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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Minn. Premiere of Documentary about Post-9/11 Hate Crimes at Macalester College – April 3

Macalester College will host the Minnesota premiere of Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath, the first feature-length documentary film to analyze the aftermath of 9/11 on South Asian and Arab Americans, at 7:30 p.m., April 3, in the Campus Center’s John B. Davis Lecture Hall.

The film documents hate crimes against Sikhs, Muslims and others after 9/11 and examines how Americans react to the perceived "other" in times of war. Filmmaker Valarie Kaur will be available for Q&A with audience and press interviews.

Directed by Sharat Raju, Divided We Fall follows then-college student Valarie Kaur in the days and months after the 2001 terrorist attacks as she drove across America interviewing victims of hate violence.

"Five years in the making, Divided We Fall invites audiences to experience the untold stories of 9/11," said Kaur. "The journey spirals into the larger question of who counts as 'one of us' in a world divided into 'us' and ‘them.’”

Divided We Fall features the story of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a turbaned Sikh man who was shot and killed in Mesa, Ariz., on Sept. 15, 2001, by a man who called himself a "patriot." The killing was the first of an estimated 19 "retribution" murders in the year after the Sept. 11 attacks. Many Sikhs who wore turbans were immediately targeted in the backlash. Half a million Americans and 23 million people worldwide belong to the Sikh religion, which originated in India in the 15th century and requires the turban as an article of faith.

Sodhi's murder compelled Kaur, a third-generation Sikh American who was then a junior at Stanford University, to take action. With her turbaned 18-year-old cousin as cameraman, she took to the road, documenting stories seldom seen or heard by mainstream America.

Kaur traveled through 14 American cities, from Ground Zero in New York to Sodhi's gas station in Arizona, and captured more than 100 hours of interview footage. People invited her into their lives to share stories of fear and unspeakable loss, but also of resilience and hope. Her journey ended in Punjab, India, where she interviewed Sodhi's widow, Herjinder Kaur.

A second round of production in 2005, supported by a New Filmmaker Grant from Panavision Camera and a generous contribution from Eastman Kodak, added interviews with noted scholars, professors, lawmakers and policy experts who provide context and analysis to the original stories Kaur gathered in 2001.

Kaur recently received her master's degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School, where she is the founding director of the Discrimination and National Security Initiative, an affiliate of the Harvard Pluralism Project.

"Terrorism and critical moments in the war on terror trigger hate violence at home," Kaur said. "If we can recognize Sikh and Muslim faces as 'American,' we can respond to the fear that divides our nation in times of crises and come one step closer to a more perfect union."

Raju, an award-winning filmmaker and recent graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory, teamed up with Kaur to present the first full-length documentary addressing hate crimes in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

"In the months after Sept. 11, the phrase 'United We Stand' was on bumper stickers and signs all across the country," Raju said. "But the phrase has a second part -- 'Divided We Fall.' There's a bigger picture, and we must strive to bridge the divisions between us in order for those words to be more than just a slogan. We hope our film is one more step in that direction."

Divided We Fall is sponsored by Macalester College’s Lealtad-Suzuki Center, the office of the Dean for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and The Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.

Macalester College, founded in 1874, is a national liberal arts college with a full-time enrollment of 1,884 students. Macalester is nationally recognized for its long-standing commitment to academic excellence, internationalism, multiculturalism and civic engagement.

For more information, see the official film site: www.dwf-film.com [Link]

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Muslim teacher loses veil appeal

A Muslim teaching assistant today lost her appeal against an employment tribunal’s decision that being prevented from wearing a veil in the classroom was not discrimination.

Aishah Azmi, 24, was suspended on full pay after staff at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, said pupils found it harder to understand her.

A Leeds employment tribunal dismissed three of Mrs Azmi’s claims of discrimination and harassment, but found that she was victimised and awarded her £1,000 for “injury to feelings“.

A month later, the local education authority sacked her from her post as a bilingual support worker.

Her lawyer, Nick Whittingham, said that the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) accepted that it was possible for direct discrimination to occur in respect of a manifestation of a religious belief such as the wearing of the veil.

“The EAT rejected the employer’s argument that all discrimination on the basis of such manifestations can potentially be justified as indirect discrimination but decided that in this particular case there had not been direct discrimination against Ms Azmi,” he said.

Rachel Dineley, an employment partner at law firm Beachcroft, said: “In coming to its conclusions the EAT has given employers guidance on the principles that tribunals should apply when they are considering employers’ practices which affect a particular section of the workforce on religious grounds.

“This is particularly welcome given the sensitive nature of the allegations raised and the concern that many employers feel, about balancing the need to respect the beliefs of their employees with a desire to communicate clearly and effectively with clients, customers or those to whom they are delivering services.”

However, Ms Dinely said the ruling did not allow employers to ban staff from wearing veils in all circumstances.

“In Mrs Azmi’s case, wearing a veil was clearly incompatible with the effective teaching of the pupils in question. But in other cases it may be far harder to make such a determination," she added. [Link]

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Amu aims lens at anti-Sikh riots

Amu starts off as a personal journey and grows, slowly and confidently, into a much larger social and political document.

Kaju (Konkona Sen Sharma) is a young South Asian student from Los Angeles. She is in India to visit her cousins, explore her roots and go back to the village where she was born. Kaju is adopted, and wants to see what remains of the tiny settlement where she was born and where her parents died of malaria.

Having been adopted at age 3, Kaju believes she has no memories of India at all. When she visits a Delhi slum, however, and later ventures near the train station, she remembers brief moments from her childhood....

When Kaju's mother Keya turns up from Los Angeles as a surprise for her daughter, the story of Amu begins to change. Keya (the magnificent Brinda Karat, who is actually a politician and feminist leader in India) is the only one who knows the details of Kaju's birth parents. When Kaju starts to ask specific questions, Keya doesn't know what to tell the girl, and what to leave out.

