Turban Warfare or Racist Warfare (courtesy of the NY Post)?

This past Sunday, violence erupted in an ongoing conflict between rival factions at the Gurdwara Baba Makhan Shah Lobana in Richmond Hill, Queens, the heart of New York’s Sikh community. Large kirpans as well as cricket bats and balls were used in the fighting. Dozens of community members and “leaders” were injured, and seven men were arrested.

Sunday was the escalation of an ongoing power struggle between leadership factions in the Richmond Hill Sikh community. There have been many violent incidents in the last several months at this Gurdwara (which itself was born out a violent conflict at the original Richmond Hill Gurdwara, the Sikh Cultural Society), resulting in a regular police presence there.

I don’t claim to understand the reasons behind the conflict at this Gurdwara, nor do I really care. This type of behavior is inexcusable and unjustifiable. And it is far too common in our community, and in particular, in our houses of worship. Much deeper discussions and interventions are needed about violence in our Gurdwaras than I will go into here.

That being said, as a follow up to Navdeep’s post about Sikhs and the Media yesterday, I want to focus on the news coverage of this incident in Richmond Hill. The New York Post* (one of NYC’s biggest newspapers with over 525,000 print copies sold daily) broke the story with this headline on Monday: Queens Turban Warfare: Sword-Wielding Sikhs attack praying rivals.

The article states:

A holy war erupted yesterday at a Sikh temple in Queens — where worshippers wielding swords and cricket bats interrupted a prayer session to attack their rivals in a vicious power struggle, police and witnesses said.

Using catch phrases like “Turban Warfare,” “Sword-Wielding Sikhs,” and “holy war,” the New York Post perpetuates every stereotype in the book about our community and more specifically, men who wear turbans. This article takes us right back to the drawing board with popular perceptions of Sikhs in the United States, in spite of all the important educational and advocacy work we, along with our Muslim, Arab, and South Asian brothers and sisters, have been doing to challenge bigotry since 9/11.

This kind of news coverage is perhaps even more shameful than the violent conflict at Gurdwara itself. No matter how horribly members of our community behave in incidents like these, it never justifies news coverage that perpetuates racist stereotypes. Phrases like “turban warfare” and “holy war” make the cause of this violence seem like something inherent in Sikhs, rather than what is likely the real cause of the violence– power and control.

Instead of journalism, we get sensationalized and provocative phrases that conjure up images of crazy-dangerous-brown-turbaned-bearded-religious zealots. No, this is not turban warfare. This is racist warfare through so-called reporting. This is unacceptable. This is outrageous.

What are we going to do about it?

To start, I would recommend we add our voices to the comments about the article and send emails to the reporter at perry.chiaramonte@nypost.com telling him what we think about this coverage. The article’s impact is already apparent in many of the readers’ comments:

“Isn’t it nice of these 3rd world savages to bring their wonderful culture over to America for us to enjoy. Multiculturalism has been a fantastic success.”

“Why are such people allowed into the country? Is this the South Asian version of the ‘Gangs of New York’? Doesn’t NYC and this country have enough violence without importing more from half-way around the world?”

Please add your ideas for action in the comments. Hopefully this matter will also be taken up by one or more of our Sikh civil rights organizations in the U.S. It’s clear that the issue here is much deeper than one tasteless article in the New York Post. Problematic, stereotypical representations of Sikhs in the media (here in North America AND in India), as Navdeep discussed in his piece yesterday, are not going anywhere. We have a lot of work to do.


*The New York Post is owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which also owns news outlets as reputable as the “fair and balanced” Fox News.

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63 Responses to “Turban Warfare or Racist Warfare (courtesy of the NY Post)?”

  1. Kharkoo says:

    The damage has already been done…can not be reversed.

  2. Jodha says:

    Completely understand your sentiment Brooklynwala about the tropes, cliches, and images they are trying to conjure. But I guess my problem is at this point I am still stuck at your earlier comment:

    This type of behavior is inexcusable and unjustifiable. And it is far too common in our community, and in particular, in our houses of worship. Much deeper discussions and interventions are needed about violence in our Gurdwaras than I will go into here.

