Struggling in an Unkind World

December 19, 2006

Author: Douglas B. Brill

Source: The Express-Times

Devinder Chana sat on the lumpy basement floor of the Olde Mill Yoga and Wellness Center eating naan topped with rice and lentils. He nodded toward Gurmit Shergill, a man he said illustrates the challenges Sikhs face in the age of terrorism.

Shergill is olive-skinned and wears a turban, just like Chana and many of the other 25 million Sikhs worldwide. He sat cross-legged on the floor, his pointy, 10-inch beard nearly grazing the packet of papers he held before him.

"Gurmit," Chana said, "looks just like Osama."

Post-9/11 America has not been kind to Sikhs. Since the collapse of the World Trade Center, many Americans have linked Sikhs, almost exclusively by appearance, to terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and the attacks.

The Sikhs had nothing to do with Sept. 11. But, unshorn, dark-skinned and turbaned, they look the part. The Sikhs' resemblance to the Muslim men who threaten the U.S. through Al-Jazeera videos has led to an unwarranted backlash.

"Post-9/11, it's been difficult for our community," said Amardeep Singh, executive director of the New York-based Sikh Coalition, which was founded just hours after the 9/11 attacks to thwart the hate crimes and discrimination already unfolding against Sikhs.