Standing Up for the Truth… and Against Other Sikhs

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Muslims and Arabs in America engaged in various efforts to respond to the post-9/11 backlash. narinder-200x300.jpgFor example, in the halls of Congress they advocated against discriminatory security measures and in the courts of law they pressed allegations of employment discrimination and airport profiling.

Muslim- and Arab-Americans also turned to another, perhaps less conventional forum: stand-up comedy clubs. For example, a comedy show, “Allah Made Me Funny,” was “an attempt by a group of American Muslim comics to counter the negative stereotypes and attitudes about Muslims and Arabs by poking fun at themselves, their communities and the prejudices they face.” [Link; see also here, here, and here.]

The latest edition of Newsweek contains an article by one Sikh, Narinder Singh, regarding his attempts to use comedy for the same purpose.

Singh writes:

I began doing stand-up to educate my fellow Americans about my religion. I wanted to show that Sikhs were not fanatical Muslims. I laced jokes with facts conveying that 99 percent of people with turbans in America were Sikhs, that Sikhism started in India 500 years ago and was now the fifth largest religion in the world. We believed in one God and equality for all, regardless of race, color, gender, religion and caste. [Link]

Though he entered the comedy arena to educate individuals about Sikhs, he encountered criticism from Sikhs themselves. Take this joke into consideration:

“A lot of people ask me why I wear a turban…. I tell them it’s because it contracepts my vices. But you know what, turbans are great contraceptives… I haven’t had sex in five years!” [Link]

To his credit, Singh personally responded to the critical Sikhs and also took their views to heart:

I e-mailed some of the overzealous Sikhs and told them that I was making fun of prejudice against those who wear turbans, not the turban itself, which seemed even more sacred now. After 9/11, many Sikhs had cut their hair and stopped wearing turbans. The menacing looks and discrimination were too much….

I realized that Sikh symbols, like the turban, were important, just as all religious symbols are. And a symbol can no more be destroyed by humor than a word’s meaning can be torn by a paper shredder. The only thing one had to worry about was mitigating one’s faith, the act of countering darkness with bare-knuckle punches….

Still, I completely understood my fellow Sikhs’ sensitivity and their fear of being marginalized further. [Link]

Humor is inherently subjective — some people will find certain jokes to be humorous, while others may find the same material to be offensive. Though the article is not clear, the upset Sikhs may have felt that Narinder Singh crossed the line with his jokes, or they may have felt that the Sikh turban is off-limits entirely.

What are your thoughts — can the turban and Sikh articles of faith be invoked in joke sometimes or not at all? Should Narinder Singh nonetheless be recognized for his attempts to curb ignorance of Sikhs, even if (some or all) of his jokes may have been less than tasteful? Offense aside, did he makes things “better” for Sikhs by suggesting that turbaned Sikhs may be funny, rather than targets for hate?


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20 Responses to “Standing Up for the Truth… and Against Other Sikhs”

  1. sizzle says:

    What are your thoughts — can the turban and Sikh articles of faith be invoked in joke sometimes or not at all? Should Narinder Singh nonetheless be recognized for his attempts to curb ignorance of Sikhs, even if (some or all) of his jokes may have been less than tasteful? Offense aside, did he makes things “better” for Sikhs by suggesting that turbaned Sikhs may be funny, rather than targets for hate?

    are we pandering to the utterly humorless now? the fanatics? if anyone answers "no" to any of those questions, they're a f*cking idiot.

    on a general stylistic front, why do so many posts on this site raise an interesting point, address it objectively as possible (in an incredibly dry manner), and then ask the most banal questions at the end in order to then inject opinion via comments? how about talking about a topic, expressing an opinion/slant and then, if others disagree, they can disagree via comments. that tends to be how most blogs operate, and depending on how well it's done, why some blogs are funner to read and follow than others.