It is revealed that Kaju's parents were involved in the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October 1984. This hidden chapter in Indian history meant the murders of between 5,000 and 10,000 Sikhs (there was never an official count) over three days, deaths helped along by police and government participation. The facts of the riots, the complicity of officials and the attempt to help people forget any of it ever happened are all filtered through Kaju's grief, as she learns about the tragedy of her childhood. [Link]

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Georgia Court Apologizes to Sikh American Denied Entry into Court House Due to his Turban

SALDEF works with local civic officials to resolve issue and organize training for local police and security officials

Earlier this month, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)... received a formal apology from the City of Lawrenceville, Georgia, for wrongfully denying Mr. Jasmeen Singh Nanda entry to the city courthouse.

Late last Fall, Mr. Nanda arrived at the Lawrenceville Municipal Court to contest a minor traffic violation he received. After Mr. Nanda successfully passed through the security screening, two Lawrenceville police officers informed Mr. Nanda that, “[w]hatever you have on your head, you need to remove it immediately.” Mr. Nanda explained that he was not wearing a hat, but rather a religious head covering called a turban.

After trying to explain the significance of the Sikh turban, Mr. Nanda was accosted (assaulted) by one of the officers who disrespectfully touched and squeezed his turban several times while asking him, "[w]hat is that on top of your head?” Mr. Nanda was threatened with arrest and told that he would, “need to show me your hair before you enter the court room or get out of here and get out of my face and stop wasting our time.” Mr. Nanda at this point left the court house and immediately informed SALDEF of the incident.

SALDEF asked the City of Lawrenceville to revise its current court room policy relating to religious garb and to allow SALDEF to conduct a cultural awareness presentation for the court personnel. SALDEF presented a model security screening procedure and protocol that is respectful of not only the Sikh turban, but an individual wearing a religious head covering.

Subsequent to the communication and discussion with SALDEF on court room policy relating to religious garb currently being implemented in Lawrenceville, city officials agreed to formally change their policy and to have SALDEF conduct a cultural awareness presentation for the officers and court room personnel in the Spring. The formal change in policy states, “[I]f the headwear is donned in observance of a religious tenet, the Court Services officers will not ask the person to remove the headwear.” [SALDEF Press Release]

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Muslim Woman Sues Judge Over Veil

A Muslim woman whose small-claims court case was dismissed after she refused to remove her veil sued the judge Wednesday, saying her religious and civil rights were violated.

Ginnnah Muhammad, 42, of Detroit, says in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit that Judge Paul Paruk's request to remove her veil _ and his decision to dismiss her case when she didn't _ was unconstitutional based on her First Amendment right to practice her religion.

The claim against Paruk also cites a federal civil rights law in alleging that Muhammad was denied access to the courts because of her religion.

Muhammad wore a niqab _ a scarf and veil that covers her head and face, leaving only the eyes visible _ during the October hearing in Hamtramck, a city surrounded by Detroit....

Paruk told her he needed to see her face to judge her truthfulness and gave her a choice: take off the veil while testifying or have the case dismissed. She kept it on. [Link]

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Young Sikhs discard turban, elders worried

India's Sikh spiritual leaders are unhappy their young men are discarding their Kesh or long hair, one of the five articles of faith, in the name of fashion.

A Sikh is forbidden from cutting his Kesh, kept tied under a Pugree or long turban that gives the Sikh their special identity....

However, in keeping with today's lifestyle, young Sikhs who are part of their 18 million population in India, are cutting their hair and discarding the turbans.

In Sikhism's holiest city of Amritsar, an 18-year-old told the International Herald Tribune he found the turban a bother as it got in the way during judo classes.

"In the end," he said, "it was a question of fashion. I felt smarter without it."

Additionally, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, some Sikhs have complained of being confused with members of the Taliban at airport security. [Link]

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Engineer Suing Boeing for Discrimination

An engineer who specialized in airplanes filed a lawsuit against Boeing, claiming he had to work in a hostile work environment, News 4 WOAI learned Tuesday.

According to the lawsuit, Zuhair Ahmed was working at Boeing here in San Antonio when the September 11th attacks happened in 2001. Ahmed claims after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, his co-workers began making fun of his religion and race.

Ahmed claims in the lawsuit, co-workers and supervisors at Boeing began harassing and discriminating against him because of his African and Sudanese origin. Ahmed is also Muslim, according to the suit.

In March 2005, Ahmed claims in the lawsuit he was fired after a work-related injury.

Boeing officials told News 4 WOAI they cannot comment on the lawsuit because it has not been served yet.

The company has policies in place prohibiting harassment and discrimination, Boeing officials said. [Link]

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Almost 20 race-hate crimes a day in Scotland

RACISM in Scotland is a "cancer" that is getting bigger every day, it was claimed yesterday, as new figures revealed a large rise in attacks on members of ethnic- minority communities.

The number of racist crimes recorded by the police in Scotland was 6,439 in 2005-6, up 12 per cent from 5,732 the previous year and representing an average of more than 17 crimes every day.

The most extensive analysis of racism ever conducted in Scotland also found that 5,124 racist incidents, including verbal abuse and forms of discrimination, were recorded in 2005-6 - an increase of 588 (13 per cent).

Most victims, the Scottish Executive research found, were of Asian origin, the largest group being Pakistani.

Last night a leading member of Scotland's Pakistani community said racism was rife and getting worse.

Shami Khan, Edinburgh's only Asian councillor, said: "It's a cancer of society and it's getting worse day by day, especially for the Muslim community.

"These figures are just the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of victims are scared and don't want to come." [Link]

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

False reporting is wrong

Many Americans are aware of the case of six American Muslim imams (prayer leaders) who were removed from a US Airways flight. Notwithstanding the fact that the imams had already cleared TSA security and did nothing illegal, they were discriminated against by not being allowed to re-board any subsequent US Airways flights to Phoenix.

Another recent case illustrates the absurdity of racial profiling. Last September, a Jewish man was removed from an Air Canada Jazz flight in Montreal for merely praying in his seat. Jewish rabbis criticized the move as insensitive, saying the flight attendants should have explained to other passengers that the man was not doing any harm.

