A Sikh-American, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, who’s a physician and Columbia university professor, was beaten by a gang of 15-20 people while they shouted “Osama” and “terrorist.”   The attack left Professor Singh with a fractured jaw.

While there are some important news stories about this attack, there are two points that deserve to be emphasized more clearly:

1)  Dr. Prabhjot Singh was not “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

This statement is one that often gets mentioned in times of violent attack and hate crimes.   No, Dr. Singh was in Harlem because that is his community.   He was in Harlem because he lives there, because he works there.  He is a physician who works in East Harlem.   His specialization is community-based health care delivery there.

Harlem is also Dr. Singh’s community, a point he emphasized:

“This is my community…I live in Harlem, I see patients here…It’s not the side of Harlem I’ve come to know and not how I’ve been embraced.”

The language of “wrong place at wrong time” also avoids the questions of people whose daily life and routines are in these community.

2)   We have to stop with the “mistaken identity” and “misdirect” hate crime  narrative.

Many of the stories have focused on the “mistaken” identity of this hate attack, highlighting how the attackers “mistook” the long beard and turban of Dr. Singh for being a Muslim, and called him “Osama” and “a terrorist.”

Given the similarity in the headgear that most Sikh men and some Muslim men wear, it is understandable how there might be a confusion about this.

However, the whole language of “mistaken” identity and “mis-directed” hate crime is also one that we have to put an end to.  There is no such thing as a “properly” directed hate crime for there to be a “misdirected” hate crime.

This language contains an assumption that the problem was that the hateful attacks mistook the Sikh man for a Muslim man, instead of stating what has to be stated clearly and unambiguously:  the problem is violence, the problem is hatred, the problem is xenophobia, against anyone, everyone, no matter their race, creed, color, sexual orientation, gender, and nationality.

And as Dr. Singh himself has stated, to only connect this to attack on Muslims is to miss out on the long legacy of attacks against the Sikh community.

I invite all readers to read the wise words of a leading Sikh-American activist/scholar Simran Jeet Singh on the intertwined linkages of anti-Sikhism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia.  






  1. .. I don’t see how this is nonsense. Someone calls you ‘Osama’ just becasue you are wearing a turban and beard, someone yells at you ‘Arab go home’ simply because you look brown and have a turban and then attacks you. That attacker doesn’t know the victim is neither Arab nor muslim, what else is it if not ‘MISTAKEN IDENTITY’? Someone clearly didn’t identify this person as a Sikh and didn’t know what a Sikh is. Isn’t this ‘mistaken identity’? Someone MISTAKES you to be connected to ‘bad people’ as personified in numerous popular american media depicting terrorists simply because that person MISTAKES a turban wearer to be so and so and also a bad person. If all of this isn’t MISTAKEN IDENTITY what else is it. (If this somehow suggests that had he been muslim he would have been a fair target? well, no one suggested that except your own mind. BUT THAT IS NO REASON TO DISTORT THE UGLY TRUTH ABOUT MISTAKEN IDENTITY)

    I am dead sure the person didn’t attack thinking – “alright then, so lets see… this turbaned man is a Sikh man who is an educated professor and doctor and born american who believes in freedom and equality of everyone, belongs to a community that focuses on hard work, family values, equality and freedom for women, equality and liberty for men and women of all faiths, nationalities and colour and his community has sacrificed tons of lives protecting basic human freedom and hey, he even worships at a place that is open to people of all faiths and serve free food to EVERYONE to mark brotherhood and acceptance of all mankind. oh, well, lets attack him anyway… ” You really think this happened? This is a case of ‘Mistaken Identity’ through and through.

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