    this post is a perfect example. why are we giving credibility to the fools who critize him? i suspect you lend them no such credibilty. and yet, you coddle their idiotic views via such a post. the sikhs who are criticizing him have no idea what PR is, no idea how to relate to masses, no idea how beneficial humor or mainstreaming oneself can be to an entire community, and likely – if protests in India over anything and everything and protests in England over a stupid play are any indication – no idea what individuality and individual freedom entails. rather, here, they take affront to a ridiculous percieved slight – a humorous interpretation that quite a few Sikhs can relate to. and you ask – should we lend them any credibility?

    have the balls to stand up and express an opinion, to pass judgement. if you're confident, be confident in being an intellectual elitist. it makes for a better read.

    also, on another general stylistic note – it's funny how half the writers here write Panjabi, as opposed to Punjabi, how it's written by 95% of, like, everyone. but Panjabi is really cool. like seriously. because it's different. and thus cool.

  2. sizzle says:

    What are your thoughts can the turban and Sikh articles of faith be invoked in joke sometimes or not at all? Should Narinder Singh nonetheless be recognized for his attempts to curb ignorance of Sikhs, even if (some or all) of his jokes may have been less than tasteful? Offense aside, did he makes things better for Sikhs by suggesting that turbaned Sikhs may be funny, rather than targets for hate?

    are we pandering to the utterly humorless now? the fanatics? if anyone answers “no” to any of those questions, they’re a f*cking idiot.

    on a general stylistic front, why do so many posts on this site raise an interesting point, address it objectively as possible (in an incredibly dry manner), and then ask the most banal questions at the end in order to then inject opinion via comments? how about talking about a topic, expressing an opinion/slant and then, if others disagree, they can disagree via comments. that tends to be how most blogs operate, and depending on how well it’s done, why some blogs are funner to read and follow than others.

    this post is a perfect example. why are we giving credibility to the fools who critize him? i suspect you lend them no such credibilty. and yet, you coddle their idiotic views via such a post. the sikhs who are criticizing him have no idea what PR is, no idea how to relate to masses, no idea how beneficial humor or mainstreaming oneself can be to an entire community, and likely – if protests in India over anything and everything and protests in England over a stupid play are any indication – no idea what individuality and individual freedom entails. rather, here, they take affront to a ridiculous percieved slight – a humorous interpretation that quite a few Sikhs can relate to. and you ask – should we lend them any credibility?

    have the balls to stand up and express an opinion, to pass judgement. if you’re confident, be confident in being an intellectual elitist. it makes for a better read.

    also, on another general stylistic note – it’s funny how half the writers here write Panjabi, as opposed to Punjabi, how it’s written by 95% of, like, everyone. but Panjabi is really cool. like seriously. because it’s different. and thus cool.

  3. saihaj says:

    What this comedian is doing should not in the least be seen as controversial. I don't think his jokes are offensive and if anything he's pushing boundaries for Sikhs.

    Sizzle, you sound like an ass (notice i didnt sat you ARE an ass) but that's beside the point. You're obviously one of those punjabis that likes to hate on other punjabis. In case you haven't noticed, that cliché is out of fashion. If you don't like the stylistic format of this blog, then go start your own. There are plenty of us who think this blog is just what we need.

  4. sizzle says:

    Hey Saihaj,

    wow guy – you almost hit me square on the head. First, I am a bit of an ass – a cynic, if you may. i'm opinionated and i'm blunt. but i also think about this type of stuff pretty constantly. sikh issues, PR, community outreach in every ways, politics, etc. have defined much of my life. i may be a self hating punjabi, as i don't really identify myself very strongly as punjabi, but see what happens if you call me a self hating Sikh to my face. i'll probably dismember you. verbally. i abhor violence.

