Preacher foot forward: RNS gives mini-sermon on Sikh who found accused bomber

Why write a long intro?

Let's just get to the preachy lede of a story in the Religion News Service on the capture of a bombing suspect:

(RNS) The man who led police to the bombing suspect in New York and New Jersey was none other than another Asian immigrant.
Harinder Singh Bains, a native of India who practices the Sikh faith,  said he saw Ahmad Khan Rahami "right in front of my face" and made a call to the police after matching the man’s image with the one Bains saw on TV.
Rahami, who is accused of placing the bombs that exploded Saturday (Sept. 17) in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and in Seaside Park, N.J., was sleeping in the doorway of Bains’ bar in Linden, N.J., when Bains spotted him.

It's too bad RNS chose to put its preacher foot forward, because the article does have some virtues. It plugs Bains' action into presidential politics, or tries to. It narrates the police takedown of Rahami. And it tells a little about the Sikh faith -- though, in my opinion, too little.

The RNS article quotes Bains saying that he himself could have mistaken for the perpetrator: "After an attack, we should target people based on evidence, not their faith or their country of origin or their accent."

He doesn't elaborate, but RNS adds that "Sikhs can often be distinguished by their turbans and beards." It also says a half-million Americans belong to the faith, as do 25 million people worldwide.

Is that enough to help understand Sikhs? Doubtful. Imagine an article saying that Catholics number 1.2 billion worldwide and that their priests typically wear black clothes with white plastic collars. Such a story would be a simultaneous phantom and caricature.

You wouldn't have to get long and windy on the basics of the faith. When a half-dozen Sikhs were gunned down in Wisconsin in 2012, I provided these paragraphs.

Sikh beliefs – their religion was founded in south Asia five centuries ago – actually blend beliefs of Islam and Hinduism. Sikhs are monotheists, like Muslims, Jews and Christians, but they believe in reincarnation, like Hindus. They were once led by gurus, but their highest authority is now their scriptures, called the Guru Granth Sahib.
They are proud of having the fifth-largest religion, with 23-24 million worldwide. The U.S. has at least a half-million Sikhs, including about 400 in South Florida.
American Sikhs like to stress how their religion teaches American values: work, family, egalitarianism, freedom of religion. As Sunday's shooting shows, however, not everyone gets the message.

Would that have been too much for RNS? Probably not. Their story is only about 450 words. And it is, after all, the Religion News Service.

Sikhs themselves abound in websites like this one -- with lucid, understandable explanations.

To me, though, the more annoying part of the RNS piece is still the heavy-handed theme: "None other than another Asian immigrant." It all but trumpets: "Take that, Donald Trump!"

And just in case it isn’t painfully clear, RNS adds:

Bains’ identity reverberated on the campaign trail when GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump called for police profiling of people from the Muslim world. Trump also touted his plan to stem immigration to the U.S.
On Tuesday morning, Bains released a statement that said: "As a Sikh American, I realize that I could have been mistaken for the perpetrator. I want to remind Americans that after an attack, we should target people based on evidence, not their faith or their country of origin or their accent."
Bains said that even though it hasn’t happened to him, he knows of Sikh friends who are taunted on the streets by people who mistake them as Muslims, and some have even been attacked.

Now, I'm not denying that Sikhs face prejudice -- even here in South Florida, home to a wide range of faiths and nationalities. At a memorial service for those shooting victims, one thing that stuck in my mind was an anecdote by the main speaker, Narinder Jolly.

He told of being accosted by three young men who harassed him because of his beard and turban. "I am not a Muslim," Jolly says he told them. "But even if I were, what you are doing is wrong."

No, the problem here is RNS' heavy-handed effort to stick this specifically on a presidential candidate. Sounds like they're saying, "See, Donald? If the U.S. had no Asian-American citizens, no one would have caught the bomber." By the same token, he might say back -- rightly or wrongly -- that if all Asian immigrants were kept out, we wouldn't need to turn in potential terrorists.

At least RNS allows Bains to say that his motives don’t belong to Sikhs alone:

"I did what I think every American would have done," he said. "My neighbor would have done the same thing. Any Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Muslim. Anybody would have done the same thing.
"I’m from Sikh faith," he added. "I’ve been taught always stand up against the atrocities, any kind of persecution."

That may not be a sermon, but non-Sikhs can easily add an "Amen" to it.

Thumb: Graphic of the Khanda, the main symbol of the Sikh faith. Created by Jujhar Pannu via Wikimedia. Used by permission (CC BY-SA 3.0).


Please respect our Commenting Policy