Ten years later, and we’re still not safe

On Friday, two frail and elderly Sikh men were gunned down in cold blood as they went for a walk in a suburb of Sacramento. Surinder-Singh[1].jpg

Surinder Singh, 67, died Friday afternoon on the sidewalk along East Stockton Boulevard near Geneva Pointe Drive. Gurmej Atwal, his 78-year-old friend, was shot twice in the chest. His family said he was in critical but stable condition [link]

The police are looking for a tan pickup seen leaving the scene and nearly $30,000 in reward money has been pledged by different community groups. One of the first to step forward with $5,000 was the Sacramento chapter of CAIR; I only hope members of the Sikh community will be willing to do the same in return.

Gurmej-Atwal[1].jpgAuthorities have admitted that they have no other motive for the crime (they weren’t robbed, they didn’t pick a fight at the club the night before, they weren’t kingpins of organized crime families), so it looks very likely that this was a hate crime. The FBI have been contacted, and hopefully will be investigating.

What boggles my mind is both the kind of coward who would shoot two old men (both heart attack survivors and frail) and the kind of virulent hatred which would motivate them to single out these two men, in broad daylight, in a quiet suburb. What kind of twisted person would think this was a good thing to do?

Every time I hear about a hate crime incident, a little bit of my naive belief in the American dream dies. I was involved in outreach and education long before 9/11, I’ve spent years of my life doing it, but the kind of person who would pull a trigger is also not the kind of person who cares who Sikhs are, or what Sikhs believe, or even whether Sikhs are the same or different from Muslims. We are simply the other, an amorphous mess of browness that spans the world (somehow including President Obama), and we are all threats.

There’s something in particular about this crime which hurts more than others, which makes it more personal. My grandparents came from India when I was a kid, and every day they would go for a walk in a nearby park. I know how these two old men must have shuffled slowly around their suburb, I can imagine the way the car screeched to a halt (something which has happened to me many times), the insults that may have been thrown at them, and the sound of the gunshots. All my grandparents are dead, but these men were somebody’s grandparents, men who came half way around the world, and whose quiet peaceful retirement was interrupted by the bang and flash of a bullet exiting the muzzle of a gun. I just can’t understand it.

65 thoughts on “Ten years later, and we’re still not safe

  1. Each time I read something like this, my faith in humanity dies a little more. If it is even possible.

    Like you say, there is simply no explanation for this. Monsters like this can only be moderated by broad public disgust at such horrible behavior. In that regard, I am sorry to admit ennis, America (or India, or any other place) doesn’t condemn this behavior strongly enough any more.

    Somehow unjustified paranoia has come to be tolerated, whether the paranoia is linked with the Iraq/Afghan wars or with the economic variety—the outsourcing tamasha. As a consequence, a minority—not insiginificant though—of the public in the US has become fairly immune to these disgusting acts. True, most of this minority just vent it via racist comments on the Internet. But a few perhaps do it this way, encouraged by the schadenfreude a significant minority feels at these incidents.

    Despite all this, it is good to remember Gandhi: An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. I hope the victims and their families move beyond this senseless act of cowardice. I hope the majority who are equally disgusted condemn this very strongly.

  2. After I read this article, I experienced some very strong emotions. I cannot imagine what the families must be going through I send my condolences to the families of these two men and express my regrets and sympathy. This makes me very sad that in the greatest country in the world U.S.A. careless evil acts like this happen to the most innocent of people. As a Sikh and son of a Sardar this strikes a nerve that these murders have a high probability of being a hate crime. The total nonchalant attitude of the police and national media with issues regarding Sikhs and mistaken identity sickens me.

  3. Very sad story….. but I have to ask, what exactly is “cowardice” about this act? What would a “brave” person have done, shot two young men instead of two old ones? Challenged them to a duel instead of shooting them without warning? I don’t mean to sound insensitive, I’ve just never understood the usage of the word “coward” in these types of situations, and this is the only time I remember to ask…

  4. I heard about these murders a few days ago when I got an e-mail from Valarie Kaur’s website (www.valariekaur.com). I’m on her mailing list because I made a small contribution (in 2006 or 2007?) when she was accepting funding for the release of “Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath” (http://www.dwf-film.com/). I had seen the trailer on YouTube and was moved to tears. At that time, for a minimum donation ($50?) you would receive a copy of the DVD as soon as it was released. I wanted to help in some way and I wanted to see the rest of the film as soon as possible so it seemed like an obvious choice. I still watch that film at least once a year and it still breaks my heart.

    After I got Valarie’s e-mail this week, I looked at some of the older posts on her website because I hadn’t looked at it for a while. One post featured a short video called “1700% Project: Mistaken For Muslim” (http://vimeo.com/11380785) that I couldn’t even finish watching the first time. The combination of the Yorba Linda videos, the murders of Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal, and the 1700% video was just too much for me emotionally.

    I guess that my only point aside from expressing my sympathy and grief is to point out that I’m not Sikh, Muslim, Hindu or South Asian and yet I am deeply moved by the atrocities and injustices that continue to be inflicted on those communities. I truly am just some random white guy and I cannot believe that I’m the only one who feels this way. I just wish that there were a lot more of us.

  5. “Gurmej Atwal, 78, remained in critical but stable condition at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center from two bullets to the chest. He still cannot talk, but is nodding yes or no to questions, said his son, Kamaljit Atwal.” (http://www.sacbee.com/2011/03/08/3457180/sikh-leaders-offer-30000-reward.html)

    I apologize for mistakenly believing that Gurmej Atwal had also died in the attack. I hope that he makes a swift and complete recovery and lives for many more years.

