At its best, our nation is about celebrating pluralism and treating people with respect, regardless of what they believe, what they look like, and who they love.
ON Saturday, protesters plan to hold a rally in downtown Seattle to stoke fear and suspicion of Muslims. More than 20 rallies like this have been scheduled nationwide. As a Sikh who wears a turban representing my religion’s commitment to equality and justice for all, I believe these rallies are dangerous and contrary to our nation’s values.
Like all Americans, I am concerned about hate groups like the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. The recent attacks in Manchester and London underscore the seriousness of the threat. Last year, an ISIS sympathizer was arrested for bombing a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Germany. In the post-9/11 environment, we cannot take our security for granted, and all of us must unite to defeat terrorism once and for all.
At the same time, it would be a mistake to blame the world’s billion-plus Muslims for the actions of some followers. Brigitte Gabriel — ACT for America founder and the organizer of the Saturday rallies — consistently makes this mistake. She has a long history of stereotyping Muslims, claiming that practitioners of Islam are incapable of being loyal U.S. citizens.
Stereotypes like this are not only intellectually lazy, they prevent us from having the decency to know and appreciate each other as individuals and can lead to violence against our fellow Americans.
This hits close to home for me. In March, a Sikh man in my hometown of Kent was shot and injured in his driveway by a gunman who told him to “go back to your own country.” Like me, the victim wore a turban. In 2012, a Sikh cabdriver near Seattle was brutally assaulted by a passenger who mocked him as a “towelhead.” That attack occurred just weeks after a white supremacist walked into a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and murdered six worshippers.
I don’t know whether the attackers in these hate crimes knew they were targeting Sikhs instead of Muslims, but what matters to me more is that they failed to see their victims as humans. This is what happens when people are reduced to stereotypes.
Gabriel has a constitutional right to express her divisive thoughts, but the rest of us can respond to her negativity by promoting a more positive vision of society.
Community service is an effective way to build community strength and interfaith solidarity. It is also an integral part of the Sikh religion and other faith traditions, including Islam. Imagine if houses of worship throughout America pooled their resources and worked together to end homelessness, give hope to domestic violence survivors, and keep our nation’s youth from drugs and violence.
Parents and teachers have an obligation to promote mutual respect among children. Surveys by Sikh and Muslim civil-rights organizations show that children in these communities experience high rates of bullying. Imagine if our schools made bullying prevention as much of a priority as test scores.
Lawmakers have an important role to play in promoting unity in our communities. Last month, I visited Washington, D.C., and asked the office of my congressman to organize a bias-prevention task force in my district. Imagine if all our elected representatives used their convening power to do the same.
What ties all of these ideas together is an assumption that Americans are strongest when we work together to solve our common challenges.
At its best, our nation is about celebrating pluralism and treating people with respect, regardless of what they believe, what they look like, and who they love. The best way to combat hate is not to perpetuate stereotypes but rather to stand up for each other.