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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Inland Muslims to visit WWII internment camp

More than 100 local Muslims will take part in a pilgrimage north to the Manzanar World War II internment camp today to raise awareness about threats to civil rights during times of war.

For many, the trip is both a celebration of civil rights strides made in the last 60 years as well as a reminder of the dark pages in history written by prejudice and fear, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Ayloush is a U.S. citizen who was born in Lebanon and now lives in Corona. He journeyed to Manzanar, at the foot of the Sierras, last year with his children.

"I can honestly say it was one of the most shocking experiences of my life. It really awakened me," Ayloush said.

Staring down at the tiny graves of children who died at the internment camp, Ayloush said he was struck by the need to defend civil liberties during times of peril such as World War II or the current war on terror.

"You could almost hear the sounds of the people who were there," he said. "The freedoms we enjoy today came at a very heavy price by those who came before us."

Ayloush sees key similarities and differences between the experiences of Japanese-Americans during World War II and American Muslims during today's war on terror.

Just like innocent Japanese-Americans were the target of prejudice and suspicion after the Pearl Harbor attacks, Muslims in this country have been subject to widespread suspicions since the Sept. 11 attacks, he said.

Muslims experienced immigration delays, were profiled at airports, and were subject to electronic surveillance, and 83,000 Muslim men were required to report to federal agents, he said.

Ayloush said he has been the victim of harassment at airports as well as electronic spying. Last year, he made headlines when he and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the federal government to find out whether federal agents were monitoring him as a leader in the Muslim community.

"Muslims have to go to the airport two or three hours early," he said. "You're stopped. You're searched. They take your laptop. They copy your business cards."

Ayloush said these experiences along with the pilgrimage to Manzanar drive him to crusade for civil rights protections.

"Civil liberties are best tested during hard times," he said. "It's easy to say we are a nation of civil liberties when things are easy." [Link]

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Feds recognize site where Japanese-Americans held

A federal lands bill headed to the president will give national park status to the site on Bainbridge Island where 227 Japanese-Americans reported before being sent to internment camps in 1942.

Congressman Jay Inslee championed this effort the last couple years. Today he got his victory when the House of Representatives passed a package of bills dealing with federal properties that included his. (This package also included creation of the Wild Sky Wilderness)

According to Inslee's office, the designation will be given to the former Eagledale Ferry Dock.

"This memorial proclaims that we should never again sacrifice liberty at the altar of fear," Inslee said in a press release issued after the vote. [Link]


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Monday, April 28, 2008

In France, Prisons Filled With Muslims

"Everyone has the same prejudices and negative image of Muslims and Islam," said Moroccan-born El Alaoui Talibi, 47, the mother of seven children. "When some guards see you, they see an Arab; they see you the same as if you were a prisoner."

This prison is majority Muslim -- as is virtually every house of incarceration in France. About 60 to 70 percent of all inmates in the country's prison system are Muslim, according to Muslim leaders, sociologists and researchers, though Muslims make up only about 12 percent of the country's population.

On a continent where immigrants and the children of immigrants are disproportionately represented in almost every prison system, the French figures are the most marked, according to researchers, criminologists and Muslim leaders.

"The high percentage of Muslims in prisons is a direct consequence of the failure of the integration of minorities in France," said Moussa Khedimellah, a sociologist who has spent several years conducting research on Muslims in the French penal system.

In Britain, 11 percent of prisoners are Muslim in contrast to about 3 percent of all inhabitants, according to the Justice Ministry. Research by the Open Society Institute, an advocacy organization, shows that in the Netherlands 20 percent of adult prisoners and 26 percent of all juvenile offenders are Muslim; the country is about 5.5 percent Muslim. In Belgium, Muslims from Morocco and Turkey make up at least 16 percent of the prison population, compared with 2 percent of the general populace, the research found.

Sociologists and Muslim leaders say the French prison system reflects the deep social and ethnic divides roiling France and its European neighbors as immigrants and a new generation of their children alter the demographic and cultural landscape of the continent.

French prison officials blame the high numbers on the poverty of people who have moved here from North African and other Islamic countries in recent decades. "Many immigrants arrive in France in difficult financial situations, which make delinquency more frequent," said Jeanne Sautière, director of integration and religious groups for the French prison system. "The most important thing is to say there is no correlation between Islam and delinquency."

But Muslim leaders, sociologists and human rights activists argue that more than in most other European countries, government social policies in France have served to isolate Muslims in impoverished suburbs that have high unemployment, inferior schools and substandard housing. This has helped create a generation of French-born children with little hope of social advancement and even less respect for French authority.

"The question of discrimination and justice is one of the key political questions of our society, and still, it is not given much importance," said Sebastian Roche, who has studied judicial discrimination as research director for the French National Center for Scientific Research. "We can't blame a state if its companies discriminate; however, we can blame the state if its justice system and its police discriminate." [Link]

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Muslim woman loses discrimination case

A Muslim woman who accused her former employer of religious discrimination lost her case this week before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

Chantal Hamel said she was fired after six days at a Vancouver call centre because she wears a head scarf and her religion prevents her from shaking hands with male colleagues.

RSVP Customer Care said she was fired because she completed just five sales in 31 hours. A tribunal member tossed out the case, saying there was no sign of religious discrimination. [Link]

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Scholars to tackle Muslims in media

A fear of Islam grips non-Muslims in America and around the world, fueled by inadequate information and the media's proclivity for unbalanced reporting, says a University of California, Berkeley, professor who is bringing together experts to analyze Islamophobia.

"Talk radio continues to heap insults on Islam and Muslims without any discussion of what the consequences could be," said Hatem Bazian, who teaches at UC Berkeley and at the East Bay's Zaytuna Institute.

"The media are collapsing us into a one-shoe-fits-all category — the hostile, angry, cartoon images. (Radio personality) Michael Savage has made a career of it. Osama bin Laden is Muslim, therefore every Muslim is Osama bin Laden."

Bazian spent five months putting together a conference in which 23 university experts will consider media images, civil rights and what he sees as the failure of academia to scrutinize adequately the schism between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.

The "Deconstructing Islamophobia" conference at UC Berkeley is free and open to the public.

An analysis of conservative and liberal publications shows each lean toward a similar coverage of American Muslims, said a UC Davis professor.

