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Monday, March 31, 2008

Sikh faith finds understanding

Jasmit Singh’s religion means he must wear five articles of faith, including a sheathed sword.

Luckily his school is understanding.

The New Zealand-born Pakuranga College student is a practising Sikh.

Sikhs believe in one supreme being, which has no gender.

To become a Sikh, the 16-year-old had to undergo the amrit-initiation ceremony, which he did when he was 10.

They must wrap their unshorn hair and a comb in a turban, wear an iron bangle for a constant reminder to do good and knee-length breeches to encompass living under strict discipline of self-control, and to carry a sword to signify commitment to always stand up for the cause of justice.

Sikh Council of New Zealand chairman Verpal Singh says the problem with the sword is that it gives the impression it is a weapon, "but it is not, it won’t cause any harm. It is a two-inch blunt sword."

Jasmit says his school accepts the need for Sikhs to wear their five articles of faith.

Some schools insist on enforcing a rule that comes directly in conflict with the Sikh practices, says Mr Singh.

"The usual problem is forcing children to wear a cap, or asking children to take off their head garment.

"We have judgements of courts in Canada, the UK, the United States and other countries available which uphold our right to wear the five articles of faith on our body at all times," he says.

To neglect to wear one or more of the five items represents a serious lapse in the Sikh religion.

Jasmit began wearing his five articles of faith last December.

"The first time I wore a turban I was kind of nervous. I thought I’d be asked a lot of questions, but people were really understanding," he says.

As part of the practice, cutting your hair or shaving is forbidden because it is a gift from God, "mine comes down to my waist," Jasmit says.

Both his parents and his sister wear turbans.

"Our forefathers preferred to die rather than cut their hair or remove their turban. A Sikh with unshorn hair appearing without their turban in public is akin to an average person appearing in public in their under garments," Mr Singh says.

"New Zealand society has been very accepting of our unique appearance and very accommodating of our specific needs. Some sporadic instances are unavoidable," he says. [Link]

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blaine Dairy Store Bombed in Apparent Hate Crime

An investigation is underway into the January 27 bombing of the Blaine Dairy Store. It appears the crime was racially-motivated. The owner of the store is Muslim.

On January 27, 2008, three men entered the Blaine Dairy Store at closing time. Without provocation, they began to ignite and launch petrol bombs.

The owner, Mohammad Ismail, narrowly escaped with his life. The store burst into flames. Racial obscenities were spray-painted at the scene of the crime.

Family and friends of Mohammad Ismail are offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Anyone with information is asked to call the Blaine Police Department at 763-785-6168. [Link]

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Muslim driver back after cap flap

A bus driver in the Greater Toronto Area has been reinstated after being suspended on March 17 for refusing to take off his kufi -- an Islamic cap -- while on the job.

McGregory Jackman, a newly hired driver, said he was humiliated when an inspector with his contractor, Veolia Transportation Inc., sent him home for donning the kufi at work.

"Just having to walk off the bus by someone telling you you can't work because of your religious conviction, that was tearing me apart right then and there," said the father of two, who was suspended for a week without pay.

But York Region Transit (YRT) general manager Don Gordon said Jackman, 43, will be back to work today and also be compensated for his time off after a decision made Tuesday between Veolia Transportation Inc. and YRT.

"Mr. Jackman will be permitted to wear his kufi while driving our buses," he said.

Currently, if a YRT employee wants religious accommodation for their garbs, they would have to show a statement written by their respective religious leaders in order to prove their faith.

In Jackman's case, he was asked by his contractor to bring a letter from his imam stating he needed to wear a kufi at work. And that's a policy that will be revised, Gordon said. [Link]

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Sikh community reacts to men accused of taking turban from truck driver

Members of the Sikh community are speaking out after three Douglas County men allegedly pulled a turban off a truck driver's head and drove off with it.

"There was basically a guy who stopped me and said I'm looking for a rag head to kill," said Eugene resident Pami Singh.

Singh says he's experienced hate before and blames it in on ignorance.

"We were essentially asked to not cut our hair and keep it in a turban," said Singh.

The local engineer is of the Sikh faith and says since 9-11, he's seen more people who aren't as accepting of his culture.

"There are very good people and there are some that don't understand," said Singh.

