Sikhs, who wear distinctive clothing as acts of faith, have been on high alert in America since the 9/11 attacks, bracing for violence whenever there is a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric.
But it wasn’t the first time Sikhs have faced threats or feared the prospect of tragedy.
“Every time there is a moment when anti-Muslim rhetoric fills the news cycle, we brace for violence to break out” against Sikhs, says Valarie Kaur, an interfaith activist and maker of “Divided We Fall”, a film that documents hostility toward Sikhs immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.
As acts of faith, Sikhs wear distinctive clothing, most notably turbans on the heads of men.
“When you flip on your TV, most of the images of turbans and beards are associated with Al Qaeda, terrorism, Osama bin Laden and the like,” says Manbeena Kaur (no relation), education director for the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group formed after the 9/11 attacks. “But in real life, 99 percent of the time when you see someone with a turban, that person is going to be a Sikh. That’s a huge disconnect.”
Sikhs have been on high alert for more than a decade as incidents haven’t let up. Since 2001, the Coalition has received more than 700 reports of bias, including two California murders in 2011 and the February 2012 desecration of a Sterling Heights, Mich., gurudwara (house of worship).