A Tool in the War on Terror

doublespeak.jpgIt isn’t new in our community. A colonial official promises us money, land, and riches. Hundreds of thousands of Sikh javaans found themselves in the deserts of Iraq, the jungles of Burma, or even in the mountainous regions of France during WWI and WII seeking greater opportunities. One need not blame the individuals, but is there a space for a structural conversation in our community about our role in the world of global capital and neo-imperialism?

Poverty and the need to survive may indeed be motivating factors. But do we run the risk of being dispensable pawns in a Great Game? My fellow langa(w)riter, Brooklynwala and even JasdeepSingh in the comments section, bravely wrote about this larger issue in criticizing the core in the “right to serve”campaign. The criticism for those that may not remember is not that Sikh don’t have a ‘right to serve’, the bigger question is what exactly are we serving?

A reminder of this question became apparent in a news article I came across over the weekend.

Before beginning there, I’d want to remind our readers of my thesis of the government-sponsored Muslimophobia, we see all around us. I have written about it more than a few times – here, here, hereand here. Last week, news broke revealing how dire it is becoming. Recently the NYPD has come under fire, after a secret memo was exposed that showed their intelligence was calling for surveillance of Shia Muslim Mosques, on the SOLE basis of religion. All Sikhs should be paying attention as we see the further erosion of our civil rights in this farce, calle d the Global War on Terror. For those that will turn a blind eye and would rather dismiss the matter, either due to their own Islamophobia or due to their feeling that it doesn’t affect ‘us,’ I’m reminded of the famous quote by the German pastor, Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I was Protestant.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

It is in this context of growing Muslimophobia, now targeted at Iranians, that the following article caught my eye. In Des Moines, Iowa (of all places!), Arvinder Singh, a 42-year old from a Sikh background, was approached by the FBI to spy on the Des Moines Muslim community. Pretending to be a recent convert, he was to gain access to members of the Muslim community.

Singh told CNN that the FBI told him, “‘You look Middle Eastern, and we need your help for the war against terror.'”

Singh says when he was first approached by agents, I was surprised. I said, Me? I have no idea about this And they said Well train you. Youll get used to it. Well make you go and do some work for us.

They wanted me to go investigate some people in the area, Singh told CNN in a jailhouse interview. See what theyre doing, who theyre meeting. Whos their family member, whos attending them, what they are talking about. That kind of work.

Singh had his own reason for taking up the job and the FBI took full advantage of the plight of an eager immigrant:

Singh says he obliged because he had been charged with selling or transferring precursor substances for an unlawful purpose back in March of 2002. Singh says he unwittingly sold more than the legal limit of Sudafed, often used in meth labs to create the illegal drug crystal meth. The charge was deferred but the Indian-born immigrant says he worried about getting his citizenship, something he desperately wanted. Singh says the FBI came to him with a simple tradeoff: Well help you get your citizenship if you help us get some terrorists.

Singh spoke to CNN in an exclusive on-camera interview from Hardin County Jail in Iowa, where hes been awaiting deportation. He says the promise to expunge his record of that felony was another promise left unfulfilled by the FBI: When he tried to apply for citizenship, he was arrested.

So Singh now stands to be deported, earning the ire of the Muslim community and discarded as a now useless tool by the FBI. Again, I go to the original question – who and what exactly do we wish to serve? I hope other Sikhs read this and remain vigilant so that we, who know only too well the plight of a community vilified, misconstrued, and demonized, should never be tools in the oppression of another. The actions of the FBI is in this case is absolutely repulsive and I hope Sikhs across the country join in protests with the Iowan Muslim community against such illegal operations.


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9 Responses to “A Tool in the War on Terror”

  1. brooklynwala says:

    thanks for bringing light to this critical issue and story jodha. the case of arvinder singh brings it together on so many levels for anyone who doesn't see islamophobia, domestic spying on muslims, or the war on terror as "sikh issues."

    i see a lot of uncritical trust in the US government from our community, in a way that we would NEVER trust the indian government. i feel for this man who trusted the FBI and agreed to spy on their behalf. i also feel for all those soldiers who are fighting unjust wars in the middle east who trust their military. when we dig deeper, a more grim reality than the "land of the free and home of the brave" is painfully exposed, whether in this case, bradley manning, photos from abu ghraib or guantanamo, the NYPD screening blantantly the anti-muslim film to its cadets, or the countless war crimes exposed in wikileaks documents.

  2. Hassan says:

    Arvinder Singh needed legal representation. That the FBI continues to prey upon immigrants in vulnerable positions is deplorable. In my own cases I've seen Muslims recruited to spy on other Muslims, and once an Arab Christian…but this is the first time I heard of them using a Sikh. They lied to him; he got played. I understand the FBI's need to obtain information, but planting spies is not the way to do it.

