This turban stays on

GETTY IMAGES Family and friends and community members gather at Oak Creek High School to mourn the loss of 6 … Continued

GETTY IMAGES

Family and friends and community members gather at Oak Creek High School to mourn the loss of 6 members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Aug. 10, 2012, in Oak Creek, Wis. Bhai Seeta Singh, Bhai Parkash Singh, Bhai Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Subegh Singh, and Parmjit Kaur Toor were killed when Wade Michael Page, a suspected white supremacist, went on a shooting rampage at the temple August 5. Page also died at the temple after being shot by police then shooting himself.

America is a deeply religious nation. Like the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the Aug. 5, 2012, massacre of Sikh worshipers in Wisconsin shocked the conscience of America and generated a groundswell of sympathy for Sikh Americans. Although most of this support has been unconditional, some have suggested that Sikhs assimilate and avoid danger by removing their turbans.

This is absurd and offensive.


View Photo Gallery: This monotheistic religion, founded in 15th-centory Punjab (now North India and Pakistan), preaches equality of all mankind and peace. The faith, the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, does not have clergy. The faith has had 10 gurus who lived as leaders in the 15th-17th centuries; the Guru Granth Sahib is sacred scripture and the supreme authority. There are more than 25 million Sikhs worldwide, including roughly 700,000 in the United States, according to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The Sikh religion was founded by Guru Nanak in South Asia over five centuries ago. Sikhs believe that there is one God—universal, timeless, formless—and that all human beings are filled with equal measures of dignity and divinity. Sikhs reject the caste system, gender inequality, and all forms of religious exclusivity in favor of universal equality and religious pluralism. Devout Sikhs express their religious commitment by wearing a turban, which signifies nobility and a willingness to promote justice and freedom for all people. Sikhs are required to be fearless, and the turban is a declaration of Sikh identity, even in the face of persecution.

REUTERS

Flags fly at half staff as Sikhs prepare for a vigil in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Aug. 7, 2012.

It is fashionable for people to say that Sikhs are “different,” but this is intellectually dishonest. The concept of difference is inherently relativistic; all people are different with respect to others, depending on your frame of reference, but minorities seem to carry the burden of justifying why they are who they are. This burden-shifting often finds expression in corporate “image” policies, which prevent Sikhs and other religious minorities from enjoying equal employment opportunity, and might explain why Sikh children experience a disproportionate amount of bullying.


View Photo Gallery: Thousands of mourners were expected to gather Friday morning to pay their final respects to the six worshipers gunned down by a white supremacist at their Sikh temple over the weekend.

A related problem is the “when in Rome” argument – that Sikhs should shed their turbans and beards and begin dressing like “Americans.” The challenge here is to define an “American.” Sikhs have lived in the United States for more than a century. Many of us were born here. Apart from Native Americans, this country is composed of people whose forbears came here—or were brought here—relatively recently from somewhere else. Is there then an objectively “American” way of expressing religiosity?

The notion that Sikhs are more different or less American, on account of their turbans, is a non-starter.

Sikh values—represented by the turban—are consistent with the highest ideals of America. In practice, Sikh Americans have even led efforts to promote these ideals. In recent years, the Sikh American community spearheaded the passage of the first anti-bullying law in New York City; the protection of religious liberty in the U.S. armed forces; the repeal of an Oregon law that prohibited teachers from practicing their religion; the introduction of equal employment opportunity legislation in California; and even the launch of a mobile phone application that allows people to report mistreatment and discrimination against the Transportation Security Administration. These measures, which were inspired by Sikh values and hatched by people wearing turbans, will protect the rights of millions of Americans.

And so, to those who say that Sikh Americans should abandon their heritage, I say – this turban stays on.

Rajdeep Singh serves as director of law and policy for the Sikh Coalition

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  • post-reader-in-wv

    Please do wear your turban, Rajdeep Singh. Being a Baptist, I’ll not be wearing one. And we’re both OK with that. Seems to me that our faiths mandate that we respect each other.

