Sometimes I am Arab even though I am a Sikh

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“I don’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s an Arab.”

So said a McCain supporter at a recent rally. To such an ignorant, bigoted, racist comment, McCain could only reply:

“No, ma’am,” he said. “He’s a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.”

McCain did not say that Arabs are decent people, instead we are left to infer that “Arabs” and “decent, family man” are somehow antonyms. Barack Obama should not be let off the hook either as he is just as complicit. Earlier when his Democrat primary opponents were trying to smear him, he distanced himself from being Arab and Muslim (which of course he is not!), but did not stop that conversation and say Arabs and Muslims are just as American as anyone else.

James Zogby, the noted pollster, noted the same:

‘ We are disturbed by the degree to which ‘Arab’ has become the metaphorical mud to sling against your opponent. This week, for example the Republican Jewish Coalition released a document in which they use the term Pro-Arab as a pejorative accusation. For his part, Rush Limbaugh has joined in by declaring that Obama is in fact an Arab American. Then, on Friday, after a supporter called Senator Barak Obama “an Arab”, Senator John McCain came to the defense of of his political opponent by saying, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen…” From this we are left to infer that an Arab man is less then a “decent family man.”‘

“Enough is enough!”[link]

In many ways, it reminds me of the Sikhs’ approach post-9/11. There were many that immediately tried to disassociate themselves from Muslims and screamed, “We are not the enemy.“ Of course, implicit in this was the argument that “Muslims are the enemy.” Then later as cooler minds prevailed, in an amazing moment which I still take great pride, Sikhs left behind such divisive discourse and changed their call to “We are all Americans.

As the political discourse in this country continues its downward freefall, this comment by the McCain supporter made me recall a past experience that I had.

I am a proud Sikh. And if someone asks me about my religion, culture, ethnicity, etc., I have no problem to take the time to explain something about our Sikh qaum. However, I remember I was at a bus station, when a man came up to me and said, “Are you a f—ing dirty Ay-rab?” I said, “Yes I am, what the f— are you going to do?” Although I probably didn’t handle the situation in the best manner (and I hope I’ve grown up since then, but am never really sure), still even today I would make the same statement (although hopefully in a better manner).

So today, as I see the political discourse allowing for sinister Arabophobia and Muslimophobia, I stand in solidarity and say “Yes I am Arab….even though I am a Sikh.


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42 Responses to “Sometimes I am Arab even though I am a Sikh”

  1. baingandabhartha says:

    The average american unfortunately is uninformed and ignorant. Large numbers of well educated americans are also ignorant. However, its not just Americans, the whole freakin world is pretty d&*n ignorant.

    Whatever Obama may feel about Arabs/Indians/brown people in general, he is going to have to keep it inside so that he can get the swing vote. I think that if he were to vigorously defend that point (i.e Arabs muslims are decent human beings too) it may cost him the election. I think that Muslims understand that point even if it must irritate the hell out of them.

  2. baingandabhartha says:

    The average american unfortunately is uninformed and ignorant. Large numbers of well educated americans are also ignorant. However, its not just Americans, the whole freakin world is pretty d&*n ignorant.
    Whatever Obama may feel about Arabs/Indians/brown people in general, he is going to have to keep it inside so that he can get the swing vote. I think that if he were to vigorously defend that point (i.e Arabs muslims are decent human beings too) it may cost him the election. I think that Muslims understand that point even if it must irritate the hell out of them.

  3. Jodha says:

    BDB,

    I actually disagree. Most Muslims do not understand the point. They are not in a position, however, to counter. In fact, few things could have been as disappointing for many Arabs and Arab-Americans (as well as a host of other Americans) than to hear Obama's position at the AIPAC conference in June with regards to the Palestinians (little different in bellicosity than McCain).

    Sad state of affairs in the proposition you hold – that one must deny the humanity of fellow Americans to win an election. Change we need?