My sentiments exactly, rabbis.

The lawsuit by the imams is seeking damages from US Airways for their alleged discrimination. It is not against any passengers who reported "suspicious" activity in good faith, even when that "suspicious" behavior includes religiously mandated prayers.

However, political cherry-pickers insinuate that the lawsuit punishes travelers who report suspicious activity. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Reporting suspicious criminal activity to law enforcement authorities does not absolve anyone from the responsibility to be factual. False reporting is criminal. We want to find out whether these "John Does" made other false claims against the imams - not just that they were praying, however ignorant complaining about that might be.

Once allegations are made, it becomes the responsibility of the airline to discern between peaceful prayers and passenger endangerment. Government officials have repeatedly stated that racial profiling is an ineffective law enforcement technique. [Link]

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Washington Times: House votes to protect 'John Does' on flights

House Republicans tonight surprised Democrats with a procedural vote to protect public-transportation passengers from being sued if they report suspicious activity -- the first step by lawmakers to protect "John Doe" airline travelers already targeted in such a lawsuit.

After a heated debate and calls for order, the motion to recommit the Democrats' Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007 back to committee with instructions to add the protective language passed on a vote of 304-121.

Republicans said the lawsuit filed by six Muslim imams against US Airways and "John Does," passengers who reported suspicious behavior, could have a "chilling effect" on passengers who may fear being sued for acting vigilant.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, offered the motion saying all Americans -- airline passengers included -- must be protected from lawsuits if they report suspicious behavior that may foreshadow a terrorist attack.

"All of our lives changed after September 11, and one of the most important things we have done is ask local citizens to do what they can to avoid another terrorist attack, if you see something, say something," said Mr. King.

"We have to stand by our people and report suspicious activity," he said. "I cannot imagine anyone would be opposed to this."

Mr. King called it a "disgrace" that the suit seeks to identify "people who acted out of good faith and reported what they thought was suspicious activity."

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, opposed the motion over loud objections from colleagues on the House floor, forcing several calls to order from the chair.

"Absolutely they should have the ability to seek redress in a court of law," said Mr. Thompson, who suggested that protecting passengers from a lawsuit would encourage racial profiling.

"This might be well-intended, but it has unintended consequences," Mr. Thompson said, before he accepted the motion to recommit. [Link]

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France apex court upholds turban ban

The apex court of France has dismissed a petition pertaining to wearing of turbans by Sikhs. The petition was filed on behalf of Sikh students staying in France. Their legal counsel in India, M S Rahi, who has also taken up the issue in Punjab and Haryana High Court, confirmed that the petition was dismissed in the second week of March.

Sixty seven-year-old Ranjeet Singh, who has been staying in Paris for more than 15 years now and has been denied social security perks, told TOI, "We will file a petition in the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg. The case will be filed by the Singh Legal Foundation in Luxemburg." Incidentally, a similar case is already going on at Strasbrough in France, the headquarters of European Human Rights Commission.
[Link]

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Sikh organizations give memorandum to UN

Representatives of nearly 25 Sikh organizations from around the world gave a memorandum to the UN on various international Sikh issues in Geneva on Tuesday.

Nearly 200 members of the various Sikh organizations from 15 countries assembled at Langenthal to highlight the problem of religious freedom. The conference coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.

Talking to ANI from Switzerland, Harminder Singh, senior member of Sikh Foundation, said that though most of the Sikh affairs in India were taken care by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee (SGPC), but as far as international Sikh issues were concerned, the SGPC had failed to take them up at international platform.

The representatives said that their demands include a request that the UN endorses International Code of Practice on Sikh articles of faith.

They said that Sikhs across the world were facing increasing difficulties regarding religious freedoms and their visible identity due to a lack of knowledge and ignorance.


The memorandum said that there was a need to properly protect the Sikh identity and articles of faith at work, in business and in public places.

Harminder Singh said that identity crises were one of the major issues for the Sikh living outside India. He lamented that SGPC also failed to resolve turban issue with the Government of France.

This was the first time that representatives of various Sikh organizations from different countries assembled on an international platform to not only discuss the Sikh issues, but also put forward their best efforts for resolving these issues, he added. [Link]

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Young Sikhs abandon turban in favour of 'Bollywood haircuts'

For centuries one of Sikhism's most distinguishing symbols, the turban is in danger of falling out of favour.

Young Sikhs are abandoning the traditional headwear, wearying of the elaborate ceremony of maintaining long hair and knotting it under six yards of starched cotton.

"Across Punjab a large number of Sikh youth have cut their hair and, sadly, the turban-tying ceremony for teenage boys has also become rare, even in villages" lamented Avtar Singh Makkar, a senior clergyman.

The majority of the world's 20 million Sikhs are concentrated in rural Punjab, where barbers - who historically had to supplement their incomes due to a lack of customers - are now doing brisk business....

Meanwhile, concern over acts of violence in the West against Sikhs, mistaken for members of the Taliban, who also sport turbans, has also prompted overseas campaigns to "dignify" the headgear. [Link]

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Friday, March 23, 2007

UK: Men jailed for racist attack against Sikh

JAIL sentences totalling three-and-a-half years have been handed out to two racist thugs who launched a sickening attack on a Sikh supermarket manager.

Steven Kent, aged 25, and Stuart Cameron, aged 19, carried out the attack at Sainsbury's store in Harpenden after turning up drunk two hours before the store was due to open on Sunday, May 28, last year.

The two, who had each drunk 15 pints of lager, tried to force their way in for more alcohol and Cameron, of Glemsford Drive, Harpenden, attacked the manager Gurminder Singh thinking he was a Muslim.

When Mr Singh, known as Bobby, told them he was a Sikh they rained a flurry of blows on him, leaving him with a fractured cheekbone.

His colleague David Wilson tried to pull the yobs away but was himself punched several times in the face by Kent and a third man Mark Hattam.