  6. “Authorities have admitted that they have no other motive for the crime (they weren’t robbed, they didn’t pick a fight at the club the night before, they weren’t kingpins of organized crime families), so it looks very likely that this was a hate crime. The FBI have been contacted, and hopefully will be investigating.”

    A bit presumptive, it could have been the result of a personal squabble.

  7. This is sad and disgusting beyond belief.

    I offer my condolences to the families, and a solution.

    The US and its people are no different than any other country and its people.

    People are tribal and conformist by nature, or nurture, whatever it is, that we are.

    Just as when you read any travel guide book to India such as Lonely Planet, there is a anywhere from a half a page to an entire page dedicated to telling WOMEN what to wear in order to blend in, deflect attention away from themselves and to optimize safety, similarly, such advise needs to be given to anyone coming to the US, whether tourist or immigrant, male or female.

  8. Just as when you read any travel guide book to India such as Lonely Planet, there is a anywhere from a half a page to an entire page dedicated to telling WOMEN what to wear in order to blend in, deflect attention away from themselves and to optimize safety, similarly, such advise needs to be given to anyone coming to the US, whether tourist or immigrant, male or female.

    Weren’t you the same person on the other post suggesting that Muslim women should give up their hijabs (head coverings) to blend in more? And now you’re suggesting that Sikhs should give up their turbans in order to blend in more? I strongly disagree. There’s nothing inappropriate about wearing a turban or a hijab, and people shouldn’t be punished for following their religion if they’re not hurting others, in a country like the United States. Before you butt in with “Well would you wear booty shorts in Saudi Arabia?”, no, obviously I wouldn’t, but frankly that’s because I expect them to act uncivilized and backwards. Just because some people in the US are repulsively intolerant doesn’t mean we need to equate ourselves with the lowest common denominator of humanity. When people wear turbans, hijabs, yamulkas, habits, crosses, or any other religious symbol, yes they’re distinguishing themselves by religion, but that doesn’t justify hate crimes or mean we need to strip ourselves of religious identity in order to feel safe. And I’m a non-religious atheist so I’m not saying this out of personal concern. Even if the 2 men pictured above would take off their turbans, they would still incite hatred from these types of people by basis of their ethnicity alone.

  9. Alina, forget Saudi Arabia and government enforced dress codes. That’s NOT what I’m talking about.

    I’m talking about culturally sensitivity here.

    Taking a gander at the environment around you, considering all that has gone on since 9/11, including the people harrassed, abused and even killed for wearing turbans or looking “foreign” – and adjusting your dress code accordingly – if for nothing else but your own saftey.

    Its the same thing I and millions of other tourists do when they travel the globe, as well as what many immigrants do when they move to a country that has a different expectation of public dress than that of the homeland.

    Its called “cultural sensitivity” and they are teaching it even in the military nowadays.

    Another term for it is “common sense”.

  10. It is scary what is happening and it is likely to get worse, especially for desis. Sikhs living in America will have to become pragmatic. What do clothing styles or accessories like bangles or toy swords have to do with spirituality anyway? We need more spirituality and less religion; for religion divides while spirituality unites. The sikhs who wear turbans in America wear western style pants, shirts and shoes, so they have already compromised. Maybe it’s time to ditch the pagri as well, at least in public when living in such a hostile and dangerous environment.

    • Dev | March 8, 2011 12:33 PM | Reply It is scary what is happening and it is likely to get worse, especially for desis. Sikhs living in America will have to become pragmatic. What do clothing styles or accessories like bangles or toy swords have to do with spirituality anyway? We need more spirituality and less religion; for religion divides while spirituality unites. The sikhs who wear turbans in America wear western style pants, shirts and shoes, so they have already compromised. Maybe it’s time to ditch the pagri as well, at least in public when living in such a hostile and dangerous environment.

      I do agree that Sikhs need to update their garb, not because it conflates them with us Muslims, but because it’s not current. You don’t see Christians wearing white-lungis (or whatever it was that Jesus wore), or Jains running around naked at the Boston Commons (since Mahavira Jain was a streaker). The Sikhs have done so much compromising already and no longer wear their holy shorts – the kachi – and most of my Sikh friends are not surnamed “Singh”. Incidentally, only one of these Sikhs kept the “Singh” surname. Moreover, the supermajority of Sikhs here do not have a knife with them. Most, however, are still excellent, egalitarian, and optimistic people whom I have a special love for. They still wear the kadda, however.

      I’m not suggesting that all Sikhs should embrace the Nikki Haley mode of assimilation, but I am saying that what was fashionable in 1699 in Punjab – during the Khalsa Movement – is comical today. In those days, it was fashionable/macho to dress like an Afghani tribesmen, since the Sikhs and Pashtuns (who were the henchmen of Aurangzab) were enemies. Even the Romans prior to 400 AD refused to wear pants because their horse-riding enemies, the Huns, Sarmatians, etc., wore them, but then they adopted.

  11. ennis – is there a group coordinating the communities response in the area? I couldnt find a link in your message.

  12. Thank you, Pamela Gellar, Deborah Pauly, et al. Their blood is on your hands, you disgusting excuses for American citizens.

  13. So to become American, Sikhs have to give up their constitutional freedoms? A country which was founded by settlers freeing religious persecution is one where one should abandon ones religious signs to survive? That’s ridiculous.

    What’s more, it’s not enough to remove ones beard and turban, post 9-11 there have been attacks on browns who were presumed to be Muslim simply by virtue of their foreignness. Shall we change our names too? And bleach our skins, dye our hair, and wear blue contacts? I mean, isn’t this the kind of “common sense” and “cultural sensitivity” that Majority Minority is talking about? Is that what it takes to be truly safe in our own homes and neighborhoods?