"We spent several years looking at key papers — we looked at The New York Times as the leading liberal newspaper, the Wall Street Journal the leading conservative — looking for patterns of repetition," Suad Joseph said. "We are finding a lot of similarities."

The words that crop up have to do with criminality and policing, she said.

Ideally, researchers will compare the key words that appear in news stories about Muslims with coverage of other ethnic groups — Irish or Italian Americans, for instance.

"If there is a different pattern, that's the key," she said. "My hunch and my hypothesis is that there is a significant difference."

Muslims are suffering the fate that has bedeviled other groups in the nation's past, including violence and discrimination, she said. [Link]

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'A Dream in Doubt' tells story of post-9/11 hate crime

The John Michael Kohler Arts Center offers a free screening of the documentary film "A Dream in Doubt" at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 29.

Part of the Arts Center's "Independent Lens" series, "A Dream in Doubt" tells the story of Rana Singh Sodhi, a member of the Sikh religion whose brother was murdered in one of America's first post-9/11 hate crime murders.

Four days after the 9/11 attacks, Balbir Singh Sodhi was gunned down at his Phoenix-area gas station by a man named Frank Roque. To Roque, Balbir Sodhi's beard and turban — articles of his Sikh faith — symbolized the face of America's new enemy. Seeking retaliation for 9/11, Roque killed Sodhi and went on to shoot at a Lebanese American man and fire multiple rounds of ammunition outside an Afghan American family's home.

"A Dream in Doubt" follows Rana Singh Sodhi, Balbir's brother, as he attempts to fight the hate threatening his family and community. The Sodhis had fled ethnic violence in India to pursue their version of the American dream. Sodhi finds himself coping with national tragedy and murder, finding support in community and attempting to reclaim the American dream. "A Dream in Doubt" also probes a difficult question: In a country with millions of immigrants, what does an American look like? [Link]

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

FBI meets with local Muslims

Local FBI officials met with the Rio Grande Valley's Islamic community Saturday night to assuage their fears about the agency's investigations into the community and to discuss how the two groups can better work together.

While an FBI official explained the agency's work and how it changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, local Muslims asked questions about its investigation of Muslims' donations to charities, wiretapping and agents' treatment of Muslim women.

John Johnson, the FBI special agent in charge of the Valley, addressed the crowd of more than 100 at al-Ridwan mosque, 910 Elsham Ave. The meeting followed other informal talks with members of the mosque starting last fall during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"After 9/11, things changed in the U.S., especially for Muslims," said Amin Ibrahim, a member of the mosque's board. "Everybody here in the Valley, we reaffirm our condemnation of such an attack."

During Johnson's nearly 20-minute speech, the FBI agent urged the Islamic community to have better communication with his agency and said the FBI is committed to protecting all Americans from threats to life and civil liberties.

"We are coming to talk to you because we need to find out what the community is about," Johnson said as he discussed the depart-ment's investigations. "This is the first step. ...

"Combating criminals is still the heart and soul of what we do," he said. "But the definition of criminals has broadened (since 9/11). ... The FBI's primary mission became preventing another attack on American soil."

His speech was followed by sunset prayers. Afterward, worshipers submitted anonymous questions on index cards, which a modera-tor then read aloud.

"What does the FBI expect from us?" one card read.

Johnson responded by repeating his call for good communication. He said the agency has to investigate all potential terrorist leads, even those that turn out to be unfounded. Recalling an actual situation, he said the FBI must even follow up on "ridiculous" charges lobbed by someone with a petty grudge against a Muslim man.

"The vast majority don't really have any basis," he said. "All we want is some kind of dialogue." [Link]

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

USC To Honor Wartime Japanese American Students - Nisei

At an upcoming gala, the USC Asian Pacific Alumni Association will honor Nisei (American-born) USC students who were impacted by the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II.

The recognition will take place at the group's annual scholarship and awards gala on Friday, April 25, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.

As a result of the interment, some USC students in the era were denied degrees or access to academic records.

Martha Harris, USC senior vice president for university relations, will present the honors at the gala on behalf of USC President Steven B. Sample.

"The experience of these students is a stark reminder to us about the need for tolerance, understanding and respect," Harris said. "We look forward to welcoming these students back to the Trojan Family, and honoring their endurance and accomplishment." [Link]


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Criminal Charges for Wearing Kirpan Dropped Against Sikh American in California

Last week, prosecutors dropped criminal charges against Mr. Sahadur Singh, a Sikh American truck driver, who was arrested for wearing his kirpan (a religious article of faith) in California. The charges were dismissed after the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) . . . intervened on behalf of Mr. Singh.

Last December Mr. Sahadur Singh, a Utah resident, was driving in Kern County, California, when a police officer stopped him for a normal traffic violation. The police officer spotted the kirpan underneath Mr. Singh’s clothing and immediately arrested him for violating the State’s concealed weapon law and for resisting arrest when Mr. Singh tried to explain the significance of the kirpan.

On the way to the police station, Kern County officers reportedly screamed at Mr. Singh asking him, “Are you a terrorist?”, “When was the last time you went over there, Taliban?” and “Did you ever send money to the Taliban?”

At the request of Mr. Singh, SALDEF contacted the prosecutor in the case, sending information detailing the religious significance of the kirpan along with a list of case law documenting the dismissal of similar charges against other Sikhs across the country.

SALDEF is currently assisting Mr. Singh in obtaining his kirpan from the local authorities. SALDEF is also working with local Kern County officials regarding the alleged racist comments made by the Kern County police officers after the incident took place. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Meet the opposite of a 'terrorist'

The driver of Orange Cab No. 710 fears the night. He wonders if passengers will rip his turban from his head, sink their teeth into his scalp or call him a terrorist.

Life for Sukhvir Singh has been full of unease since 7:59 p.m. Nov. 24. That's when Luis Vazquez climbed into the back seat.

Vazquez had been barred from the Apple Cup football game at the University of Washington because he had too much to drink. Police hailed a cab. Singh barely had time to greet the young man before Vazquez exploded, his fists, bites and choke holds assailing him as he drove south on Interstate 5.

Vazquez saw Singh's lush beard and the cloth wrapped on his head and came to a drunken conclusion: "Iraqi terrorist!" he screamed.

But Singh, 49, is not a terrorist. He's not from Iraq. He isn't even Muslim.

Vazquez missed that and more about the man behind the wheel, an immigrant who loves America -- "heavenly," he calls it -- and believes in treating all with kindness and respect.

When hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11, Singh, a Sikh, was saddened and angered that people could do such a heinous thing to his country. He cried.

Vazquez missed a chance to learn about Singh's past encounters with deadly prejudice.

Singh was born in 1958 in Punjab, a northern state in India. After high school, he studied welding and migrated to Bombay, where he learned to operate heavy machinery.

Life appeared promising until 1984, when Indian troops stormed a Sikh temple and killed hundreds. In retaliation, two Sikh bodyguards assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, triggering spasms of violence. Facing religious persecution as well as death, Sikhs fled the country.

Singh went to Dubai in the Middle East. He worked construction and operated cranes and dump trucks, toiling 16 hours a day in stifling heat.

Through it all, America remained in his heart. He kept in mind the four words he once read on U.S. currency: "In God We Trust." Sikhs are devout and place God above all things, and Singh appreciated a country that so openly respected faith.

After hearing about the 1998 impeachment of President Clinton, Singh figured a nation that could drag a president to trial must be a place where laws apply to everyone -- a just country.

Vazquez missed learning how Singh built a life in America with sweat and hope.

Singh got a visa in the late 1990s, he said, followed by asylum. Seattle became home. He worked as a cashier at a gas station in Rainier Valley. In 2000, he started to drive cabs at the airport and, three years ago, he bought his own cab. He saved up and bought a home in Kent for his wife and their two teen sons.

With each tick of the taxi's meter, his dream took shape.

During the attack, Singh wasn't thinking about just himself. He feared for other motorists and did all he could to avoid swerving into cars or a nearby bus as Vazquez reached for the steering wheel.

Singh managed to pull into a car pool lane and stop. Vazquez was still on top of him, still pummeling him after yanking out clumps of Singh's long hair. Hair is sacred in the Sikh faith; Singh felt humiliated.

Police rushed to the scene and eventually arrested Vazquez. Later, at a hospital, Singh's kidneys, injured in the attack, faltered. But one thing didn't: his belief in our justice system.

Singh's kidneys would rebound. His bite wounds and bruises would heal.

During a monthlong convalescence, his bills piled up, which is why Singh now drives seven days a week, 10 hours a day.

"I love my job," he said the other night after taking an ailing woman to a hospital near Sea-Tac. "Every customer is a VIP to me."

The emotional wounds will take longer to mend. He and fellow Sikhs fear they might be singled out and beaten at Mariners or Seahawks games, or attacked just because of how they look.

And yet, amazingly, Singh forgives his attacker. Forgiveness is part of his faith, as natural to him as the turban his Sikh religion requires he wear.

In the court sentencing for Vazquez on Friday, the guilty man and his lawyer told a judge that Vazquez blacked out during the attack and doesn't remember it.

"I apolo--," Vazquez said aloud, his otherwise perfect English becoming tangled. "Apologize."

Singh, seated feet away, looked on with kind eyes. I looked at Vazquez, too, and thought the venom he spewed in the cab was in him all along. Alcohol just opened the gates.

Vazquez was sentenced to community service and nine months in jail, which can be served as work release.

Singh wrote the judge and said he wanted Vazquez to be punished and learn a lesson, but "I don't want to ruin his life" -- words that helped spare the 21-year-old a stiffer sentence.

A hate crime detoured Singh's life, but he never lost his way. This man whose first name means "gives comfort to everybody" followed the map of the human heart and found compassion.

Riding in No. 710 last week, I asked Singh if he saw Vazquez hailing a cab in the future, whether he'd pick him up.

"Why not?"

"Our duty," Singh said later, dropping me off, "is to make this planet more livable and more lovable." [Link]

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sikh Students Association hosts Tie-a-Turban Day for awareness week

The Sikh Students Association and other Sikhs from the UT community offered to tie turbans on the heads of passers-by on the West Mall Thursday.

The group offered food and answered questions for students during "Tie-a-Turban Day," which is part of Sikh Awareness Week, to give students an understanding about the religion.

"For us, it represents humility and sovereignty," association member Gurjit Singh said about the turbans.

He added that there is a common misconception that all turbans are associated with Islamic culture, but in actuality

99 percent of people who wear turbans in America are Sikhs. Turbans are common in the Middle East because of the weather or fashion, he said.

Gurpreet Singh, a UT graduate and a medical student at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, agreed that people unfamiliar with Sikhism sometimes mistake Sikhs for Muslims. Gurpreet Singh said one of his family members, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was murdered in Arizona four days after Sept. 11, 2001 by a man who stereotyped his turban and beard with that of an Arab.

"They're not even required to wear one, and we are," Gurpreet Singh said.

He added that the turban was originally used as a symbol of brotherhood, which united all the members of the Indian caste system and put them on an equal level. Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, spoke out against the prejudice and inequality that was prevalent in Asia and the Middle East in the 15th and 16th centuries.

"It's pretty unique in that it stresses universal brotherhood," said Harjot Kaur, a biology and pre-medicine senior. "In fact, we have members of different faiths included in our holy book."

Nicolas Watine, an economics freshman, said the association's approach was good compared to more aggressive groups on the West Mall. He said he enjoyed learning about Sikhism at the event's comfortable setting.

"It's really engaging," Watine said. "It's a really good time." [Link]

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Kent man sentenced for brutal cabbie attack

A 21-year-old Kent man will spend nine months in jail for brutally beating a cab driver while in a drunken rage last fall.

The defendent, Luis Vazquez, could have been sentenced to as much as 16 years in prison for the hate crime and other assault-related charges. But he didn't because that's what the victim wanted.

In court on Friday, Vazquez said he didn't know why he attacked the cab driver, [Sukhvir] Singh. He said the racial slurs and the brutual beating were the result of his over-consumption of alcohol.

"I'm really sorry, what I put you through and the emotions I put you through," Vazquez told the victim in court. "I'm really sad."

At the time of the incident, Vazquez was drunk and had just been kicked out of the Apple Cup at Husky Stadium. That's when he got inside [Sukhvir] Singh's cab.

While the cab was southbound on I-5, Vazquez began punching Singh in the head, calling him an 'Iraqi terrorist' and blaming him for 9-11. Images of the attack were caught on the cab's dashboard camera.

When Singh pulled over and tried to run away, Vazquez tackled him and kicked him repeatedly in the head.

