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Manpreet Singh Dhanjal’s message was both obvious and urgent. “Let me state in clear terms that a turban does not signify terrorism,” Dhanjal said at a Sunday evening candlelight vigil. Dhanjal, a 2001 Villanova law school graduate and law clerk for the Superior Court in New Brunswick, N.J., organized the dusk-time gathering of local Sikh-Americans and community supporters to pray for the victims of the September 11 terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. Dhanjal and Villanova associate law professor Michelle J. Anderson spoke to more than 300 local Sikh-Americans ranging from infancy to the elderly. Most were waving American flags and sporting red, white and blue ribbons. A few held signs proclaiming “Sikhs Love America” and “Sikhs Support Bush.” Most men in the audience wore the turbans and thick beards that mark observant male Sikhs, and some women at the hour-long vigil at Philadelphia’s Dilworth Plaza wore traditional Indian saris. Their appearance — which bears a fleeting resemblance to television images of Taliban leaders and Islamic fundamentalists — has also marked the Sikh-American community for violence and harassment in the days following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion originating in 15th century India that follows the writings and teachings of the 10 Sikh Gurus. It is distinct from both Islam and Hinduism, said Dhanjal. Sikhism, among other things, preaches that people of different races, religions or sexes are all equal in the eyes of God. There are 18 million Sikhs worldwide and an estimated 500,000 in the United States. “Although we may be diverse in appearance, we are unified with all Americans in spirit and purpose,” Dhanjal told the audience. “We share the same anger, rage and pain that all Americans feel, and we denounce and condemn the unspeakable evil that descended on us all on Sept. 11, 2001.” ACTS OF VIOLENCE According to Dhanjal, since hijacked planes crashed the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, Sikhs across the country have suffered acts of violence and ethnic intimidation at the hands of fellow Americans: Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death in his Mesa, Ariz., gas station. The man arrested for the homicide told police that he was a patriot and a “damn American all the way.” Attar Singh Bhatia of Richmond Hills, N.Y., was hospitalized after he was battered with a nail-studded baseball bat. In Eugene, Ore., a Sikh man was attacked at a highway rest stop by a woman who tried to pull off his turban. A Sikh temple in suburban Cleveland was attacked with lit bottles of gasoline. Closer to home, two taxi drivers were assaulted in Philadelphia, several gas station attendants in Cherry Hill and Voorhees, N.J., were harassed, and a Bala Cynwyd, Pa., convenience store owner was threatened at gunpoint. Dhanjal said he has also been subject to verbal taunts, although he was not physically threatened. Dhanjal called on all Americans to heed President Bush’s call for tolerance. “We urge all Americans not to let the terrorists succeed in dividing our country through hatred,” he said. “We must show the world that we are one nation, under God, that is indivisible.” HATE CRIME In her remarks at the rally, Anderson cataloged other recent violence against Arab-Americans and members of the Islamic community in the United States, including two fatal stabbings, several beatings, attacks on mosques and harassment of schoolchildren. Anderson, who teaches criminal law at Villanova, focuses on hate crime and race- and gender-related violence and the law. “I recount these crimes not to strike terror in your heart, but to bear witness to the hate,” said Anderson. “Bigots make no distinction between people with brown skin. … We, who care about freedom, should make no distinction either. When someone from one community is killed or hurt … it is an assault on all our humanity.” Anderson said that hate crimes should be vigorously prosecuted under existing legal authorities, including Pennsylvania’s and New Jersey’s criminal laws against terrorist threats. Anderson noted that New York’s new anti-terrorism law deems acts of terrorism to be an aggravating circumstance for sentencing in first-degree murder cases. The law’s definition of terrorism was broadened to include acts intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population” would apply to those who target Sikhs or other ethnic groups, she said. Anderson also decried the “ignorance of some of our leaders” in using the September 11 attacks as a reason to support the discredited racial profiling by law enforcement agencies. On Sept. 17, as President George W. Bush called for ethnic and religious tolerance during a visit to the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. Rep. John Cooksey, R-La., told a Louisiana radio network that “If I see someone (who) comes in that’s got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over.” “It’s our job to defend freedom and liberty in the face of pressure to suspend it,” said Anderson. “The greatest threats to our constitutional freedoms come in times of crisis,” quoting Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s warning. Attending the rally were two of Dhanjal’s law school classmates: Eric Williams, a real estate associate at Saul Ewing, and his wife, Sheila Williams, a litigation attorney at German Gallagher. “These are times that try the community’s commitment to tolerance,” Eric Williams said. “As lawyers, we have an obligation to use our knowledge and skills to promote peace and tolerance among all Americans.”

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