  • murrayhill33

    When I grew up everyone in America wore a hat, a fedora, a straw hat, a simple cap, a head covering of some sort. Women could not enter a church without a head covering. It was when John Kennedy refused to wear a hat at his inaugural in 1961 that hats became unpopular. What was de rigueur one day became passe the next. Wearing a turban looks like an Ottoman sultan, a distinct oddity in a hatless society, like a member of some secret society. It’s a choice; you pay for being different.

  • grouping

    Our generation (I’m 54) should be ashamed to still have compatriots that don’t get that violence and anger don’t solve anything. Mr. Singh shouldn’t even have to have written this article. Wake up, America — wars beget wars only — not peace. Hurt only begets hurt. I like to quote the version of Jesus’ words via Rice and Webber: “I send you prophets and I send you preachers, sages in rages and I send you teachers, nothing can mar your mood!”. When you feel hate, look to your own soul, not others. Love, Dave.

  • mharrisonp

    I say throw your turban away …you are now in America.

  • Catken1

    I suppose you dress in traditional Powhatan garb, yourself?
    If not, you’re just as much an immigrant as he is, and your clothes are no more American than his turban.

    (Besides which, requiring people to conform to some official standard of dress because they are now in America, a land FOUNDED on religious liberty and the right to be different if we choose, is a bit hypocritical, to say the least.)

  • Catken1

    Ah, so if you don’t conform, it’s your fault if you get killed for it?

    Hope you don’t have any oddities some mad person takes a dislike to someday…

    In America, not conforming to fashion is not an acceptable reason to treat someone badly, let alone shoot them.

  • R.M. O’Brien

    To YOU, a turban makes one look like an Ottoman sultan, to ME, it makes one look like a Sikh. Certainly not a member of a secret society — wearing a turban and a dagger and steel bracelet does not keep your affiliations very secret from anyone with access to Wikipedia.

    But you’re right, it’s a “choice” and choices are what freedom is made of. The questions is, simply, Do we want a free society, or shall our actions be dictated by the extreme ignorance of the few?

    As far as the shooting itself, it’s a no-brainer — Do we randomly murder people in America for wearing turbans, keeping beards, having brown skin? No. There is no need to blame the victims here.

  • NjMellie7

    Please keep your turban on, Mr. Singh. And you should not have to have written this article. No one, NO ONE, should have suggested to you to take off your turban. Would it have stopped the hate in the heart of the shooter in Wisconsin? No, it would not.

    America was founded on religious freedom. Please feel free to be here, stay here, and also be a Sikh. I for one, welcome the diversity in this country.

  • Political_Stratgst

    I am a Sikh and I have never worn a turban. Nowhere in Sikhism is the turban mandated. This amazingly spiritual faith does not mandate anything. Yet, as with many faiths – rituals and garb/appearance become prominent. The 10th and last human Sikh Guru (the scripture/holy book is now the Guru), Guru Gobind Singh, created the Khalsa who would have a form/look – that included “kesh” or long “hair”. You don’t have to be a Khalsa to be a Sikh.

    I am not saying, a Khalsa should take off his turban and lose his look to avoid racism — far from it. I am challenging Rajdeep Singh’s assertion that somehow the turban made him do it OR the turban is the issue at all. I could have been in that temple and got shot without a turban. Sikhs fixate too much on their appearance,we have a lot more to lose than our turbans at the hands of intolerance.

  • JT72

    You are very incorrect. A true Sikh is a Khalsa. I wear a turban but I am not a true Sikh. I have not earned the right but I am working towards it. Wearing a turban is not for everyone. I have many family members who do not wear a turban but they also do not truly believe in Sikhism. The first step to Sikhism is believing in the physical appearance…but this is only a small step because the real,test come when you read the holybscripture and try to implement and believe in it in you way of life…my friend, you are completely off base…let me guess you probably can’t even read the scripture and believe that it is okay…it would be a fair statement tom say that you were simply born in a Sikh family, if your parents were practicing Sikhs…again the appearance is the initial step…the rest is the hard part.

  • Political_Stratgst

    For the rest of the folks – please treat this is as an Orthodox vs. Progressive debate.