Last August, a Sikh truck driver went to a truck stop convenience store, where three men grabbed the turban from his head, ran around the building and into their car. Thanks to video surveillance, police were able to catch up with the group and arrest them.

A Douglas County jury indicted three Yoncalla residents for that crime on misdemeanor charges of theft and harassment, but not on the felony charge of intimidation.

"It's the same thing as going up to a woman and pulling her shirt off," said Eugene resident Sarib Khalsa.

Khalsa is also Sikh. He says the Yoncalla incident should be considered a hate crime.

"A turban to a Sikh is part of their identity. Historically even touching someone's turban is a huge insult," said Khalsa.

Oregon law classifies hate crimes as "intimidation" and defines the act as tampering or interfering with property, and causing substantial inconvenience to another because of the person's race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.

So what can be done? One Sikh doctor living in Eugene says plenty.

"Education is the key to get rid of biases," said Jaswinder Kaur.
Click here to find out more! [Link]

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Three Oregon men accused of taking turban from Sikh truck driver

Three men accused of snatching the turban off the head a Sikh truck driver have been accused of third-degree theft and misdemeanor harassment. The Douglas County grand jury declined to indict the men on a felony charge of intimidation.

Ryan Robbins, 21, Kyle Simmons, 22, and Ryan Newell, 28, all of Yoncalla, are accused in the Aug. 25 incident that occurred as Ranjit Singh left a truck stop convenience store, according to court records.

One of the men grabbed the turban, ran around the building, then drove away with it, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said. Investigators, with the help of a store surveillance video, found their suspects several days later.

The felony charge of intimidation deals with threats or assaults committed due to the perception of a person’s race, color, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.

Singh, 37, of Manteca, Calif., contacted the New York-based Sikh Coalition after the incident. The group considered the theft a hate crime and were disappointed with the grand jury’s decision on the intimidation charge.

Amardeep Singh, the executive director of the Sikh Coalition (no relation to Ranjit Singh), said the jurors apparently viewed the man who took the turban as “a prankster, but not a bigot.”

“It doesn’t seem that the grand jury got the injury to a whole community that occurs when you go after its most sacred article of faith,” he told the News-Review newspaper of Roseburg.

Said Rick Wesenberg, the assistant district attorney in Douglas County: “We presented the grand jury with the facts and the law, and the grand jury made the ultimate decision.”

The suspects could not immediately be reached for comment. Robbins’ attorney could also not be reached, according to the newspaper, and it was unclear whether the other two men have retained attorneys.

Ranjit Singh said he was troubled that the dollar value of his turban came up for debate during the grand jury process — to determine which level of theft should be charged. He says the turban is priceless.

“I’m not fighting for four or five dollars,” he said. “I am fighting for justice.” [Link]

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Muslim chaplain’s anger at airport ‘discrimination’

A MUSLIM Chaplain from Liverpool claims “discriminatory” interrogation is happening on a regular basis at Manchester Airport.

Adam Kelwick, from Wavertree, says he was stopped and questioned for two hours on arrival at the airport as he returned from a Middle Eastern business trip on Wednesday, the third time this has happened since the introduction of the Terrorism Act in 2006.

He claims officials searched his lap top, phone, asked for his bank account pin number and put a string of questions to him.

The chaplain, who carries out charity work in the city to aid social cohesion, claims other friends and colleagues have complained about similar experiences. He said: “Some people I know would rather tolerate the congestion of the airports in London, rather than put up with the unreasonable questioning and discrimination at Manchester.

“I was ordered to remove all my items from my baggage piece by piece and was then taken into a small room and asked questions like ‘what is your mother’s date of birth?’ and ‘what school did you go to?’.

“It has happened a few times before at the airport but never when travelling from Liverpool or London.

“It is ironic, I was travelling in traditional Muslim dress, but an international terrorist isn’t going to fly around the world with a beard and a gown on.

“It is discriminatory and unfair. The first time it happens you think ‘OK, this is helping to deal with terrorism’ so I don’t mind, but for it to happen on a regular basis is unnecessary.”

During the interview, Mr Kelwick says he was treated with courtesy and professionalism, and he blames the issue on unjust laws, central Government’s misunderstanding of local Muslim communities and poor training of airport officials. [Link]

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Sikh Temple Dedication After Arson

It’s been seven years since a fire in the Oswego county town of Palermo and people are still feeling the effects. A Sikh Temple was burned down just months after nine-eleven. Teenagers set fire to it, thinking it was a muslin temple. The community banded together and re-built the temple.