    @al_beruni I don’t know who is coordinating a response here, it’s a good question. It could be that different groups are all acting independently.

  14. “So to become American, Sikhs have to give up their constitutional freedoms? A country which was founded by settlers freeing religious persecution is one where one should abandon ones religious signs to survive? That’s ridiculous.”

    Legally, I am free to wear bikini top and booty shorts while travelling around South Asia.

    Totally free and within the law to do so.

    However, is it…..

    1. culturally sensitive?
    2. socially acceptable?
    3. safe?

    The answers to these questions are reasons why, even though in the US I wear bikini tops and booty shorts when temps get high, I do not do the same in India, even if it’s 110 degrees or more out.

    I really don’t understand what’s so difficult to grasp about this.

    Personally, I am not bothered by what anyone wears, even if they go naked. But socially and culturally, most people are. People are socialized into society in particular ways.

    Since multi-culturalism seems to be the current utopian global ideal, we are all asked to be “culturally sensitive”.

    I most certainly am when I travel and live in countries that are not my own, and even within my own country when I find myself in a particular area or amongst a group that has certain expectations.

  15. This is sad and despicable.

    This write-up and some of the responses, though, state and suggest that they were “mistaken for being Muslim”. But there is no qualifier after such statements that it would be wrong as well if the act were committed against Muslims. Just that they were mistaken for being Muslim.

    Although nearly not as disturbing as the two gentlemans’ murder, it is disturbing as well.

    And given the fact that a Muslim organization was the first to offer a reward, even more puzzling.

  16. @Majority Minority So freedom of religion is part of America’s legal framework but not a part of its essential culture? All that stuff about the pilgrims coming to America so they could be free from religious persecution, stuff you hear regularly throughout elementary school, that’s not a central part of American identity? The Statue of Liberty, that too is just a legal thing, not a central part of who and what Americans are?

    Sikhs have been in America for 100 years, and in particular in that part of California. This suburb is a multicultural place, not some kind of white enclave. But even if it weren’t, you’re missing the point that the haters are not bothered by what somebody wears, they’re bothered by what somebody is, namely different and foreign. Post 9/11 a Sikh woman in western clothes (no turban, no beard, nothing to indicate she was different in terms of her dress) was stabbed in her car when she stopped at a light. Should she have died her hair blonde and gotten blue contact lenses and a more anglo looking nose? Your argument really does end up with the “common sense” advice to change your name and get plastic surgery to be safe in “the land of the free”

    @JB You’re absolutely right that there is no reason to attack ANYBODY. I’ve covered this in great depth in previous postings, but I did not make this sufficiently clear here. I made a reference to the fact that the attackers don’t care who Sikhs are because there is always somebody who suggests that we should explain that Sikhs are not Muslims, as if we were willing to endorse attacking them not us. We’re in total agreement on this point, and I’m sorry my post suggested otherwise, even slightly.

    @RandomWhiteGuy Thanks, and I do remember that most of my non-Sikh and non-SouthAsian friends of all races and colors are just as appalled by this as I am.

  17. CAIR offering reward money is kind of like an organisation like NAMBLA offering reward money to find missing children.

  18. @Majority Minority – I agree people should be culturally sensitive, but you can’t equate wearing booty shorts and a bikini top around South Asia to a turban in the US. First, the turban is a religious tradition, whereas booty shorts aren’t a exactly a religious symbol of any faith I’m familiar with. Second, I don’t think turbans are culturally insensitive. There is a doctor in the hospital I work in who is a Sikh; he wears a turban and has a beard, but other than that is like any other doctor here; professional attire under a white lab coat – his turban doesn’t make him culturally insensitive. Similarly, I don’t think it’s culturally insensitive to wear a yamulka or hijab, which Jews and Moslems have obviously been targeted for.

    The sikhs who wear turbans in America wear western style pants, shirts and shoes, so they have already compromised.

    I don’t know much about Sikhism, but I always thought their religion mandated the turban? I didn’t know there were rules about other attire as well, so the combination of turban + western clothes doesn’t seem unusual to me.

    But there is no qualifier after such statements that it would be wrong as well if the act were committed against Muslims.

    Do you think a qualifier is necessary here? Do you genuinely think the lack of one suggests that hate crimes against Muslims are justified in any way? Some things are too obvious to be explicitly said imo. I don’t think anyone meant to convey anti-muslim sentiments personally

  19. ” @Majority Minority So freedom of religion is part of America’s legal framework but not a part of its essential culture? All that stuff about the pilgrims coming to America so they could be free from religious persecution, stuff you hear regularly throughout elementary school, that’s not a central part of American identity? The Statue of Liberty, that too is just a legal thing, not a central part of who and what Americans are? “

    I don’t know the answers to these questions, Ennis.

    I do know however that when my ancestors immigrated over under the spell of the Statue of Liberty’s promise of “give me your poor and downtrodden and I will give them the ‘American Dream’”… that they quickly dropped their Home Land dress code for the New Land dress code. I’ve see the before and after photos and paintings.

    I also know that they had no places of worship, not being Christian. Those came decades later. I also know they learned English asap.

    What many (not all) Americans are afraid of is the “cultural landscape” of their nation changing to something that is not recognizeable to them.

    You may think its a minority who feel like this, or that its mostly old white people, but I assure you – its not.

    People feel like mutli-culturalism is being forced down their throats, and as far as I’m aware, we’ve not been given the chance to vote on this.