Kent, of Lowestoft, was sentenced to two years in jail after being found guilty of racially-aggravated grievous bodily harm as well as a charge of affray for attacking Mr Wilson when he rushed to help Mr Singh.

Cameron, a carpentry student, received 18 months detention after admitting the race attack.

Hattam, aged 19, a trainee bricklayer of Ranleigh Walk, Harpenden, who defecated in a nearby lift and whose face was described as "contorted with rage" during the onslaught, was found guilty of affray. He was given six months in a young offenders' institution. [Link]

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Muslim women allowed to cover face when voting

All three front-runners in Monday's provincial election protested a decision by Elections Canada to allow Muslim women to cover their faces while they vote.

Liberal Leader Jean Charest requested on Thursday to have the decision reversed that would allow Muslim women to wear their niqab or burqa while casting their ballots....

Elections Canada said Muslim women will be allowed to wear the niqab, which leaves only a woman's eyes visible, if they sign a sworn statement attesting to their identity, show two pieces of identification and are accompanied by someone who can vouch for their identity. [Link]

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Britain: Schools Have Right to Ban Veils

Britain Says Schools Have Right to Ban Students From Wearing Muslim Veils

Schools have the right to ban students from wearing Muslim veils if teachers believe the garments affect safety or pupils' learning, the British government said Tuesday.

But educators should speak with parents before introducing such a ban, the Education Ministry said in updated guidelines that also addressed keeping uniforms affordable and spelling out disciplinary measures.

"Schools should consult parents and the wider community when setting uniform policy," Schools Minister Jim Knight said.

"And while they should make every effort to accommodate social, religious or medical requirements of individual pupils, the needs of safety, security and effective learning in the school must always take precedence," he said.

The ministry said head teachers always had the right to set their school's uniform policy. Schools had already been advised to accommodate different religions, but the new rules spelled out for the first time that concerns such as safety are valid reasons for exceptions. [Link]

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SALDEF Welcomes Congressional Legislation on Hate Crimes

Sikh American Community Encouraged to Contact Local Legislators to Support Important Bill

The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the nation’s oldest Sikh American civil rights advocacy organization, today applauds Congress for taking the first step in passing a new piece of legislation aimed at protecting the nation’s communities from hate violence.

Late yesterday, U.S. House of Representative Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), introduced H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime’s Prevention Act of 2007. The legislation, which has enjoyed bipartisan support from this Congress, and has 137 co-sponsors already, will provide assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies and amend federal law to facilitate with the investigation and prosecution of violent, bias-motivated crimes. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Court won't review compensatory damages appeal

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider an appeal of a case in which a Muslim immigrant from Afghanistan was found to have been subject to an offensive and hostile work environment, but received no compensatory or punitive damages.

Abdul Azimi asked the high court to consider his case after the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to award him any damages despite the fact that a district court jury found that he suffered racial, religious or ethnic harassment at his former employer, Jordan Meats Inc., in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine jury, however, found Mr. Azimi did not suffer any compensable harm as a result of the discrimination and therefore did not award him any compensatory damages.

Mr. Azimi, for example, did not provide any evidence of out-of-pocket costs for medical or psychological treatment or any lost wages, court papers say. The only testimony on compensatory damages that Mr. Azimi offered in regard to his emotional distress came from him, his wife and a close friend from his mosque. The jury rejected it.

Mr. Azimi appealed the ruling on several counts, including that the jury was required to award compensatory damages either as a matter of law or because the evidence compelled it.

In denying the appeal, the appeals court ruled last August that the Supreme Court "long ago" rejected the argument that a finding of a hostile work environment requires that there be an award of compensatory damages.

The appeals court also ruled that Mr. Azimi is not entitled to nominal damages because he did not ask for them in a timely fashion, and that he also is not entitled to punitive damages because the court bars punitive damages awards if there is no finding of compensatory or nominal damages. [Link]

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Monday, March 19, 2007

An enclave of faith

In Hillsborough, Sikhs come together to worship God and honor their guru.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001.

After that, teenagers called him a terrorist as he shopped with his daughter at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Administrators at a Pinellas County private school refused to admit his children unless they cut their hair. Perplexed, Singh found another, more tolerant school.

Sikhs, Singh and others at the temple say, have a problem: Few people know who they are and what they believe.

"People misunderstand our identity," said Devinder Sethi, a Tampa business owner and manager of the gurdwara. "We are not Muslim. We are Sikh. I'm really proud of my religion."

Still Singh, like others, feels pressure to fit in. He wants his children to become sports stars and help break down barriers for Sikhs in the public square.

"I was trying to tell my kids, 'You need to become a golfer and a tennis player so everybody will see you on television so they can see that Sikhs are like us,'" Singh said. "I tried my hardest, but my kids have so much homework. I'm still pushing them."

Young men at the temple learn to perfect answering questions from curious classmates about their headdress.

"I've been teaching them and enlightening them about what Sikhism is all about," said Neal Singh, a 16-year-old sophomore at Palm Harbor University High School. "It's made me strong in my beliefs and my faith."

Still, the adults and children know the road to widespread understanding of their religion looms long. Most Americans can't even properly pronounce their religion's name. It rhymes with stick, not seek. And many Sikhs lack religious knowledge too. [Link]

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Friday, March 16, 2007

UK: Temple graffiti attack: man held

A RACIST yob has scrawled messages of hate on the gates of a former church now used by city Sikhs.

The Sikh Association Community Centre... was targeted by vandals on the same day members celebrated the return of its stained glass windows.

A member of the public complained after seeing the abusive graffiti scrawled on the gates and railings around the former church.

Today Manjit Singh Cheema, from the Sunderland Sikh Association, said he and the community were disgusted and saddened to see the hate graffiti.

He said: "It's such a shame when one person does something like this. We are shocked by this and it's sad that this has happened."

"We want the community centre to be used by everyone, regardless to their race or religion, so this is just awful that someone has done this...."

Mr Cheema says integration has always been important to the Sikh community.
He said: "We have a lot to offer the city and we don't make any difference between people who are Sikh, or Christian or whatever. We want the centre to be used by everyone."