    I think that is the conversation we should have first. I think for most Sikhs the first thing they are noticing is the video and the utter disregard that people in our own community can act in front of the Guru, the sangat, and to one another. I think you are misreading the pulse of the community – the community needs to reflect on what it means to each other, before misplacing those feelings on the media.

    I am not ready to have that media conversation yet, although I understand how you being in the 'belly of the beast' (NY right now at this moment) may have an opinion different than mine.

  3. Citizen Singh says:

    "This kind of news coverage is even more shameful than the violent conflict at Gurdwara itself."

    Do you have any evidence to back-up this statement? Or is this just rhetoric being ratcheted up further? You are no different from the NY Post journalists you seek to denigrate. You disappoint me.

  4. katedjay says:

    Hi, I'm chock about This kind of news coverage is even more shameful than the violent conflict at Gurdwara itself,
    you absolute right.
    Then now again start to teach how Sikhs people are good.
    Always must show, again and again, never stop. Because people forget so fast.
    My hearth is with you,
    God bless you, dear Sikh from the whole word. I like you.

  5. harinder says:

    I guess the boys in Gurudwara are learning the American way of doing things .
    A nation with rich history of wars


  6. brooklynwala says:

    I just noticed that the headline on the Post's website no longer reads "Turban Warfare" but instead: "Violent Clash in Queens Sikh Temple." All the other sensationalist phrases are still in the article, and they have added a short, disturbing video. Of course, half a million copies of the print edition had "Turban Warfare" as a headline…

  7. Suki says:

    Congrats Brooklywala on trying to change the topic of what happened in the gurdwara to blaming the media. You would fit right in with the leaders of the punjabi sikh community here in Vancouver.

    We had many fights here over the leadership of the gurdwara where the police have to be called. Over 200 young punjabi men most who parents are sikhs have lost there lives gang violence the last 15 years. Also a very high rate of domestic violence has led to death of several women. Yet instead of dealing with these issues, they spend 90% of the time blaming the media.

  8. […] while there are those who legitimately object to how the violence at the Gurdwara in Queens has been reported, this is a secondary […]

  9. Deep H says:

    I'm amazed at the responses to this article. Instead of discussing the reaction by the New York Post to this violent, wanton incident, some of you have decided to throw stones at the Brooklynwala. He's done a superb job in highlighting how the media degenerates us into barbarians, 3rd world savages, continues to perpetuate stereotypes that have negative consequences for our community and yet you all digress from this and go on some trivial tangent. Stop being such idiots.You're about as disgraceful as the idiots that walked into the gurdwara and attacking sangat.

  10. moorakh88 says:

    You can also argue that hate crimes against Sikhs are also overblown. Only handful have died after 9/11, while thousands in 1984 India.

    Any form of violence should be overblown as a preventive measure. Cause when people start blowing things up, that’s really overblown.

  11. Jodha says:

    You're about as disgraceful as the idiots that walked into the gurdwara and attacking sangat.

    Wow, talk about hyperbole

  12. G Kaur says:

    true, there were alternate ways to speak of the incident but the truth of the matter is that these men who call themselves "sikhs" were truly barbaric. as for the "turban warfare" line, its true. sikhs all over the world are recognized for the turbans that they wear. it's not being racist. it's stating a fact. if the men had any respect, whatsoever, for the turbans that they so proudly place on their heads, they wouldn't have done such a disgusting deed. going into their own place of worship, going in front of the guru granth sahib ji and doing all this. i mean, seriously. have some respect. they bring shame to the sikh community of new york. he men who were fighting with the chamtey and swords and cricket bats were wearing turbans, if not all then most. i don't see what the problem is in calling it turban warfare. in all true sense, it was. don't call the news reporters racist if the people of the religion don't have any shame to begin with. before pointing fingers at those reporting, point the fingers at ourselves to see what we're doing. nevermind stopping the terms that people use to describe sikhs, we're instigating them to use them further and put them in the most horrible light possible. it's plain disgusting.

