US Sikhs launch million-dollar campaign to stop hate crimes
New York, Apr 12: Sikhs in the United States are launching a million-dollar awareness campaign that aims to stop hate-fuelled attacks by explaining more about who they are and what they believe. The 'We are Sikhs' campaign was years in the making, funded by Sikh leaders and their families across a dozen cities, who have been swept up in anti-Muslim sentiment since the September 11 attacks.
Their beards and turbans symbols of equality in a religion that opposes India's caste system make American Sikhs easy targets for the angry and uninformed. "Our hope was that as the memory of 9/11 goes down, things would get better. But they have not," said Rajwant Singh, a dentist from suburban Washington and one of the campaign's volunteer organisers.
World's fifth-largest religion
The ads, which will air on CNN, Fox News and on TV stations in Fresno, California, home to a large Sikh community, make no mention of the more than 300 hate crimes reported by Sikhs in the US since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Rather, they feature Sikh families explaining how the world's fifth-largest religion, founded in India, aligns with American values.
'American values go hand in hand with the Sikh values'
Internet advertising will begin immediately as well, and subsequent TV ads are planned for at least three more cities with large Sikh populations.
"We teach our kids the American values go hand in hand with the Sikh values: tolerance, religious freedom, gender equality," a bearded man in a red turban says in one of the ads shared with The Associated Press.
'We like Game of Thrones'
Another ad highlights Sikhs embracing the American pop culture: "We like Game of Thrones," one person says. "I'm obsessed with Star Wars," says another.
The ads, developed in consultation with Republican and Democratic consulting firms, do not mention Republican President Donald Trump, whose candidacy hammered on illegal immigration and Islamic extremism.
'We still experience violence regardless of who's president'
While fundraising events in Sikh communities across the nation coincided with Trump's rise, organisers insist the $1.3 million effort has no connection to the tough-talking president. "It's a coincidence," says Gurwin Ahuja, a 27-year-old political operative who also helped organise the new campaign. "Administrations have changed, and we still experience violence regardless of who's president."
This type of religious outreach has some precedent. Muslim advocacy groups launched a billboard campaign in recent years, while others developed public service announcements soon after Septmber 11. Corey Saylor, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, praised the new effort, noting that Sikh leaders have "not allowed bias to divide religious minorities."