After Every Terrorist Attack on American Soil, Sikh Americans Suffer Hate Crimes
By Geeta Goindi
Potomac, Maryland, January 10, 2016 – In wake of the recent horrific assaults on Sikh Americans following the San Bernardino terror attacks, a high-ranking Obama official has assured the community that the administration stands with it during these challenging times and will work in conjunction with its members to eradicate hate-motivated violence.
Referring to recent attacks on turbaned Sikhs in Fresno, California, Melissa Rogers, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told the Sangat (gathering) at the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (GGSF), “We want you to know that we stand by you in these very challenging times and we will continue to work with you until we stamp all of them out! We will do everything we can to ensure that your civil and constitutional rights are protected as they should be”, she said. “Like you we believe an attack on any faith is an attack on every faith, and it is essential that all the faith traditions in our country and our world stand together against hate-motivated violence”.
Rogers was invited by Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), and a founding member of GGSF, to address the Sikh community on one of its most important celebrations – the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Guru of Sikhism.
“I want to bring you greetings on this very important anniversary from President Obama”, Rogers told the gathering. “I also want to thank this community for what it has done to protect religious freedom for all people. You have been at the forefront of the effort to seek freedom not just for yourselves, but for everyone. And that has been a great deal to the nation and to the world”.
She added, “While today is a day of celebration, I also want to offer our deepest condolences for the recent violence and attacks on Sikhs and Sikh institutions”.
While Sikhs have nothing whatsoever to do with the San Bernardino, Paris or other terror attacks, they are being conflated with Muslims and facing a terrible backlash.
On New Year’s Day, Gurcharan Singh Gill, 68, was stabbed to death at a convenience store where he worked, in Fresno. Earlier, in December, Amrik Singh Bal, 68, was beaten while waiting for a ride to his job in the early morning, also in Fresno. Rogers referred to these attacks as well as a Los Angeles Gurdwara vandalized with hateful graffiti.
She told the gathering at GGSF, “We want to say to you that these reports are of tremendous concern to us as we know they are to you. We feel a deep sense of loss for the victims of these crimes. We feel so stricken by the grief and anguish that they have caused for the families and the community. We know that when things like this happen, there is a sense of deep violation and anxiety.
These incidents not only cause great grief for the people who are attacked and for the communities that are most closely associated with them, they also threaten all of us because America drives its strength from the diversity of its people”, she said.
Noting that “the Sikh community has shown tremendous resilience in the face of challenges”, Rogers affirmed, “I am confident that you will triumph and we will be there with you to triumph over the current challenges that we face together”.
Dr. Rajwant Singh extolled the US administration for its prompt response to the recent incident of vandalism at a Los Angeles Gurdwara which resulted in a speedy investigation of the act as a hate crime.
“We are grateful to President Obama and his administration for their thoughtfulness”, he said. “We truly applaud the promptness and deliberative actions taken by the White House in the face of rising incidents against Sikhs in the aftermath of the San Bernardino killings. President Obama has made available all tools of the US government to send a strong message that hate and violence will not be tolerated against Sikhs or any other community. The highest level of the government is communicating with us to make sure that the community feels safe. That is highly commendable”.
Throughout her address, Rogers acknowledged the activism and contributions of Dr. Singh who works tirelessly on community, as well as global, causes. At the White House holiday reception hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in December, Dr. Singh raised the issue of allowing Sikhs to serve in the US armed forces with their articles of faith. President Obama promised to look into the matter and follow up.
“Sikhs are great warriors. I will look into it and will follow up”, he said.
Dr. Singh had implored, “President Obama, you have to allow Sikhs to serve in the army without any restriction. They are only able to serve if the Pentagon gives them an exception. This needs to go. Please do not leave office without taking away this restriction on Sikhs”.
He added, “Now Canada has a turbaned Sikh as its Defense Minister, to which President Obama replied, “I know, I know”.
On Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Gurpurab, Rogers told the gathering, “Rest assured, we understand the importance of this issue to the community. We will be in close touch with you as this conversation develops”. Noting that “the army recently made a religious accommodation (for Simratpal Singh) that allows a Sikh soldier to grow a beard and wear a turban while serving on active duty”, she emphasized, “We will continue to stay in touch with you about this issue”.
Rogers lauded the community for its activism on global warming and climate change. “Dr. Rajwant Singh has been a leader in the area of climate change where we have made phenomenal progress”, she said. “We simply could not have made that progress had you all not decided that this is a priority for us and we will work together, speak out, take time from our busy schedules to ensure that we combat climate change and preserve this rich planet”.
Rogers also spoke about a letter which has been dispatched by the Department of Education to all schools “to ensure that students have a safe learning space”. The letter includes guidelines for the prevention of bullying, and prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, religion and other factors.
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