    There are plenty of us who think this blog is just what we need.

    hey guy, your name is new. so you might have just discovered this blog. go back through the comments history, to all the way back when this blog was started last fall. make a note of who comments. you'll see i've added quite a bit to discussions and voiced my support for this blog on many occasions. i appreciate its existence tremendously – it is an excellent contribution to public discourse. that said, i have, via posts and in person to a founding contributor, suggested areas for improvement. sometimes i'm more diplomatic. today, i didn't feel like being subtle. i think that the manner in which half these posts are written – and there's a discernable pattern, almost a template – opens up the comments sections to 15 year old trolls or general fanatics who latch on to some idea thinking it has been legitimized. it also makes for an incredibly vanilla experience. a couple of publius's former posts were especially guilty of this, using a straw man of "other people are concerned" to justify writing about a non issue. here, publius legitimizes a viewpoint that is just asinine to anyone who has a brain has interacted in the real world for more than 10 minutes. i'm glad s/he wrote the post – i had no idea about the newsweek article. but, i suspect that Publius probably has an opinion about all the questions he posed. but rather than voicing that opinion, s/he asks – "HEY GUYS! SOME PEOPLE ARE PISSED(there's that straw man – who and how many of them. do we associate with any of them). WHAT DO YOU THINK – ARE THEY VALID? CAN WE EVER JOKE ABOUT OURSELVES AND OUR IDENTITIES? OR SHOULD WE BE TOTAL HERMITS AND HUMORLESS LOSERS?" how bout you answer the questions?

    the contributors of this blog often write about great issues because they, more than most others, are on top of them and likely have an opinion. but rather than exercising the influence they may have and voicing any opinion, they often try to act as moderators. the problem is when you raise an issue and wait for the commenters to define the discussion. go back and read comments – how many are just dumb? how many lack perspective? how many have no clue wtf they're talking about? rather, if you voice an opinion that is well thought out, you will elicit people who want to rebut that opinion in a more articulate manner if they disagree. suddenly, you've created discourse rather than waiting for others to create discourse. suddenly, you've engaged the audience! but most importantly, you haven't legitimized the f*cking idiots who criticize this guy by posing questions to permit "the average folk" to define the conversation, all the while causing people who might care and form opinions on their own (like me!) to just think – "oh, another vapid post. meh, what's there to even talk about? might as well just posted the link."

    i say all this at the risk of sounding like some sort of elitist. and i really couldn't care less how i sound, because for the most part, much of what i'm saying is true, and there's no other way to offer constructive criticism without analyzing how a blog works, what makes a blog appealing, the purpose of the blog, the blog audience, etc. etc. also, i'll point out that i disagree with many of the contributors on a fairly frequent basis. AND YET – i'd much prefer to hear their unadulterated OPINIONS, not white washed by some perceived role as a moderator – their Opinions. that way, when i disagree, a discussion takes place…not some sort of psychoanalyisis of "other people who may or may not hold these opinions."

    am i sounding like an ass again? that's alright. i can live with that.

  5. saihaj says:

    What this comedian is doing should not in the least be seen as controversial. I don’t think his jokes are offensive and if anything he’s pushing boundaries for Sikhs.

    Sizzle, you sound like an ass (notice i didnt sat you ARE an ass) but that’s beside the point. You’re obviously one of those punjabis that likes to hate on other punjabis. In case you haven’t noticed, that clich is out of fashion. If you don’t like the stylistic format of this blog, then go start your own. There are plenty of us who think this blog is just what we need.

  6. sizzle says:

    Hey Saihaj,

    wow guy – you almost hit me square on the head. First, I am a bit of an ass – a cynic, if you may. i’m opinionated and i’m blunt. but i also think about this type of stuff pretty constantly. sikh issues, PR, community outreach in every ways, politics, etc. have defined much of my life. i may be a self hating punjabi, as i don’t really identify myself very strongly as punjabi, but see what happens if you call me a self hating Sikh to my face. i’ll probably dismember you. verbally. i abhor violence.

    There are plenty of us who think this blog is just what we need.