    What bothered about the video Taz posted yesterday was that little girls wearing hijab was considered perfectly normal and acceptable in California, while those protesting it were not.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not on the side of those screaming nutters, however I am also not comfortable with a significant number of children wearing hijab in an American town, what to speak of California which has always been viewed by Americans as a freewheeling type of place where skin is regularly shown.

    Do I want little Muslim girls to wear bikini tops and booty shorts? No.

    But age and weather appropriate clothing like sundresses and no hijab would be the right way to blend in in California.

    Recently I read an article about how non-Muslim Australian women and girls were asked by the city government officials to not wear bikinis or very revealing clothing at a public swimming pool one day because a group of Muslim Aussie women were going to be there carrying on some sort of picnic or something.

    THIS is the type of thing Americans are scared of. The change of our cultural landscape.

    When Sri Lankans or Burmese or Afghanis or Bangladeshis or Indians or Ethiopians or any other people express concern over the change of their cultural landscape, its “understood”.

    Somehow when Americans express the same, its not.

    Personally I think that all people everywhere, whenever they apply for immigration to any country, should be given “cultural sensitivity” classes on the cultural norms of the country they are immigrating to and understand what might be expected of them in terms of external behaviour and dress.

    And if they are immigrating to a country that has had decades long of strong Feminist activism from a country that has not – they REALLY need to be primed.

    It remains to be seen how this mass utopian social experiment of multi-culturalism pans out.

    I hope it pans out smoothly and safely for all involved.

  20. Recently I read an article about how non-Muslim Australian women and girls were asked by the city government officials to not wear bikinis or very revealing clothing at a public swimming pool one day because a group of Muslim Aussie women were going to be there carrying on some sort of picnic or something. THIS is the type of thing Americans are scared of. The change of our cultural landscape.

    I think you’re making a huge, illogical leap here. First you talk about how women in California shouldn’t wear hijab, then how these Aussie women were told to not wear bikinis. In either issue, you have a group of women being told to not dress a certain way to accomodate others. You know what I think is the best thing about Western culture? Freedom of expression. Freedom to dye your hair purple, to wear a bikini, to wear a hijab, whatever. That’s not to say people shouldn’t adapt culturally, but there is nothing inappropriate about a woman voluntarily wearing a hijab OR a bikini. You demanding women not wear hijabs is just as stupid as the Muslims demanding Aussies not wear bikinis imo.

    What many (not all) Americans are afraid of is the “cultural landscape” of their nation changing to something that is not recognizeable to them.

    Yes, I admit I have worried about that too (particularly in regards to Latino immigration).However, demanding that no one deviate from the norms of the majority is unfair. Since you brought up California – Hispanics are going to be the majority in that state pretty soon. Would you then demand that all Californians learn Spanish to accommodate the “new” majority? After all, if Latinos become the majority, then by your logic we should become more “culturally sensitive” and change our manner of dressing/eating/speaking to blend in with them.

  21. Firstly, this sickens me. I look at these elderly gentlemen and I think of my grandfather and father, who are both turbanned Sikhs. It scares me that I could lose them to ignorance. I have been reading comments posted on other news sites where people have been bickering about whether this is truly a hate crime. I am inclined to believe that it is but putting that aside for now. Every single comment I have read has been about what people think and feel. I understand that, we need to vent. But STOP focussing on hijabs,crosses, yamulkas, turbans, terrorism, hate crimes, ignorance etc. Ask yourself: when was the last time you made an effort to educate others? I am a Sikh woman and live in a fairly homogenous neighbourhood. I have spoken at my child’s school about Sikhism, at the local library, community events, interfaith meetings etc. I want this community to understand what my faith is about and I want my child to grow up educating others about it as well. We need to speak up and support each other. That is the only way we are going to succeed in eliminating these types of events from ever happening.

  22. “You demanding women not wear hijabs is just as stupid as the Muslims demanding Aussies not wear bikinis imo. “

    Alina, calm down.

    I’m not “demanding” that anyone wear or not wear anything.

    I will repost what I wrote elsewhere in my first comment;

    “Take a gander at the environment around you, considering all that has gone on since 9/11, including the people harrassed, abused and even killed for wearing turbans or looking “foreign” – and adjust your dress code accordingly – if for nothing else but your own saftey.”

    If I do this when I travel, and heck, even in my own country, why can’t others do the same?

    “After all, if Latinos become the majority, then by your logic we should become more “culturally sensitive” and change our manner of dressing/eating/speaking to blend in with them.”

    This is the problem with democracy, or “majority rule”.

    There are cultural, linguistic and yes, perhaps even religious reasons, why the United States became a nation that many people from around the world have always wanted to immigrate to.

    Perhaps that culture, language and religion should always remain the majority here?

  23. “Perhaps that culture, language and religion should always remain the majority here?”

    Just to clarify so the pc police don’t get me, I am not Christian nor is my family. But Christianity may be one of the reasons the US reached the state of progress that it did.

    “You demanding women not wear hijabs is just as stupid as the Muslims demanding Aussies not wear bikinis imo. “

    Ironically, the Muslim women, when informed about this incident, said that they did not want the non-Muslim women to feel intimidated in anyway and that the idea was cooked up entirely by city government officials.

    And I’ll conclude by saying this is the problem with Western Liberal White People – too much pandering due to misplaced feelings of “white guilt”.

    Expect conformity, and that’s what you’ll get.

    Hey, it works in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, etc.