    Legally, it sounds like Arvinder's status in the US was doomed from the beginning; his conviction seems to be considered a "drug trafficking" crime and therefore an aggravated felony under the immigration law, which means his deportation is virtually automatic…(though I hope he has a lawyer who is fighting that designation, and try to reopen his conviction from 2002 since whoever let him plead to that charge did not do their job) Point being – why would the FBI try to stop his deportation or help him in any way, since there are hundreds of other people who can assume his duties?

    As a Muslim I've always hated that the backlash and suspicion our community faces spills over to other communities. I wholeheartedly agree that both our communities need to take a principled and united stand.

  3. knowTheEnemy says:

    Although I laugh at the suggestions that Sikhs should 'join hands with the muslims', I am seriously appalled at the way FBI has treated Arvinder Singh. How is FBI going to convince more people to spy against potential terrorists if they lose their credibility?

    Someone suggested at the CNN's comments section that Arvinder might me making up the story. But that cannot be true since the guy at mosque said he "saw Singh a couple of times at his mosque".

    I would like to point out that if you are American, then FBI is your institution. It becomes our duty to do whatever we can to make sure FBI do their job smartly. Terrorists are way far serious threat than someone who sold extra sudafed. I would call FBI's failure to fulfill their part of the deal in this case CRIMINAL, since it puts a question-mark on the credibility of FBI. We cannot afford to have non-credible institutions in power in our country. We as citizens of the US, need to contact FBI and demand that not only should they fulfill their promise to Arvinder Singh, but also apologize to him for making him go through hell even though he helped them identify terrorists for seven full years.

    As for Jodha's question "Who and what exactly do we wish to serve?, my answer is that my Dharm is to serve humanity. That humans should be free no matter how long they live. I want the politicians and defence forces (including FBI) of my country to work towards that goal, and I will do whatever needed to make sure they know this. I request that all Americans make effort towards this goal.

    • jodha says:

      He was a pawn "knowTheEnemy" and was played as pawn. I hope as per Hassan's suggestions that Arvinder Singh is able to find an able lawyer.

      Such tactics by the FBI are hardly new. The experiences of civil rights leaders and the culture of paranoia seen since the dawn of the bureau under Hoover have plagued this institution.

      I hope your Dharm really is to serve humanity; that is where we connect; I just hope your dharm is not Muslimophobia. Best wishes!

    • JSA says:

      How is the proposition to align with Muslims on this issue laughable? Members of our community seem to overestimate our collective ability to deploy resources to shape national dialogue. The reality is that the alternative to joining with CAIR, etc., is to attempt to "educate" the public about Sikhi's uniqueness from Islam. This is absurd in at least three ways:
      1) The unstated premise of such a narrow advocacy is to focus violence on another community, and specifically one that shares our experience in the post-9/11 xenophobic hysteria.
      2) Does the average racist care about who Sikhs are at all? We attribute these elements too much rationality; their actions are much more likely the result of some general anxiety that finds a pretense on which to act on supposed "outsiders."
      3) As mentioned above, we're not going to be able to manipulate public opinion in any meaningful way. The population of Sikhs in Canada is (IIRC) twice as large as that of Sikhs in the US, and their utmost efforts–those related to the 1984 Genocide Bill, and other issues–haven't even gotten them a serious seat at the table.

      Pragmatically, it makes sense to align with "Muslim" groups to promote a more general message of understanding (or at least tolerance). I won't go so far as to argue that we should allow out-group biases to freely manipulate our identities so that we are equivalent to Muslims (although it will happen anyway), but I think a measure of solidarity is clearly in order here.

      More significantly, however, if our Dharm obliges us to serve humanity, why would aligning with innocent victims of tribalistic hatred be laughable?

  4. [...] talk a lot about anti-Muslim bigotry here at The Langar Hall (as Jodha did on Monday), and it’s been at times disturbing to see comments on our posts reflecting the [...]

  5. [...] However, the FBI’s track record in the domestic War on Terror illuminates the sobering reality that things perhaps aren’t so different today than in the days of COINTELPRO. The target, in this case, has by and large been Muslims. The FBI has extensively spied on Muslims in their mosques and community centers in the last several years, sometimes even in the name of “community outreach.” In one documented case, the FBI even got a Sikh man to do their dirty work in a mosque in Iowa, as Jodha previously wrote about. [...]

  6. [...] However, the FBIs track record in the domestic War on Terror illuminates the sobering reality that things perhaps arent so different today than in the days of COINTELPRO. The target, in this case, has by and large been Muslims. The FBI has extensively spied on Muslims in their mosques and community centers in the last several years, sometimes even in the name of community outreach. In one documented case, the FBI even got a Sikh man to do their dirty work in a mosque in Iowa, as Jodha previously wrote about. [...]

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