    hey guy, your name is new. so you might have just discovered this blog. go back through the comments history, to all the way back when this blog was started last fall. make a note of who comments. you’ll see i’ve added quite a bit to discussions and voiced my support for this blog on many occasions. i appreciate its existence tremendously – it is an excellent contribution to public discourse. that said, i have, via posts and in person to a founding contributor, suggested areas for improvement. sometimes i’m more diplomatic. today, i didn’t feel like being subtle. i think that the manner in which half these posts are written – and there’s a discernable pattern, almost a template – opens up the comments sections to 15 year old trolls or general fanatics who latch on to some idea thinking it has been legitimized. it also makes for an incredibly vanilla experience. a couple of publius’s former posts were especially guilty of this, using a straw man of “other people are concerned” to justify writing about a non issue. here, publius legitimizes a viewpoint that is just asinine to anyone who has a brain has interacted in the real world for more than 10 minutes. i’m glad s/he wrote the post – i had no idea about the newsweek article. but, i suspect that Publius probably has an opinion about all the questions he posed. but rather than voicing that opinion, s/he asks – “HEY GUYS! SOME PEOPLE ARE PISSED(there’s that straw man – who and how many of them. do we associate with any of them). WHAT DO YOU THINK – ARE THEY VALID? CAN WE EVER JOKE ABOUT OURSELVES AND OUR IDENTITIES? OR SHOULD WE BE TOTAL HERMITS AND HUMORLESS LOSERS?” how bout you answer the questions?

    the contributors of this blog often write about great issues because they, more than most others, are on top of them and likely have an opinion. but rather than exercising the influence they may have and voicing any opinion, they often try to act as moderators. the problem is when you raise an issue and wait for the commenters to define the discussion. go back and read comments – how many are just dumb? how many lack perspective? how many have no clue wtf they’re talking about? rather, if you voice an opinion that is well thought out, you will elicit people who want to rebut that opinion in a more articulate manner if they disagree. suddenly, you’ve created discourse rather than waiting for others to create discourse. suddenly, you’ve engaged the audience! but most importantly, you haven’t legitimized the f*cking idiots who criticize this guy by posing questions to permit “the average folk” to define the conversation, all the while causing people who might care and form opinions on their own (like me!) to just think – “oh, another vapid post. meh, what’s there to even talk about? might as well just posted the link.”

    i say all this at the risk of sounding like some sort of elitist. and i really couldn’t care less how i sound, because for the most part, much of what i’m saying is true, and there’s no other way to offer constructive criticism without analyzing how a blog works, what makes a blog appealing, the purpose of the blog, the blog audience, etc. etc. also, i’ll point out that i disagree with many of the contributors on a fairly frequent basis. AND YET – i’d much prefer to hear their unadulterated OPINIONS, not white washed by some perceived role as a moderator – their Opinions. that way, when i disagree, a discussion takes place…not some sort of psychoanalyisis of “other people who may or may not hold these opinions.”

    am i sounding like an ass again? that’s alright. i can live with that.

  7. Sukhvir says:

    Now why is this blog inundated by slander? Sizzle whom are you to attack quite voraciously with your so-called lexicon? Whom can you contribute? And who is dumb, a cretin? Articulate your ideas or baneful opinions into a more polite vista! Why attack others, furthermore engender controversy! You very quite avver that you could have, nevertheless carry on with mailgnment. Now tell was the post of yours was primarily dictated to power yourelf and make other prostrate unto your ego?

  8. sizzle says:

    wow Sukhvir – your ability to use a thesaurus is impressive. now pick up a dictionary and look up "inundated," "slander," "whom," "vista," "avver" [sic] and "mailgnment" [sic] so that you use them properly, grammatically and contextually. or better yet, use words that you know how to use, connotation and all, so you don't sound……retarded. if using unnecessarily lofty words was some sort of attempt at humor – pretty feeble, guy.

  9. saihaj says:

    I don't know if I even want to encourage the direction this conversation is going (my apologies to Publius). Sizzle, I may be new to this blog in terms of leaving comments but I'm not new in terms of being a reader so that's a moot point. Anyway, the point is that this blog is pretty new and I actually appreciate that the bloggers aren't the typical type of blogger who simply likes to hear the sound of his/her voice. The problem with discourse in the Sikh community is that one person or a group of people will loudly announce their position on an issue, instill fear so that others don't feel comfortable contradicting it and then ask for someone to disagree with them. In case you haven't noticed, that doesn't work and people are less likely to participate in the dialogue. There are plenty of blogs that do that and as a reader, I don't feel comfortable participating in that type of attacking and fighting to which you speak. I'm not saying you don't raise some valid points. It's just not constructive and I'm just tired of these types of issues that continue to be raised by one or two people on Sikh sites.

