Behind hate crimes: The persistence of prejudice

Dr Prabhjot Singh, an assistant professor in Columbia University, was brutally beaten up by a group of men while he was walking in upper Manhattan, New York City. His assailants, obviously ignorant, and brutal, men shouted anti-Muslim slogans like ‘Osama’, ‘terrorist’ and the like, knocked the professor to the ground, and punched him several times in the face.

It’s not unusual these days, in any part of the world – for hate crimes to be committed, for innocent people to be targeted. But this attack was a mistake, on two clear-cut counts. One, Muslims are not all terrorists or Osama, or even remotely linked with terrorism. Two, Dr Singh was a Sikh not a Muslim.

It’s a disturbing trend – the continued simmering intolerance of people perceived in a certain way purely on the basis of their skin color and race.  Post 9/11, there was a radical shift in people’s attitudes towards Middle-Eastern or Asian people, all of whom were viewed with suspicion and barely contained antagonism. A decade on, the trend carries on – not ebbing, just pulsing on and becoming further entrenched in city life – both for the persecuted and for the persecutors.

Simran Jeet Singh is Dr Singh’s friend and associate. The two work together to help the underprivileged access affordable quality healthcare.  The two friends are deeply concerned about hate crimes against the Sikh community, and the fact that these crimes have been going on for a while and not enough is being done to address them.

Simran Jeet Singh maintains that the mass shooting by a white supremacist in Wisconsin last year was quickly forgotten by the American media. He says, “The mass shooting in Wisconsin was one of the most significant moments in Sikh-American history. Our community saw it as an attack on faith communities in general and it heightened our awareness to how people see us in this country — with hate and anger and racism.”

Social media sites saw recent outbursts in which several Americans expressed their displeasure with the crowning of an Indian-origin Miss America, Nina Davuluri. These sites overflowed with hateful comments, calling her an Arab or associating her with the Al-Qaeda, mirroring, first, a woefully poor knowledge of the world geography, and second, a narrow-mindedness that collides with multi-cultural values of a global world in general, and American society in particular.

The events in September this year, have stirred emotions and one can only look on with bitter-sweet feelings. The 12th anniversary of the tragic 9/11 attacks; followed up by the crowning of Nina Davuluri as Miss America; the attack on a Sikh-American  professor; and finally the official visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the US. Is the world getting smaller on the back of technology and iphones? Or, are the people of the world getting xenophobic, seeking solace in sameness of color and custom?

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