  13. harpreetnyc says:

    Guru Pyaareyo,
    This incident & NY Post article should work as an Eye opener for all of us.
    What has happened to we Gursikhs ? We aren't left with an iota of shame nor fear of Waheguru Jee and Dhan Sree Guru Granth Saaheb Jee.
    * If we learn from this media 'highlight' and get our acts straight, sit down together to bring our house in order, I would thank this media coverage also.
    If we can't respect our Guru Saahab and can't work to maintain the sanctity of our Gurudwara Saahab, we are all just paper tigers no matter how long our posts are (including me).

  14. G Kaur says:

    agreed. theres no point to these management committees. take flushing gurdwara for example. they've been trying to renovate it since last year and this committee has made no progress whatsoever. they go up on stage and boast about the fact that so and so has contributed this much money and so and so has contributed that much money. really now? if u had that much money then why isn't anything done? there is absolutely no need for these committees because they are of no help. they don't work for the better of the community, so why not just remove them?

    may god help these people at the sikh day parade this saturday. hope everything goes smoothly.

  15. Jup says:

    We should be able to take up both the issue of any violence in our gurdwaras and the issue of media stereotyping of our community. One issue does not have to be at the expense of the other.

    As a community, we do not know how to engage in a civil discussion. In the majority of our gurdwaras, much needed congregational skills and Sikh values are not fostered. When was the last time the sangat in your gurdwara sat down to calmly discuss any meaningful issue? These days most Sikhs have become adept at building costly massive political arenas (which are deceptively termed gurdwara), instead of building strong, supportive sangats.

  16. @rsbagga says:

    As always, i'm thankful that TLH is such a wonderful place for us to share ideas. Frankly, I wish our real langar halls were so accommodating. Reading this story and watching the accompanying video made me nauseous – I can't even bear to watch these actions in the Guru's presence.

    I agree that the media stereotyping is a serious issue facing our community. But to be honest, this time we need to stop and look within. It isn't entirely their fault when we confirm their stereotypes. Frankly, this incident, and other similar ones over the last few years, expose a hard truth: we often recognize and discuss external threats to our community, but it is vital that we confront this very real internal one.

    These disputes are caused, in my experience, by the lethal cocktail of ego, greed, money, self-righteousness, and self-aggrandizement. These aren't new, and they will probably never go away. But too many members of the sangat do nothing but feed this. I don't know the way to resolve these disputes – what I do know is that we need a real approach. When these things happen (and they have happened in my presence at a gurdwara) it threatens my, and probably others, faiths from within.

  17. Jesse says:

    This article is more sensational than the one you're talking about. This crap is a weekly affair in Gurdwaras. Get over yourself and your false pride and be good Sikhs. Stop acting like cowards always begging to be seen as victims.

  18. Johal says:

    Stop whinning,Guru might be benevolent and belong to his sikhs,but gurdwaras belong to the managing commitees.It was true during the times of the gurus and it is true today.So instead of blaming the messenger try joining a commitee,grab some money from the golak and make hay while the sun shines.

  19. […] can imagine, New York City’s tabloids have had a field day with this story. Be sure to read the Langer Hall’s analysis of the coverage of the […]

  20. harinder says:

    let us do two thought experiments :–

    Thought Expt -1 :– Replace Sangat : Let us for a moment replace Sikhs wiht Buddhist /Hindus/Christians/Jews praying in Gurdwara .
    There would obviously be no violence
    Conlusion : Sikhs are highly androgenized/masclunised/violent race.

    Thought Expt -11 : Shift the Gurudwara : Let us move this Gurudwara under discussion to a country like Bhutan or Fiji.
    There would be again no violence
    Conclusion :— Since America is an EMPIRE.The properties of empire seeps into Gurudwara

    So SIKHS in USA are double prone to above like events.

    The Genotype and the enviornment are showing its results

  21. neena virk says:

    instead of urging community members to look within, you instigate us to go after the media person who wrote the story. ignoring the fact that, had there been no violence in the gurudwara, there would have been no coverage.
    we should be grateful that the reporter did not make a few phone calls and discover that this violent malaise afflicts our community all over north america or how, contrary to claims of equality, we practice a rigid caste system, evidenced by the fact that the queens gurudwara was a "labana" gurudwara.

  22. KSINGH says:

    I think everyone is missing the point…The point of the article is not what happened in the gurdwara, that is shameful and that is what Brooklynvala is saying. His point is that even though the event in the gurdwara was not justified, the potrayal in the media makes it worse, and we need to take notice of how the media is potraying us and what they know about Sikhs.

