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.