    Such a downer.

  10. GSingh says:

    Quite a colourful perspective put forth sizzle!

    Majority of the blogs posted,do not follow the writing decorum you suggest in relation to 'good' blogs which is entirely subjective to the reader, nonetheless who says there's a written intention or purpose behind these blogs. I disagree with your idea that there has to be a certain way this blog should be molded to validate its blog subscription. That's entirely in the discretion of the writers as to what end they post their respective blogs.

    I enjoy the blogs and their straw person arguments haha.. whether they're legitimate or not is relative to based on your own understanding. This blog is one of the most progressive Sikh blogs online, I commend the writers for their effort. To that motion, I'd love to see you join the team.

  11. Sukhvir says:

    Now why is this blog inundated by slander? Sizzle whom are you to attack quite voraciously with your so-called lexicon? Whom can you contribute? And who is dumb, a cretin? Articulate your ideas or baneful opinions into a more polite vista! Why attack others, furthermore engender controversy! You very quite avver that you could have, nevertheless carry on with mailgnment. Now tell was the post of yours was primarily dictated to power yourelf and make other prostrate unto your ego?

  12. sizzle says:

    wow Sukhvir – your ability to use a thesaurus is impressive. now pick up a dictionary and look up “inundated,” “slander,” “whom,” “vista,” “avver” [sic] and “mailgnment” [sic] so that you use them properly, grammatically and contextually. or better yet, use words that you know how to use, connotation and all, so you don’t sound……retarded. if using unnecessarily lofty words was some sort of attempt at humor – pretty feeble, guy.

  13. saihaj says:

    I don’t know if I even want to encourage the direction this conversation is going (my apologies to Publius). Sizzle, I may be new to this blog in terms of leaving comments but I’m not new in terms of being a reader so that’s a moot point. Anyway, the point is that this blog is pretty new and I actually appreciate that the bloggers aren’t the typical type of blogger who simply likes to hear the sound of his/her voice. The problem with discourse in the Sikh community is that one person or a group of people will loudly announce their position on an issue, instill fear so that others don’t feel comfortable contradicting it and then ask for someone to disagree with them. In case you haven’t noticed, that doesn’t work and people are less likely to participate in the dialogue. There are plenty of blogs that do that and as a reader, I don’t feel comfortable participating in that type of attacking and fighting to which you speak. I’m not saying you don’t raise some valid points. It’s just not constructive and I’m just tired of these types of issues that continue to be raised by one or two people on Sikh sites.

    Such a downer.

  14. GSingh says:

    Quite a colourful perspective put forth sizzle!
    Majority of the blogs posted,do not follow the writing decorum you suggest in relation to ‘good’ blogs which is entirely subjective to the reader, nonetheless who says there’s a written intention or purpose behind these blogs. I disagree with your idea that there has to be a certain way this blog should be molded to validate its blog subscription. That’s entirely in the discretion of the writers as to what end they post their respective blogs.

    I enjoy the blogs and their straw person arguments haha.. whether they’re legitimate or not is relative to based on your own understanding. This blog is one of the most progressive Sikh blogs online, I commend the writers for their effort. To that motion, I’d love to see you join the team.

  15. Publius says:

    sizzle, with respect to your contention that I am "pandering to the utterly humorless now? the fanatics? if anyone answers 'no' to any of those questions, they’re a f*cking idiot." I personally do not know the nature or reasoning of the complaints put forth by Sikhs against Narinder Singh's comedy. There may be some purists who think the turban is completely off-limits in the context of comedy. There may be others who have been victimized by discrimination and are sensitive towards jokes related to the turban. I don't know. I do know, however, that there are Sikhs who have objected and, without details about the substance of those objections, I am not going to characterize them wholesale as "humorless," "fantatics," and surely not "idiots." My hope was that one of those who does not find turban-based humor to be appropriate would explain that view in the comments. So far, the only comments appear to be from those who are more flexible in regards of turban-related jokes. That doesn't mean those who haven't responded from the opposite end of the spectrum are somehow fringe Sikhs — fanatics or what have you.