Today, Vazquez asked for forgiveness - he got it, but with a life lesson from his victim. [Sukhvir] used an interpreter to help him say it.

"It should be known it's not good to have hate towards any humanity," Singh said in court.

Singh later said he knew he was being attacked because of the way he looks - he thinks his turban triggered the attack. But he's not Iraqi - he's Sikh.

"Sorry I'm making you look over your shoulder, and messed up your life," Vazquez told him.

Vazquez told the judge he didn't remember a thing about the attack. But Singh will never forget.

The judge also ordered Vazquez to pay for all of Singh's medical expenses. [Link]

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Judge waits to sentence teen who cut Sikh student's hair

The Elmhurst teenager convicted of a hate crime in the cutting of a Sikh schoolmate's hair will not be sentenced until at least June, a Queens Criminal Court judge ruled Friday, delaying a decision that could ultimately break up the defendant's family.

Umair Ahmed, 18, was found guilty in February of menacing as a hate crime, coercion as a hate crime, criminal possession and harassment, the Queens district attorney said. The Pakistani-born Muslim, who is scheduled to return to court June 5, could be sentenced to as much as four years in prison.

If the sentence involves jail time instead of youth-offender treatment, Ahmed could face deportation when his sentence ends, separating him from his parents and five siblings.

But Judge Joel Blumenfeld put off the decision until Ahmed receives a psychiatric evaluation and possible anger management treatment, a process that takes roughly six weeks. [Link]

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Judge waits to sentence teen who cut Sikh student's hair

The Elmhurst teenager convicted of a hate crime in the cutting of a Sikh schoolmate's hair will not be sentenced until at least June, a Queens Criminal Court judge ruled Friday, delaying a decision that could ultimately break up the defendant's family.

Umair Ahmed, 18, was found guilty in February of menacing as a hate crime, coercion as a hate crime, criminal possession and harassment, the Queens district attorney said. The Pakistani-born Muslim, who is scheduled to return to court June 5, could be sentenced to as much as four years in prison.

If the sentence involves jail time instead of youth-offender treatment, Ahmed could face deportation when his sentence ends, separating him from his parents and five siblings.

But Judge Joel Blumenfeld put off the decision until Ahmed receives a psychiatric evaluation and possible anger management treatment, a process that takes roughly six weeks. [Link]

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Excerpt: 'Bush's Law'

by Eric Lichtblau

Hours after the attacks, Bush's senior law enforcement aides were talking about widespread sweeps in heavily Muslim neighborhoods like Dearborn, Michigan, essentially knocking door-to-door to look for information on the next plot without any real nexus to terrorism or wrongdoing. To [James Ziglar, the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service], the tactic smacked of ethnic-profiling of the worst kind, but his concerns went beyond mere abstract ideology. Not only would it hurt relations with American Muslims-the very people the FBI would need as informants in this new war on terror — but it would mean an enormous drain of resources at the already strapped INS, resources that he felt could be better spent plugging the kinds of holes that officials would learn had allowed two of 9/11 hijackers to enter the country under their real names without even being watch-listed by the CIA. If there was specific evidence suggesting someone had information about terrorism, he was all in favor of going after it and going after it hard. But neighborhood-by- neighborhood sweeps and arrests? That troubled him. As David Ayres, Ashcroft's longtime advisor and powerful chief of staff, was planning a course of action, Ziglar squirmed in his seat. Finally, he broke in.

"I know you're not a lawyer," Ziglar told Ayres bluntly, "but we do have this thing called the Constitution." [Link]

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Boy called Islam 'banned from game show over name'

The parents of a nine-year old French boy called Islam are to sue a television company for discrimination after it allegedly refused to let him participate in a game show unless he changed his name.

Angel Productions told the boy that his name “represented a religion that was not liked in France,” according to the parents cited by Le Parisien newspaper.

Islam Alaouchiche had been shortlisted for a place in a youth game show called “In ze boite” (In the box) on Gulli, a children’s channel.

But when he turned up for the final audition with his parents, who have Algerian nationality, they were told by a casting agent: “There’s a problem, your son cannot keep his first name. Being called Islam if you are a boy is like a girl wearing the (Islamic) veil.”

The woman suggested Islam use “another Arab name” such as Mohammed or Sofiane. But his mother Farah refused.

The family left the premises to return to their home near Paris and never heard from the company again.

Angel Productions told the newspaper that “if Islam wasn’t selected, it was not because of his name, but because there were more candidates than places available.”

But the company admitted that “the casting agent did not react as she should have, there were words that hurt a little boy.”

Its director personally apologised to the boy’s family and promised to let him take part in a future edition of the programme. [Link]

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tougher hate-crime law proposed

When vandals attacked Montreal's École Les

Jeunes Musulmans Canadiens last year, it took thousands of dollars to replace the school's shattered windows and months of counselling to help its traumatized students.

But no amount of money and no amount of counselling could completely erase the nagging worry that it could happen again or the knowledge that under Canada's Criminal Code, the hate-based attack on their Muslim school carries no more penalty than spray painting initials on a wall.

That's why Nabiha El-Wafai is among those who supports legislation tabled by Bloc Québécois MP Carole Freeman that would amend the code to prohibit hate-based vandalism against all buildings used by religious, ethnic and sexual minority groups,

"I think a bill like that could be perfect," El-Wafai, head of the school's primary sector, said in a telephone interview. "If there is a law that would protect places like schools, it could make people who think of committing such acts back up before doing it."

El-Wafai said adopting the bill would send an important message to communities like hers that the Canadian government cares about their welfare.

She's not alone.

Yesterday, members of all three opposition parties teamed up with representatives of a variety of religious and ethnic groups to show support for Freeman's bill, which is scheduled to begin debate tomorrow.

Bloc officials said yesterday that if all goes well, the bill should make it through committee and a final vote by the House of Commons by May or June. [Link]

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Hard hat policy spurs debate between safety and religion

wo British Columbia workers at the centre of a clash between workplace safety and religion are close to reaching a compromise with their employer — International Forest Products Ltd (Interfor) — reports the lawyer for the two men.

Since early last November, Sikh sawmill workers Mander Singh Sohal and Kalwant Singh Sahota have not been permitted to work at Interfor's Acorn Mill in Delta because they refused to wear hard hats over their turbans. For many Sikhs, it is considered a religious requirement to not cover their turbans.