The mood here today is a far cry from the sadness worshippers felt when their temple was burned down just months after 9-11. Arsonists wrongly thought the temple was connected with the terrorist attacks.

“There are many different cultures and many different religions that wear turbans. And I think just the image kind of like confused people,” said Sikh follower Amarpol Kanwal.

While there may be similarities in their dress, they are in no way connected to 9-11 or Muslim extremists.

“We immediately went public with the message of forgiveness. We wanted to dispel the feeling of darkness and relativity,” said president of temple Ralph Singh.

The scripture is some 150 to 200 years old. It’s hand-written the scripture that was saved in the fire of the old temple that's here in the new temple. It has not been unveiled. That will happen later on tonight. It stands for a message of peace.

“This is a sacred place out in what people may think is nowhere and yet that light does draw people,” said president of temple Ralph Singh.

That message has been passed down from generation to generation making its way from India to Palermo.

From the ashes of their original temple the Sikh can now continue moving forward hoping that religious tolerance follows. Because their sacred texts were spared by the fire they took on more meaning. The Sikh followers say that it was a sign. To forgive the arsonists and re-build. [Link]

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Vandals damage windows at south St. Louis mosque

Neighbors in the tidy, middle-class Southampton neighborhood in south St. Louis said yesterday they barely noticed the comings and goings of one of their enclave’s newest arrivals.

Nothing out of the ordinary anyway, aside from a steady stream of Iraqi cab drivers and other workers, and women and children, arriving for evening prayer services at the Islamic mosque.

The Islamic religious and community center, housed in a nondescript storefront building, was vandalized over the weekend. It was the second such incident since the Imam Hussin Foundation building opened last April.

"If someone is trying to send us a message" with this act, "we receive it," said Salah Ajmi, the mosque’s imam and a businessman. "But we do everything right and legal. This is wrong."

Vandals damaged seven large glass windows with a blunt object sometime between midnight and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, police said. Vandals struck the first time last summer, and Ajmi said he suspected teenagers. This time the damage was more extensive.

Police took fingerprints and are investigating. They wouldn’t say whether they consider it a hate crime. The FBI declined comment. [Link]

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Activist donating info on Sikhs to libraries

When Queens News caught up with Sikh community activist Jagir Singh Bains via phone recently, he was heading to a library to donate books.

"We want to educate non-Sikh Americans on Sikhs and Sikhism," Bains said.

The awareness campaign was started by the Sikhs "because of the confusion and mistaken identity about them among city residents, post-9/11/01," Bains said, and further explained: "Many innocent people have become victims of misplaced anger and hate because of their appearance. This project will improve the availability of information on Sikh culture, history and religion via multimedia resources."

Out of 62 community libraries in Queens, so far Bains and other Sikh community leaders have donated literature to 13; they are striving to make donations to the remaining libraries around the borough. [Link]

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B.C. Sikh man wins discrimination complaint against Calgary nightclub

A Calgary nightclub has been fined about $5,000 by Alberta's human rights commission for refusing entry to a Sikh man from Vancouver.

Jaspal Randhawa, a 33-year-old Canadian-born accountant, launched a racial discrimination complaint after he and two of his friends tried to get into the Tequila nightclub on 17th Avenue SW in July 2004.

Randhawa, who wears a turban as part of his Sikh faith, asked the doorman whether the club had any policies against allowing people with turbans inside. When told it was fine, Randhawa got into the line full of Stampede revelers.

According to Randhawa's complaint filed with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, another bouncer approached Randhawa 10 minutes later and told him he wouldn't be allowed in because "the owners want to maintain a certain image and don't want clients to say there are a lot of 'brown' people inside."

On Wednesday, a human rights commission panel agreed that Randhawa was discriminated against and awarded him $3,500 plus interest for injury to his dignity and self-respect, as well as $800 in expenses.

The panel also ordered the club to bring in a specific policy on racial discrimination in the workplace within two months, and to train all staff about it.

"I hope this is going to be a wake-up call for the nightclub industry," said Randhawa on Wednesday from Vancouver.

