Like Sikhs, Obama also mistaken for a Muslim

By Rajdeep Singh The failure of President Obama to visit Darbar Sahib (commonly known as the Golden Temple) during his … Continued

By Rajdeep Singh

The failure of President Obama to visit Darbar Sahib (commonly known as the Golden Temple) during his recent tour of India disappointed Sikhs throughout the world. Reports have emerged that the visit was fixed but ultimately nixed because of concerns among his aides that American bigots would have a field day with images of the president appearing at the shrine with his head covered alongside turbaned Sikhs. Such a cynical sidestep would not be so extraordinary but for the fact that we live in extraordinary times.

Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims. In many cases, the confusion is well-intentioned and inoffensive, but in the toxic post-9/11 environment, it has become fashionable for hate-mongers to vilify Muslims and subject anyone who even appears to be Muslim to bias and dehumanization. Although the overwhelming majority of Americans who wear turbans for religious reasons are followers of the Sikh religion, turbans are popularly associated with the Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden. Thus, anytime a fanatical tirade or terrorist attack is launched against Americans from anywhere in the Middle East, Sikhs in the United States unwittingly pay a heavy price.

What is ironic about all of this is that Sikhs are, at least ideologically speaking, among the most American of Americans. When Guru Nanak founded the Sikh religion in South Asia five centuries ago, he taught his followers that there is one God and that all human beings are filled with equal measures of dignity and divinity, regardless of race, religion, caste, or gender. The Sikh belief in universal equality is a powerful counterpoint to religious exclusivity and foreshadowed the movements for civil rights and women’s rights by several centuries. For Sikhs, the turban distinguishes its wearer as an ambassador of his or her faith and serves as a constant reminder to abide by the core values of the Sikh religion, including the importance of standing up for anyone who is oppressed.

A Thought Experiment

If you are reading this and wondering what it is like to be a Sikh these days, it might be helpful to imagine that you wear a turban. Consider the weight of sorrow and anger that you feel about the inhumanity of the 9/11 attacks and the specter of terrorism, and then add to that the weight of knowing that you and your loved ones are susceptible to hate crimes and racial profiling, and that your children are likely to suffer bullying at school, often without any possibility of meaningful recourse or redress.

Unsolicited slurs on the street or on buses and trains, and the occasional exhortation to ‘go back to your country’–even if you were born in the United States–are only incrementally deleterious to your sense of being welcome in American society. In other words, you have more serious problems to deal with. For example, some courts have recently ruled that it is permissible under federal law for employers to segregate you from customers, all in the name of preserving stereotypes about what American workers should look like. So far, the Obama Administration and U.S. Congress have done nothing to resolve this modern-day version of the separate-but-equal doctrine.

So just when you begin to lose hope about the possibility of progress, you learn that, for the first time in history, the president of the United States will visit Darbar Sahib. Consistent with the Sikh traditions of celebrating religious pluralism and defending those who are oppressed, it is a fitting place for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to make bold statements about the sanctity of human rights, especially in the post-9/11 environment.

You find it poignant that President Obama is also mistaken for a Muslim. Since his presidential campaign, it has become fashionable for hate-mongers to exploit anti-Muslim lunacy and claim that the President is a Muslim. You believe that he can relate to the plight of Sikhs and Muslims in the United States, who face barriers of bigotry and ignorance in their daily lives. Indeed, in light of these challenges, one of the best ways to snub the bigots of the world would be for President Obama to stand with Sikhs–and accordingly stand up for them–on their hallowed ground, even if his gutless and brainless opponents mock him for looking Muslim.

Before long, your hopes are shattered, as political fears override courage and principle. You are reminded again that the way you look is considered a liability by politicians and their handlers. You have no choice but to move forward, and you console yourself by walking with your turbaned head held up high, supported by a centuries-old religious conviction that nothing can ever be gained by being afraid.

Rajdeep Singh is Director of Law and Policy at the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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  • AKafir

    Rajdeep writes:”For Sikhs, the turban distinguishes its wearer as an ambassador of his or her faith and serves as a constant reminder to abide by the core values of the Sikh religion, including the importance of standing up for anyone who is oppressed. “The SikhiWiki tells us:”Guru Gobind Singh, in defiance of this infringement by the Mughals asked all of his Sikhs to wear the turban. This was to be worn in recognition of the high moral standards that he had charted for his Khalsa followers. He wanted his Khalsa to be different and to be determined “to stand out from the rest of the world” and to follow the unique path that had been set out by the Sikh Gurus. Thus, a turbaned Sikh has always stood out from the crowd, as the Guru intended; for he wanted his ‘Saint-Soldiers’ to not only be easily recognizable, but easily found as well.”Guru Gobind wanted his Saint-Soldiers to be easily recognizable and easily found because the Guru was succeeding Guru Teg Bahadur who had been tortured for months along with his companion by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Auranzeb. He was behead and his body thrown on a main through fare for days because his followers were terrified of reprisals. Guru Teg Bahadur had come to Aurangzeb on behalf of Pandits of Kashmir who were being converted to Islam by Islam’s sword and oppressed by the laws of Dhimma. Aurangzeb offered the Guru the choice of Covert to Islam or die. He was using torture to get the Guru to accept Islam. Islam has always used force and torture to get the critics of Islam to condemn their own beliefs or killed them. Obama is not mistaken for a muslim. He is being called a muslim because he is trying to appease the Islamic oppression of the Kafirs. Obama could have chosen to speak out against the hate and violence that the non-muslims are facing in the muslim world on a daily basis. He could have used his bully pulpit to highlight the hateful laws in the muslim countries against the non-muslims in those countries. He chooses to ignore all that evil and instead he praises Islam and feeds the egos of the muslims in the hope that he will be able to isolate the support for the jihadists among the muslims. He appeases evil and has chosen to sacrifice millions of Kafirs in muslim countries. His appeasement will not work.