  24. Perhaps that culture, language and religion should always remain the majority here? Too late. WASPs are certainly no longer the majority; their numbers grow smaller every decade. When this country was founded, keep in mind Irish, Southern Euro’s, Eastern Euros, Catholics, etc, were certainly not considered “white”. As for religion – I believe most of our founders were Episcopalian, which have long since become a minority. This country was essentially settled and founded so that a bunch of hardcore religious folk (Puritans) could freely practice away from the Anglican Church; freedom of church/state has long been the “official” religion so to speak. With the influx of Latinos, I think the Catholic/Protestant balance is going to become more balanced too.

    the #1 reason people have immigrated here is economic opportunity. Multiculturalism is hardly some new social experiment here either, we’ve had that going on for centuries.

  25. Alina, see my comment here;

    http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/006445.html#comment-281941

    “the #1 reason people have immigrated here is economic opportunity.”

    Yes, and could it be that certain demographics might, over the long haul, turn this country into something more akin to the ones they come from?

    Akin to those countries politically, economically, culturally, socially, and religiously?

    Where will there be left to immigrate to?

  26. @majority – yep, those last 3 sentences are why so many Americans (including myself) are concerned at the massive influx of mexican immigration…but that’s a comment for another blog. the south asian minority is still extremely small and we certainly don’t have that much of an impact on the cultural landscape here. So I don’t think these hate crimes against south asians have anything to do with Americans worrying about our cultural/economic/social impact on the culture (typically we are a “model minority”) since I believe we make up less than 1% of the current population. I think this is just xenophobia and ignorance.

  27. Majority Minority wrote “Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not on the side of those screaming nutters…”

    Actually, you are and you demonstrate it by repeatedly writing things like “THIS is the type of thing Americans are scared of. The change of our cultural landscape.” The solution to ignorant, irrational, intolerant violence is definitely NOT for the victims to abandon their values and identities either as individuals or groups. You may not be as extreme as “those screaming nutters” but you are definitely “on their side”. I suggest that you do some serious introspection and decide if that is where you really want to be and whether you really want to live in that particular “cultural landscape”. We have seen this type of behavior before and too many times it has ended with “Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

  28. There are no surprises here for me…the USA became this way thanks to those who attacked it 10 years ago, and the Bush regimes and medias oversimlimplification of the turbaned non WASP non Good Ol American ( white). The sooner Asians , jews etc who chose to live in America accept that until they shed all that is not white ( including skin colour), they can never be AMerican.

    AMerican actually means European decent. End of. And SIkhs get a raw deal even in their homeland..

  29. As for religion – I believe most of our founders were Episcopalian,

    The primary founders were Deists or Unitarians. In other words not christians. The American Republic was founded by Enlightenment liberals who rejected both the monarchy and theocracy of the Puritan colonies in favor of Democracy and separation of church and state. They rejected Biblical Revelation in favor of Reason in the formation of Laws. This is the reason why America was a success, not because of christianity as MajorityMinority is trying to claim. I think it behooves sikhs, hindus, muslims and others who immigrate to America to imbibe the liberal, rational, secular, egalitarian foundations of this country and re-examine their own faiths in that light. It is odd to see even western educated hindu-americans clinging to casteism, muslim-americans clinging to fantasies of living under sharia law, sikhs clinging to medieval dress codes (and even casteism though sikhism explicitly rejects that abomination).

  30. My last response on this topic. Majority Minority said:

    I do know however that when my ancestors immigrated over under the spell of the Statue of Liberty’s promise of “give me your poor and downtrodden and I will give them the ‘American Dream’”… that they quickly dropped their Home Land dress code for the New Land dress code. I’ve see the before and after photos and paintings. I also know that they had no places of worship, not being Christian. Those came decades later. I also know they learned English asap.

    That’s all inaccurate. Literally all of it. There was a synagogue in America before independence, probably a mosque. Immigrants have always brought their religion with them, there are gurdwaras in that part of California which are nearly 100 years old, and NYC is full of lots of old houses of worship associated with groups that once lived in that neighborhood.

    Similarly, America used to be more multilingual then than it is now. The midwest was full of Scandinavians who didn’t speak a word of English, and major cities had plenty of ethnic enclaves where people didn’t speak English. Growing up in NYC, I knew people whose grandparents had immigrated but whose English was still poor.

    Did they change some? Sure – their names were changed for them, and they wore something closer to American garb, meaning generally speaking pants and shirts or skirts and dresses. But plenty of people kept religious headgear, and still do. I know little old greek ladies who wear a dupatta, and plenty of Jewish men who cover their head.

    Again, this town where these two men live isn’t a lily white place, it’s full of people from all over the world, and it’s a part of CA which has long had Sikhs in it. This isn’t about assimilation, it’s about hatred.

    More generally, 1/4 Americans are descended from somebody who came through Ellis Island. We call ourselves the “land of the free” and the first amendment is the first one because it is foundational and deeply embedded in our culture and identity as Americans. Sure, there has always been hatred too. Catholics didn’t get the vote until around the 1840s, and blacks until the 1960s, and nobody would elect an atheist even today. But Americans pride themselves on their diversity and their tolerance, and they are ashamed of their bigotry and narrow-mindedness.

    Lastly, I notice you ignored my example about the Sikh woman who was stabbed. Do you really want everybody to change their name, hair color, eye color and nose shape? Because really, that is where your logic leads you, inexorably.

    I’m done with explaining why it’s neither prudential nor common sense to assimilate to some bland notion of whiteness. Think what you will, but you’re incorrect about both American history and the behavior of bigots.

  31. I often disagree with ennis, but on this issue I have to say that he is correct and actually way too restrained and polite in his responses.

