Why do Sikhs also experience anti-Muslim violence and hate?

Inderjit Singh Mukker was hospitalised after being punched in the face by an assailant who allegedly yelled, “Terrorist! . . . Go back to your country.” Credit: Sikh Coalition.

A decision not to charge a 17-year-old with a hate crime contradicts Illinois hate crimes law, according to the Sikh Coalition.

On September 8, Inderjit Singh Mukker, 53, and a father of two, faced of torrent of racist abuse when driving down a Chicago suburb. Shouts of “Terrorist!” “Bin Laden!” “Go back to your country!”came from the car behind.

Mukker pulled over when the vehicle began tailgaiting; instead of passing by, the driver got out and reached into Mukker’s car to assault him.

The Coalition claim that Mukker required treatment for a fractured cheekbone, bruising and blood loss and six stitches for the lacerations on his face.

In a statement, Harsimran Kaur, of the Sikh Coalition said: “In fact, in my many years of representing hate crime victims, the hate crimes charge is as clear and as obvious as it gets. To ignore the racial element of the crime sends a clear message that State’s Attorney Robert Berlin is not interested in protecting vulnerable communities.”

“I am appalled and disgusted by this decision,” said the victim, Mr Mukker. “What happened to me on Tuesday night is the definition of hate.”

The attack on Mukker is a synechode. It forms the fabric of a larger story: the frequent attacks and abuses Sikhs experience due to the racialisation of Muslim identity. Among other consequences, it punishes the diversity of religious expression. One study found that 60 per cent of Americans are ignorant to the Sikhism of those around them. When shown a photo of a smiling Sikh man in a turban, 28 per cent of respondents thought he was Middle Eastern and a fifth believed he was Muslim. Just 11 per cent of people identified the man in the photo as Sikh. Nor did the study find that ignorance was gender specific.

That research mirrors Stamford University’s 2013 survey ‘Turban Myths’. It found that about half of the public associates the turban with Islam and believes that Sikhism is a sect of Islam. It found that media bias inflames bias towards Sikhs and religiosity.

On September 15 2001, Frank Silva Roque shot dead Balbir Singh Sodhi as he planted flowers at the petrol station he owned. Hours before his crimes, Roque bragged at a local bar of his intention to “kill the ragheads responsible for 9/11”. In a phone conversation with a colleague on September 12 2001, Roque expressed a desire to shoot some ‘rag heads’.

It was not enough for Roque to murder Sodhi; 20 minutes later and he shot at but missed a petrol station clerk of Lebanese descent. Roque then fired several rounds into the home of a family of Afghan descent, but hit no one.

When the police arrived, Roque threw hims arms in the air and said “I’m a patriot and American.  I’m American.  I’m a damn American.”As the arresting officers took Roque away, he yelled  “How can you arrest me and let the terrorists run wild?”

Roque faced the death penalty for Singh’s murder; but in 2006, Arizona’s Supreme Court reduced this sentence to life imprisonment without possibility of release.

A year later, another member of the Sodhi family, Sukhpal, died from gunshot wounds while driving his taxi in San Francisco. Though police established no motive, the family and others, mourned a new crime.

Another family member, Rana Sodhi, recalled how a week after the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, a man entered his petrol station and yelled ‘Go back to your country’.

The FBI recorded a 1,7000 per cent spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes following 9/11. In 2001, it recorded 481 incidents compared to just 28 hate crimes in 2000.

Less than a fortnight after the towers fell, a man telephoned a Sikh Temple in California to lower their flag to half-mast. When staff refused, the man threatened to return. The next morning, he did return and barricaded both temple entrances with a tractor and truck and trailer. Phillip John Lucas later received felony vandalism and trespassing charges.

A molotov cocktail, thrown threw the window of Kulwant Singh’s home, hit his three-year-old son Mantej in the head. In New York, a gang of men assaulted a 66-year-old Sikh named Attar Singh.

The Sikh Coalition recorded at least 300 cases of violence and discrimination against Sikhs in the U.S. a month after 9/11. 14 years later and the Coalition received hundreds more. In 2009, the Coalition found that 9 per cent of Sikh adults in New York experienced violence and slurs painting them as terrorists.

Three years after a neo-Nazi murdered five men and one woman at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee, the locals must now ring a buzzer for a security guard to let them inside. Though the experience brought the community closer, a fear of racist violence in places of faith, fosters a deep unease.

The FBI have recorded 13 mass murders at religious buildings since 1963.

