A More Constructive Course After bin Laden

Rajdeep Singh – Director of Law and Policy, The Sikh Coalition
Originally published in the Washington Post. To read the article, click here.

It is impossible to comprehend the depth of sorrow that has been wrought over the years by Osama bin Laden and his gang of criminals, who celebrated the murders of thousands of human beings on 9/11 and shattered the lives of countless more throughout the world. As easy as it might feel for some to celebrate his death with street parties and sloganeering, a more constructive way to mark his death is to vigorously promote peace and interfaith solidarity in our diverse communities. Nothing would hasten the demise of violent extremism more effectively than the construction of a world in which people of all faiths (and no faith) close ranks and work toward their common goals in a spirit of mutual respect and appreciation.

One modest yet important way to contribute to this effort is to judge people not by their appearance but rather by the content of their character. For example, consider just one of the ways in which Osama bin Laden has had a deleterious impact on Sikhs:

The Sikh religion was founded over five centuries ago in South Asia and is presently the fifth largest world religion, with more than 25 million adherents throughout the world. Sikhs are distinguished by visible religious articles, including uncut hair, which Sikh men are required to keep covered with a turban. Although the Sikh turban is a symbol of nobility and signifies a commitment to upholding freedom, justice, and dignity for all people, the physical appearance of a Sikh is often ignorantly conflated with that of Osama bin Laden, whose turbaned and bearded image receives copious publicity in our mainstream media. As a consequence, Sikhs in the United States are ridiculed and stereotyped because of their appearance (often to the point of being openly slurred as ‘Osama bin Laden’) and even subjected to bias crimes, racial profiling, employment discrimination, and school bullying.

Although bigoted oversimplification of this nature might strike many readers as ironic or even patently absurd—akin to casting aspersions on all Europeans (and ‘European-looking’ people) because Hitler happened to be German—many Sikhs look forward to the day when the sight of a turban evokes appreciation instead of apprehension.

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