Before November, Interfor's policy on hard hats and other safety gear was more relaxed and did not require all employees at its sawmills to wear such equipment, says Ric Slaco, chief forester and vice-president of Interfor. The new policy requires all sawmill workers to wear the protective equipment.

By filing a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal on March 9 against Interfor, Sohal and Sahota are looking to earn exemptions to the hard hat rule.

David Perry, the lawyer for the two workers, notes that Interfor originally had until April 9 to respond to the complaint, but that deadline was extended because of ongoing negotiations with the company. He says he is "very optimistic" the matter will be resolved and that a tribunal hearing will be avoided. The two sides are currently putting the final touches on a compromise, he says.

The fact that negotiations are underway is a "positive sign," Slaco adds.

With the proposed deal, Interfor has offered alternative work to Sohal, at the same rate of pay, that will not require him to wear a hard hat, Perry says, noting that Sahota has been away from work on leave for an unrelated matter. Issues around back pay and possible damages for pain and suffering are also being discussed, he adds.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Traveling show depicts wartime hardships in U.S.

Ethnic groups, such as Muslim Americans, historically targeted

The abuse of Japanese, German and Italian American civil rights during World War II is being repeated against ethnic groups associated with the Sept. 11 attacks, according to advocates who spoke Saturday during a traveling exhibit called "Inalienable: Immigrant Rights."

At least 50 attended Saturday's event at the Oakland Museum, organized by the Enemy Alien Files Consortium & Partners — a collaboration of several German, Japanese and Italian American rights and history groups. Enemy Alien Files describes the traveling exhibit as an opportunity to hold "multicultural, intergenerational dialogues on challenges to civil liberties during wartime."

Muslims, Arabs and South Asians are being profiled as "potentially dangerous persons" because of their ethnicity and religion, echoing theexperiences of World War II when nearly 1 million members of the Japanese, Italian and German communities were targeted because of their ancestry, organizers said.

"It already has happened again, and it's going to keep happening if we don't do something about it," said Rose Viscuso Scudero, whose family was once confined to their rural Clayton home because of their Italian descent.

As part of the U.S. government's World War II enemy alien program, Italian, German and Japanese communities in the U.S. were restricted geographically, forced to carry ID papers, had to observe curfews and were imprisoned arbitrarily without a hearing or their families knowing their whereabouts.

"I never thought, being born in America, (that) I would be treated like an enemy alien," Scudero said. "People are still condemning us for who we are."

The enemy alien program was separate from the internment of 120,000 U.S. citizens and resident immigrants of Japanese descent during World War II.

Another 6,000 people of Japanese, Italian and German ancestry in 13 Latin American countries — including citizens — were arbitrarily rounded up and forcibly sent to the United States to be interned in camps. The Enemy Alien Files Consortium contends that some were used in exchange for U.S. hostages held by Germany and Japan.

Saturday's event was intended to expose a hidden chapter in the country's history and give a human face to government policies and activities that are recurring today, said Grace Shimizu, a member of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project.

The experiences of all the affected communities — past and present — are part of the history of this country, Shimizu added, referring to a rash of anti-Muslim sentiment that erupted in the wake of Sept. 11, including the detention of an estimated 2,000 men believed to be Muslims by local and state authorities.

In 2007, the Los Angeles Police Department announced plans to map the city's Muslim community in order to identify potential extremists, according to the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The plan was discarded a week later under harsh criticism.

"I am so sick of being afraid of people who are supposed to keep me safe," said Helema Buzayan, a University of California, Davis, student who was detained by police for questioning without a warrant following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Advocates said Latinos also are being caught up in post-Sept. 11 anti-immigrant profiling and policies such as arbitrary detention, as well as being mistaken for Arabs and Muslims.

Arrests, incarcerations, deportations and separations from homes are control methods the U.S. utilized in many parts of the world, said Yuri Kochiyama, a former internee whose Japanese immigrant father was arrested by the FBI after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"We must not forget what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II," Kochiyama said. "And we must be vigilant to protect rights of Middle East immigrants who are being attacked today." [Link]

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Turban Warfare

A Hoboken woman who tried to pull a turban off a Sikh man's head this past winter is being charged with harassment, a charge that some in the Sikh community say does not fit the crime.

Hansdip Singh Bindra, 38, of Union City, alleges that Carrie Covello, 37, of Hoboken, tried to pull his turban off when they were both at the Madison Bar and Grill on Jan. 30.

Covello was kicked out of the Madison and Hoboken police arrested and charged her with a bias attack. However, the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office downgraded the charge last week to lesser charge of harassment.

"We are very disappointed. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sikhs have been disproportionately subject to bias incidents and hate crimes, violent ones at times," said Harsimran Kaur, staff attorney for the Sikh Coalition, a national organization headquartered in New York. "So obviously the fact that she was targeting his turban is clear evidence that she had a problem with his religion."

Sikhism is a separate religion from Islam, and Sikhs weren't involved in the 9/11 attacks. Nevertheless, some people mistakenly accuse Sikh men - who typically wear turbans and have beards - of being affiliated with Muslim terrorists.

Debra Simon, deputy first assistant prosecutor who handles all bias cases in Hudson County, said she downgraded the charge because there was not enough evidence to prove that Covello meant to intimidate Bindra, one of the statutes of a bias crime.

Bindra told The Jersey Journal that after Covello allegedly grabbed his turban, he turned to her and asked, "Do you have a problem?" And he said Covello replied "Take it off, I don't like it."

However Simon said, based on reading police interviews, some bar patrons who witnessed the event did not see any conversation exchanged between Bindra and Covello.

"She didn't say 'Terrorist go home,' she didn't say 'We don't like your kind,'" Simon said. "There has to be a finding that the conduct by the perpetrator was designed and intended to intimidate. I downgraded it to a harassment charge because you can't run around pulling on people's clothing even if it's not a religious article."

Kaur disagrees.

"If you burn a cross on an African-American's yard, you are not specifically saying something degrading, but everyone knows that's targeting them," said Kaur. "When people target a turban, it rises to that same level of hostility and hatred. For the prosecutor to not understand that means there is a lack of cultural understanding that we are working to rectify in this country."

A bias charge is a more serious allegation and would be heard before a Hudson County superior judge and could carry up to 18 months of jail time. A charge of harassment is a municipal offense that threatens up to six months in jail. However, if this is Covello's first offense, she would most likely receive probation under either charge, Simon said. [Link]

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Turban Day celebrates Sikh identity, community

TURBANS OF EVERY hue were represented at the fifth annual International Sikh Turban Day on Sunday at the Fremont Gurdwara.