  4. Bikramjit Singh says:

    I think the lady is confusing the terms Arab and Muslim. This may be due to the fact that Muslim organisations whilst attempting to inflate the figures for number of Muslims in the USA count all Arabs as Muslims whereas the fact more than 70% are Christian Arabs who have for the most part fled religious persecution by Muslims in the middle east. Quite an irony!

  5. I think we must not accept being what we're not. We aint Arabs, not for once.We're Sikhs and must not accept any other tag. It might worsen things for us.

  6. Jodha says:

    BDB,

    I actually disagree. Most Muslims do not understand the point. They are not in a position, however, to counter. In fact, few things could have been as disappointing for many Arabs and Arab-Americans (as well as a host of other Americans) than to hear Obama’s position at the AIPAC conference in June with regards to the Palestinians (little different in bellicosity than McCain).

    Sad state of affairs in the proposition you hold – that one must deny the humanity of fellow Americans to win an election. Change we need?

  7. Bikramjit Singh says:

    I think the lady is confusing the terms Arab and Muslim. This may be due to the fact that Muslim organisations whilst attempting to inflate the figures for number of Muslims in the USA count all Arabs as Muslims whereas the fact more than 70% are Christian Arabs who have for the most part fled religious persecution by Muslims in the middle east. Quite an irony!

  8. Bikramjit Singh says:

    I think the lady is confusing the terms Arab and Muslim. This may be due to the fact that Muslim organisations whilst attempting to inflate the figures for number of Muslims in the USA count all Arabs as Muslims whereas the fact more than 70% are Christian Arabs who have for the most part fled religious persecution by Muslims in the middle east. Quite an irony!

  9. I think we must not accept being what we’re not. We aint Arabs, not for once.We’re Sikhs and must not accept any other tag. It might worsen things for us.

  10. baingandabhartha says:

    Jodha, you're right that its a sad state of affairs, but I am fairly cynical. The state of affairs has been bad for a long time although I have to say that overall it has improved significantly. When I look at Obama's candidacy and realize that such a large number of people want to vote for a black man with a 'muslim' name, it gives me hope that maybe just maybe, bigotry in this world is slowly diminishing. And that, I look forward to.

  11. Parminder Singh says:

    Arab denotes being from a particular region, arabs can be Christian, Muslim, or even Sikh. If the Sikh faith is Universal, as all sikhs like to say, then is an Arab Sikh not possible? How can a sikh say, I'm not an Arab, i'm a sikh, sikhs can't be arabs..?

    is sikhi a punjabi religion? is being a sikh, an ethnicity? is it limited to india only, india which was formed in 1947? There are afghani sikhs, right?

    the best one i hear is from indian sikhs, "I'm not Muslim, I am an indian!" ah, ok, there are like over 150 million Muslims in India compared to 20 million or so Sikhs, so that one always makes me laugh when aunties and uncles are interviewed by american media after a hate crime…but that's a whole other issue…blind indian patriotism…

    our faith is never going to grow as long as we treat it like some "indian" faith. it is not an "indian" faith. if we decide to actually read that 1430 page granth, known as the eternal guru of the sikhs, rather than worship it like some idol, we'd realize that sikhi truly is universal, so universal that even an Arab might come to become a Sikh, and would be known as an arabian sikh.

    as for the topic, yeah i also thought that being arab or muslim seemed like it was being used as a slur or somethig…very disturbing.

  12. baingandabhartha says:

    Jodha, you’re right that its a sad state of affairs, but I am fairly cynical. The state of affairs has been bad for a long time although I have to say that overall it has improved significantly. When I look at Obama’s candidacy and realize that such a large number of people want to vote for a black man with a ‘muslim’ name, it gives me hope that maybe just maybe, bigotry in this world is slowly diminishing. And that, I look forward to.

  13. baingandabhartha says:

    Jodha, you’re right that its a sad state of affairs, but I am fairly cynical. The state of affairs has been bad for a long time although I have to say that overall it has improved significantly. When I look at Obama’s candidacy and realize that such a large number of people want to vote for a black man with a ‘muslim’ name, it gives me hope that maybe just maybe, bigotry in this world is slowly diminishing. And that, I look forward to.