A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police today confirmed a 25-year-old man had been arrested in connection with the graffiti incident. [Link]

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DOJ sues New York over headgear ban affecting Muslim prison guard

The agency that runs New York's prisons responded to a religious discrimination lawsuit Thursday by saying it has modified a rule barring uniformed officers from wearing visible symbols of their faith on the job.

The U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division sued New York's Department of Correctional Services on Thursday, seeking an overhaul of its grooming regulations for uniformed guards.

The suit was filed in Manhattan on behalf of Abdus Samad N. Haqq, a correction officer from Brooklyn who was ordered to stop wearing a kufi to his job at a halfway house in 2005. A kufi is a knitted skullcap that carries religious significance for many Muslim men.

The New York Civil Liberties Union brought an initial lawsuit on Haqq's behalf in October, saying the rule violated his religious rights.

In its companion suit, the Department of Justice said the Department of Correctional Services had violated a federal law requiring employers to reasonably accommodate the reasonable religious practices of their workers.

"Americans are not required to abandon their religious beliefs when they report for work," said Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim in a statement announcing the lawsuit. [Link]

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County condemns hate

Community supports Sikhs after temple vandalized

A diverse group of area religious and community leaders on Thursday pledged their unequivocal support to the Sikh community, while roundly condemning vandalism at the group's temple.

"We're all one family," Anderson Mayor Keith Webster told a crowd of at least 50 people who attended a noon gathering at the vandalized Sikh Center off Deschutes Road.

Webster joined Shasta County Administrative Officer Larry Lees, Supervisor Les Baugh, Sheriff Tom Bosenko, Anderson police Capt. Robert Kirvin and representatives from local Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, American Indian and Muslim groups to say that racism and religious intolerance have no place in Shasta County.

"This hasn't happened to one segment of our community," said Lynn Fritz, community outreach minister with the Spiritual Enrichment Center in Redding. "It happened to all of us."

The speakers' message of unity, respect and love seemed to resonate with the Sikhs.

"To feel it today, it makes you feel like you belong," said Preet Singh, a Redding Sikh. [Link]

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

LA Times: U.S. officials want more outreach to American Arabs, Muslims

Senior Homeland Security officials told a Senate panel Wednesday that they were having a hard time employing enough interpreters and analysts to counter domestic terrorist threats and that they needed to do more to reach out to American Arabs and Muslims.

They also warned that some American Muslims were at risk of becoming radicalized and might try to execute homegrown terrorist attacks of the sort carried out on London subways and buses in 2005.

And even though they said they were aware of the sensitivity of the situation, Secretary Michael Chertoff and other officials acknowledged that they did not fully understand the radicalization process or know the size of the problem.

In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, they said the department had taken steps to better communicate with Arab, Muslim and South Asian Americans but said more needed to be done to build trust and encourage them to enter public service.

"We believe that a critical element of our strategy for securing this country is to build a level of communication, trust and confidence that is unprecedented in our nation's history," said Daniel W. Sutherland, the department's officer for civil rights and civil liberties. [Link]

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Correctional officer loses job over head scarf

Once again, the hijab has morphed from religious head covering to potential lightning rod in Quebec, this time after costing a 19-year-old Montreal woman her job.

Sondos Abdelatif was a week into her training to become a correctional officer at the Bordeaux provincial jail near Montreal when she was called into the prison director's office two days ago and told she had to choose between her job and her hijab, which was deemed a safety risk because of the potential for strangulation.

Ms. Abdelatif chose the hijab. [Link]

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Australia: Sikh made to get off Qantas flight

The Indian community in Queenstown is upset after a Sikh hotel worker was made to get off a Qantas flight last week as some passengers thought he could be a terrorist.

Harminder Singh Mavi had boarded a routine Qantas flight between Queenstown and Auckland March 7, but was requested to disembark minutes before the flight took off.

'I was shocked and I left the plane because I was a bit afraid someone might take my turban off. I was embarrassed. I had not done anything,' Mavi said.

'People either side of me were saying they don't want me on here. One of the ladies told another guy that she was not comfortable with me on the plane,' he added.


Mavi is planning to leave Queenstown because of the embarrassing incident.

Upset members of Queenstown's Indian community have urged him to file a complaint with the human rights commission and consider suing Qantas, according to scene.co.nz [Link]

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Australia: Vandals spray racist graffiti over temple

Police are continuing their investigations into a vandalism attack at an Indian Sikh temple in Shepparton, in north-east Victoria, on Friday night.

Senior Constable Danny Colliver says racist graffiti was written on the inside and outside walls of the Doyle Road building, which is under construction.

He says the remarks are anti-Muslim, but the temple is actually for the Sikh faith.

He says police have been unable to link the graffiti to anyone in particular, but the case remains open.

Anyone with information is being asked to contact Shepparton police station or Crimestoppers. [Link]

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Man arrested in temple damage

Destruction called hate crime

A Redding man was arrested on suspicion of committing a hate crime early Tuesday after he allegedly rammed a Sikh temple with a stolen 25-ton front-end loader in a drug-fueled rampage.

Shasta County sheriff's Sgt. Janet Breshears said Michael Benjamin Rafferty, 39, had called authorities to report the tractor being stolen.

When deputies contacted him, he gave conflicting statements and implicated himself in both the theft and the temple vandalism, Breshears said.

He was obviously on drugs, she said....

The destruction saddens members of the Sikh community, who've spent most of the past decade planning and building the new 9,000-square-foot temple.

"It's very upsetting," said Dr. Harvinder Birk, a Redding neurologist who donated a large portion of the money for the temple's construction. "We've been working on this since 1999." [Link]

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"It's all about the spices"

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mala Kohli's adult son was the target of ridicule in New York City.

A Sikh, Ajay Kohli wears a turban and does not shave his facial hair. Some took his look to mean that he was a follower of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 hijackings.

"They'd say, 'Go home, Osama,'" Mala Kohli said. "It's very important, especially after 9/11, for people to know who we are. We are Sikh. We are Indian."

