American Turban

Other American Sikh perspectives on the killing of Osama bin Laden

Subsequent to my post yesterday about my feelings after receiving the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, I was struck by the common chord sounded by Sikhs all over the United States who, too, expressed mixed emotions about the event: joy at justice finally being delivered, combined with an uneasiness that an increase in hate crimes targeting men in turbans in this country could be on the horizon.  Sikhs, who are the predominant portion of the people wearing turbans in this country, have experienced a brunt of the misdirected 9/11 backlash.

Selected excerpts from various articles written by Sikhs across the United States in response to the death of bin Laden follow:


Valarie Kaur, film-maker, writer, advocate and public speaker, posting on her blog:

Even if I wanted to celebrate, I’m too busy worrying.  Today, many Sikh, Muslim, and Arab American families, brace for violence, concerned that Americans will target those who “look like” the Osama bin Laden we just destroyed. We didn’t bring Osama bin Laden to trial, after all.  We killed him before we captured his body.  So why would vigilante Americans wait for the law to take care of the “terrorists” in their midst?

Rajdeep Singh, Director of Law and Policy at The Sikh Coalition, in a piece published in the Washington Post:

As easy as it might feel for some to celebrate his death with street parties and sloganeering, a more constructive way to mark his death is to vigorously promote peace and interfaith solidarity in our diverse communities. Nothing would hasten the demise of violent extremism more effectively than the construction of a world in which people of all faiths (and no faith) close ranks and work toward their common goals in a spirit of mutual respect and appreciation.

Rana Singh Sodhi, surviving brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi (post-9/11 hate crime victim) and who recently lobbied Arizona’s Governor to veto a bill that would have removed his brother’s name from a 9/11 memorial, was quoted in an article published in the East Valley Tribune:

“This is a very blessed weekend for me,” he said. “It brings relief to my family and other 9/11 victims’ families.”

“I lost my two brothers but I’m still so proud of my community,” Rana Sign Sodhi said. “You can find bad apples anywhere but we are still a wonderful, wonderful country.”

Sukhsimranjit Singh, law professor at the University College of Law in Salem, Oregon, wrote a guest column in the Oregonian:

I made the choice to move thousands of miles away from my family in search of a better life. I had heard about the courage of Americans and their tolerance for ethnic minorities and different religions. For most of my stay, I have seen the best of America. For the most part, I have felt welcomed. Except for the times when I walk down the street and I know that someone may be thinking I’m a terrorist.

Navdeep Singh Dhillon, on the blog The Langar Hall, writes about his reactions to the killing, (and, in his post, draws a parallel with how Sikhs celebrated the news of the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984):

September 11 took something away from all of us, and it took something extra from Sikhs and brown folk: the sense of security and the entitlement we felt to share in the pain of America. Osama bin Laden was a symbol of everything horrible that 9/11 represented, from the actual attacks, the devastating loss of life, to the hate crimes committed by Americans on Americans. And now he is dead, we are hoping it brings a sense of closure. So, we celebrate.

…I am also worried about a possible retaliation, but not just from terrorists. From other Americans as well. My thoughts immediately returned to 9/11 and the days, months, and years afterwards. Even today, a remnant of the aftermath from ten years ago, Sikh boys are bullied and called “Osama” like it’s no big deal, the general population are still completely ignorant of the Sikh identity, hate crimes targeting Sikhs are on the rise (link).

Dr. I.J. Singh, columnist on the website sikhchic.com, writes:

First, I am satisfied that justice has been done; Osama, who directed the killing of thousands of innocent Americans, has now met his end as he should have years ago. 

Secondly, as a Sikh, I am profoundly concerned. The past ten years have seen many hate crimes against innocent Sikh-Americans, including murder and harassment on the streets or at work, by patriotic but misguided Americans who could not tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim follower of Osama.

…We would need to be vigilant and proactive in our communities and in liaising with local police and authorities. Any preventive measures we can initiate would be more useful than a bunch of protests and copious hand-wringing after the fact.

The Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE) issued a press release quoting its chairman, Dr. Rajwant Singh, in which he also stated:

“We appreciate President Obama’s leadership in bringing justice to a man who caused so much grief to many fellow Americans and to so many people around the world. Thousands of Americans lost their loved ones and many had to suffer due to Bin Laden’s inhuman acts on 9/11. Bin Laden’s execution provides a relief to many but they may not recover their loss. ” He added, “We are concerned that the images of Bin Laden with turban being shown on TV and on the internet can create confusion in the minds of many and instigate reaction towards innocent Sikh bystanders. Sikh community faced the backlash around the world due to mistaken identity and many even lost their lives in America. The prejudice and violence was even experienced by Sikh youngsters in America. We pray that good sense prevails and we can face these challenging times holding each other together.”

Time will tell on whether these concerns are legitimate, though I’m sure these Sikhs would be happy to admit that our apprehension turned out to be mistaken and unfounded.

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