"This is hopefully going … to act as a benchmark that these policies are not going to be tolerated and not taken lightly." [Link]

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Oregon Fails to Indict Turban Attackers with a Hate Crime

Three Oregon men who attacked a Sikh trucker and ripped a turban off his head, will not be charged with a hate crime. A Douglas County, Oregon grand jury declined to indict three men. The Sikh Coalition calls the matter disappointing.

The Coalition says they learned yesterday that the grand jury instead chose to indict the men on the lesser charges of harassment and theft in the third degree.

"Burning a cross on an African American's lawn is not a mere act of vandalism, and stealing a Sikh's turban is not a misdemeanor theft. They are both hate crimes," said Amardeep Singh, Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition.

On August 5th 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.

On September 6th 2007, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office arrested three men in connection with the assault. The Douglas County District Attorney decided to pursue hate crime charges against the attackers.

This week the Grand Jury decided that there was not enough evidence to move forward with a hate crime prosecution. The Grand Jury therefore charged the attackers with misdemeanor theft and harassment, but not a felony hate crime.

While the Sikh Coalition is thankful that the Douglas County District Attorney's office pursued hate crime charges against the attackers, they say they are disappointed that the Grand Jury did not move forward with a hate crime indictment.

"We are also disturbed that the dollar value of Ranjit Singh's turban arose as an issue during the Grand Jury proceeding as a means of determining the degree of theft the attackers would be charged with. The turban is a priceless article of faith for Sikhs. Sikhs throughout history have chosen death over removing their turbans since it encapsulates a Sikh's commitment to their faith."

"I am disappointed in the Grand Jury's decision. The turban is not a hat... They asked me about the cost -- my turban is priceless," said victim Ranjit Singh.

"It is clear from our perspective that the Grand Jury completely misunderstood what's at stake here," said Amardeep Singh. "Stealing a Sikh's turban is not a matter of mere theft, it is a hate crime that injures the entire community."

The Sikh Coalition calls on the Douglas County District Attorney's office to disallow the attackers to plea down the current misdemeanor charges. The Coalition also calls on the federal government to investigate charging these attackers with hate crimes under federal law. [Link]

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Temple Destroyed in Fire Rededicated

A Sikh holy man and spiritual leader from India will be in upstate New York on Saturday for the rededication of the Gobind Sadan USA temple.

The Oswego County temple was burned to the ground in 2001 by four teens who believed it was called "Go-Bin-Laden."

Giani Iqbal Singh ji, leader of one of the five traditional sects of Sikhism, will arrive from India to help dedicate the rebuilt temple, located in the Oswego County village of Palermo, about 35 miles north of Syracuse.

Local leaders say this is the first time a so-called Jethadar has traveled outside of India to dedicate a Sikh temple anywhere in the world.

With 25 million members, including 200,000 in the United States, Sikhism is one of the world's largest religions. [Link]

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Sikh Coalition Meets with United States Attorney General

Attorney General Michael Mukasey met with religious community representatives two weeks ago to discuss issues facing their respective communities in the United States. The Sikh American community was represented by the Sikh Coalition at this historic meeting with the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

Amandeep Singh (Sidhu), the Sikh Coalition's pro bono counsel from the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery LLP, highlighted continued hate crimes and employment discrimination against Sikhs Americans, discussed the Sikh Coalition's recent engagement with the Transportation Security Administration, and expressed the community's heightened concerns about increased bullying of Sikh schoolchildren. Attorney General Mukasey was receptive to the Sikh American community's concerns and reiterated the commitment of the Department of Justice - as well as his personal commitment - to continue regular engagement with religious communities in the United States. The Sikh Coalition commends Attorney General Mukasey for his support and willingness to reach out to the Sikh American community.

Since September 11, 2001, the Sikh Coalition has developed a strong regular working relationship with the Department of Justice and other federal agencies. The Sikh community has benefited tremendously from these relationships, and federal assistance has furthered the Sikh Coalition's efforts in multiple legal cases. Also in attendance at this meeting was Grace Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division and Eric Treene, Special Counsel for Religious Discrimination. The Sikh Coalition would like to thank Mr. Treene for his commitment to legal issues facing religious communities in the United States. [Sikh Coalition email]

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Sikh, backers to appeal motorcycle helmet ruling

A turban-wearing Sikh who has lost his battle to ride a motorcycle without a helmet has said he will appeal the decision.

