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Sikh Coalition: After Seattle attack we are vigilant

There are more than 500,000 Sikhs in the United States [File: George Widman/AP]

On Friday, as Deep Rai worked on his car in his driveway in the Seattle suburb of Kent, a man approached him and told him to "go back to your own country", according to witnesses.

Described as six feet tall, of stocky build, and wearing a mask over his face, the man then shot at Rai and fled the scene. The attacker is still at large, and local police have contacted the FBI for support.

Rai is recovering in hospital.

The apparent hate crime comes two weeks after Adam Purinton, a white US navy veteran, killed 32-year-old Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas.

Purinton reportedly mistook Kuchibhotla for a man of Middle Eastern origin and shouted "get out of my country" before opening fire in a crowded bar, according to witnesses.

Reports of violence against minorities in the US have increased since the election of President Donald Trump, whose campaign emboldened the anti-immigrant far right.

In his bid to become president, Trump promised to ban Muslims from entering the US and derided refugees and immigrants, particularly those coming from Mexico.

Amid growing Islamophobia, other communities have also come under attack.

Rana Singh Sodhi holds a photograph of his murdered brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi [File: Ross D. Franklin/AP]

Friday's shooting has reminded many of the post 9/11 era, when Sikhs were frequently mistaken for Muslims, and attacked.

On September 15, 2001, Frank Silva Roque murdered Sikh American petrol station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi in a hate crime. Roque mistook Sodhi for an Arab Muslim; 20 minutes later he shot at a Lebanese American, but missed.

Al Jazeera asked Rajdeep Singh Jolly, interim director of programmes at the New York-based The Sikh Coalition civil rights group, about rising xenophobia and its effect on minorities.

Al Jazeera: The dangerous attack on Rai in Seattle followed the killing of an Indian man in Kansas, and dozens of other reports of violence against minorities. What do these attacks characterise?

Jolly: These attacks are part of a broader pattern of hate and violence against immigrants and religious minorities. What's particularly chilling is that in both cases - the anti-Sikh attack near Seattle and the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla - both men were told to "go back to their country".

Xenophobic political rhetoric is literally putting lives in danger.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla, right, poses for photo with his wife Sunayana Dumala in Cedar Rapids, Iowa [File: Kranti Shalia/AP]

Al Jazeera: The Sikh community in the US often comes under attack at the same time as rising Islamophobia. Why is this, and how can it be prevented?

Jolly: Sikhs are not targeted exclusively because of Islamophobia. For example in 1907, Sikh immigrants were assaulted in Bellingham, Washington, during an organised riot fuelled by xenophobia.

There is no doubt that anti-Sikh hate crimes and Islamophobia have accelerated in the post-9/11 environment, but it makes no difference to a bigot whether his victim is Muslim, Sikh or Jewish.

That is why communities targeted by hate need to stand together.

Al Jazeera: Do you think the Trump administration is addressing rising xenophobia as best it can?

Jolly: The Trump administration needs to make hate crime prevention a top priority. So far, the administration has done nothing in this regard.

For example, it can create a federal task force to prevent hate violence, address the threats posed by white supremacists, work with faith communities to promote interfaith solidarity, and work with schools to create a culture of respect and appreciation for diversity. Al Jazeera: How is the Sikh community responding to Friday's attack? How are people feeling?

Jolly: The Sikh community is vigilant, but we are also resilient. We refuse to live in fear. Al Jazeera: Do you think events such as these create a divide between minorities, or bring them together?

Jolly: Hate incidents bring communities together.

For example, after the 2012 attack on a gurdwara [Sikh house of worship] in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, there was an outpouring of compassion from our fellow Americans.

Jolly wants Trump administration to prioritise hate-crime prevention [Karaminder Singh Ghuman/The Sikh Coalition]

However, we should not wait for tragedies like this to express love and solidarity.

In the Sikh religion, we believe all human beings are part of the same family, and all of us need to put this principle into practice.

Al Jazeera: After 9/11, Sikhs were targeted because some attackers believed them to be Muslims. What role does education play here, and are you concerned about similar violence emerging?

Jolly: We need to teach our children to respect all people. Racial and religious distinctions are irrelevant.

Over the years, we have consistently encouraged school officials to incorporate bias-prevention education into their curricula.

Al Jazeera: Do you think hate crimes have risen following the election of Donald Trump, or are more simply being reported?

Jolly: Our friends at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have documented an increase in the number of hate groups.

Hate crime statistics are unreliable because the reporting system is voluntary, and many large cities fail to report hate crimes to the FBI.

For us, even one hate crime is too much, and all of us - including the Trump administration - should do everything in our power to prevent hate from taking another life or loved one.


(c) 2017 Al Jazeera Media Network

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