  14. Parminder Singh says:

    Arab denotes being from a particular region, arabs can be Christian, Muslim, or even Sikh. If the Sikh faith is Universal, as all sikhs like to say, then is an Arab Sikh not possible? How can a sikh say, I’m not an Arab, i’m a sikh, sikhs can’t be arabs..?

    is sikhi a punjabi religion? is being a sikh, an ethnicity? is it limited to india only, india which was formed in 1947? There are afghani sikhs, right?

    the best one i hear is from indian sikhs, “I’m not Muslim, I am an indian!” ah, ok, there are like over 150 million Muslims in India compared to 20 million or so Sikhs, so that one always makes me laugh when aunties and uncles are interviewed by american media after a hate crime…but that’s a whole other issue…blind indian patriotism…

    our faith is never going to grow as long as we treat it like some “indian” faith. it is not an “indian” faith. if we decide to actually read that 1430 page granth, known as the eternal guru of the sikhs, rather than worship it like some idol, we’d realize that sikhi truly is universal, so universal that even an Arab might come to become a Sikh, and would be known as an arabian sikh.

    as for the topic, yeah i also thought that being arab or muslim seemed like it was being used as a slur or somethig…very disturbing.

  15. Parminder Singh says:

    Arab denotes being from a particular region, arabs can be Christian, Muslim, or even Sikh. If the Sikh faith is Universal, as all sikhs like to say, then is an Arab Sikh not possible? How can a sikh say, I’m not an Arab, i’m a sikh, sikhs can’t be arabs..?

    is sikhi a punjabi religion? is being a sikh, an ethnicity? is it limited to india only, india which was formed in 1947? There are afghani sikhs, right?

    the best one i hear is from indian sikhs, “I’m not Muslim, I am an indian!” ah, ok, there are like over 150 million Muslims in India compared to 20 million or so Sikhs, so that one always makes me laugh when aunties and uncles are interviewed by american media after a hate crime…but that’s a whole other issue…blind indian patriotism…

    our faith is never going to grow as long as we treat it like some “indian” faith. it is not an “indian” faith. if we decide to actually read that 1430 page granth, known as the eternal guru of the sikhs, rather than worship it like some idol, we’d realize that sikhi truly is universal, so universal that even an Arab might come to become a Sikh, and would be known as an arabian sikh.

    as for the topic, yeah i also thought that being arab or muslim seemed like it was being used as a slur or somethig…very disturbing.

  16. Jodha says:

    Excellent point Parminder on the universality of Sikhi. I am completely in agreement with you and your argument.

    As you noted at the end of your comment, I was using the term 'Arab' for its contemporary political charge in the current political discourse in the US.

  17. Jodha says:

    Excellent point Parminder on the universality of Sikhi. I am completely in agreement with you and your argument.

    As you noted at the end of your comment, I was using the term ‘Arab’ for its contemporary political charge in the current political discourse in the US.

  18. Jodha says:

    Excellent point Parminder on the universality of Sikhi. I am completely in agreement with you and your argument.

    As you noted at the end of your comment, I was using the term ‘Arab’ for its contemporary political charge in the current political discourse in the US.

  19. Hind says:

    As an Arab and a Muslim, I must say it's lovely to read all your comments and thoughts and especially to note the tone of commonality you express. I have been lucky not to experience any anti-Muslim/Arab backlash myself since 9/11 or 7/7 despite living in the UK. I do personally believe that there's a lot more (overt) anti-Arab sentiment in America and it's the responsibility of all American citizens to root this out, just like in the UK the general tone is anti-Pakistani/Indian. I think all people of faith need to stick together in times like these.

  20. Hind says:

    As an Arab and a Muslim, I must say it’s lovely to read all your comments and thoughts and especially to note the tone of commonality you express. I have been lucky not to experience any anti-Muslim/Arab backlash myself since 9/11 or 7/7 despite living in the UK. I do personally believe that there’s a lot more (overt) anti-Arab sentiment in America and it’s the responsibility of all American citizens to root this out, just like in the UK the general tone is anti-Pakistani/Indian. I think all people of faith need to stick together in times like these.

