America Must Show Respect for its Diversity

We write with reference to the story “Man Taken into Custody at Providence Rail Station Identified” (September 12) regarding the arrest of Mr. Sher J. B. Singh of Leesburg, VA.

Mr. Singh is clearly a member of the Sikh faith, the sixth largest religion in the world today, with over 20 million adherents around the globe. As we write this, we do not know if Mr. Singh has been released from police custody. Your story updated at 6:30 p.m. indicates that he would be arraigned in the morning for the possession of a knife over 3″ long. We are appalled at the hasty actions in this regard of the Providence Police, FBI, and other federal and local agencies.

The knife in point is a kirpan, one of the five symbols of the Sikh faith, along with kes (unshorn hair and beard) – two elements of his religious identity that made Mr. Singh an easy suspect in the first place in the eyes of Amtrak personnel.

Mr. Singh and three other people initially questioned and released were all presumed guilty because they looked “Arab,” our media’s version of a terrorist. It is a good thing that we did not buttonhole every white citizen this way when Timothy McVeigh turned out to be the terrorist.

Apparently, in the frenzy to find a target for Americans’ anger at the outrageous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon yesterday, our law enforcement agencies media have violated Mr. Singh’s civil rights as a U.S. citizen. Our media – which might be expected to know a bit more about the world – make matters worse by rushing stories into print or to TV screen without asking critical questions or doing even minimal research.

Mr. Singh was driven away in a police cruiser in the presence of loudly cheering crowd who shouted unprintable racial epithets at him. It seems Mr. Singh became for these Rhode Islanders a scapegoat and an object of their uncontrolled rage, harkening back to darker moments of U.S. history where such overzealous reaction has led to tragic injustices for certain groups (for example, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II).

We hope that our media and our educators, as well as federal and local leaders, will urge people to show restraint as well as respect for our diversity so that we do not create new victims in our understandable need to vent our fury and bewilderment..

We cannot accept that the US government prepares war, eluding its own responsibility after so many provocations against Arabic and other people of the world. This is a manipulation of the sufferings of the US victims. This will only provoke a lot of sufferings for innocent victims in the Third World and also increase the risk of terrorist attacks in our countries. Washington did already bombard 23 countries and after a certain time it was discovered its media had lied to justify it.

Amritjit Singh, Zubeda Jalalzai & Dan Moos contributed above lines from Department of English, Rhode Island College.