice Department investigators, according to the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.

Shaheed, 48, was transferred by wheelchair the next day to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., where he lived in the "highly secure environment" of death row to protect him from additional abuse. He was released last year from federal custody, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Web site, and now lives in Atlantic City, N.J.

The five-count lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for alleged abuses that "were done because the plaintiff was a Muslim and because he had complained about the mistreatment of Muslim prisoners on account of their religion."

The complaint does not detail the abuses targeting other Muslim prisoners.

A Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman declined comment Tuesday because the litigation was pending.

Two of the lawsuit's defendants, former warden Randy Davis and his one-time deputy, Russell Rau, have retired, a worker at the prison said Tuesday. Messages left at Davis' home were not immediately returned. There was no home telephone listing for Rau in the Marion area.

A message also was left Tuesday with fellow defendant Michael Nalley, the regional chief of the Bureau of Prisons' North Central Region based in Kansas City, Kan. The lawsuit's other defendants were prison staffers listed only by their last names, along with nine "Officers John Doe."

Shaheed was a practicing Muslim imprisoned at the Marion lockup in southern Illinois from April 1996 to early October 2005, according to the lawsuit. Specifics about his convictions were not immediately available Tuesday.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Muslims at the prison "suffered much mistreatment by guards and employees at the prison," Shaheed alleged.

Shaheed reported some of mistreatment to various authorities, including agents with the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General in May 2005, then again three months later, the lawsuit claims.

The next month a prison lieutenant allegedly "intentionally humiliated him by putting his hands on Shaheed's head and squeezing the inmate's kufi" -- his religious knitted hat -- "in an obvious attempt to insult plaintiff's religion."

Shaheed reported that to prison and federal officials in October 2005, then found "various Marion prison guards and employees determined to torture and otherwise physically and mentally abuse" him.

Despite his screams, the lawsuit alleges, prison workers identified only as "John Does" pressed the assault, grinding the baton into his spine and at one point pressing it into his pants. Assailants also twisted Shaheed's toes and put a chain over one of them, then "yanked it extremely hard," according to the lawsuit.

"You don't want to mess with these rednecks around here, they'll kill you," the lawsuit quoted one of the guards as saying. [Link]

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Defending "camel jockeys" slur, Coulter said: "We have sure moved away from the day when we called them Krauts and Nips"

On the October 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, during a discussion with right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, co-host Alan Colmes said, referring to a chapter in Coulter's new book, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans (Crown Forum): "[Y]ou're quoted as saying, 'Maybe I'm winning the camel jockeys over,' " to which Coulter responded: "Yes ... That's actually in the book. That's not a made-up quote." Colmes then asked: "So you have no problem referring to Arabs as camel jockeys?" Coulter responded: "Oh. Yeah. No. They killed 3,000 Americans. I'll be very careful with my language." In response, Colmes said: "[W]hen you refer to an entire ethnicity as camel jockeys, it sounds bigoted," to which Coulter again asserted: "Yes, and it's so mean after they killed 3,000 Americans, and I shouldn't be mean to them," adding, "We have sure moved away from the day when we called them Krauts and Nips."

The description of Coulter's book by publisher Crown Forum states: "Now you can read all the quotes that have so outraged her enemies and so delighted her legions of fans. More than just the definitive collection of Coulterisms, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans includes dozens of brand-new commentaries written by Coulter and hundreds of never-before-published quotations."

Later in the segment, Coulter said that her "camel jockeys" comment "was a quote on [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad." Colmes responded: "You were talking about camel jockeys. That's plural." As Media Matters for America documented, Coulter did refer to Ahmadinejad as a "camel jockey" in her February 15, 2006, nationally syndicated column, but she also used the plural version of the phrase "camel jockey" in her book without referring to any individual. [Link]


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Spanish school forced to let Muslim wear headscarf

An eight-year-old Muslim girl in Spain who stayed off school when told to remove her headscarf returned to classes on Tuesday after her college was ordered to let her wear the traditional head cover, her mother said.

The regional government of Catalonia, northeast Spain, told the school in Girona to let Shaima Saidani wear the scarf, or hijab, on grounds it would be discrimination not to do so, local media reported.

"She went back to school today, it's all been resolved, thank God it's over," Noana Alharami, the girl's mother, told Reuters by telephone.

The decision by the Catalonian government contrasts with a ban on headscarves from state schools in France as well as some colleges in the Netherlands.

Britain and many other EU states allow the headscarf in the name of civil liberty, or let schools decide their own policy.