Youngsters and others got a chance to wear a turban for the first time and some sported the traditional head wrap to show solidarity with their community.

Guests included Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman, Union City Mayor Mark Green and Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-Livermore, who each wore a turban to raise awareness about the Sikh community.

"It's very interesting," Wasserman said after getting fitted with a dark blue turban. "It feels good."

"This is the best I looked all week," Green joked.

Eleven-year-old Harshdeep Singh of Fremont remembers the first time he wore a turban.

"I felt kind of happy, because I always admired my dad when he tied his turban," he said.

Only wearing a turban for the second time, 27-year-old Surjit Chuhan hasn't fully adopted wearing one because he wants to learn more about his culture first.

"I will do it soon," he said. "The more you learn, the more you want to do it. ... It's our culture."

Events such as Turban Day always help with the process, Chuhan added.

The event originated after Sept. 11, when many Sikhs were mistakenly targeted by those who had negative sentiments toward Os-ama bin Laden's al-Qaida faction.

Al-Qaida followers are Muslims, and some Muslims wear a similar head garment.

Hardeep Singh Aulakh, founder of Sikh Children Forum, said that because of the turban, Sikhs are "the most visible people in the world."

"The main reason we started this event was to educate people outside our community," he added.

About 99 percent of the malesyou see wearing a turban in America are Sikh, said Harjot Khalsa, the president of the temple. "It's an important day to show our identity."

The Sikh community is originally from India and is not Muslim. [Link]

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Turbans not just religious symbol

This Sunday, Radio Sher-E-Punjab is organizing the sixth annual turban tying competition at the Bombay Banquet Hall in Surrey to mark International Sikh Turban Day.

The competition is free and men and boys of all ages are welcome to join the event.

The day was picked a few years ago by different Sikh groups to coincide with the harvest festival of Vaisakhi, which is celebrated every April 13.

Since the tenth master of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, had founded the Khalsa - a militant Sikh force to resist the oppression of the Mughal Empire - on Vaisakhi day, the Sikh bodies picked the date to celebrate the International Sikh Turban Day. The establishment of the Kalsa also gave the group a distinct identity.

A turban is must for a devout Sikh, who has long unshorn hair. While a number of Sikhs in the Lower Mainland can be seen without turbans, Sikh groups are trying to encourage youth to give up the practice of cutting hair in favour of sporting a turban and this day was launched mainly to promote the tenets of Sikhism.

However, the co-ordinator of the Sunday event, Gurvinder Singh Dhaliwal, who is also a talk show host with Radio Sher-E-Punjab, gives a number of other reasons for holding such an event.

He says that the organizers also want to educate people about challenges facing turbaned Sikhs across the world. These include discrimination against turbaned Sikhs and hate attacks on them in U.S. after 9/11.

"We also wish to remove low-self esteem among the turbaned Sikhs, who are subjected to racial taunts, and make them feel proud of what they are." [Link]

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Sikhs hope to foster understanding between faiths with 'Turban Day'

To understand what it feels like to wear clothes of a different faith, non-Sikhs - including the Jewish mayor of Fremont and a Catholic state assemblyman - plan to wrap their heads in brightly colored cloth this weekend as part of "Sikh Turban Day," an international movement launched five years ago.

"I said, 'Sure, I'll do it,' " said Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman, who plans to show up early to the Fremont Sikh temple on Sunday to get help winding the long piece of turban cloth around his head. Wearing a turban is a first for Wasserman, who is Jewish.

"It's just a way of showing unity and understanding for each other's culture," he said....

"Sikh Turban Day" was first launched in 2003 by a group called Sikh Children Forum.

Founder Hardeep Singh Aulakh, a Union City computer engineer, said a group of Sikhs got together after Sept. 11, 2001, to try to address the mistaken perception that Sikhs had something to do with the terrorist attacks.

Traditionally, Sikh men wear turbans and have been misidentified as Muslims because al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden wears a head wrap, although a different style than the Sikhs.

"We thought, if all the Sikhs wear a turban one day, we can pass the message out and tell others about us," Aulakh said. They likened their approach to Irish wearing green on St. Patrick's Day, or Chinese wearing red on New Year's.

The idea grew from having just Sikhs wear turbans on a designated day, Aulakh said, to inviting non-Sikhs to experience wearing a turban. From one or two Sikh temples participating a few years ago, Aulakh said at least 70 locations in the United States, Canada, England, France, India, Malaysia are participating this year.

"It's been very successful," Aulakh said.[Link]

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Sikh Graduate Student Falls Victim to Texas Hate Attack

SALDEF works with local authorities to ensure attack is classified as hate crime

A Sikh graduate student at Texas A & M University was viciously attacked by an unknown individual in Bryan, TX and had his turban forcibly knocked off of his head. The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) filed formal complaints with the Bryan Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and has learned that the attack has been classified as a hate crime.

On February 28, 2008, Mr. Singh (name withheld for privacy) was walking back to his vehicle at a local Wal-Mart parking lot when he was approached by an unknown male who called Mr. Singh a ‘terrorist’ and then made other disparaging and racist remarks. Mr. Singh responded by telling the suspect that he did not want any trouble at which time the individual approached Mr. Singh and punched him in the face and head, knocking both Mr. Singh and his daastar (turban) to the ground. Mr. Singh did not sustain any major injuries.

The immediate reaction of some of the police officers involved in the case was less than ideal. Mr. Singh was initially discouraged from making a police report on the night of the incident. Within two weeks of the incident occurring, the Bryan Police Department allegedly closed the case, despite overwhelming evidence involving witness identification of a vehicle at the scene of the crime and a partial license plate which later matched the vehicle description.

After Mr. Singh reported the incident, SALDEF immediately contacted Bryan Police Department Chief Ty Morrow inquiring about the status of police investigation. SALDEF asked for a vigorous investigation and for crime to be prosecuted and classified as a hate crime. On March 31, 2008 the Bryan Police Department informed SALDEF that the incident had been re-classified as a class ‘C’ assault with hate crime enhancement. The necessary paperwork has been filed and the case is currently in active investigation. [SALDEF Press Release]

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Client Services to pay $65,000 for EEOC violations

Client Services Inc. agreed to pay $65,000 in back pay and other damages to resolve claims filed on behalf of a former collector, Mariam Soultan, who was not permitted to work while wearing a head scarf required by her Muslim beliefs, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Thursday.