    Guys, what kind of ass backwards logic would suggest that sikhs shouldnt wear turbans when living peacefully in their homes and walking in their neighborhoods? Its a crazy suggestion, completely insane. America is home to a fantastic diversity of people – including folks from all kinds of religions – I mean have you taken a close look at hasidic jew or an amish dude lately? US has a good record of tolerance in this area and immigrnats and others need to build on it further.

    Do people also advocate that maybe all murtis be removed from hindu temples becuz most christians are going to be weirded out by them? Why not? I mean I have met quite reasonable christian americans who were just stunned after viewing an image of kali or durga in a temple. And, indeed, there is a record of attacks and firebombings on hindu temples that directly focuses these murtis – which are very disconcerting in certain christian ideologies.

    Anyway, I hope the police make some progress with this case soon. I am still looking for a link or entity to which I could offer support – so please post that information if you are aware of it.

  32. Similarly, America used to be more multilingual then than it is now. The midwest was full of Scandinavians who didn’t speak a word of English, and major cities had plenty of ethnic enclaves where people didn’t speak English. Growing up in NYC, I knew people whose grandparents had immigrated but whose English was still poor.

    At independence something like 40% of the country didn’t consider English their first language. There was a lot of Spanish, French, and Dutch going around and that’s only counting the White people and ignoring the Native Americans.

  33. Senseless and tragic. My heart goes out to the families. :(

    I notice a lot of people are citing cultural sensitivity as a good reason to assimilate, and adopt more mainstream clothing practices. Now here’s the thing. Cultural sensitivity is great, but isn’t mandated by law. Also, there’s nothing culturally sensitive about expecting elderly Sikhs to suddenly give up a very important part of their identity just so they can have the privilege of taking a stroll outside.

    What is mandated however is the right to freedom of expression, embodied in freedom of speech.

    We need to emphasize the fact that people other than us have certain inalienable rights, rights that may not lead them to choose the same lifestyle as us. If we were to ask ourselves questions along the lines of ‘should they be wearing that, should they be believing that, is that a good idea?’, we’d probably answer those questions with a no, simply because we would have made different choices. Instead, we need to ask ourselves if they have the legal right/protection to do what they are doing. If they do, then end of story.

  34. “That’s all inaccurate. Literally all of it. There was a synagogue in America before independence, probably a mosque. “

    My family is neither Jewish nor Muslim.

    ” I think it behooves sikhs, hindus, muslims and others who immigrate to America to imbibe the liberal, rational, secular, egalitarian foundations of this country and re-examine their own faiths in that light.”

    Agree 108%!

    Otherwise if immigrating out of one’s country, one should consider immigrating to a country that is more compatible with the traditions one wants to hold onto.

    Transplanting incompatible cultures does not work.

    Now, of course these elderly Sikh gentleman had every right to wear whatever they want. Their perpetrators need to be tried and punished to the full extent of the law. Nobody is arguing that.

    However, again, just as I have every right to wear bikini top and booty shorts in Kanpur, Nagpur, Kosi, Sonanagar and a host of other small towns throughout India, to do so would be incredibly stupid and clueless on my behalf, as well as downright dangerous.

    In today’s times I choose to exercise my right to err on the side of safety, common sense and post-modern, politically-correct, global culturally sensitivity.

    Please see here: http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/006445.html#comment-281940

    Hey, if White Liberals who suffer from misplaced “white guilt” can do it – so can I!

  35. @Dev – I didn’t mean the founding fathers specifically, I meant that I’ve heard Episcopalians were the largest religious group on the Eastern seaboard during American colonial days/War of Independence. And as a non-religious person I personally find a lot of the religious beliefs I’ve heard of to be odd, but that doesn’t mean I think people should have to give up those beliefs in order to assimilate or be “culturally sensitive”…Again, equating booty shorts in India and a turban in America is blatantly ridiculous. Or as Swati put it,

    Also, there’s nothing culturally sensitive about expecting elderly Sikhs to suddenly give up a very important part of their identity just so they can have the privilege of taking a stroll outside.
    ” I think it behooves sikhs, hindus, muslims and others who immigrate to America to imbibe the liberal, rational, secular, egalitarian foundations of this country and re-examine their own faiths in that light.”

    Except that 84% of Americans identify as Christian, with 22% of Americans identifying as Evangelical/Born-Again (according to 2006 Gallup Poll). So perhaps what you’re suggesting is that our entire nation imbibe the secular humanism of our founding fathers. I don’t know why you’re singling out siksh/hindus/muslims more so than any other faith. Let’s not pretend we’re a country of secular humanists, and let’s not pretend that most Americans share the beliefs of our deist founders. I think you’re underestimating how religious some Americans are; it’s something that really distinguishes us from other 1st world nations, imo.

    There was a synagogue in America before independence, probably a mosque. “

    I’m surprised to hear this…googled for a bit and got nothing. I know some Spanish settlers were possibly Moslem because of Moor influence, maybe because of that? This is interesting.

  36. Here ya go Majority Minority… the stalwart of Indian values, the V.V.V.V.Hon. Gopal Krishna of The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition spouted this off at the Iowa Conservative conference, to echo you:

    “We are concerned that a country that was founded on European-style Christian moral values has now become a multicultural haven for every weird and kinky lifestyle,” Krishna said.

    Gotta love the company broseph.

    • Gopal Krishna was, and perhaps still is, part of the Iowa Christian Alliance. His views does not represent “Indian values”, whatever those are. And to the extent that we talk about such values in a general sense, tolerance and celebration of multiculturalism should be foremost among them. Mr. Krishna does not stand for that. He represents narrow-minded Christian fundamentalism of the worst kind.

