WASHINGTON–With Sikhs increasingly becoming the target of racial attacks in the US, a media report says they are frequently mistaken for terrorists and radicals as they are conflated with Muslims by many Americans.
In the latest string of incidents targeting turbaned Sikh Americans, Amrik Singh Bal, 68, was assaulted in California on Saturday morning while waiting for a ride to work, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
According to police, the suspects after striking the victim with their car and assaulting him while he was down, yelled: “Why are you here?”
The attack is being investigated as a hate crime.
“Sikhs have been mistaken for terrorists and radicals and continue to suffer after 9/11,” the Post quoted Iqbal S. Grewal, a member of the Sikh Council of Central California, as saying in an interview to the Fresno Bee following the Saturday assault.
“This is the latest episode of what Sikhs have been enduring when they are very peace-loving and hard-working citizens of this great country and not members of Al Qaeda or ISIS or any other radical group.”
However, xenophobic intolerance against Sikhs is not new and started soon after they began arriving in the Pacific Northwest to fill logging jobs in the early 20th century, according to Simran Jeet Singh, a senior religion fellow at the Sikh Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group.
“Pretty immediately after our arrival in this country, we became targets of xenophobia,” Singh said. “Hate violence has ebbed and flowed throughout our history in America, but being targets of racism is nothing new. It’s part of our history here,” he added.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, attacks against Sikhs intensified when a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment washed over the country, leading some to confuse the long beards and turbans worn by many Sikh men as a representation of Islam.
Others viewed it simply as an opportunity to attack individuals they perceived as being “un-American”, according to the Post.
The Sikh Coalition said there were more than 300 cases of violence and discrimination against Sikhs in the US in the first month after the 2001 attacks.
“Over the last few weeks, the level of intimidation is worse than it was after September 11,” Harsimran Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s legal director, told The Post. “Then, people were angry at the terrorists and now they’re angry at Muslims, anyone who is seen as Muslim, or anyone who is perceived as being ‘other.’
Earlier this month, a Sikh store clerk in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was shot in the face during a robbery. The victim reported that the assailant called him a “terrorist.”
Following an attack by a Muslim couple at a social services centre in San Bernardino, California, a gurdwara in nearby Orange county was vandalised with hateful graffiti earlier this month, according to the Sikh Coalition.
In September this year, Inderjit Singh Mukker, a father of two on his way to the grocery store, was savagely assaulted in a Chicago suburb after being called “bin Laden.”