Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sikhs say attacks on community are 'collateral damage' of 9/11

As Sikhs confront Wisconsin temple shooting tragedy, members of the community reflect on 11 years of 'Bin Laden' taunts and misunderstanding

Guardian
August 7, 2012


Members of Sikh temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin
It is not clear whether the gunman targeted the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in the mistaken belief that its worshipers were Muslim. Photograph: Jeffrey Phelps/AP
Harjit Jeji Shergill would not go so far as to say there was an inevitability to the murder of six Sikh worshipers at his local temple, but after years of people venomously calling him "Bin Laden" he feared it might come to this somewhere in America.
As Oak Creek's Sikh community grapples with Sunday's tragedy it is buffeted by shock and mourning for some its best-known figures. There is also appreciation for the police officers who stopped the gunman – including one who took several bullets – and almost certainly saved other lives.
But underpinning everything is a pouring forth of frustration, just short of anger, at what Sikhs in Oak Creek and other parts of the US say is the frequent assumption that because of their turbans and beards they are Muslims – with all the weight that carries since 9/11.
One Sikh leader said that is an assumption "with deadly consequences". Another said that the Oak Creek killings are the "collateral damage" of the al-Qaida attacks.
Jeji Shergill, 62, said that since 9/11 he has regularly been assumed to be Muslim and that routinely spills over into abuse. "They compare us to the Muslims and we're completely different," he said. "I own a gas station. I am working there. People, they call me Bin Laden. Then I explain to them: sorry, you are misunderstanding. You are mixing us up with the Muslims. You try to explain about the turban and the beard. They still call you Bin Laden."
Shergill showed no great sympathy or solidarity with American Muslims who themselves endure unjustified abuse in the aftermath of 9/11, saying that Sikhs were better off getting away from them. But his account of being derisively called Bin Laden was not uncommon in Oak Creek.
Satinder Singh, who lives close to the temple and left it shortly before the shooting because he had work to attend to, said he was subjected to verbal abuse on occasions but never felt physically threatened.
"Sometimes they call you a Muslim or Bin Laden. It's the way they say it. They are not fair to everybody," said Singh who immigrated from India 14 years ago. "But I have not seen violence before. We did not expect it. We are peaceful. We open our arms to everyone."


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