As police investigate an attack on a Sikh man in California as a hate crime, a media report said violence and intimidation against Sikhs in the US has intensified since 9/11 terror attacks.
In the latest of a string of incidents targeting US Sikhs, Amrik Singh Bal, a 68-year-old Sikh resident in the Fresno area of California, was attacked by two white males in their 20s before dawn on Saturday morning while he was waiting for a ride to work.
The Sikhs are frequently conflated with Muslims and often wind up absorbing the backlash against Islamist extremists, the Washington Post reported.
There’s nothing new about Sikhs being the targets of violence and intimidation in the US, the influential daily said citing Simran Jeet Singh, a senior religion fellow at the Sikh Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group.
They have been at the receiving end of xenophobic intolerance since they began arriving in the Pacific northwest to fill logging jobs in the early 20th century, Singh said.
"Pretty immediately after our arrival in this country, we became targets of xenophobia," Singh was quoted as saying.
"Hate violence has ebbed and flowed throughout our history in America, but being targets of racism is nothing new. It’s part of our history here."
Intimidation against Sikhs intensified in the months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "when a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment washed over the country, leading some to confuse the long beards and turbans worn by many Sikh men as a representation of Islam," the Post said.
According to the Sikh Coalition, there were more than 300 cases of violence and discrimination against US Sikhs in the first month after the 2001 attacks.
With the US again grappling with fears of terrorism after recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Sikhs say their community is again bearing the brunt of those fears.
"Over the last few weeks, the level of intimidation is worse than it was after September 11th," Harsimran Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s legal director, told the Post.
"Then, people were angry at the terrorists and now they’re angry at Muslims, anyone who is seen as Muslim, or anyone who is perceived as being ‘other’."
"It’s not just a case of mistaken identity. It’s beyond that."
Although estimates vary because of a lack of census data, the coalition believes 500,000 to 750,000 Sikhs live in the US, with about half of that population residing in California.
The Sikh Coalition’s Harsimran Kaur said the backlash against people who are perceived as being non-American has been exacerbated by anti-Islamic statements made by Republican presidential candidates such as Ben Carson and Donald Trump.