      This hasn’t been a good week for Indian-American politicians. Sam Arora reversed his long-held (one he ran on and collected substantial amounts of donations as a result) position of support for same-sex marriage equality because he “prayed hard” about it for a week.

  37. I hope you realize that I was being hatefully sarcastic in my evaluation of the genius that is Mr. Gopal Krishna

  38. Here is George Washington’s famous letter to the Jews of Rhode Island:

    All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

    Other references to early American religious diversity. Remember that back then different Protestant sects were fighting wars in Europe, the social distance between them was as great as it is between Hindus and Christians today, or even larger:

    Even before the era of the Constitution, the diversity of religious practice that flourished in the colonies attracted notice from European observers. The commingling of groups such as Quakers, Calvinists, Jews, Anglicans, Catholics, Mennonites, and Presbyterians, as well as people of smaller sects, “Free Thinkers,” and the very many who were “unchurched,” seemed bizarre to visitors from an Old World [academic PDF]

    Since then, America has grown steadily more diverse. There was a large influx of Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, as well as the rise of all sorts of American schismatic Christian groups like the Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists and the Mormons. Again, immigration has been central to changes in the last century:

    American religion grew even more diverse in the last half of the 20th century…. The two waves of immigration to the United States in the first and last quarters of the century brought few people from Protestant countries and many millions of people from Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, and non-religious backgrounds. Immigration combined with differential fertility to reshape American religion; Protestants decreased from being almost 80 percent of the population 100 years ago to about 60 percent today [ academic PDF]

    But even if none of this was true, most Americans would describe their country as the sort of place where a couple of old guys could go for a walk without being afraid for their lives, even if they were members of a religious minority. And even if they did not (and they do) I’d say fuck ‘em. It’s a country of laws, not men.

    I’m trying to lay all of this out very patiently (thank you Al Beruni) because some people honestly don’t realize how diverse America has always been, and how fragmented, ethnically, religiously and racially.

  39. as a non-religious person I personally find a lot of the religious beliefs I’ve heard of to be odd, but that doesn’t mean I think people should have to give up those beliefs in order to assimilate or be “culturally sensitive”…Again, equating booty shorts in India and a turban in America is blatantly ridiculous.

    It is blatantly ridiculous in your imaginary idealized vision of how America should be, but if you think about it realistically they are both expressions of pragmatism in the real world. Americans do not (and perhaps can not) always live up to the standards that the Founders set. And given the continuous provocations by islamists (terrorism, jihadism, sharia-pushing, killing of christians in muslim nations etc) why should anyone be surprised at a backlash against them? Or against those who dress like them (by ignoramuses)? Again I just do not see how wearing turbans can be so critical to sikh religious belief.

    Many religious beliefs are not just culturally insensitive they are intellectually and morally indefensible as well. That applies to judaism, christianity, islam, hinduism as well. Obviously you agree with that since you are an apostate from Islam quite like how so many of the men who founded this country were apostates from christianity.

    And yes of course I believe that pushy, politicized fundamentalist christians should also be criticized and condemned based on the same moral, rational, secular principles. No exceptions.

  40. Dev said: “Again I just do not see how wearing turbans can be so critical to sikh religious belief.” That’s because you’re ignorant about Sikhism. Your statement is akin to one I once heard from an evangelical who said to a Hindu:

    “You believe that God has many aspects, right? And that Jesus was one incarnation of God, right? So why don’t you just come to church and stop worshiping Krishna and Rama?”

    What seems minor to one person can be very important to the next. The key to tolerance is to respect that difference, not to demand that people exercise their freedom in ways that only you want.

    And again, you, like the others, are wrong on the prudential point about whether Sikhs would be “safe” if they gave up the exercise of their religious freedoms. Do you remember the Greek Orthodox priest who was bludgeoned over the head because somebody saw him and thought that he was a “Muslim Terrorist”? It’s not about wearing a turban, it’s about appearing even the slightest bit different.

    It’s far easier to enforce the laws than it is to appease the bigoted, and far better too.

  41. Look, you’re essentially saying: - muslims cause plenty of problems in the world - some people are too stupid to distinguish muslims/sikhs - therefore sikhs should abandon religious tradition because taking a stroll with a turban is too provocative

    But the stark reality here is these people aren’t anti-turban, they’re anti-Muslim, and they’re not-so-brilliantly making that deduction based on race. So even if Sikhs burned their turbans and shaved their beards, they’re still stuck “looking Muslim” because they’re Brown. That’s why Desi taxi drivers (sans beard/turban) get attacked, and it’s why non-Muslim Indians keep getting attacked and Albanese Muslims (or many West Asian Muslims who look more Caucasian) can walk around without worrying.

    Your argument reminds me of the “she was dressed like a slut!” reasoning people use when women are sexually assaulted. Women in burqas are raped all the time. Changing attire isn’t going to address the root of the problem.

    blatantly ridiculous in your imaginary idealized vision of how America should be, but if you think about it realistically they are both expressions of pragmatism in the real world. Americans do not (and perhaps can not) always live up to the standards that the Founders set

    I’m not unrealistic, I’m honest: most Americans sure as hell don’t embrace secular humanism. What I don’t get is how you seem to be OK with that, but you expect all the Muslims/Sikhs/Hindus immigrating to do so. Why is that?

    Many religious beliefs are not just culturally insensitive they are intellectually and morally indefensible as well. That applies to judaism, christianity, islam, hinduism as well. Obviously you agree with that since you are an apostate from Islam quite like how so many of the men who founded this country were apostates from christianity.