Backed by the local Sikh community, Brampton's Baljinder Badesha, 39, said he plans to challenge the constitutionality of the law, rather than focusing his fight solely on the ticket he received for not wearing a helmet in 2005.

"This time I will not fight for myself, but I will challenge Ontario's law in the larger interests of all Sikhs who want to ride a bike," Badesha said.

Community members met last weekend at a local gurdwara to discuss the March 6 ruling. Badesha, supported by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, had argued the law forces him to choose between his religion and his love of riding a motorcycle because his faith does not allow him to cover his turban or remove it outside of his home.

The court ruled safety is paramount and refused to allow an exemption. However, Ontario Court Justice James Blacklock said his decision does not preclude the provincial government from making a policy change that would allow for an exemption for all Sikhs.

Badesha was found guilty of the Highway Traffic Act violation and ordered to pay a $110 fine.

"We are confident of winning the battle this time," Badesha said. "We don't believe a helmet is safe. Every day riders with helmets die in accidents. If I'm supposed to die today, I will die and nothing can save me."

The Ottawa-based World Sikh Organization of Canada has expressed disappointment at the court's decision. "A turban is an important Sikh article of faith that shouldn't be covered by any other object," it said. [Link]

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Arson at convenience store in Minnesota investigated as possible hate crime

The FBI is investigating the possibility that arson at a Blaine convenience store was a hate crime.

On Jan. 22, Muhammad Ismail was getting ready to close the Blaine Dairy Store when three men came in and threw bottles that burst into flames. Investigators also found the word "Arab" spray-painted on the building. [Link]

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Sikh Kenneth Cole Model Sonny Caberwal: Hatred in the Hallways

As I watched the presidential debates recently, I heard a term thrown around that made me shiver- Islamofascism. While the threat of terrorism scares me, the discussion around terrorism has implications that are just as frightening, when these types of terms enter our common vernacular. A recent Gallup poll showed that 40% of Americans admit to feeling prejudice against Muslims. As social dialogue continually associates Islam primarily with terrorism and evil, we unintentionally facilitate an unjustified hatred for Islam and anything that may be even tangentially relate to it. This has a very real and scary impact on peoples' daily lives. One of the places it can have the greatest impact is somewhere we've all been before - the schoolyard.

As you may know, I'm currently one of the models in Kenneth Cole's new advertising campaign, which tackles this issue of stereotypes in the media head on. As a Sikh man, I wear a turban, which is an integral part of the Sikh identity. However, in the United States, the vast majority of media coverage related to turbans focuses on another group of people who wear different types of turbans - Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists. Unfortunately, this has had a significantly detrimental impact on the daily lives of Sikhs around the world, who are now frequently mistaken for Islamic fundamentalists, although they are not even Muslim. While nobody should be persecuted because of their religion, including Muslims, Sikhs in particular have faced a disproportionate impact from post 9/11 bias crimes.

Particularly distressing is how this affects young children. At least 75% of Sikh children in Queens, New York reported some form of harassment due to their religious identity, according to the Sikh Coalition. Over 40% of these children have suffered physical violence because of their appearance, and even when reported to school administration, one-third receive no help whatsoever from school administrators. Nearly all of these children report receiving this abuse because they've been misidentified by their attackers as terrorists. One child, a six year old Sikh born in the United States, reports that kids in school have nicknamed him "enemy," because to them, he "looks like the enemy." Unfortunately, this type of treatment is not isolated, and is reported by young Sikh children across the country.

Our core curriculum in the United States glosses over the Sikh religion in even the most privileged school systems, even though it's the fifth largest religion in the world. Therefore, most children's exposure related to turbans and beards are limited to the portrayals reinforced in the media related to the Taliban and terrorism. Imagine the collective impact, then, when the first picture from the Kenneth Cole campaign went up in a storefront in Rockefeller Center and appeared in GQ this month. For one of the first times, these children had an opportunity to have their Sikh identity represented in a way they can be proud of when they walk down the halls of their schools. I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to have a positive impact in these childrens' lives, who through no fault of their own regularly brave hatred in the hallways.

Only in the past half-century have we as a society curbed the widespread image in media of African Americans as servants and slaves, and put an end to the Anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews as conniving and obsessed with money.

