Spike in Islamophobia Taking Toll on Sikhs

Spike in Islamophobia Taking Toll on Sikhs

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This past weekend, two Sikh men, aged 78 and 65, were shot in broad daylight as they were walking down a street in Elk Grove, a suburb of Sacramento. The 65-year-old man died, while his friend was critically wounded. The assailant sped away in a light brown pickup.

At this point, police are speculating that the attack could have been a hate crime, given that neither of the men was robbed or roughed up. The local Sikh community believes that the victims’ only provocation was that they were sporting articles of their religious faith —turbans and beards. A $30,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest of those involved.

The killings seem to suggest that, once again, Sikhs have become collateral damage in the Islamophobia stoked by the likes of U.S. Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), and GOP 2012 presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.

“Every time there’s a spike in Islamophobia, we see a proportionate increase in hate crimes against those who look like Muslims,” observed Manjit Singh, co-founder of the 15-year-old Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF).

King is planning to hold congressional hearings—set to start March 9— to shine a light on the alleged radicalization of American Muslims by terror groups. Huckabee went on Fox News recently and criticized two U.S. Protestant churches for allowing Muslims to worship in their facilities.

Strong religious bias and ignorance can often blur people’s perceptions of who the real enemy is. Soon after 9/11, the first casualty in the U.S. backlash again Muslims was an innocent Sikh gas station attendant in Arizona, whose turban and beard portrayed him in the eyes of his killer as a terrorist, and therefore someone who should be done away with. Last August, a 21-year-old white man slashed and stabbed a New York Bangladeshi cabbie, after asking him if he was a Muslim. And about two months ago, two men brutally assaulted a Sikh cab driver after calling him a Muslim and shouting racial epithets. One of the attackers, Pedro Ramirez, admitted earlier this week that the assault was a hate crime. As part of the plea deal, he has been sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Of course, aside from our own political leaders, the current anti-Muslim hysteria in America can be traced to Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who blames al-Qaeda for the revolt in his country as well as the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The rest of the world knows that what happened in Egypt and Tunisia were broad-based popular movements that had no undercurrents of violent jihad, the hallmark of al-Qaeda.

In any event, King, Huckabee and Gaddafi have succeeded in putting innocent Sikhs in the cross-hairs of Islamaphobes. SALDEF, which advocates for Sikhs in the United States who have been victims of hate and violence, has lately been fielding an increasing number of calls from people who have been verbally abused and subjected to racial epithets, according to Manjit Singh.

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Singh worried that a surge in anti-Muslim feeling could spill over into the Sikh community.

 

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