Sikh professor attacked by teens in New York City: They called me ‘a terrorist’

By Scott Kaufman
Monday, September 23, 2013 11:42 EDT
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Prabhjot Singh, an assistant professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia who recently wrote about hate crimes in the New York Times, was attacked by a group of teens shouting anti-Muslim sentiments over the weekend. Singh — who is a Sikh, not a Muslim — told NBC 4 that “I heard ‘Get Osama’ and then ‘terrorists,’ and then the next thing I felt was someone moving past me, ripping at my beard and then hitting me in the chin.”

He tried to escape his attackers, but they surrounded him and forced him to the ground, where they continued to kick and punch him.

He was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital, where surgery was performed on his fractured jaw.

“There’s no doubt in my mind it was a bias-related event,” he told NBC 4.

Amardeep Singh, no relation, a professor of English at Lehigh University, talked to Raw Story about the precarious position of Sikhs in American culture. He also spoke about the problem with most reporting on stories like this one, which often implicitly take the position that the attack would have been justified had the target actually been Muslim:

Most Sikhs in the U.S. know that they are potentially subject to verbal abuse and hostility at virtually any time, though especially in large crowds. We also know that supposedly cosmopolitan cities like New York and San Francisco are actually not any better or worse than small towns when it comes to encountering mean-spirited people and thug-like behavior. What is admittedly a surprise is when that kind of name-calling turns into something else, as seems to be what happened here.

As always, with incidents of Muslim-bashing / Sikh-bashing, it seems important not to dwell on the fact that Sikhs are not Muslims. For one thing, the attackers may not care that much one way or the other. But more importantly, one doesn’t want to sanction hateful speech or violence against any vulnerable group based on “correct” identification.

Singh told Raw Story that Sikhs present “a very visible” target to racists who object to having what they consider as outsiders in their city. In the end, Singh said, “for those of us who may be targeted in such attacks, the particular motivation that drove the attack is less important than an overwhelming desire just to be able to walk down the street safely.”

Watch the NBC 4 interview with Prabhjot Singh below.


[Image via NBC 4 news report]

Scott Kaufman
Scott Kaufman
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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