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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Sikhism a target of anger

Images of Osama bin Laden have become a familiar sight to many people around the world since last week’s terrorist attacks on the United States. Photographed wearing a turban and long beard, bin Laden has come to symbolize terrorism for many people in the United States – but according to Dr. Chenan Singh, head of the electrical engineering department, this conception is wrong.
Singh said that men who are part of an Indian religion called Sikhism are becoming targets of retaliation for the attacks because they wear turbans and long beards that resemble those of bin Laden and other Muslims.
Sikhism is very different from Islam, and Sikhs disagree with the actions of bin Laden, he said.
“The ironic thing is that if you see (someone) wearing a turban or having a beard in the U.S.A. or western countries, he is almost for sure going to be a Sikh and not a Muslim,” Singh said. “Muslims don’t wear a turban outside of their native countries. Only Sikhs do because it is part of their religion.”
Although he has not experienced any problems, Singh said he is aware that the threat of violence from individuals who are unaware of the difference between Sikhs and Muslims.
According to Singh, on Saturday, a Sikh was shot and killed in Mesa, Arizona in what he calls a case of “mistaken identity,” and many others have been harassed in Houston.
“I am not worried because I think this community, College Station, is more educated, but there are other incidents,” he said. “We would like the people to be educated about who we are. It’s a sad thing anybody should be harassed in the aftermath of these things. A lot of the people from the Middle East are really decent people who shouldn’t be harassed, but Sikhs have nothing to do with it.”
Ruhi Singh, a senior biomedical sciences major, is also Sikh, but unlike Chenan, she is worried about Sikhs becoming targets of retaliation.
“Sikhism is a religion about peace and protecting the innocent and fighting for justice,” she said. “It should be totally clear that Sikhs are peace-loving people that have nothing to do with terrorism acts in the United States.”
Ruhi worries about her family and friends being mistaken for Muslims because they wear turbans.
“People discriminate in really subtle ways,” she said. “I have a friend doing his master’s in computer science. He hasn’t gone to work in three days because he is scared to go to campus for fear of some crazy person coming by and beating him up or shooting him.”
Ruhi’s uncle, Waheguru Singh is a research scientist with Lynntec. He said that he also is worried about being a target for retaliation and has friends in Houston who have been harassed because they have been mistaken for Muslims.
“I don’t know if I should be worried or not,” Waheguru said. “I like not to worry because I think people are decent here; it should be okay. But based on what is happening in the rest of the country, there is some kind of apprehension in our mind because of our appearance.”
He said he has been keeping out of public places for fear of retaliation.
“People see the turban, and since we appear like that (bin Laden), it is normal for people to mistake us,” Waheguru said. “That is why we need to educate them.”
Waheguru said he believes no one wants to intentionally hurt Sikhs. Crimes against Sikhs are a case of mistaken identity, he said.
Ruhi said that no one should be targeted for retaliation for these attacks, regardless of religious affiliation.
“We need to urge Aggies not to act in anger toward fellow Americans,” she said. “I know people are very angry, but backlash isn’t the way to deal with it.”
Speaking from the oval office on Wednesday, President George W. Bush told reporters that no one in the U.S. should “pit religion against religion.”
“We don’t view this as a war on religion, in any way, shape or form,” Bush said. “There are millions of good Americans who practice the Muslim faith who love their country as much as I love the country, who salute the flag as strongly as I salute the flag. We’re going to lead the world to fight for freedom, and we’ll have Muslim and Jew and Christian side by side with us.”

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