Confusion prompts SMART to teach US about Sikhism

NEW YORK: Hate crimes against people who appear to be of Middle

Eastern descent have created a communications emergency at the Sikh

Mediawatch and Resource Task Force (SMART).

The monotheistic Sikh religion originated in Punjab, a state in

northeast India. Sometimes confused with Hinduism or Islam, Sikhism is a

distinct religion. With 20 million followers, it is the fifth-largest

religion in the world. It has advocated work, worship, service, and

equal rights to all people for close to 500 years.

Sikhs are easily identified by the turbans male Sikhs wear to cover

their uncut hair. Their appearance has caused some followers serious

problems recently. A Sikh man in Mesa, AZ, was shot, and an elderly Sikh

man in Richmond Hill, Queens was badly beaten with a baseball bat days

after the US terrorist attacks on September 11. Someone also threw a

firebomb into a Sikh temple in Cleveland, OH, but it was put out before

it did any physical damage.

Because attacks are spread throughout the US, Sumeet Kaur, associate

director of SMART, said she has been coordinating local volunteers to

contact media outlets, as well as schools and police, to educate them on

Sikhism. She is also working on a national level and has secured

coverage in The New York Times, CNN and ABC's World News Tonight.

"Until the last two or three days, a lot of media outlets did not

respond to us," said Kaur, who added she believed that the media

demonstrated some irresponsibility in repeatedly showing footage of a

man wearing a Sikh article of faith who was arrested. "He was released

four hours later, but that picture continued to be broadcast on TV and

shown on internet sites and in the newspaper. We worked with volunteers

to call the media and ask them to remove the pictures."

Kaur said she is not sure whether SMART will seek a PR agency to

implement a Sikh education program to the American population. She did

say that the group is trying to identify as many ways as possible to get

the word out that the religion's 500,000 US followers are dismayed over

the hijackings and attacks, and are not in any way associated with

suspected terrorist mastermind, Osama bin Laden.

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