A grassroots alliance of Sikhs has launched a new nationwide ad campaign in an effort to educate fellow Americans about their faith and decrease the incidence of hate crimes against their community.
Rajwant Singh, a dentist from suburban Washington and a volunteer organizer of the PR campaign, told the Associated Press that the ads explaining Sikhism — and introducing American Sikhs — were necessary.
“Our hope was that as the memory of 9/11 goes down, things would get better,” Singh said. “But they have not.”
It isn’t a campaign that was planned overnight or even in the past few months, but funded and organized by the grassroots over a period of years.
“We Are Sikhs is on a mission to educate our fellow citizens about the peaceful, progressive, and tolerant community of over half a million Sikhs who live in the United States,” says the alliance on their website. “This effort is led by everyday Sikh Americans who care deeply about our country and still believe in the American Dream. For us, this means raising our families, earning a living, and enjoying life among friends and neighbors of diverse social and religious backgrounds.”
“Unfortunately, the Sikh American community has experienced acts of violence, hate, and discrimination in recent years as some of our fellow countrymen view us and the sacred symbols we wear with fear. But we haven’t lost hope. We believe that the antidote to intolerance is education.”
A 2014 study found that 60 percent of Americans admitted knowing nothing about Sikhism, and just 31 percent reported having seen or interacted with a Sikh person. While 20 percent in the survey thought a man in a turban is Muslim, 11 percent identified the headwear with Sikhs.
Two-thirds of Americans polled had highly favorable feelings toward Sikhs in the country.
The organizers of the campaign paid special tribute to the six Sikhs killed and four people injured, including a responding police officer, when a white supremacist opened fire at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek in 2012.
“This tragedy directly inspired this website and the We Are Sikhs project,” they acknowledged.
The $1.3 million ad campaign launched on April 14 — the start of the Sikh new year, Vaisakhi — and commercials have begun airing on CNN and Fox News.