  21. Hind says:

    As an Arab and a Muslim, I must say it’s lovely to read all your comments and thoughts and especially to note the tone of commonality you express. I have been lucky not to experience any anti-Muslim/Arab backlash myself since 9/11 or 7/7 despite living in the UK. I do personally believe that there’s a lot more (overt) anti-Arab sentiment in America and it’s the responsibility of all American citizens to root this out, just like in the UK the general tone is anti-Pakistani/Indian. I think all people of faith need to stick together in times like these.

  22. I know a few Sikhs of Arab descent, and also have at least one Arab Muslim friend.

    One Arab-American who I particularly like is Ralph Nader, I wish they would have let him into the debates, the other two wouldn't stand a chance.

  23. I know a few Sikhs of Arab descent, and also have at least one Arab Muslim friend.
    One Arab-American who I particularly like is Ralph Nader, I wish they would have let him into the debates, the other two wouldn’t stand a chance.

  24. I know a few Sikhs of Arab descent, and also have at least one Arab Muslim friend.
    One Arab-American who I particularly like is Ralph Nader, I wish they would have let him into the debates, the other two wouldn’t stand a chance.

  25. sonny says:

    couldn't agree with you more jodha. with islamaphobia and arab/muslim hating being such a central reason that sikhs are attacked and harassed the way we are in this country, we have to unite with our arab and muslim brothers and sisters to change this racist state of affairs. and we have to look at the context: if iraqi and afgani lives are dispensable to the U.S. government, of course anyone perceived as such (which obviously includes us) who lives here are going to be seen as somehow associated with "the enemy," not as "decent family men" (and women) by the average american. anti-muslim and anti-arab sentiment is only on the rise. perhaps some folks heard about this horrible anti-muslim propaganda film called "Obsession" of which 28 million free copies were mailed all over the U.S., especially targeting swing states. check out this website that exposes the film and search it on you tube to see clips. it's horrific. http://obsessionwithhate.com/

  26. sonny says:

    couldn’t agree with you more jodha. with islamaphobia and arab/muslim hating being such a central reason that sikhs are attacked and harassed the way we are in this country, we have to unite with our arab and muslim brothers and sisters to change this racist state of affairs. and we have to look at the context: if iraqi and afgani lives are dispensable to the U.S. government, of course anyone perceived as such (which obviously includes us) who lives here are going to be seen as somehow associated with “the enemy,” not as “decent family men” (and women) by the average american. anti-muslim and anti-arab sentiment is only on the rise. perhaps some folks heard about this horrible anti-muslim propaganda film called “Obsession” of which 28 million free copies were mailed all over the U.S., especially targeting swing states. check out this website that exposes the film and search it on you tube to see clips. it’s horrific. http://obsessionwithhate.com/

  27. Reema says:

    Colin Powell endorses Obama on Meet the Press and addresses the negative portrayal of Muslims by the McCain campaign:

    I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

    I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way…

  28. P.Singh says:

    Great excerpt Reema.

  29. Reema says:

    Colin Powell endorses Obama on Meet the Press and addresses the negative portrayal of Muslims by the McCain campaign:

    I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

    I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way…

  30. P.Singh says:

    Great excerpt Reema.

  31. DoUntoOthers says:

    "I stand in solidarity and say “Yes I am Arab….even though I am a Sikh.“"

    So you stand in solidarity like the other slaves stood up for Spartacus. Just remember that your solidarity runs in one directions. The Arabs feel none such empathy for you as a Sikh in their own country and treat you worse than dirt. I don't see your Arab or Muslim friends protesting the persecution of Sikhs in front of the Saudi or Afghan embassies.

    http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060822/punjab1

    http://www.sikhreview.org/december2001/terror.htm

    A term from the days of Soviet sympathizers comes to mind "useful idiot"

  32. Jodha says:

    DUO,

    I stand before my Guru, not before reciprocity or expediency.

