Obama and the Turban

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On his visit to India this week, President Obama did not visit the world's holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This in itself was hardly an issue -- the president was booked solid during his short visit. What upsets me is his reason for choosing to not visit Amritsar. The New York Times reported that "the plan appears to have foundered on the thorny question of how Mr. Obama would cover his head, as Sikh tradition requires, while visiting the temple."

The tenth guru of the Sikhs established a code for Sikhs where members of the pure brotherhood are required to wear a turban to cover their heads, giving them a unique identity. It seems the president was worried he would again be accused of being a Muslim.

I'm upset on behalf of followers of Sikhism. After 9/11, a number of Sikhs living in America faced hate crimes, including two incidents where Sikhs were mistaken for Arab terrorists and shot to death. A number of them reconsidered wearing turbans so they would not have to risk their lives and livelihoods to defend their faith.

I'm upset that Mr. Obama contradicted the rhetoric of equality that inspired so many of us to elect him. However, as much as I want him to stand up for what is right despite the political cost, I can well imagine how he would be presented as an anti-American Muslim.

I'm upset that we live in a country that is ignorant enough to continue suspecting Obama is Muslim despite his clear stance that he is a Christian.


I'm upset that being "not Muslim" has become an identity people feel the need to establish. It is a sorry state of affairs when all followers of a largely peaceful religion -- Islam -- have been categorized as a threat to us and to our country. And finally, I am upset that we have lost another opportunity to overcome this ignorance.

With a Perspective, I'm Ambri Pukhraj.