The suit alleged that in May 2007, St. Peters, Mo.-based Client Services, a collection company, terminated Soultan and told her that no exception could be made to the dress code policy, which prohibits hats and other head wear. Soultan would have been assigned to a cubicle and used a telephone head set to perform her collection duties.

The EEOC contended Soultan could have worn a head set over her scarf in her collector position, which has virtually no in-person customer contact.

"Title VII protects people of all religious beliefs," James Neely Jr., director of the EEOC's St. Louis District Office, said in a statement. "If a request can be reasonably accommodated, then an employee should never have to choose between performing her job and honoring her faith."

The two-year consent decree, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court in St. Louis, also requires Client Services to disseminate a revised dress code policy informing employees of their right to religious accommodation and to provide training to all managers on religious discrimination. [Link]

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Through film, discussion, let's unlearn prejudice

Three days after the 2001 terrorist attacks, a gas station owner stepped outside his Mesa, Ariz., shop and was shot to death.

The victim was an Indian Sikh. The shooting was in retaliation against Osama bin Laden. But the only thing Balbir Singh Sodhi had in common with bin Laden was that he wore a beard and turban.

They were from different countries and religions and spoke different languages. Sodhi was a law-abiding small-business owner who believed in the promise of America, its entrepreneurial spirit and its freedoms.

Last Sunday, Des Moines Area Community College's Diversity Commission organized a screening of a new documentary, "A Dream in Doubt," about Sodhi's death and its aftermath, through the lens of his brother, Rana Sodhi. As family members struggled to cope with their grief, they and other Sikhs continued to be targeted by threats and sometimes violent attacks. Within the year, another Sodhi brother was shot to death while driving a cab in San Francisco, though the county attorney didn't call that a hate crime. Rana Sodhi himself made repeated, terrified middle-of-the-night calls to police when someone was at his door.

On the 5th anniversary of 9/11, according to the film, the U.S. Department of Justice reported it had investigated over 750 related hate crimes. That same year, the Discrimination and National Security Initiative at Harvard University said 83 percent of Sikhs surveyed had experienced a hate incident or knew someone who had. A recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report said the actual number of hate crimes is probably more than 15 times what's reported to the Justice Department.

Mob justice can happen anywhere. In a tragic irony, the film tells of how five Sodhi brothers emigrated to the United States after a period of persecution and violence against Sikhs in mid-1980s India. That followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two Sikh bodyguards. Now in America, Sikhs were having to wear American-flag lapel pins and carry cards explaining their religion to stay safe.

The film has its hopeful parts. The Sikhs finds support when the local Anti-Defamation League organizes a march against discrimination, and the county attorney speaks passionately at an anniversary observance of Sodhi's death.

The shooter is convicted of first-degree murder, though his sentence is later reduced from death to life without parole because of questions about his mental stability.

But instead of mental illness, could it be cultural sickness fueled by prejudice and ignorance? Certainly not every member of a hate group such as the Ku Klux Klan is ill. Prejudice has to be learned. The good news is that it can also be unlearned, and more organizations are taking on that job. By showing and discussing the film, DMACC's Diversity Commission helped stimulate dialogue. And by having such committees in the first place, organizations enable constructive self-criticism and outreach.

On Saturday, I attended a daylong workshop on multiculturalism at the First United Church of Christ in Sioux City. More than 120 people left committed to continuing to promote understanding.

In a memorable moment, the film demonstrates that prejudice is not an instinctive response. The camera captures the Sodhis taking their son, who wears a head covering, into elementary school for the first time. As they enter the classroom, there's tension over how the children might respond. But after the parents explain their religion (a forward-looking principal planned that), the students have only childlike curiosity. One asks if the family celebrates Halloween. The film ends, poignantly, with the parents taking their kids trick or treating.

What can you do? Walter Reed Jr., director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights, recommends "honest conversations" on race, discrimination and diversity. His office has helpful resources. as does Tolerance.org. "A Dream in Doubt" will be broadcast on IPTV May 25 at 11 p.m. That could be a teachable moment, one to gather, watch and talk. [Link]

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Sikh boy has turban ripped off and stamped on by racists

AN 11-YEAR-OLD Sikh boy had his turban ripped off and stamped upon by a group of racist thugs on a Liverpool bus.

Arjan Rhode was attacked by a gang of teenagers on Monday afternoon on the 82 service in Garston.

Moments after he got on the bus near Aigburth Road, he was tapped on the shoulder and his turban was suddenly pulled from his head.

A group of around nine yobs, aged around 18, passed the turban around while mocking the St Benedict’s RC College pupil.

They shouted a tirade of racist abuse at the terrified boy as they stamped on the turban on the floor.

The turban is one of the most important religious symbols for a Sikh and damaging one is seen as a huge insult. [Link]

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Woman Who Grabbed Turban is Not Charged With Hate Crime

The Sikh Coalition is dismayed by the Hudson County prosecutor's decision not to charge a January assault on Hansdip Singh as a bias crime. The Coalition learned yesterday that the prosecutor's office instead is charging Carrie Covello, who attempted to remove Mr. Singh's turban in public, with harassment, a non-bias-related charge.

The assault occurred on January 29, 2008. Hansdip Singh, a Sikh New Jersey resident, was standing in the Madison Grill in Hoboken when a woman behind him grabbed his turban and attempted to pry it from his head. She had almost succeeded by the time Mr. Singh turned around to confront her. When he did so, the woman remarked that she had a problem with "that stuff" on his head, and told him to "take it off." [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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Activists seek oversight of TSA screeners

Religious, minority and civil rights activists are asking Homeland Security officials to screen their own airport screeners using video cameras to check whether passengers are being subjected to bias or profiling.

"We believe such controls are critical to ensuring that our nation's [screeners] are focused squarely on security threats and not distracted by any personal bias," the organizations said in a letter this week to Kip Hawley, director of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). [Link]

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Religious Community Holds Vigil After Vandalism

For weeks the Islamic Center in West Springfield has been cleaning up broken glass and listening to threatening phone calls. On Thursday night, the interfaith community came together to show their solidarity.