    That being said, I appreciate the links and was unaware of the situation in Saudi Arabia. Still, it does not change my position or I'm sure your epithet against me. I hope I will always stand for what I believe is right.

  33. DoUntoOthers says:

    “I stand in solidarity and say Yes I am Arab.even though I am a Sikh.”

    So you stand in solidarity like the other slaves stood up for Spartacus. Just remember that your solidarity runs in one directions. The Arabs feel none such empathy for you as a Sikh in their own country and treat you worse than dirt. I don’t see your Arab or Muslim friends protesting the persecution of Sikhs in front of the Saudi or Afghan embassies.

    http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20060822/punjab1.htm#6

    http://www.sikhreview.org/december2001/terror.htm

    A term from the days of Soviet sympathizers comes to mind “useful idiot”

  34. Jodha says:

    DUO,

    I stand before my Guru, not before reciprocity or expediency.

    That being said, I appreciate the links and was unaware of the situation in Saudi Arabia. Still, it does not change my position or I’m sure your epithet against me. I hope I will always stand for what I believe is right.

  35. […] aspect of the 2008 Election is reminiscent of the Sikh community’s response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In the […]

  36. […] Unfortunately such occurrences are not isolated incidents and continue to occur. Such racial profiling should be condemned by all. Sikhs should be vigilant against such practices, when it occurs to them, or when it occurs against others. […]

  37. Avi Keller says:

    It's odd for me, coming across this blog and this story, both of which I had never seen before- all in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. Jodha, what you said in this post applies across all races, religions, and creeds. We are all Americans.

    I was driving across the country and was in West Virginia purchasing soda at a gas station on my credit card, so the attendant asked me to sign the receipt. I am a Jewish American, but I prefer to align myself with humanity rather than by political or religious lines. My signature is a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic. I signed the slip and the attendant looked at me, amazed, and asked "Did you just write your name backwards?" [since Semitic scripts are written right-to-left]

    I stood there for a minute as we struck up a short conversation. "No, it's Arabic. And Hebrew," and she curiously questioned what my native language was, how hard it was to learn, etc. As I walked out of that gas station, regardless of being Israeli or Arab, or Jewish or Muslim, Middle Eastern or White… she and I were both humans- both Americans- which is all that mattered.

    Throughout my travels, I have met some of the most unbiased folks in what I had figured to be the most bigoted areas of America. I have learned to- and if America as a whole could also- stand in solidarity, regardless of religion… it makes life a whole lot nicer.

    Thank you for your post.

  38. Avi Keller says:

    It’s odd for me, coming across this blog and this story, both of which I had never seen before- all in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. Jodha, what you said in this post applies across all races, religions, and creeds. We are all Americans.

    I was driving across the country and was in West Virginia purchasing soda at a gas station on my credit card, so the attendant asked me to sign the receipt. I am a Jewish American, but I prefer to align myself with humanity rather than by political or religious lines. My signature is a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic. I signed the slip and the attendant looked at me, amazed, and asked “Did you just write your name backwards?” [since Semitic scripts are written right-to-left]

    I stood there for a minute as we struck up a short conversation. “No, it’s Arabic. And Hebrew,” and she curiously questioned what my native language was, how hard it was to learn, etc. As I walked out of that gas station, regardless of being Israeli or Arab, or Jewish or Muslim, Middle Eastern or White… she and I were both humans- both Americans- which is all that mattered.

    Throughout my travels, I have met some of the most unbiased folks in what I had figured to be the most bigoted areas of America. I have learned to- and if America as a whole could also- stand in solidarity, regardless of religion… it makes life a whole lot nicer.

    Thank you for your post.

  39. […] elections, I wrote repeatedly about why Americans of all stripes, but especially Sikhs must stand together against the Muslimophobia (wrongly called Islamophobia) that was entering American political […]