    He clearly states that he is not going to discuss the actions of those who went to the gurdwara but he wants to focus on how the media potrays us.

    If we want to focus the discussion on why we have issues/violence at the gurdwara, that is a separate discussion in itself….

  23. BIk says:

    Maybe if people like Brooklywala and his friends weren't posting rubbish in support of Palestinians and Muslims or whoever the latest victim group is and concentrating on taking part in the life of their local Gurdwaras and encouraging Sikh youth to do the same then we wouldn't be seeing such events. But after his bout of Panth Dokhi-ness he'll revert back to attacking Sikhism and encouraging the use of halal meat and doing siapa for the palestinians and others.

  24. billa says:

    "This kind of news coverage is perhaps even more shameful than the violent conflict at Gurdwara itself"


    And there lies the problem.

    There is little more shameful than violence inside a Gurudwara. And the violence gives others an excuse to stereotype.

    And yet you really privelige the expressions of a tabloid and some ignorant commenters over the original and most disgusting crime?

    Frankly, I am sick and tired of violence in Gurudwarey. I grew up seeing it here in England, its happened in Europe, it happens in the USA and Canada. More and more Sikhs born in the west lose respect for Sikh institutions when this happens, and nothing is done about it by the establishment. Time to get our own house in order. Enough is enough.

  25. KSINGH says:

    What is interesting to realize if you think about it for a second, it is not the Sikhs who grew up in the West who cause the fights, it is those who came from Punjab and India…

    Does that say something?

  26. moorakh88 says:

    Let’s not forget the attackers didn’t put a dollar in the golak. Hey, before you attack your fellow Sikhs, you put money where your sword is! —Is the level of respect we’re accustomed of giving to the Guru, just bowing before it, covering our head, and giving money?

    The gurdwara management may be the issue but the underlying cause is anger management. Just look at the past threads. Whenever we disagree, we hurl out words like “idiots,” “fools,” and blast each other in cap locks. God forbid we have different viewpoints or don’t come to the same conclusion at the same time in our journey. It’s all about bulldozing the other. The last time I checked, there has only been one way to respect the Guru, control your vices, control your inner demons. Why are we so surprised about what happened in Richmond Hill? I wouldn’t worry about the media coverage. Just be glad it didn’t happen in France. Protesting against the turban ban would have been more difficult.

    Can’t wait for the Sikh Day Parade. Now where did I put my cricket bat?

  27. pertinderjit hora says:

    I would like to begin by thanking Brooklynwala once again for bringing to our attention how the media does not miss an opportunity to stereotype us and speak of us in a derogatory manner. The intent of the writer from NY Post was not to fully inform the readers of the event or the circumstances surrounding the event but to further perpetuate racist beliefs and existing stereotypes. The point that many of the readers are misssing is that if the writer wanted he could have easily described the incident by respectfully mentioning it occurred in a gurudwara and for readers who would not have knowledge of Sikhs or their outward symbols, he could have provided a link or a brief explanation. In the way the article was framed it was manipulated and was intended to mock a community.

    This is not to say that the incident reported is not a pressing matter for our community. In fact it is a reason many are turned off from attending the gurudwara and find the experience of attending weekly service to be spiritually void. These issues do need to be addressed and we need to stop fooling ourselves that we are a people that really practice what has been taught to us by our gurus and face the fact most of us constantly engage in practices that are racist in nature and we do treat men and women differently and we have not really moved from the caste system.

    But. these internal problems need to be addressed internally and we have to stand one as a community because to the average caucasion there is no difference between a amritdhari, jat, paapey, etc. These are divisions we have made and when the media stereotypes and perpetuates these images of us as unruly we need to recognize their behavior and put pressure on them to correct b/c we all know the writer of that article would have thought twice if he was covering an incident that involved blacks, italians, greeks. He only felt he could do this because they expect most Indian groups to be subservient and not activists and make a big deal about these coverages.