Mohammad Saleem Bajwa, President of Islamic Society, says "{The Islamic community} has a strong fear that something is going to happen. We don't feel safe when we're in our congregational prayer."

That's because someone broke windows, smashed doors and left threatening phone calls. Calls like this one: "You must denounce the violence that your people are perpetrating against citizens of the free world or there will be hell to pay, my friends. It's time to make peace."

The vandalism started March 21st and every few days something new has happened.

Bajwa says, "If adverse things happen oversees or any bad news automatically there are some people who are uneducated and ignorant. They connect us with that." [Link]

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Arizona House votes to strip 12 phrases from 9/11 memorial near Capitol

Courting a possible veto, the House voted narrowly Wednesday to strip 12 phrases from Arizona's 9/11 memorial across from the Capitol.

The 32-26 vote came after Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the comments are "politically charged" or "paint an exclusively negative picture" of the state. The result, he said, is some people will not visit the monument.

But Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said HB2700 is a slap at the Sikh community. That's because two of the phrases that would be removed recall the shootings of two Sikhs who were attacked in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by assailants who mistakenly thought they were Muslims.

The measure now goes to the Senate. If it gains approval there, that leaves the final decision to Gov. Janet Napolitano. [Link]

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

New positions for turbaned employees

Interfor seeks to resolve conflict of safety regulations and religion

International Forest Products says it has offered to find new positions at identical wages for turbaned employees who have been off the job since a new hard-hat policy was implemented last November.

Interfor vice-president Ric Slaco said the company has been willing to work with its employees to resolve the apparent conflict between a new safety regulation and some baptized Sikh employees who don't want to cover their turbans with hard hats.

Employees Mander Singh Sohal and Kalwant Singh Sahota have filed a human rights complaint of religious discrimination against Interfor because of the new hard-hat rule forcing them from their specific jobs at Interfor's Delta sawmill.

Sohal -- who started with Interfor in 1988 -- has been offered back wages to November and a different job in the receiving department, while Sahota -- who is off on disability leave -- will also be accommodated when he is ready to return to work, Slaco said.

"We have tabled through the union an accommodation offer," he said in an interview Tuesday after The Vancouver Sun revealed details of the human rights complaint.

But David Perry, a lawyer for the two men, said he has not been contacted directly by Interfor with any offer for Sohal and Sahota.

And he said the issue still needs to be resolved by a human rights tribunal so there is a precedent for the entire community and other employers.

Slaco said the stricter hard-hat policy was implemented after a strike ended last November because of health and safety concerns expressed by a number of interested parties. [Link]

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Sikh service station worker attacked by a bandit with a baseball bat says his turban saved his life.

Amandeep Singh weathered a rain of blows from the would-be robber, then managed to disarm him and use the bat to give as good as he got.

"I smacked him," he said. "After that, he fell to the ground.

"When he stood up, he said, 'I'm bleeding, I'm bleeding.'

Thwarted, the bandit fled empty-handed.

Mr Singh said the man entered the Coles Express about 12.10am yesterday and asked him for car oil.

Suddenly, he rushed Mr Singh, repeatedly punching him and striking him in the head and face with the sawn-off bat.

"He just started beating me with his fists and then he pulled out a baseball bat," Mr Singh told the Herald Sun.

"I am a Sikh, and I wear a turban. He hit me on the turban with the bat, and somehow I managed to grab the bat from his hand and I hit him back.

"He came rushing towards me, and I knew something was wrong. All I know is, my turban saved my life."

The 25-year-old TAFE student spent the night in Maroondah Hospital, where he was treated for facial injuries including a suspected broken nose and severe cuts and bruises.

But he said the attack would not stop him from returning to work at the outlet in Stud Rd, Wantirna South.

"I'm not a coward, so I will be going back to work. I'll be back there on Saturday," he said.

Sen-Det Paul Cosgrove, of Knox police, said Mr Singh had been forced to defend himself from a vicious and brazen attack, and had reacted bravely.

"It's fairly nasty, and there's a fair bit of blood everywhere," Sen-Det Cosgrove said.

"There were no demands. He just attacked. He (Mr Singh) was confident enough to take some evasive action and, as a result, has prevented further harm to himself."

The attacker was described as Caucasian, about 177cm tall, of a thin to medium build.

"I don't hate him," Mr Singh said of his attacker.

"But why would he do this to me? What have I done to him?"

The attack on Mr Singh is one of a number of attempted robberies on late-night convenience store workers in recent months.

Lindsay Connerty, 51, was attacked by a man armed with a 30cm carving knife at a 7-Eleven in Barkly St, St Kilda, in February. He suffered stab wounds to his hands, head, chest and back after vainly trying to use a baseball bat to fend off the thief. [Link]

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Sikhs file grievance over mandatory hard hat rule

Two Sikh men in B.C. have filed a grievance against their employer after a new rule required all employees to wear a hard hat while on the job.

The two men, Mander Singh Sohal and Kalwant Sahota, worked at a sawmill for International Forest Products (Interfor), but were escorted off the job when Sohal refused to abide by the new rule.

"These gentlemen have essentially lost their jobs simply because they wear a turban," their lawyer, David Perry, said Tuesday.

"It's against my religion," Sohal said, even dismissing wearing a hardhat over his turban.

"I won't put anything above my turban."

The men have filed a complaint with the B.C. human rights tribunal.

It's an argument -- faith verses safety -- that has been heard before in Canada. Last month, an Ontario court ruled that Baljinder Badesha had to wear a helmet in place of a turban while riding his motorcycle.

However, in B.C., Sikhs are exempt from motorcycle and bicycle helmet laws.

A union rep, Jazz Dhillon, said some Sikhs abided by the rule by stripping the lining out of the hard hats and putting it over their turban.

But he said they weren't comfortable doing so.

In B.C., helmets must be worn in any workplace where is potential for a head injury but employers must accommodate their workers.

Interfor says they are doing so, saying they found some jobs for the men in the receiving department.

"Other Sikhs that are working on our mills, still wear a turban and wear a hard hat on top," Rick Slaco of Interfor said.

But the men said they didn't know the details of any new job and it would have to be one where their faith was respected.

Interfor has until April 9 to respond to the grievance. [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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The Blog

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The purpose of this web-log is to offer news and commentary in a fluid, dynamic format while our more substantive reports are forthcoming.

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Court orders UPS to pay Jersey City man for religi...
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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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