San Francisco TSA Pats Down Sikh Turban

Simran Jeet Singh is a Ph.D candidate in religion at Columbia University and a writer for HuffPo religion. Earlier today, he was forced to let the TSA in San Francisco pat down his turban. He writes:

This afternoon, I was forced to let someone else touch my turban. It’s one of the most humiliating moments of my life.

I attended a conference at Stanford University this weekend and was traveling back to home to New York City by way of San Francisco International Airport. I’ve made this cross-country journey hundreds of times in my life and have traveled all over the world — but not once have I ever been forced to allow security to pat down my turban.

The full post can be found here, although it isn’t very extensive. He also tweeted about it earlier today:

Screen shot 2013-02-18 at 10.56.55 PM

More generally, Singh’s articles are worth following because the experience of Sikh-Americans doesn’t get nearly enough press. But in case Singh’s sense of personal humiliation didn’t make this painfully obvious, turbans are a really big deal in the Sikh tradition. From an earlier article he wrote with Valarie Haur:

While some non-Sikhs wear turbans as cultural garb, Sikhs are the only community for whom the turban is religious and nearly every person who wears the turban in the U.S. is Sikh. For many of us, abandoning this visible identity is equivalent to abandoning our faith and core values, including the commitment to protect the right of all people to practice whatever faith they choose.

Three knee-jerk takeaways here:

1) I’m 99% sure the TSA officials in the airport weren’t aware of the turban’s cultural and religious significance, and I can’t decide whether that makes me feel better or worse about it.

2) As much as I hate expanding this incident into the broader political sphere, it’s past time that conversations about “religious freedom” in this country included Sikh-Americans. But I’m not holding my breath.

3) I’m not exempt from ignorance here. I’m fairly certain the only reason I know anything about anything (which is still not much) about Sikhism is because I grew up in a metropolitan city with a significant number of South Asians. That, and there was this one Sikh guy who managed a pizza place down the street from where I grew up. But I wonder if that might be exactly the problem: if you ask me, unknowingly violating important elements of faith traditions just because there are fewer of its adherents is unacceptable. If I suggest world religion classes for everyone, will people throw rocks at me and call me a tool of the globalist agenda? Actually, I’m fine with that.


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