Jay Leno Infuriates Sikhs. Why?

If I watch late-night television, I watch Craig Ferguson. Not Jay Leno. Apparently Jay Leno angered some people in the Sikh community the other night. Here's how Politico explains it:

Late-night comedian Jay Leno has landed in hot water with the Sikh community for showing a picture of the sacred Darbar Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, on his show last week and jokingly referring to it as Mitt Romney’s summer home.

During the segment, “The Tonight Show” host shared with the audience a “behind-the-scenes look at all the presidential candidates’ homes,” calling the pictures “quite revealing” of the 2012 hopefuls.

After unveiling pictures of Newt Gingrich’s estate in Virginia and Ron Paul’s ranch house in Texas, the comedian purported to show a photograph of Romney’s summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee but flashed an image of the famous golden shrine located in Punjab, India, instead.

Thousands from the Sihk community have already signed an online petition called, “NBC — The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Stop defaming Sikhs and using derogatory remarks against the Sikh shrines.”

OK, so what's missing from this report? Well, speaking as someone who is neither Sikh nor familiar with what constitutes derogatory remarks against Darbar Sahib, I'm completely lost. What, exactly, angered these thousands of Sikhs? It seems like such a basic fact to include, no?

The Politico article goes on to quote the petition creator as saying that Leno has previously made racist comments but the article simply cites the claims, rather than putting them in context or verifying them in any way. For instance, many media outlets are repeating this claim that in 2007, Jay Leno called Sikhs "diaper heads." I did a very simple Google search from January 1, 2007, to January 1, 2008, and didn't find the basis for the claim. It's a scurrilous charge, but is it true?

Anyway, I'm sure it's not that difficult to explain why Leno's joke was offensive to some Sikhs. Even if it is, it's vitally important information for readers. Particularly since it's become an international incident, according to this Reuters report:

American host Jay Leno has sparked anger among Sikhs with a joke about their holiest shrine and the Indian government is making its displeasure known.

In his ‘Tonight Show’ last week, the comedian poked fun at the wealth of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, suggesting that Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, was his vacation home.

A complaint against Leno will be officially filed by India’s ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao, after 2,000 people signed an online petition.

“The Right to Speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution excludes defamation and spreading hate, incitement and false advertising,” the petition urged.

Reuters rather humorously quoted a State Department official explaining how both satire and the First Amendment work.

But the Reuters article also fails to explain the religious objection raised by some Sikhs.

Image of Sikh at prayer in pond of Golden Temple via Shutterstock.

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