Sikhism, the world's fifth-largest religion, has more than 20 million followers. According to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, about 500,000 live in the United States, 20,000 in Virginia. But many Americans still do not understand the faith and culture. That's why Kohli and a dozen or so other women from the Sikh and Punjab Community of Central Virginia, which has about 150 members, regularly cook meals to share with others.

Each week, they prepare food from their homeland of Punjab, India, at their temple. Everyone, no matter his religion or race, is invited. And on Saturday, they will dish out traditional Indian food during the fifth annual Festival of Punjab, India at the Cultural Center of India in Chester.

"It's to bring the whole community together," said Pinky Khokhar, one of the chefs. "We want people to see what we are about -- our culture, our religion. We want people to know us." [Link]

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

First Freedom Project Boosts Effort To Protect Religious Liberty

Uses community outreach, education to counter religious discrimination

The Department of Justice has launched a program to educate the public about laws protecting religious freedom and to build relationships with religious, civil rights and community leaders to ensure religious liberty concerns are brought to the department's attention.

A key person in this effort, called the First Freedom Project, is Eric Treene, the special counsel for religious discrimination in the department's Civil Rights Division. He was hired in 2002 to coordinate all of Justice's efforts in combating religious discrimination and assure adequate attention was paid to this area.

In an interview with USINFO March 9, Treene said that even though the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division is charged with protecting the right of individuals to be free from discrimination and hate crimes on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin, "there had not been any concerted, focused effort to look for and bring religious discrimination cases" to light....

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, only exacerbated the problem, according to Treene. "After 9/11 we saw an increase in hate crimes against Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim, as well as a doubling of complaints of discrimination against Muslims in employment," he said.

Treene said U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' meetings with groups and leaders of the Muslim-American community provided the impetus for the First Freedom Project. The groups told Gonzales in January that they were pleased with the agency's record in this area, "but they wanted us to publicize it more generally" -- for the education of the person on the street and for non-Muslim audiences -- to emphasize the importance and universal nature of religious liberty and the importance of protecting the rights of all persons, including Muslim Americans. [Link]

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6 Imams Sue Airline for Removing Them

Six Islamic leaders who were removed from a US Airways flight in November are suing the airline for discrimination.

The imams were returning from a religious conference in November when they were taken off a plane in Minneapolis, handcuffed and questioned. They had prayed on their prayer rugs in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport before the flight, and after they boarded, a passenger passed a note to a flight attendant.

When the men returned to the airport the next day, they said, the airline refunded their fare but refused to sell them another ticket.

US Airways Group Inc. has said prayer was never the issue. A passenger reported overhearing anti-U.S. statements, and the men got up and moved around the airplane, the airline said.

The men said they had done nothing that should have been suspicious.

US Airways released a statement saying it hadn't seen the lawsuit, filed Monday, but that its initial position had not changed: that its employees "acted appropriately, and we continue to back the actions of our crew and ground employees in this case." [Link]

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Monday, March 12, 2007

UK: Man jailed for racist shop attack

A man who launched a racist and drunken attack on a Sikh supermarket manager thinking he was a Muslim has been jailed for two years.

Steven Kent, 25, from Lowestoft, turned up at a Sainsbury's store with two companions after they had spent the previous night drinking heavily.

It was two hours before the store, in Harpenden, Herts, was due to open and Kent, of Kirkley Cliff Road, Lowestoft, and Stuart Cameron, 19, hurled racist abuse at manager Gurminder Singh, linked to their belief he was a Muslim.

When Mr Singh, known as Bobby, told them he was a Sikh they rained a flurry of blows on him, leaving him with a fractured cheekbone.

Passing sentence at the Old Bailey, in London, yesterday, Judge Richard Hone QC, said the attack left staff in "complete terror".

Kent was handed two years in jail after he was found guilty of racially aggravated grievous bodily harm, as well as a charge of affray for attacking another Sainsbury's employee who rushed to help Mr Singh on May 28 last year. [Link]

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Front Page Washington Post Article: Terrorists Proving Harder to Profile

European Officials Say Traits of Suspected Islamic Extremists Are Constantly Shifting

With new plots surfacing every month, police across Europe are arresting significant numbers of women, teenagers, white-skinned suspects and people baptized as Christians -- groups that in the past were considered among the least likely to embrace Islamic radicalism.

The demographics of those being arrested are so diverse that many European counterterrorism officials and analysts say they have given up trying to predict what sorts of people are most likely to become terrorists. Age, sex, ethnicity, education and economic status have become more and more irrelevant....

A recently completed Dutch study of 242 Islamic radicals convicted or accused of planning terrorist attacks in Europe from 2001 to 2006 found that most were men of Arab descent who had been born and raised in Europe and came from lower or middle-class backgrounds. They ranged in age from 16 to 59 at the time of their arrests; the average was 27. About one in four had a criminal record.

The author of the study, Edwin Bakker, a researcher at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, tried to examine almost 20 variables concerning the suspects' social and economic backgrounds. In general, he determined that no reliable profile existed -- their traits were merely an accurate reflection of the overall Muslim immigrant population in Europe. "There is no standard jihadi terrorist in Europe," the study concluded. [Link]

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Tackling prejudice for a football dream

You won't find many Klan meetings in Eugene, Ore., a more receptive place than most for an Indo-Canadian kid with a turban and a long beard to start a college football career.

Nuvraj Bassi arrived on the campus of the University of Oregon a month before terrorists brought down the Twin Towers in New York, a traumatizing event that not only took a grievous toll in humanity but in the peaceful co-existence between people of different religions and backgrounds.

Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus -- who cared? -- they all looked like terrorists, and anyone who appeared different kindled uncertainty and provided ammo for the racists. Not so in Eugene.

"After 9/11, I guess I portrayed the picture of a terrorist," Bassi, a B.C. Lions' draft pick, said Thursday. "Racist people like to say stupid things. It was just the timing of everything. Anyone in a full turban and beard was suspect. It wasn't that bad in Eugene. Nothing I couldn't handle. It was a little worse at the away games. The comments made toward my family really pissed me off."

