Long Island: fear of turbans

C’mon already. 9-11 was almost five years ago. When are people gonna knock it off already? From Newsday, May 13:

LI Sikh angered by terror suspicion
Indian immigrant Jaspal Arora, a religious Sikh, wears a turban everywhere he goes, including to morning workouts at the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview.

On Thursday, his turban apparently sparked suspicion by one patron, after Arora tossed a bag of garbage into a trash can on his way into the building.

Now, a security guard who worked at the Jewish center on Manetto Hill Road is out of a job, after refusing a member’s request to check the trash can for a bomb.

“I said this is nothing but a racist thing,” said the guard, Stephen Ardell of Bethpage. “And that is when they told me to get my stuff and get out.”

Susan Tregerman, an assistant director at the center where Ardell has worked for two years under contract with a security firm, denied that he was fired and characterized the episode as a misunderstanding.

“There was no bomb scare, there was no one fired,” said Tregerman, who declined to comment further.

The incident has upset members of Long Island’s Sikh community, who have said the post 9/11 climate has brought with it an atmosphere of discrimination and unfair scrutiny.

“They know me personally,” said Arora, 48, of Plainview, who has been a member of the community center’s fitness club for eighteen months, and who also does wedding photography there. “They’ve seen me for two years. I work there. Why do they think I’m a terrorist?”

The incident occurred when a woman at the center spotted Arora throwing a plastic bag into a trash can near the center’s entrance.

According to Ardell, the woman told him she was worried the bag might contain a bomb.

Ardell, 46, who had worked at the center for more than two years, told the woman that Arora was a regular customer, and that there was no need for suspicion.

Ardell said he was fired after the woman complained to the center’s staff.

A person contacted at New York Security Patrol where Ardell worked, who described herself as the company’s owner as well as a member of the Jewish center, said Ardell was dismissed by the security company only after walking out on his own and not because of the earlier incident. She gave her name only as “Jackie.”

Many South Asians say they often are profiled, sometimes after being confused with Arabs because of their religious headwear.

In August, police handcuffed five Sikh tourists and forced them to kneel on a sidewalk on Manhattan’s Broadway after a tour bus employee reported them as suspicious. Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized for the incident, and urged people to use common sense before calling the police.

In December, four men from Long Island and one from Queens were convicted on various charges involving the taunting and beating of a Sikh spiritual leader outside a restaurant in Richmond Hill, Queens. The men were said to have hurled slurs regarding the turban worn by the victim, before beating him unconscious.

Mohinder Taneja, a Westbury resident and a leader among Long Island’s 3,000-family Sikh community, said the post- 9/11 environment has been a challenge for Sikh followers. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion with roots in Northern India.

“Certainly, when ignorant people mistake us for terrorists because we are wearing a turban, or link us with bin Laden, certainly we feel very much upset and offended,” Taneja said. “But we take it as a challenge to teach people and remove that ignorance.”

Then of course, this one is still pending. From the Sikh Coalition, July 18, 2005:

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) may require Kevin Harrington (Sat Hari Singh), a member of the Sikh faith, to remove his religiously-required turban in order to maintain his job as a subway train operator. Mr. Harrington has worked as an MTA train operator for over twenty years while wearing his turban. On June 7, 2004, the MTA ordered Mr. Harrington to take a job in an MTA yard, away from public view, because he would not remove his turban. After a public outcry, the MTA rescinded the order the next day, reinstating him to his train operator job. However, on June 15, 2004, in a letter to Mr. Harrington’s union, the MTA stated that it will likely require Mr. Harrington in September 2004 to choose a job in the yard again because he wears religious headdress instead of an MTA hat.

See also WW4 REPORT #s 52, 25, 6

See our last post on xenophobic stupidity in supposedly the cosmopolitan New York metro area.

  1. What’s really weird…
    …is that this is happening in the same America as this. From Indian Express, May 11:

    Espanola (New Mexico), May 10: In a rare gesture, the New Mexico State Transportation Commission has renamed a state highway — Highway 106 — as ‘Yogi Bhajan Memorial Highway’ in memory of the late Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji. An Indian-American, he was known to his followers as Yogi Bhajan.

    The renaming ceremony on April 28 brought to fruition the efforts of New Mexico Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught. A resolution in this regard was unanimously passed in a meeting held in Pueblo Laguna, NM, in 2005.

    New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in his remarks on the occasion said: ‘‘Yogiji was not only a spiritual leader, but was a business and social leader as well. And he kept a hand in politics too. I know many of the elected officials here today often sought his counsel in professional and personal matters, as I did many times. This highway is travelled by all of you and lies in the heart of your community; it is therefore with great pleasure that I declare New Mexico State Highway 106 as Yogi Bhajan Memorial Highway.’’

    Yogiji left behind a legacy of ‘3HO’— Happy, Holy, Healthy Organisation — a nonprofit educational and scientific association offering guidance on nutrition, health and interpersonal relations. A teacher of Kundalini Yoga, he was also a successful businessman and owned Akal Security, a private security firm. He founded the Sikh Dharma, which propagated vegetarianism, Yoga and a white dress code. His followers are spread over New Mexico, California and Arizona.

    Founder of sikhpoint.com Bicky Singh, who was invited to attend the function, said, ‘‘It was one of the greatest moments for Indians in the US. To have a highway where thousands can see the name of an Indian-American overwhelmed me. Being the only Indian-American present made me feel even more honoured.’’