We've come a long way, but we've still got a long way to go.

Although these Sikh children often suffer silently, they don't need to. By starting at home and educating your family about the Sikh faith, every American can lend these children a hand in ending the rampant racism and abuse that plagues Sikh youth across the United States. [Link]

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Religious freedom

Growing up as a Sikh in Vancouver, my turban was regularly knocked off by other children who thought it was funny. I thought one day such discrimination would have disappeared.

Forty years later we still have a Sikh gentleman fighting in an Ontario court for his right to practice his religion freely.

I served nine years in the Canadian Armed Forces with a turban and no one had a problem with it. British Columbia, Manitoba, Britain and India have no difficulty with a Sikh driving a motorcycle wearing his turban.

Vancouver police and RCMP allow Sikhs to wear their turbans.

I hope the Ontario Sikh motorcycle helmet law is appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In my lifetime as a Canadian I want to see an end to the fight turban-wearing Sikhs must wage to freely practice their religion in our great country. [Link]

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SALDEF Trains Entire DC Police Force on Sikh Religion and Cultural Practices

This Wednesday, March 13th, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) . . . will conclude a highly successful year-long campaign to train all 3,800 Washington DC Metro Police Department officers on Sikh cultural practices and customs. This is the third such campaign SALDEF has completed with a major law enforcement agency to train their entire uniformed staff. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Man plans to appeal motorcycle helmet decision

A turban-wearing Sikh who last week lost his battle to ride a motorcycle without a helmet has said he will appeal the decision.

Backed by the local Sikh community, Brampton's Baljinder Badesha, 39, said he plans to challenge the constitutionality of the law, rather than focusing his fight solely on the ticket he received for not wearing a helmet in 2005.

"This time I will not fight for myself, but I will challenge Ontario's law in the larger interests of all Sikhs who want to ride a bike," Badesha said.

Members of the Sikh community met on the weekend at a local gurdwara to discuss last week's court ruling. Badesha, supported by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, argued the law forces him to choose between his religion and his love of riding a motorcycle because his faith does not allow him to cover his turban or remove it outside of his home.

The court ruled safety is paramount and refused to allow an exemption. However, Mr. Justice James Blacklock said his decision does not preclude the Ontario government from considering the issue and making a policy change that would allow for an exemption for all Sikhs.

Badesha was found guilty of the Highway Traffic Act violation and ordered to pay a $110 fine.

"We are confident of winning the battle this time," Badesha said. "We don't believe a helmet is safe. Every day riders with helmets die in road accidents. If I'm supposed to die today, I will die, and nothing can save me." [Link]

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Texas A&M University -- Crime against Turbaned Sikh

The Bryan Police Department is seeking assistance from the public with the following offense:

At approximately 10:37 p.m., February 28, 2008, an officer with the Bryan Police Department responded to an assault that occurred in the parking lot of the Super Wal-Mart on Briarcrest Drive. The victim, a Texas A&M graduate student, stated that he was assaulted while walking to his vehicle. An unknown male suspect approached the victim and made disparaging comments about the victim's race and manner of clothing. The victim informed the suspect that he did not want any trouble and continued walking to his vehicle. The suspect then knocked the turban off the victim's head and pushed him to the ground. The victim did not sustain any discernible injuries. The suspect was last seen leaving the parking lot in a white, Ford, F-150 pickup truck with a "Saw Em Off" horns decal in the rear window. License plate number 899NZ7 was obtained; however, this number does not match any motor vehicle records.

If you witnessed or have information on this assault, please contact the Bryan Police Department at (979) 209-5300.

Suspect Description:

White Male
6'1" to 6'3" in height
Medium to muscular build
[Email Alert from Texas A&M University Police]

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Monday, March 10, 2008

WaPo Editor Criticizes Media’s Ignorance of Islam

Managing Editor of the Washington Post Philip Bennett gave an hour-long lecture entitled “Covering Islam: A Challenge for American Journalism” on Monday, March 3. The event was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democracy as a part of the 2007-08 Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series.

“[The] United States news media has failed to produce sustained coverage of Islam to challenge the easy assumptions, gross generalizations or untested rhetoric that shape perceptions of Muslims,” Bennett said.

He then shared with the audience a question that the Washington Post is currently struggling with in regard to whether the publication should adopt using the word “Islamist.”