Two years later, he again felt the sting of being an outsider, playing for the Oregon Ducks against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 2003 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex. A Latino comedian named Freddie Soto, performing his routine to guests, boosters and players at a pre-bowl dinner, remarked on the diversity on the Oregon football team. When Soto asked "Where's that guy [with the turban]?" to prove his point, Bassi raised his hand. Soto delivered the punch line that he had found "Osama bin Laden."

"It was supposed to be funny, but I didn't take it lightly," Bassi recalls. "Actually, I was pretty disgusted and very angry, and I walked out. Some of my teammates were pretty shocked. Guys from the Minnesota team starting booing."

For Bassi, a practising Sikh who was born in Vancouver and blended into a larger mosaic at his high school in North Delta, being singled out is a unique experience.

On the field of play where he grew up, nobody seem to care that he played with a turban under his helmet....

While Singh isn't as strident about his Sikhism, he is just as familiar with insensitivity. Last year, at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, the game-day operators punched in the favourite expression of Apu, the convenience store clerk from The Simpsons, over the public address system. "Thank you, come again."

[Lions guard Bobby] Singh, whose offside penalty presumably precipitated the teasing sound clip, complained and the Lions were later issued a written apology.

[Link]

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Stabbing suspect ruled not competent

A Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge ruled Tuesday that Everett Thompson, who is charged with attempted murder with a hate crime enhancement, is incompetent to stand trial at this time.
Prosecutor Peter Waite said Thompson, who was 20 when he allegedly stabbed a Sikh neighbor in the neck, will return to Judge Jerome E. Brock's court April 6 for a placement hearing. Waite expects Thompson, a Santa Clara resident, to be sent to a state mental hospital.

Once hospital staff determine Thompson has regained competency, Waite said, the district attorney's office will prosecute him. Waite added that Thompson could again challenge his competency to stand trial, meaning the court would again make the determination.

Thompson's attorney, Carlyle Glenfield Varlack Jr., called the decision "the correct thing to do. "

On July 30, Thompson allegedly approached his neighbor, Iqubal [sic] Singh, 40, and stabbed him in the neck. Singh was standing in his carport with his 2-year-old granddaughter around 10:50 a.m., waiting for other family members before leaving for worship services. Thompson reportedly believed in error that Singh was a member of the Taliban.[Link]

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sanitman 'Trashes' Muslim Gal

A city sanitation worker who told of hating "diaperheads" was arrested for allegedly attacking a Muslim woman in Queens.

Victor Lambot, 53, allegedly went berserk when he saw the 34-year-old victim wearing an Islamic head covering on Colden Street in Flushing Tuesday, police sources said.

The woman told investigators that she had stopped her car to give Lambot room to get off a sanitation truck when the 6-feet-10, 265-pound trash hauler punched her driver's side mirror and screamed, "That's what you get!"

The woman immediately called 911 and officers took an accident report. Later, the NYPD's Hate Crime Task Force went to her home.

Detectives went to the Lambot's home and he told them, "I am prejudiced against those motherf- - -ing diaperheads."

Lambot was awaiting arraignment yesterday on charges of criminal mischief as a hate crime and harassment. [Link]

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UK: Teaching assistant appeals against veil ban

The Muslim teaching assistant at the centre of a row over wearing a full veil in class appeals against tribunal decision, which cleared the school of discrimination and harassment.

Aishah Azmi is taking her case to the employment appeal tribunal in London. It will be heard before a panel including a high court judge.

The appeal comes three days after the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) confirmed that headteachers will retain the power to decide whether Muslim pupils should be allowed to wear the full veil.

Confirmation of the status quo followed a review of school uniform after the high court last month rejected the appeal by a Buckinghamshire Muslim schoolgirl that her human rights were infringed because her school refused her permission to wear the full-face veil.

Today's tribunal hearing focuses on the case of Azmi, who was suspended on full pay last year after staff at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, said pupils found it hard to understand her. [Link]

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Potential Sikh cadet allegedly told that beard had to go

A 19-year-old Sikh man was told he would have to shave off his beard to qualify for the Yuba City Police Department's cadet program, a national Sikh rights group said Wednesday.

Police Chief Richard Doscher differed somewhat with the version of events as put forth by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or SALDEF.

Nothing in department rules disqualifies a Sikh with a beard and turban - and even with a ceremonial kirpan, or dagger - from becoming an officer, as long as the kirpan is worn under the uniform, said Doscher.

A turban the same color as the uniform would be acceptable, the police chief said.

SALDEF said the applicant, Harvir Singh Uppal, was told by Officer Kim Slade, director of the cadet program, that “though the turban was acceptable, the beard does not conform to the uniform standards of the Police Department and it would have to be shaved off.”

Doscher said SALDEF's complaint arose from a misunderstanding between Uppal and Slade. He said it was unclear if Uppal was even wearing a beard at the time.

Uppal, a Yuba College student, told the Appeal-Democrat late Wednesday that he had a full beard and wore a turban during an interview last fall at the Police Department.

According to Doscher, Slade asked Uppal if he intended to wear a beard. Uppal then asked if the beard would disqualify him from the program but did not respond to letters and phone calls inquiring whether he was still interested in being a cadet, said Doscher.

Uppal said Slade told him by phone about a week after the interview that the beard was unacceptable.

Uppal did not give a religious reason during the interview for having a beard. The subject of Uppal's Sikh religion did not come up, Doscher said.

SALDEF said that, after Doscher and Mayor John Miller were informed of “the discriminatory nature of this policy,” Doscher wrote a letter of apology to SALDEF and reaffirmed the department's policy of religious diversity. [Link]

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Fighting prejudice

After the attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, ethnic minorities did become targets of violence as a result of a few Americans retaliating in anger. The Sikh community in the United States was one of the targets.

Now the Community has decided to fight prejudice with an exhibition explaining their culture at the Queens Museum of New York. A Brookyln based photographer portrays Sikhs in their public and private lives, to create this unique and intimate look into one of the least well known and understood communities.

