Written by Don Byrd
“We are Sikhs” is a new advertising campaign educating the public about Sikhs in the United States, and it is intended to promote awareness about the faith and its adherents. Given the rise of violence and harassment directed at American Sikhs over the last several years, it could not come at a better time. The Sikh faith may well be the least understood major faith tradition, often leading to hate crimes, discrimination, and needless barriers to their full participation in society. Just last week, a Sikh cab driver in New York was assaulted, and his turban – a required garment of his faith – was ripped off by an unruly passenger.
Sikhs not only have a proud history of service — they are also essential partners in the fight for religious liberty for all Americans. Gurwin Singh Ahuja started the Know Your Neighbor campaign, a project launched by a coalition of advocates including the Baptist Joint Committee, which urged all Americans to get to know people of diverse faiths all around us. You can listen to him discuss the initiative in a BJC podcast from earlier this year.
Know Your Neighbor celebrates religious pluralism with the belief that dialogue is the key to understanding. That is also the spirit of “We Are Sikhs” (see the campaign’s beautiful website, wearesikhs.org).
The BJC has worked closely with Ahuja, and he told me that the campaign seeks to share more about the tenets of Sikhism with others to fight so much misinformation. “It is clear the Sikh community is hurt by bigotry and ignorance, but it is compounded by our own silence. To change this dynamic, I felt we had an obligation to share our stories with our neighbors,” he said.
Ahuja said there have been more than 300 hate crimes reported against Sikhs since the 9/11 attacks, including the 2012 temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which left six people dead and four others wounded. “That vicious hate crime was the largest act of violence against a faith community in the U.S. since the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama,” he noted.
But, not only have Sikhs been the target of violent hate crimes, a recent study found that more than half of Sikh children endure bullying in schools, with the numbers even worse for children who wear turbans.
“What is extremely unfortunate is that we are on the receiving end of these hate crimes because we are often perceived as anti-American or as religious extremists when, in fact, the core values of the Sikh faith and the core values of the United States are aligned,” Ahuja said. “Therefore, the aim of the campaign is to share the core values of our faith — tolerance, religious freedom and gender equality. The visible marker of the Sikh faith – the turban – actually represents our commitment to upholding equality and tolerance for all people regardless of their race, religion, or gender,” he said.
“Ultimately, we hope this campaign will help inform our neighbors of our values and our American and inspire young Sikhs to be proud of their identity as Sikhs and Americans.”
Ads are scheduled to run on CNN, Fox News, and local areas with large Sikh populations. For more, see an Associated Press story on the campaign.