    Just because I think religion is BS doesn’t mean I condemn anyone based on their faith – that includes christianity, islam, judaism, whatever set of fairy tales you wanna subscribe to. Also idk if I would describe myself as an “apostate from Islam” since I don’t think I ever believed in religion…ever…thanks mostly to an Afghani immigrant grandma btw (who’s pretty much Thomas Jefferson when it comes to issues of politics and religion)

  42. Look, you’re essentially saying: - muslims cause plenty of problems in the world - some people are too stupid to distinguish muslims/sikhs - therefore sikhs should abandon religious tradition because taking a stroll with a turban is too provocative

    Pretty much. Especially since I think that wearing turbans is a superficial not a fundamental aspect of their religion. I haven’t heard any rational explanation from sikhs why wearing turbans is so critical to their faith. Do these same sikhs carry swords in America? So what is stopping them from compromising about cutting their hair and ditching the turbans?

    even if Sikhs burned their turbans and shaved their beards, they’re still stuck “looking Muslim” because they’re Brown. That’s why Desi taxi drivers (sans beard/turban) get attacked, and it’s why non-Muslim Indians keep getting attacked and Albanese Muslims (or many West Asian Muslims who look more Caucasian) can walk around without worrying.
    1. Random turbaned sikhs are targeted more than random unturbaned desi muslims and hindus. So clearly the turban heightens the danger they face.

    2. Desis especially desi muslims need to be seen protesting against terrorism and sharia if we wish to not be identified with that menacing culture. Those who cannot reject sharia have no business coming to America in the first place.

    most Americans sure as hell don’t embrace secular humanism. What I don’t get is how you seem to be OK with that, but you expect all the Muslims/Sikhs/Hindus immigrating to do so. Why is that?

    Most americans do embrace religious tolerance today. So do most if not all hindu and sikh immigrants to America. It is mainly some muslims who love the idea of theocracy.

  43. Alina, I fully agree. It’s a blame the victim mentality, and we cannot afford to go there.

    I think a well-publicized nationwide ‘Wear a turban, embrace peace’ day is in order.

    Why is it so easy for people to rationalize a violent/misdirected backlash for 9/11, when they fail to recognize that 9/11 was also such a violent/misdirected backlash, albeit on a larger, far more terrible scale. A bunch of suicidal psychopaths killing innocent civilians for undeniably (perhaps unintentionally) bad US policy in the Islamic world as highlighted by recent events, and a smaller bunch of xenophobes tending towards dominion ideologies killing innocent civilians in retaliation for what was undeniably a horrific/tragic event. Need I even say it, both are completely misdirected and NEITHER is rational/justified in any way. In both cases, the perpetrators were brainwashed/delusional and believed their actions were retaliatory/justified or had divine sanction. Bowing down to either set of perpetrators is letting the terrorists win.

  44. Pretty much. Especially since I think that wearing turbans is a superficial not a fundamental aspect of their religion. I haven’t heard any rational explanation from sikhs why wearing turbans is so critical to their faith.

    You’re not going to get one, because religion by default is blind faith and therefore irrational. That doesn’t mean it’s not everyone’s right to practice their own BS. Why do Christian Americans everywhere chop down trees, decorate them, and leave presents under them to impersonate some fat white guy on a magical sleigh who they tell their children breaks into their homes annually? Seems pretty stupid from an outside perspective, since they’re not being persecuted by pagans anymore, but it’s also a superficial aspect of their religion almost all partake in. I have no idea why Sikhs wear turbans, but I was always under the impression it’s an important part of their faith. I googled it and got this: http://fateh.sikhnet.com/s/WhyTurbans#Gift%20of%20the%20Guru

    Most americans do embrace religious tolerance today. So do most if not all hindu and sikh immigrants to America. It is mainly some muslims who love the idea of theocracy.

    I have honestly never met a Muslim American who said any such thing. I would like to see stats indicating Muslim Americans “love the idea of theocracy”. Razib Khan has previously shared surveys of British Muslims which reveal they DO have a lot of beliefs deviating from the norm in regards to certain issues – maybe there are similar polls done in America? Because I’ve never heard one say they want to implement Sharia law or any such nonsense. The nuttiest American Muslim I’ve met was an Iman at a mosque who firmly espoused that all women should wear hijab from age 8, be married by 21, Muslims should home-school their children, etc….and even he didn’t mention anything about theocracy or Sharia law in his long-winded paranoid rants. All in all I think Muslims are relieved Americans have a firm separation between State/Religion here, because they realize they’re a tiny minority and it sure as hell wouldn’t be their religion that the state would adopt. I really do feel you are referring to a handful of crazies rather than the median.

  45. because religion by default is blind faith and therefore irrational.

    It’s amazing how you can go about talking about “respect” for people with differing religious beliefs while clearly having none. I mean dear lord if you can’t even be bothered to learn about religions and religious people how can you claim to be an informed speaker on the subject?

  46. It’s amazing how you can go about talking about “respect” for people with differing religious beliefs while clearly having none.

    I’ve been defending people’s right to practice their own religion in every post on this article, so spare me your PC bullshit and sudden selective blindness. I am allowed to have an opinion and express it, same as everyone else. The difference is I acknowledge everyone else’s right to dress, speak, and act how they choose and their capacity to practice (or not practice) whichever faith they choose. It’s amazing how you can attack my opinion while ignoring those who outright deny people should express religious beliefs.

    I mean dear lord if you can’t even be bothered to learn about religions and religious people

    What have I said to indicate I don’t bother learning about religion? I am non-religious, but not ignorant of the basic aspects of various religions. I probably know more about different world faiths than the average American does. Stop making assumptions.