One of the reverberations from 9/11 is religious stereotyping and hate affecting many groups across the U.S. One community has been a particular target. Let me tell you what I mean.
A pick-up truck driver in Richmond Hill, Queens calls a Sikh man a terrorist before mowing him down and dragging him thirty feet through the street. A few days later, a group of young teens, male and female, attack another Sikh man as he walks to dinner with his mother on Roosevelt Island. The assailants yelled “Osama bin Laden” and “Go back to your country” as they were punching him.
These sound like scenes from the harrowing, fear-filled days following September 11, 2001. But these incidents occurred only last month.
Despite the fact that no member of the Sikh religion was involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Sikh-American community has been the target of increased religious harassment and violence ever since. Many Americans remember the 2012 massacre of six people at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin—called the most deadly attack on an American house of worship since the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama. But many may not remember that the first 9/11-related murder was of a Sikh man, Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was shot on September 15, 2001 at his Mesa, Arizona gas station. And many may not have noticed the hundreds of attacks that have occurred in the years since. In the month right after 9/11, there were over 300 violent and discriminatory acts against Sikh Americans. In 2009 the Sikh Coalition reported that 41 percent of Sikhs surveyed in New York City had been called demeaning names, and that, since 9/11, nine percent had actually been physically assaulted – because of their religious identity.
Without more, this would be alarming. But perhaps the most troubling incidents are those that have occurred in our schools. Over 50 percent of Sikh children report being the target of bullying in school. But when you talk about turbaned Sikh boys, that figure rises to 67 percent. Children who are targeted consistently report being called “terrorist” and “bin Laden” and told to “Go back” to their own country.
Thirteen years after 9/11, too many young people are ignorant about other religions and cultures. And ignorance can breed fear, suspicion, and bigotry, creating a cycle of hatred.
As an educator, you can help break this cycle. Teaching students about America’s religious diversity is a great way to honor the anniversary of 9/11. Click here for Sikh Coalition lesson plans about the Sikh religion and culture. Click here for Tanenbaum lesson plans on religion, diversity, and conflict. Click here for other Tanenbaum resources and fact sheets related to 9/11.