  • Secular

    Obama is not mistaken for a muslim. He is being called a muslim because he is trying to appease the Islamic oppression of the Kafirs. Obama could have chosen to speak out against the hate and violence that the non-muslims are facing in the muslim world on a daily basis. He could have used his bully pulpit to highlight the hateful laws in the muslim countries against the non-muslims in those countries. He chooses to ignore all that evil and instead he praises Islam and feeds the egos of the muslims in the hope that he will be able to isolate the support for the jihadists among the muslims. He appeases evil and has chosen to sacrifice millions of Kafirs in muslim countries. His appeasement will not work.

    Hello Akafir, I am generally in agreement with you on most of these issues. However, Obama being called a Muslim is not because of the policies. Most of the policies you mentioned were not materially much different from his predecessor. Some of his overtures had become necessary to men fences and to undo the sheer stupidities of his predecessor. Mind you Bush wasn’t motivated by any islamophobia, per se. He was stupid and a sense of obligation to avenge his pappy. His stupidities were not (in foreign policy realm) driven by any anti-islamic sentiments.That said Obamas critics label him as a Muslim, because they are a bunch redneck religious bigots, anti-progressives, and racists who cannot stomach his legitimate election. It is the same crowd that persecuted Clinton when he was elected, only because he was a progressive and also an ex-hippie. Just the gall of these pond-scum to have organized a protest on 4/15/09 when he had hardly been in the office for 85 days. For them challenging his citizenship, and his religious affiliation are read meat to draw all the racists, bigots and the lunatic fringe.

  • AKafir

    Secular writes: “That said Obamas critics label him as a Muslim, because they are a bunch redneck religious bigots, anti-progressives, and racists who cannot stomach his legitimate election. It is the same crowd that persecuted Clinton when he was elected, only because he was a progressive and also an ex-hippie. Just the gall of these pond-scum to have organized a protest on 4/15/09 when he had hardly been in the office for 85 days. For them challenging his citizenship, and his religious affiliation are read meat to draw all the racists, bigots and the lunatic fringe.”You are entitled to your opinions. You do not attempt to cite any proof or correlation in support of your opinion. I disagree. Calling people who you disagree with “pond scum”, racists, bigots, and lunatic fringe is something I would not like to do. I know people who are not even close to what you describe and they think that he is very very partial to Islam. He has a history for partiality towards Islam. His family on his father side being Muslim, and his self confessed influence of his absent father on him, and then his room mates and friends in college being from Pakistan, and his various statements all suggest that he is quite partial towards Islam. He sees “muslims” and conflates the goodness of humans that most muslims exhibit to the evil in Islam. Many people do call him a muslim not because they ignorant but because it is a short way of expressing Obama’s partiality towards Islam and his policies of appeasement of Islam that go well beyond what the official policies were under Bush.

  • Secular

    I know people who are not even close to what you describe and they think that he is very very partial to Islam. He has a history for partiality towards Islam. His family on his father side being Muslim, and his self confessed influence of his absent father on him, and then his room mates and friends in college being from Pakistan, and his various statements all suggest that he is quite partial towards Islam.
    AKafir, I must submit that the same crowd that thinks he is Muslim, also claims he was not born here in the US. This is despite his parents took out space in the Honolulu paper to announce his birth. Even after seeing the birth certificate they insist, he wasn’t born in US. It must be a sheer conspiracy unparalleled in history, that a pretty mediocre Kenyan had thought up this with is hippie wife started orchestrating this charade. I guess he must really have know that in 1961, come 2008 US would be such a colorblind society that it would be willing to elect a black kid born to a washed up Kenyan. If you want me to believe that it begs the question, how come how is it that such seer and gebius ended up a quadriplegic and died in middle age. Time after time these bigots, racists, and the loony fringe insists on this garbage. You wanted me to offer up some evidence, to support my opinions. I do not hurl ad hominem, at any one. I always have evidence to back me up. I hope my conclusion about these guys is not without merit.

  • AKafir

    Secular,Ok, that’s a lot of birthers. But guess what – some of the birthers really like Obama, despite him being from another country! Washington Post’s Dave Weigel highlights the birthers-favor-Obama stat: The more interesting part of the poll is that 31 percent of people who think Obama was born in another country approve of his job performance, and 34 percent give him a favorable rating. That validates a theory of mine — that many so-called birthers don’t actually hold Obama’s (to them) foreign-ness against him, or think it’s a way to oust him from the presidency. They have little information, they know he’s half African, and they jump to conclusions.This sort of birther non-nonchalance is echoes by another stat from the poll – 15% are Democrats, 12% call themselves “liberal” and 11% identified themselves as Obama VOTERS IN 2008.