On the five year anniversary of 9/11, five Sikhs were chosen and actively helped by Grassroots Initiative and the Sikh Coalition, to run for office, and all five were elected becoming the first-ever Sikh elected officials in New York.

Prerana Reddy, Director of public events says, "Well the Queens Museum is located in one of the most diverse part of the world, And definitely there is a large Sikh Community here and we did not have the opportunity to show case their culture and their public life so this was a great opportunity for us".

Marritt, a visitor to the exhibition says, "By picking the Sikh Community that is one of the most visible and heavily discriminated groups and making it clear that they can succeed, really sets an example." [Link]

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Boston: Faith groups unite to dispel stereotypes

Expressing beliefs through personal reflections and performances, representatives of different faiths from across Massachusetts gathered at the George Sherman Union's Metcalf Hall last night to debunk religious stereotypes and misconceptions.

"Breaking Barriers: Destroying Misconceptions About Our World's Faiths," hosted by different on-campus religious groups, was an opportunity for about 20 students to talk about their personal struggles with how others perceive their religions, said Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore during his opening speech.

The event, which included speakers from an array of faith backgrounds, examined social misunderstandings between different faith-based people.

"When I get into an elevator, it is up to me to break the tension because my turban draws attention," said Sham Rang Singh Khalsa, minister of Gurudwara, a Sikh temple. "When I bring up the Red Sox, I know they are relieved." [Link]

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Event presents Sikh culture, aids victims

Dhol drums and chimtas set the beat as about 140 people thrust their shoulders, pumped their knees and twisted their hands on Friday night.

They were dancing the Punjabi bhangra at NYU Nach, an event held by NYU's United Sikh Association chapter at the Kimmel Center. The event raised $1,000 for the Sikh Research Institute, an organization that aids widows of the 1984 Sikh riots.

"Everyone enjoyed themselves, and people learned about Punjabi culture at the same time," said Nimeeta Sachdev, president of the Sikh Association at NYU.

Attendees learned about the 1984 conflict, during which India's government unofficially sanctioned a four-day slaughter of more than 3,000 Sikhs after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards.

Widows of the victims now face a cultural stigma that has forced them to form colonies so that they can support themselves and their children financially. But even with the small tailoring jobs that many of these women have, they still have difficulty financing their children's education, said Sandeep Singh, vice president of the Sikh Association. [Link]

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New Republic: Veil of Tears

What do we call the following French person? She is born in France, and a citizen, but many of her compatriots treat her as an alien, threatening presence. She is easily recognizable, above all by her distinctive head covering, which proclaims her religious allegiance. No one questions her right to wear this garment at home or in her neighborhood's streets, but many of the French have a different opinion when it comes to official "public spaces"--above all, public schools. For many fervent defenders of the secular Republic, letting her into the schools would pose a threat to the Republic's very existence.

So what do we call this person? Until quite recently, we would have called her a nun. After all, hostility between the Catholic Church and the secular Republic marks broad swaths of French history. But of course it is not nuns who have been targeted by the recent law banning "ostentatious signs of religion" from French public schools, which John R. Bowen has put at the center of his lucid and thought-provoking book. The controversial French women at issue are headscarf-wearing Muslim schoolgirls.

The controversy around them continues to simmer in France, while also spilling across European borders. The Netherlands is considering an even broader ban, while Jack Straw, the leader of Britain's House of Commons, recently attacked the wearing of veils as a "visible statement of separation and of difference," and requested that women remove them when visiting him. This is one of the strangest, and most philosophically rattling, controversies in recent European memory, and in order to comprehend it we have to start with France, and consider the things that the odd shift from nuns to schoolgirls tells us about the relationship between religion and society there. I have in mind three things in particular. [Link]

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Friday, March 02, 2007

EU Starts Agency for Fundamental Rights

European Union officials on Thursday launched the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights -- the 27-nation bloc's latest effort to stamp out intolerance as it struggles to absorb an unprecedented crush of immigrants.

Officials said the new agency would expand the work of the Vienna-based European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia to forge an EU-wide human rights culture that respects people of different genders, cultures and faiths.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the new agency reflected the EU's "deep belief in the central worth and dignity of each individual."

Underscoring how racism, anti-Semitism and crimes against foreigners remain entrenched in Europe, the monitoring center warned in December that Europe's Muslims routinely suffered acts ranging from physical attacks to discrimination in the job and housing markets.

"We must continue to attack these diseases," said Franco Frattini, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner.

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Government report admits link between lack of job opportunities and ethnic and religious backgrounds

Ethnic minorities and women with religious convictions have the toughest time when it comes to finding work, according to research published by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The research analyses the probability of being in employment based on different combinations of ethnic and religious group.

It finds that for women, the employment penalties faced by Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds are higher than the penalty for any ethnic group of no religion. [Link]

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Discrimination survivor shares his story

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Portland native Kennie Namba was ordered to a Japanese-American internment camp in California. He opened the discussion. Namba said the perception of Japanese-Americans "changed considerably" after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was forced into an internment camp where, from behind barbed wire, he watched sentries with machine guns pacing atop a platform ready to shoot prisoners who attempted to escape.

Despite being classified by the U.S. government as an "enemy alien," Namba succeeded in volunteering for the U.S. Army and subsequently serving in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which remains today the most decorated unit in American history. During the war, Namba earned six medals, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Despite his service and the conclusion of the war, Namba remained subject to discrimination in his home country. Peering solemnly over his bifocals, Namba remembered going grocery shopping with his wife, reaching the register only to be told by the owner that the store did not serve Japanese. "That really got me," Namba said. "What in the hell did we fight the war for?"

Namba said he remains perplexed by the discrimination he encounters even today. He finds great importance in sharing his life story with others in Oregon and around the nation, especially with other Japanese-Americans.

"We are as good as anyone else in our community," Namba said, "and I want Japanese-Americans to think that way and feel that way." [Link]

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