    We all as Sikhs are affected by these types of media stereotyping and should thank writers like Brooklywala for being vigilant and sensitive enough to recognize these issues and bring it to our attention. There is a fine line between a healthy discussion and the kind of bashing that is occuring in this forum. There is room in our faith to accomodate different opinions and lines of thoughts.

  28. @al_beruni says:

    so why are people fighting with swords and cricket-bats in a gurdware (place of worship)? Isn't that the key question?

    This report itself is quite funny – of course, the NY Post is a sleazy tabloid rag – it will always sensationalize all its stories to the max.

    What I found really disconcerting was the complete absence of analysis for the reasons behind these fights or how to change that – with comments like – There have been many violent incidents in the last several months at this Gurdwara (which itself was born out a violent conflict at the original Richmond Hill Gurdwara, the Sikh Cultural Society), resulting in a regular police presence there.

    But there is no need to work out why high-levels of violence take place over so many years? Only the need to lash out at the NY Post. and other "paper tigers"?

  29. Jazz says:

    typical sikhs im not surprised at all. they are male-chauvenist macho hot tempered arseholes.

  30. Tajinder says:

    This NY sangat needs to look at El Sabranta Gurudwara in CA Bay area. They had multiple situations of physical fighting in the past which ended in a gun man walking in and opening fire. This was few years back. Not sure what they did but things are a lot more under control.

  31. harinder says:

    The topix usually being discussed in most Sikh sites include including Langar Hall can be categorized into three broad categories :–
    1)Muslims either for or against them .
    2)“5- K” and Western world accommodation
    3)1984 Sikhs and India
    The only topic not following in this category at langar Hall would include :–
    1)Japan in Crisis: What you can do and
    2)Class Tyranny in Wisconsin

    The statistics of participation/reply for different topic was as follows
    Median = 5 ,Mean = 12.94 with range of 0 to 92

    The topic with no replies included :–
    1)Mandeep Sethi’s Punjabi Gypsy Hip Hop Rebellion
    2)Sikhtoons book to be released

  32. harinder says:

    Amongst the hotly debated topic would included :– 1) Turban Warfare or Racist Warfare (courtesy of the NY Post)? = 54 replies 2) Anti Muslim Hate Comes to Orange County, California = 73 replies 3) The Divisive Taboo of Halal for Sikhs = 92 replies This shows that Muslims still occupy a sizeable part of our mind and Western comes a close second to it . Cant we add to the above list topics which excite all the mankind's mind and not just SIKH minds like 1) Evolution 2) Aliens 3) 11 dimensions of M theory 4) Space travel 5) Other civilizations 6) Time machines etc etc

  33. iSingh says:

    Thank you NY Post for the story. Maybe the only instance of News Corp gaining my respect.
    Thanks Brooklynwala for bringing it to our attention.

    Now can someone identify the thugs in the video please ?

  34. […] to Vishavjit on this accomplishment.  As misconceptions and stereotypes about Sikhs continue to persist in the mainstream media and general public, I hope […]

  35. guest says:

    when i was growing up entering a gurdwara brandishing a weapon and attacking the sangat in front of guru granth sahib was unthinkable; it was beyond any possibility. now it seems to have become a commonplace routine among some groups. what has happened?

    i think the new york post's coverage wasn't comprehensive enough. they should have published mug shots of each of these perpetrators with their full names right on the front page. that's what newspapers are supposed to be for, for holding people publicly accountable for their actions. instead, these thugs are wandering around free, probably planning out their next "attack", without any responsibility, accountability, or recrimination what-so-ever.

    when i was growing up (in a major u.s. city with a large minority population), the mantra was that you need to work three times as hard to get to the same position as a member of the majority. three times as hard. and you have to realize that as a minority, you represent much more than yourself. your actions in public are scrutinized much more carefully than anyone else's. that's just a fact of life for minorities anywhere, anytime. that's what wearing the guru's saroop is supposed to be about.

    we seem to have completely lost our way.

  36. […] The Post, hardly known for objective, fact-based journalism (see my 2011 piece on “Turban Warfare“), also reported that 12 were killed in today’s explosions, while the police department […]

  37. […] Police Department. The Post, hardly known for objective, fact-based journalism (see my 2011 piece on “Turban Warfare”), also reported that 12 were killed in the explosions, while the police department was reporting […]

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