The public school in Girona last week said Saidani could not go to class wearing the headscarf based on an internal rule against discrimination among students.

Catalonia's education department overruled the Joan Puigbert-Annexa public school on grounds the Spanish state respects all religions and allows Muslims to wear the hijab.

Saidani's mother said her daughter had lived much of her life in Morocco with her grandmother, who gave her a religious education. She said it was Saidani's decision to wear a hijab.

Saidani was forced to change schools last year after students at another college pulled off her headscarf, Alharami said. [Link]

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Ignorance is Cause of Bias, Muslim Leaders Say

After months of hostile letters to the newspaper - and a growing number of letters defending the group - roughly 150 visitors from as far as Hollister and Santa Clara gathered at the San Martin Lions Club Saturday to learn about Islamic culture and the challenges faced by American Muslims in a post 9-11 world.

"Americans are not discriminating against us because of what they know about us, but because of ignorance," the crowd was told by Maha Elgenaidy, a speaker from the Islamic Networks Group, a nonprofit formed after 9-11 to spread knowledge about Islam to government officials, law enforcement personnel, schoolchildren and other groups.

Elgenaidy explained that Muslims, like their Christian and Jewish peers, greet each other with expressions of peace. Similar to the Judeo-Christian religions, Muslims believe in a single God and high moral character -- essentially the Golde Rule of "do unto others," Elgenaidy said. The perceived differences in Islamic culture are often distortions or outright fabrications, Elgenaidy said.

The pink, flowered scarf covering her head, for instance, is not an emblem of female oppression but one of liberation, Elgenaidy said, explaining that Muslim women cover their hair and bodies so that they are judged by their intellect and character rather than their sexuality. The word "jihad," meanwhile, is another staple of Islamic culture that has been distorted by media in both the East and West, she said. Violent Islamic fanatics have "hijacked" the word, which in its truest form represents the internal struggle of every Muslim to live a life of purity and high moral character. In mainstream Islam, she said, the word also describes selfless actions such as charity or the prevention of abuse or violence.

"Osama Bin Laden to me is like David Koresh or the Davidians," she said, referring to the cult leader and his followers who died in an FBI raid in 1993. "He has nothing to do with my religion."....

The list [of a list of recent hate crimes directed against Bay Area Muslims] includes arson at an Antioch mosque and a Sikh man in Santa Clara who was stabbed in the neck because of his Middle Eastern garb (the perpetrator was a neighbor who said he feared the man was a terrorist). [Link]

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Coalition Launches Groundbreaking Anti-Bullying Website for Sikh Kids

In another first for the Sikh community, the Sikh Coalition today launched Khalsa Kids a website dedicated exclusively to helping Sikh students fight school bullying. The website is designed as an interactive resource tool, featuring a discussion forum, videos, and downloadable presentations. Parents and teachers can also use the website’s sample lesson plans and games to teach others about Sikhs.

Khalsa Kids is part of the Sikh Coalition’s response to a hate crime committed earlier this year against a Sikh student in Queens, New York. Harpal Singh Vacher’s attackers, fellow high school students, forcibly removed his turban and cut his hair in a school bathroom. Harpal has since transferred schools in order to ensure his own safety.

Shortly after the attack, the Sikh Coalition issued its first ever civil rights report - Hatred in the Hallways - on the problems Sikh children face in school everyday. The report, based on a survey of New York City Sikhs, revealed that nearly 75% of Sikh boys in Queens are harassed or intimidated because of their religion. People call them “Osama bin Laden” or “terrorists,” often threatening or physically harassing them as well. Khalsa Kids is a way for kids to feel proud of their identity and to give them the tools to combat bias in school.

The Sikh Coalition has also been working with the Department of Education over the past few months to make New York City schools safer for Sikhs. On September 25, 2007, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein sent a letter to all school principals in New York City stressing the importance of diversity in our schools, and pointing to Harpal’s attack as a cautionary example. Chancellor Klein has also pledged to provide a Punjabi-language fact sheet for Sikh students and parents, telling them what they can do if they are being harassed in school. The fact sheet, along with state-specific know your rights packets, will be available for download on the Khalsa Kids website.

For more information, check out www.khalsakids.org. [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Alabama Event *today*

"A Dream in Doubt" 5 p.m. to­day.

Capri Theatre.


Documentary about a Sikh man who was killed in Arizona after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Pro­ducers will be on hand to discuss the film from 6-6:30 p.m. [Link]

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