  • ccqueen

    Nah, compared to that of an Ottoman sultan’s, a Sikh’s turban is kind of small and plain.

  • jsingh

    Political_Strategst –> “Sikhs fixate too much on their appearance,we have a lot more to lose than our turbans at the hands of intolerance.” – interesting perspective, however be careful to generalize people and to judge others; these same sort of generalizations inspire hatred and bigotry.

  • Jasmeet Singh

    Lots of Religion are living in India. Like Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist , Jainis and lots more and India have lots of name, the very second popular name is Hindustan. So All of the religion who lives in India, should abandon their culture,…Because they live in India.!
    You mean to say, that the Sikh People, abandon there turbans because they live in the America.! OMG…….
    Shame on you all, who think about others religions culture like this.

    Turban is not a fashionable thing guys, Turban is a most secret part of Sikh Culture. Lots of people died to saved the Turban, when other religions forced Sikhs to convert there religion, In 16th, 17th century forced by the Muslims who Ruled on India, In 18th century forced by The Christians who ruled over the India, In 19th and in 20th Century by Hindus.

    You all don’t know anything about the Sikhism. Please I am begging you all first read it out about Sikhs, why they have Turban, long hair, beard, mustache, keeping pure Iron Dagger or about Iron bracelet.or Any other Religion before putting any comments.

    Please Everybody Think about it please.

  • concerned citizen

    see Robert A. Young’s Blog For Social Responsibility @ Blogspot.com for articles on Gun Control and Cultural Diversity as well as Positive Human Relations in American Policing to ensure that all cultures and peoples are represented in community orientexd policing. The author is a pensioned big city cop, now serving as a freelance writer for the people.

  • ashleyba

    i enjoy the quote and its purpose but just to be picky… that’s from Godspell by Stephen Schwartz, not Jesus Christ Superstar. in any case – you are very right, there shouldn’t even be an argument about anyone not wearing his turban.

  • Darden Cavalcade

    Right on! Keep the turbans. The only people in America who at this point believe Sikhs are Muslims are booze-addled white supremacists who don’t give a darn about the turban, they don’t like your skin color.

  • TonyDiaz999

    It depends on the context.

    It is also realistic and progressive to expect that a fraction of the offsring of Sikhs in the US will no longer be Sikhs. Why not?

    If 99.9 percent of offsring of Sikhs remain Sikhs, there is a problem. They are discriminated against to the degree that none has independent thoughts.

  • Catken1

    Do you argue the same for the offspring of Christians, or Jews, or Muslims?

    Perhaps the Sikhs might just have a particularly convincing and persuasive worldview?

  • larryclyons

    I think that it would be much better if this nation were substantially less religious. It would seem with the mosque burnings, the religiously inspired shootings etc would be much less likely to happen if religion was less of a cancer on this nation’s soul.

  • larryclyons

    bigoted much Tony?

    Lets see, so what you’re essentially saying is that since they don’t look like us so its OK then to attack and kill them. After all they’re not like us. They’re to blame what happens to them.

    I though this nation grew up beyond that. I guess I may be wrong.

  • larryclyons

    Political_Stratgst wrote:
    For the rest of the folks – please treat this is as an Orthodox vs. Progressive debate.
    ———————–

    I was going to say Orthodox vs Reform debate.

  • larryclyons

    hate much harris? Tell me do you say the same to the Orthodox Jews? How about very devout Mennonites.

    Your sort disgusts me. You cannot see beyond your own flabby nose because of your bigotry. I sincerely hope that it dies with your generation.

  • larryclyons

    To me its makes no difference, its the content of the character not the colour of the skin or what the person is wearing on his head.

    If you cannot see beyond your own bigotry, then how do you grow as a person. And if you don’t grow what’s the difference between that and being dead.

  • larryclyons

    “It’s a choice; you pay for being different.”

    Sure blame the victim. Typical brain dead idiots who think that.

  • GrampaCaligula

    Religion isn’t the problem – in fact, if properly applied, it could be the solution. The real problem is the adherence to dogma for dogma’s sake.