“Words matter … especially to journalists,” Bennett said.

One of the major challenges of covering Islam in the media is the use of broad, de-contextualized terms such as “Islamist,” “madrassa,” “hijab” and “jihad.”

Bennett explained that it is his job as an editor “to ensure that … stories are as close to the truth as is possible … and so much of the power of good journalism is the power of surprise.”

Bennett argues that, despite drastically increased coverage of Islam and the Middle East since 9/11, the media consistently “fails to demonstrate a critical understanding of the region’s history, culture and context.” The coverage is always criticized as “too soft, too hard or incomplete.”

Muslim Americans are moderate, assimilated and happy with their lives, according to Bennett, who cited from numerous polls; yet, he noted that an ABC-Washington Post poll in 2006 showed that 46 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of Islam and six out of 10 Americans lacked a basic understanding of the religion. [Link]

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

WaPo: Hitting the Funny Bones of Contention

Axis of Evil Comedy Tour Detonates Some Explosive Stereotypes

Maz Jobrani, one-fourth of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, has a bit about how people of Middle Eastern descent can't seem to bust through the stereotypes of a post-9/11 world. "You never turn on the TV and see a United Airlines commercial with a Middle Eastern pilot," he says in the routine. "You'll never see one standing there saying, 'Come fly the friendly skies . . .

"'I dare you.' "

The gag is the essence of the Axis comedians' shtick, and just about the whole point of their tour, which tonight returns to the Warner Theatre. The idea, says Jobrani, who is of Iranian descent, is to demonstrate that Arab and Muslim Americans can turn cultural differences, suspicion and even existential dread into comedy and social commentary.

A tall order, sure, but Jobrani & Co. are part of a grand stand-up tradition. Members of "outsider" groups -- including Jews, Italians, blacks, Latinos, gays and Asian Americans -- have been disarming "mainstream" audiences by joking about themselves and their cultural idiosyncrasies for decades.

Even before a Comedy Central special and DVD vaulted them to national prominence (and a tour of the Middle East) last year, Jobrani and fellow comics Aron Kader, Ahmed Ahmed and Dean Obeidallah were mining some rich but uneasy territory. Their subjects range from riffs about terrorism and profiling (what it's like to navigate airport security with a name such as Ahmed Ahmed) to current events and people (rising oil prices, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Israeli-Palestinian relations, etc.). [Link]

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Friday, March 07, 2008

NYC Teen Convicted Of Hate Crime For Cutting Sikh's Hair

An 18-year-old Pakistani man has been convicted of hate crimes after he forcibly cut the hair of a Sikh student during school in Queens, violating the boy's religion.

Prosecutors say Umair Ahmed forced the 15-year-old boy to take off his turban, and then cut his hair with scissors at the Newtown High School in Elmhurst.

The incident happened in May last year.

Ahmed faces up to four years in prison when he's sentenced next month on the charges. [Link]

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Sikh man's challenge to helmet law dismissed

An Ontario judge opted for health over religion yesterday, refusing a devout Sikh's request to be exempt from an Ontario law that requires all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.

Ontario Court Judge James Blacklock said that while the law certainly does violate Baljinder Badesha's Charter right to freedom of religion, that breach is justified on the basis of reduced health costs and lives saved.

Judge Blacklock said that there is nothing speculative about the severe brain injuries that would result from a relaxation of the helmet law. "We are talking about the certainty of brain injury, some of them severe," he said.

Mr. Badesha and the Ontario Human Rights Commission argued that the helmet law discriminates against Sikhs because their religion obliges them to cover their long hair with nothing more than a turban. [Link]

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sikhs choose daggers over event with pope

Followers of a major Indian religion have been frozen out of an upcoming interfaith meeting with Pope Benedict XVI because of the group's insistence on wearing ceremonial daggers.

The meeting, scheduled for April 17 at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center near Catholic University, originally included Sikhs, as well as Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist guests. But a guest list released yesterday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops substituted followers of another India-based religion — the Jains — in place of the Sikhs.

According to Sikh leaders, at issue was the Secret Service forbidding the wearing of the "kirpan," a dagger that is required dress for all Sikhs. Its followers liken its importance to their faith in the same way Orthodox Jewish men are required to wear a yarmulke.

