By Gurmukh Singh
In the aftermath of the Sikh Gurdwara of Wisconsin massacre, major media outlets have done a fine job of explaining who Sikhs are, where and when
their religion was born and what their five symbols mean.
This attempt has gone over well with the community in the U.S. Even here in Toronto at the August 11 candlelight vigil at Nathan Phillips Square, Sikh leaders could be heard showering praise on some in the media.
But since the media were telling people, some more subtly than others, that Sikhs are not Muslims, they were entering a sensitive territory where they could be seen to be sending a sinister message against the Muslims.
Where the media have failed, is in telling what is at the root of the problem and why Sikhs have been confused with Muslims since 9/11.
The root cause is the turban or headgear. In Islam, only mosque-bound preachers or mullahs or radical leaders wear the turban or headgear. Osama bin Laden wore one. American-born al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki wore one. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama’s successor, wears one. Taliban leader Mullah Omar wears one. Ayatollah Khomeini, too, wore one.
The common Muslim man never wears a turban in daily life. But every common Sikh with uncut hair always wears the turban.
What goes through the mind of a racist such as Wisconsin gunman Wade Michael Page when he sees people with turbans?
He thinks: “Hey, these guys look like Osama bin Laden in their turbans, so they must be his people and thus targeted.”
And this is exactly what’s happened in all the racist attacks on the Sikhs since 9/11. Every attacker has mistaken Sikhs for Muslims because of their turbans, thanks to 9/11 mastermind, turban-wearing Osama bin Laden.
So what people in the West need to be told is this: That turbans are synonymous with Sikhs, and that 99.99% of turbaned people are Sikh.
Generally, most media did well to promote this message, without suggesting prejudices against Muslims. Though a few commentators, including Scott C. Alexander, slammed many of them for sending an antagonistic message that Sikhs are not Muslims.
Alexander wrote in the L.A. Times: “…in the post-9/11 context of a deadly act committed by an apparent white supremacist against a congregation that is largely ethnically South Asian — a congregation that includes bearded men in turbans — broadcasting the mantra that ‘Sikhs are not Muslims’ takes on a far more insidious subtext: Don’t blame these people, it implies, for the unspeakable crimes of 9/11. It’s Muslims you want.’’ Sorry, Alexander, you are mistaken. The U.S. Sikhs have never, ever blamed Muslims for attacks on them. On the contrary, they have made common cause with Muslims to fight racism.
But remember, all this blood-spilling is the result of 9/11, masterminded by Muslim radicals. A horrific act common Muslims had nothing to do with, yet are unfortunately demonized for.
At the same time, the Sikhs have every right to clear the identity confusion that is resulting in deaths. Telling the world that `Sikhs are not Muslims’ doesn’t mean endorsing attacks on innocent Muslims. It’s a statement of fact Sikhs should not shy away from.
(This article appeared in the Toronto Sun)