    Religion is supposed to be about becoming one with that in which you call god – it’s a spiritual quest for self-enlightenment. What it is often portrayed as (and in a lot of cases, actually become) is a separatist club for fostering personal and group-held prejudices.

  • Secular1

    Interesting discussion. I am sympathetic with Political-Strategist. I am of the view that the adoption of the garb that prevails for over 5 centuries, epitomizes starkly the intellectual bankruptcy that is religion. The 10th guru had prescribed/recommended certain dress code/uniform to meet the prevailing political, economical and technological state of India, back then. Do any of the Sikhs us ethe same utensils and same cooking technologies of dung chips to prepare their meals? I can certainly say, as I can see the back of my hands, the answer is a big resounding NO. Then why do you all insist on the same garb taht was recommended to some 5 centuries ago to combat existentially threat? First of all that threat does not exists any more, so relax let your hair down (pun intended) and let someone trim it down. Stop insisting on carrying a sword, it is not really an effective weapon today in US, where you can be dead before you pull that sword out of its scabbard. So purely from the effectiveness perspective the dress code is silly. Of course I understand why you would not want to abandon your position under threat.

  • Secular1

    I am of the view that the adoption of the garb that prevails for over 5 centuries, epitomizes starkly the intellectual bankruptcy that is religion. The 10th guru had prescribed/recommended certain dress code/uniform to meet the prevailing political, economical and technological state of India, back then. Do any of the Sikhs us ethe same utensils and same cooking technologies of dung chips to prepare their meals? I can certainly say, as I can see the back of my hands, the answer is a big resounding NO. Then why do you all insist on the same garb taht was recommended to some 5 centuries ago to combat existentially threat? First of all that threat does not exists any more, so relax let your hair down (pun intended) and let someone trim it down. Stop insisting on carrying a sword, it is not really an effective weapon today in US, where you can be dead before you pull that sword out of its scabbard. So purely from the effectiveness perspective the dress code is silly. Of course I understand why you would not want to abandon your position under threat.

  • Catken1

    Religious dress codes are not put in place because they’re rational or effective, generally, but as a method of mindfully connecting to one’s religion and one’s community. And in America, we DO have the right to practice religion as WE see fit, without concern for whether someone else considers it “rational”.

    And someone else dressing and acting in a way you consider “irrational,” but that does no one any actual harm, is surely no grounds for legitimizing or justifying discrimination or unkindness, let alone outright mass murder.

  • Secular1

    Catken1, sometimes you come across a bit analretentive. I have never spoken for or proselytized religious bigotry. I have always decried that. But at the same time I also decry stupidity that is religion (by that all religions). If someone is going to come on this forum and claim some intrinsically great about their religious rituals and habits, I am going to call the way I see them, “Stupidity being masqueraded as some higher spiritual BS” The Sikh dress code is just that, it may have served some purpose 5 centuries ago. If one some presents it as some superior or inherently better thing, I am going to say so. It is just a uniform and poor one at that for today’s world. It does not even compare to the base ball uniforms. While one team’s uniform over the other is just matter of taste but nothing in terms of functionality. So this ongoing stream of comments expounding gloriously about the stupid uniform need to be told for what it is.

  • Catken1

    ” If someone is going to come on this forum and claim some intrinsically great about their religious rituals and habits, I am going to call the way I see them”

    If you like. But when you speak negatively about someone else’s religious garb, which is doing you no harm, after many of them have been shot and killed for simply being “different”, it comes across as unkind and in bad taste, if nothing worse.

    Call me anal-retentive if you like. I’ve been called worse, and there’s truth to it. But that’s the way your comments come across to me.

  • The Guru’s True Gurmukh

    Delete this post as Ive written my comment separately above. Thanks

  • TonyDiaz999

    I see the US having 16% atheists and kindred kinds as a sign of progress.

    Yes.

    I see at least 16% of offspring of today’s Sikhs not being Sikhs as progress.

  • edbyronadams

    “And so, to those who say that Sikh Americans should abandon their heritage, I say – this turban stays on.”

    What about carrying the kirpan? Maybe that should even be updated in terms of not taking a knife to a gunfight.