    With respect to your stylistic points, as you are probably aware I joined this site relatively recently. In my brief experience thus far, my entries are generally of two sorts — introducing the reader to some (hopefully) interesting story or development, or making an argument based on something in the news or something I have been thinking about. This post was the former — introducing readers to a Sikh-related story in a major American magazine and hopefully extracting more meat as to why Sikhs objected to Narinder Singh's jokes — incidentally, these are objections that Narinder Singh himself took to heart, but unfortunately did not describe on in his piece. My previous post, on Sikhs and civics, was the latter – I made an argument.

    Blogs come in many shapes and forms, and there is no requirement that all posts be arguments. If that is your preference for my posts, then your preference has been noted. If you expect all posts on TLH to make an argument, then your expectations may be repeatedly upset if you continue to visit this blog. For others, our manner of presentation has been acceptable; we can't please all the people all of the time. And speaking for myself only, I'd be less inclined to please someone who does not write with civility.

    That said, I have tried in good faith to post entries that I think are of broader interest to the Sikh community. And I have tried in good faith to respond to your comments — despite my disappointment with your use of certain language and the tenor of your comments. It's evident that others share my disappointment in that regard. The merits of a post aside, I hope we can at least address each other with respect even if we disagree. I believe I have held up my end of that bargain and invite you to do the same in the future.

  16. Publius says:

    sizzle, with respect to your contention that I am “pandering to the utterly humorless now? the fanatics? if anyone answers ‘no’ to any of those questions, theyre a f*cking idiot.” I personally do not know the nature or reasoning of the complaints put forth by Sikhs against Narinder Singh’s comedy. There may be some purists who think the turban is completely off-limits in the context of comedy. There may be others who have been victimized by discrimination and are sensitive towards jokes related to the turban. I don’t know. I do know, however, that there are Sikhs who have objected and, without details about the substance of those objections, I am not going to characterize them wholesale as “humorless,” “fantatics,” and surely not “idiots.” My hope was that one of those who does not find turban-based humor to be appropriate would explain that view in the comments. So far, the only comments appear to be from those who are more flexible in regards of turban-related jokes. That doesn’t mean those who haven’t responded from the opposite end of the spectrum are somehow fringe Sikhs — fanatics or what have you.

    With respect to your stylistic points, as you are probably aware I joined this site relatively recently. In my brief experience thus far, my entries are generally of two sorts — introducing the reader to some (hopefully) interesting story or development, or making an argument based on something in the news or something I have been thinking about. This post was the former — introducing readers to a Sikh-related story in a major American magazine and hopefully extracting more meat as to why Sikhs objected to Narinder Singh’s jokes — incidentally, these are objections that Narinder Singh himself took to heart, but unfortunately did not describe on in his piece. My previous post, on Sikhs and civics, was the latter – I made an argument.

    Blogs come in many shapes and forms, and there is no requirement that all posts be arguments. If that is your preference for my posts, then your preference has been noted. If you expect all posts on TLH to make an argument, then your expectations may be repeatedly upset if you continue to visit this blog. For others, our manner of presentation has been acceptable; we can’t please all the people all of the time. And speaking for myself only, I’d be less inclined to please someone who does not write with civility.

    That said, I have tried in good faith to post entries that I think are of broader interest to the Sikh community. And I have tried in good faith to respond to your comments — despite my disappointment with your use of certain language and the tenor of your comments. It’s evident that others share my disappointment in that regard. The merits of a post aside, I hope we can at least address each other with respect even if we disagree. I believe I have held up my end of that bargain and invite you to do the same in the future.

  17. Harbeer says:

    Yawn. Sizzle is right.

  18. Harbeer says:

    Yawn. Sizzle is right.

  19. Sukhvir says:

    Its great that you could censure me, but I derive my resources via dictionary.com. And by the way you promptly ignored the reason why I posted the comment.

  20. Sukhvir says:

    Its great that you could censure me, but I derive my resources via dictionary.com. And by the way you promptly ignored the reason why I posted the comment.