Anahat Kaur, secretary general of the World Sikh Council/America Region near San Francisco, said Pope John Paul II met with kirpan-bearing Sikhs at the Vatican in January 2002.

"We were pretty disappointed," she said. "At an event meant to promote understanding between faiths, we would have had to renounce a fundamental tenet of our faith to attend. The Secret Service had every opportunity to investigate and vet the people coming and see whether we were safe to be there. We thought that would be enough."

Kirpans are only used in self-defense as a last resort, she added. Because kirpans are not allowed on airplanes, she said, many Sikhs will drive instead of fly. Numbered at more than 20 million adherents, Sikhism is the world's fifth largest religion. It has about 250,000 members in the United States. [Link]

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One racist slur not necessarily discrimination, B.C. Human Rights Tribunal rules

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that a racial slur hurled against a man by a coworker during a heated altercation did not constitute racial discrimination.

Tribunal member Tonie Beharrell stated in a 31-page decision dated March 3 that “it is not the purpose of the [Human Rights] Code or the Tribunal to sanction all ‘bad behaviour’ which occurs between parties”.

Beharrell had established “on a balance of probabilities” that complainant Surinder Banwait was called a “fucking Hindu” by respondent James Forsyth. The respondent “vehemently” denied using the slur.

The judge stated that in some cases, one comment or incident would be sufficient to constitute a case of discrimination.

But in the particular complaint filed by Banwait, who is a Sikh and whose grandfather was an officer in the British Army, the slur was “made in the context of an isolated work place incident which escalated due to the actions and reactions of both parties”.

“This does not, in any way, excuse Mr. Forsyth’s issuing a racial slur: that comment is degrading, insulting and unacceptable,” Beharrell stated in his decision. [Link]

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

New immigration screening methods target Muslims, critics charge

In the six and a half years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, federal law-enforcement agencies have secretly established profiling techniques to screen immigrants based on their nationalities, protocols that critics charge encourage the unjustified targeting of Muslims.

The profiling, described in a February 2006 Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo obtained by McClatchy Newspapers, shows that the government has relied more heavily on nationality as an indicator of security risks than was previously known.

Federal agencies have created internal lists of countries that are of "special interest" for national security reasons, wrote the memo's author, Ted Stark, supervisory special agent with the Office of Intelligence at ICE.

So many federal agencies have created different lists that U.S. officials contemplated adopting a single one to streamline the process, Stark wrote.

The proposed list, which officials said had yet to be adopted, includes 35 countries, most with significant Muslim or Arab populations. Almost 20 percent of the world's countries — including some of the United States' key allies, such as Jordan, Turkey and Egypt — are on the list.

The effort to come up with a uniform approach is another reflection of how the nation continues to grapple with finding effective ways to detect terrorists, and how those efforts sometimes collide with constitutional and legal rights.

In this case, with little or no oversight or public scrutiny, law enforcement officials have assumed flexible and expansive discretion to make screening decisions based on where an immigrant was born. [Link]

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Guilty plea in NYC in Quran desecration

A man who threw copies of the Quran into a toilet after disputes with Muslims at the college he once attended pleaded guilty Monday to disorderly conduct.

A Quran recovered at Pace University in 2006 "was covered in feces," according to a criminal complaint. Muslims view desecration of their holy book as an offense against God.

Stanislav Shmulevich, 24, pleaded guilty as part of a deal in which he must complete 300 hours of community service.

The business student was initially charged with two counts of criminal mischief as a hate crime, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.

"There was no hate crime here," said defense lawyer Glenn Morak. "He accepts responsibility, and he is repentant."

Detective Faisal Khan said Shmulevich told him "he committed the acts out of anger toward a group of Muslim students with whom he had a recent disagreement."[Link]

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About DNSI

The Discrimination & National Security Initiative (DNSI) is a research entity that examines the mistreatment of minority communities during times of military action or national crisis.

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Court orders UPS to pay Jersey City man for religi...
RCMP recruit wins support
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EEOC and UNITED SIKHS Settle Lawsuit Against Secur...
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Groups say veil ban unlawful, unfairly targets Mus...
IRS Kirpan Case Heads to Federal Court
SALDEF and Pearson VUE Join Together To Increase D...
Bellerose man injured in hate attack
240,000 dollars awarded to man forced to cover Ara...

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