A number of different American communities have been impacted by Islamophobia, and practitioners of the Sikh religion make up one of the most adversely affected minority groups. The distinctive physical appearance of typical Sikh males in particular — brown skin, turban, beard — correlates with the stereotypical images of terrorists projected in western media. Scholars have recently described this perceived relationship as a racialization of religious identity. This process has led to a conflation of Sikhs and Muslims, and therefore, has produced a corollary to Islamophobia — Sikhophobia.
— Simran Jeet Singh, on the Huffington Post, discusses the rise of “Sikhophobia” particularly after 9/11.
Sikhs have indeed faced a more intense and focus level bigotry since the attacks in September 11, 2001. However, the discrimination that Sikhs have faced in this country has occurred since our first arrivals over a century ago. The ill-attention that Sikhs have received after the 9/11 attacks became much more acute.
We also don’t need to look very far back in time to identify hate crimes or suspected hate crimes against Sikhs, for they are still occurring today. In the recent span of over a year:
- Two elderly Sikh men were shot and killed in Elk Grove, California with no discernible motive. Their murders are suspected to be a hate crime.
- An elderly Sikh man was stabbed at the Fresno International Airport in Fresno, California with, again, no discernible motive.
- A Sikh house of worship (Gurdwara) in Sterling Heights, Michigan was vandalized with hate-based graffiti.
- A Sikh family in Sterling, Virginia was threatened and harassed by unknown persons.
Simran Jeet’s use of the term “Sikhophobia” is appropriate, and one can take the term further. Whether the perpetrators of hate crimes invoke 9/11, or if they spray swastikas (a historic anti-Semitic act against Jews) on our buildings, Sikhs are intended targets by those who wish to do harm solely because of our appearance.
These attacks on Sikhs are also not only an American phenomenon. Yesterday, news broke of bigotry-inspired vandalism at a Sikh-oriented private school in Canada. This attack occurred in a city with a large population of Sikhs and where Sikhs are a much more known community. Yet, this school became a target, and likely not as a result of Islamophobia but more specific to Sikhs.
The FBI categorizes attacks on Sikhs as Islamophobic-motivated crimes, while at the same time, a common defense by Sikhs is to dissociate ourselves from Islam in the public eye. However, neither perspective can directly nor appropriately address the bigotry that Sikhs have faced. Bigotry is a behavior that impacts many communities, and it is important to recognize that Sikhs are themselves targets as well. Only with this understanding can we properly begin to address the issue.