Rajbir did a solid job representing the Sikh community on Fox News today. Rajbir, please keep up the good work! See the video below. I’m flying tomorrow. I’ll give you a full report of what happens.
So the Sikh Coalition has started a petition on the recent change in TSA policies. You can find and sign it here:
I’m entry #1512:
All people should be treated with respect. Let’s say you have two people, both dressed like everyday Americans, one of them wearing a turban. Both pass the metal detector test. With the current policy, the person with the turban gets a pat down, and the other person just walks. What’s up with that? It’s patently unfair and singles out Sikhs, who make up something like 98% of all people wearing turbans in the United States.
I hope I’m just misunderstanding the new policy, because what I’ve written above sounds really unfair.
As you might have guessed, I’m a turban wearing Sikh and a frequent air traveler. After 9/11, Sikhs like myself were subjected to heightened scrutiny just because of the way we looked. Granted, none of the hijackers wore turbans, but the television images of Osama’s headdress stuck in everyone’s mind. Because of this profiling, Sikhs experienced the brunt of the so-called backlash and hate crimes following 9/11, and Sikhs like myself faced lots of stares everywhere, especially at the airport.
Security screeners were no exception to the profiling. In many cases, Sikhs missed flights because of unnecessarily harsh security screenings or were not allowed to board flights outright. Various Sikh organizations, including the Sikh Coalition and the Sikh American Legal Defense Fund quickly responded by working with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta in October 2001. The newly formed Transportation Security Administration came out with a set of guidelines for screening Sikhs that basically said, “pat-down the turban only if it doesn’t clear a metal detector check.”
I’m happy to report that, in the nearly six years since 9/11 I’ve been flying around America and the world I’ve never had serious problems or delays in airport security screenings, and I’ve never had my turban touched. I follow all the rules, always take off my belt and shoes, and coast right through all the time. I’ve honestly been impressed by the professionalism of the TSA after they became aware of Sikh beliefs.
Unfortunately, that’s about to change. Apparently, the TSA has quietly issued a new set of guidelines, that boils down to allowing pat-downs of turbans at the discretion of the TSA screener.
The turban to me, is a sacred article of my faith. I typically don’t let anyone touch it. Sure, the old policy made sense — if I trigger a metal-detecting wand, yeah, I guess the TSA has a good reason to pat-down my turban. But now it’s at the discretion of the screener? And what causes them to decide to pat-down my turban? Because I look suspicious? Have we just returned to the pre-9/11 days of ignorance–instead of the respect and professionalism we’ve seen since then?
Fortunately, two major Sikh organizations are on top of this issue. They’re working with the TSA and since they’ve already been in close contact with the TSA in the past, I’m confident that we’ll reach a reasonable resolution to this issue. For now, the Coalition and SALDEF have created some handy guides for Sikh air travelers like myself. I’ll be flying over Labor Day weekend, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Links:
Sikh Coalition Sikh Traveler’s Guide:
SALDEF Sikh Traveler’s Guide:
Celebrating the 300th Anniversary of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s guruship is no small matter. The Sikh Community in the United States has reached a level that warrants a grand-scale celebration. We need something big. Something real, real big. How about a National Kirtan Darbar and Convention? Here’s how it would work.
We need an event like this to really put the Khalsa on the map. It’s actually not very different from events we’ve already organized. There was the Khalsa March in Washington DC in 1999 which drew thousands, and there are the yearly festivities in Los Angeles that feature the Guru Granth Sahib being transported by helicopter. Vancouver has a two nagar kirtans that draw about 70,000 people each–so I think we should have no problem organizing an absolutely grand event in the States.
I say it’s grand, but we need to remember that other communities organize events like this all the time. You’ve seen many a packed concert hall on television—and many times these events are religious concerts organized by other faiths. There’s no reason we can’t do this—it’s just a matter of getting the sangat excited about the idea.
As a community we have reached a point where resources should no longer be a problem. It’s time to graduate from regional events and create a truly national celebration for the weekend of October 18 next year. What do you think?
WSC is looking for suggestions on how to celebrate the upcoming 300th anniversary of the Guru Granth Sahib. It’s really great that such a prominent Sikh organization is seeking feedback from the Sangat. That’s how all Sikh organizations should work. Thanks for asking, WSC. My response is forthcoming!