We are all Sikhs
The story of King Christian X of Denmark is inspiring, even if it is more legend than fact. During World War II, Denmark’s Nazi occupiers issued an order that seemed routine to them: Jews would wear armbands with a yellow Star of David to differentiate them from other Danish citizens. In most occupied countries, it was the first step in what later became known as the “Final Solution,” a process that led inexorably to deportation and mass murder.
But Denmark was different. According to the legend, Denmark’s king told his people, “One Dane is the same as every other Dane,” and put on an armband himself. He was followed by many of his non-Jewish citizens, in a bold display of nonviolent resistance.
It is, alas, only a story. It seems the Nazis never issued such an order in Denmark. But it tells a particular sort of truth—and it marks the valiant efforts of the Danes to protect their Jewish neighbors from the onslaught of what became the Holocaust. The fact is that Danish Jews suffered one of the lowest rates of deportation and death during that terrible time, because their non-Jewish neighbors had hidden or helped so many people to escape.
We are, unfortunately, living in a time when increasing fear and hatred are directed at Muslims, and at anyone who is perceived to be Muslim. The recent shooting of two Sikh men in Elk Grove (one man was murdered, the other seriously injured) has been linked to this rising tide of Islamophobia. Local law enforcement is still investigating and actively seeking the shooters and hasn’t offered a motive for the shooting, but throughout the United States, Sikh men, who wear a distinctive turban as part of their religious practice, have been the victims of violence because they were mistaken for Muslims.
The turban has made Sikh Americans a target in the post-9/11 world; the rise in crimes attributed to misidentifying Sikhs as Muslims has been well-documented. And that’s in addition to the rise in hate crimes against Muslim Americans, which is also documented.
Whatever the eventual motive of this pointless attack on two well-loved local men turns out to be, the possibility that they were targeted because they wore turbans—and, by extension, looked “different” and “foreign”—must be considered.
It’s time to make clear that appearance, religious belief, clothing, color and nation of origin are not what identify an American. We all wear different jewelry and clothes, worship (or don’t worship) in diverse ways, follow various practices in our lives and are vital, important parts of this community.
So in the spirit of the legend of King Christian, we urge our readers to stand together, on April 13, in solidarity with members of a community who are being singled out for discrimination and violence. As Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg suggested last month, let us all wear turbans or the chunni head scarves of Sikh women on that day.
Let’s be clear: In Sacramento, we stand together. We are all Sikhs. We are all Muslims. We are all Jews, Christians, Buddhists, pagans, Baha’i and atheist. If one of us is targeted, we will all respond.
Because, ultimately, we are all Sacramentans.