Bigotry also extends to the classroom. In 2014, the Sikh Coalition found that half of Sikh students experience bullying in U.S. schools; that figure increases to more than two-thirds for students wearing the turban. One Sikh schoolboy filmed himself facing racist abuse on a school bus in Georgia – it went viral and created a conversation about bullying.

Others sought to invert the pains of racial abuse into a positive. Vishavjit Singh became a global sensation after becoming the living embodiment of his cartoon – a superhero with a beard and a turban that fights bigotry. When dressed as Captain America, Singh draws positive and negative responses.

“I’m still seen by many as the ‘ultimate other’ in American society – a radical Muslim. Harassment goes up and down depending on the news,” he told the BBC.

In the UK, Sikh communities have experienced bigotry in wider anti-Muslim backlashes.

After the London bombings in 2005, individuals firebombed two gurdwaras in Kent and Leeds. On July 9 2005, a spokesman for the Sikh Commission on Racism & Cohesion said: “Following 9/11, visible communities like the Sikhs and Muslims became immediate targets of public racism. Anyone that was considered to be Muslim … was targeted with vicious verbal racism, taunts and also physical attacks.”

London experienced 68 “faith hate” crimes the first three days after 7/7. Met Police recorded 269 religious hate crimes  in the three weeks that followed the London bombings, compared with 40 in the same period of 2004. A majority involved verbal abuse, minor assaults, and damage to Islamic institutions.

Race hate in response to 7/7 went beyond Muslim and Sikhs. On August 11 2005, Ranjit Ratsingham, of the Hindu Shree Ghanapathy Temple said: “We have had incidents of young boys being attacked by youths. A lot of people are very, very nervous.”

“The police are concerned and it seems to be coming from the far-Right.

“It’s bad enough they are attacking innocent Muslims, but extending that to the whole Asian community is wholly despicable.”

On August 16 2005, a Sikh man had his turban pulled off and was racially abused in Northants. A decade later and a neo-Nazi attempted to murder a Sikh dentist in revenge for Lee Rigby’s murder.

The victim, Dr Sarandev Bhambra, 24, a dentist, experienced ‘life-changing’ injuries. Without the intervention of an ex-serviceman, Dr Bhambra would be dead.

Following the attack, Sikh Council UK Community Safety Sub-committee Chair, Bal Kaur Sandhu said, “Following the recent terrorist attacks in Europe, we have seen a rise in hate attacks with victims coming from all communities.  Often following such atrocities, Sikhs due to their visible identity have also faced attacks.  We totally condemn hate attacks against any person of any background and urge all Sikhs to remain vigilant and report any such crimes to the police authorities.”

Since the attack, Dr Bhambra has undergone intense physiotherapy and rehabilitation. The severity of the injury to his hand may still prevent him from pursuing his dentistry career.

The family have questioned why Davies was not considered a ‘terrorist’ given his beliefs.

Davies hit Dr Bhambra with a machete ‘five’ or ‘six’ times. They also heard shouts of ‘White f*cking power’, and ‘This is for Lee Rigby’. Others heard: “I am doing this for the whites, I am doing this for you, for the UK”.

Police raided Davies’ apartment and recovered a copy Mein Kampf. Hunter, a book written by William Luther Pierce, the founder of the US-based National Alliance.

Davies owned a copy of the Turner Diaries that influenced Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh. Copies of these texts also belonged to another neo-Nazi terrorist, Pavlo Lapshyn.

Other white supremacist materials included a book on the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging. Promotional materials for the neo-Nazi group National Action were also found.

Davies must now serve a life sentence.

On occasion, racists have daubed Islamophobic slogans on Sikh temples. In April 2015, members of the Sikh community in Glasgow found the message ‘F**k Islam No Sharia!’ next to a Nazi swastika on a wall of Glasgow Central Gurdwara.

Surjit Singh Chowdhary, Vice-President of Central Gurdwara Singh Sabha, said: “The Sikh community completely abhors the hateful ideology of Islamophobia”.

At the Shri Guru Nanak Gurdwara and Sikh Community Centre in Thornaby, vandals spray painted ‘White power,’ ‘Death to Allah,’ and ‘Die Muslims Die’ on the outside wall.

Others used the hashtag #AfterSeptember11 to highlight the racist backlash.

Update: on September 15, DuPage County State’s Attorney Office filed additional hate crime charges against the teen accused of attacking Inderjit Singh Mukker.