Ben Boychuk

It’s pathetic that we don’t know Sikhs from Muslims

Inderjit Mukker, a Sikh cab driver, was beaten in a September road-rage incident with a Chicago-area teenager who called him “bin Laden.” Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Sikhs have been victims of anti-Muslim violence, suspicion and intolerance.
Inderjit Mukker, a Sikh cab driver, was beaten in a September road-rage incident with a Chicago-area teenager who called him “bin Laden.” Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Sikhs have been victims of anti-Muslim violence, suspicion and intolerance. via The Associated Press

Four Sikhs from Fresno drove to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego last week to watch their beloved Denver Broncos trounce the Chargers, 17-3. Why four Sikhs from Fresno would be Denver fans is a question best left to sports analysts and psychiatric professionals. What makes this news is that the four men almost didn’t get in to see the game because they are Sikhs.

In particular, stadium security had a problem with their turbans. Oh dear, here we go again.

“Three of my buddies, they had turbans on, and it was like, you guys got to take the turbans off,” Verinder Malhi told San Diego’s KGTV News. He and his pals eventually were allowed into the game, but not before a supervisor warned the group not to come back wearing their turbans.

That wasn’t the worst of it. Before the game, a tailgater called the police to report three men in turbans acting suspiciously around the trunk of their car. The cops showed up with a bomb-sniffing dog. Turns out, they were stowing a harmless bag.

A few days after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, people will be anxious. It’s human nature. So does it really matter that a couple of security guards making a lousy $16 an hour react mulishly to a group of men in turbans? Does it matter that most Americans associate turbans with Muslims, and Muslims with the sort of people who walked into Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino on Dec. 2 and killed 14 people?

Yes, as a matter of fact, it does.

Sikhs are not Muslims. Historically, in fact, Sikhs have suffered terrible persecution at the hands of Muslims when they’ve refused to convert.

Sikhism is not Islam. It is a different religion, founded under different circumstances, at a different time (the 15th century), in a different place (India).

An estimated 500,000 Sikhs live in the United States. But they stand out for their unique headwear and dress. Most Sikh men wear turbans and do not cut their hair. This is a sacred practice. Traditionally, they grow beards and also wear ceremonial daggers, which have not played well with the Transportation Security Administration. As a result, Sikhs are often singled out for vandalism and even deadly violence. A white supremacist in 2012 gunned down six Sikhs at a temple in Wisconsin.

Most people don’t know much about Islam, either. A report this month from the Pew Research Center found that most Americans know “little or nothing” about the religion of some 1.6 billion people.

Ignorance cuts two ways. Elected leaders including George W. Bush and Barack Obama repeat the bromide that “Islam” means “peace.” It doesn’t – the accurate translation is “submission,” which is a distinction with a major difference.

Another Pew poll from 2010 found that Americans might say religion is “very important” in their lives, but their actual knowledge of religion is pathetic. Little more than half of the adults in that survey knew that the Quran is the Islamic holy book. It’s inexcusable.

The fact is schools have done a terrible job of teaching anything worthwhile about religion. Most students get a multicultural smorgasbord of trivia, a politically correct gloss on thousands of years of history, culture and literature.

Some of my conservative friends get worked up now and then about the way their kids learn about Islam in the schools. But the problem isn’t merely indoctrination. It’s ignorance.

If you have children in public schools and you pay even a little attention, you’ve likely heard teachers boast of how they teach “critical thinking skills.” But thinking critically is impossible in the absence of bona fide knowledge. In lieu of serious content, the schools teach a tepid brand of “tolerance” that is almost as bad as teaching nothing at all.

Don’t the results speak for themselves?

Good judgment has become a commodity as rare as wisdom. The security guards at Qualcomm might say better safe than sorry, and a lot of people would agree. Better smart than stupid, I say.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at bboychuk@city-journal.org.

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