Letters for the week of December 3-9, 2003

Reconsidering a name change. It's Singh vs. Singh in letters about our Sikh temple story. The ethnic roots of Antibalas.

“Too Girly for a Boy,” Take Out, 11/12

Please consider the consequences
I am writing to express my deep dismay and upset over the lack of foresight and sensitivity put into the November 12 “Take Out” column. I am one of the people mentioned in this feature on name changes, and as a transgendered person your public announcement of my name change puts me in danger of discrimination and emotional and physical violence. I am aware of and fully acknowledge your legal right to look up the information on my name change and the reasons behind it, but I believe your decision to publicly highlight name change information on myself or any other transgendered person is morally negligent.

As a result of this information being published about me, friends and family members to whom I have not disclosed my true gender identity due to safety issues could become aware of it; this information could result in my being ostracized or suffering other negative social consequences.

Publicizing my status as a transgendered person also opens me up to discrimination in housing, education, and employment. In past employment I have twice been fired for reasons relating to my gender identity and presentation, and though my place of employment is currently safe, I do not wish to risk repeats of these experiences.

Perhaps most significantly, your decision to publish information that reveals my status as transgendered could very well put me at increased risk of becoming a victim of hate violence. As residents of the Bay Area, you are surely aware of the murder of Gwen Araujo last year, and the death of another young transgendered woman in Oakland earlier this week. Ms. Araujo’s killers, as you know, targeted her after her status as a transgendered woman was revealed to them. While in this case, the revealing did not occur via newspaper, I want you to understand that outing people as transgendered in any situation is dangerous and may pose a very real threat to their safety.

In the future I sincerely hope that you will put more thought into the potential consequences of information you publish about transgendered people, and that you consider the very real and terrible effects that it could have upon their lives.
Jacob Richards, Berkeley

“Singh vs. Singh,” Feature, 11/19

The congregation’s turn
I really appreciate your article on the abuse and terror that is going on at the Sikh temple in Fremont. This group of thugs needs to be exposed. Last Sunday [November 23], they announced that they are filing a slander lawsuit against the paper and yourself. That, in my opinion, is totally bullshit. They need to say that to the congregation only to make themselves look like the victims. Our community needs to wake up and realize that until they speak out against these people for the wrong they are doing, nothing will change. You guys did an excellent job. Now it is up to the community to stand up and hold these so-called leaders of the temple accountable.

S. Singh, Fremont

Making people fear us
Your article is extremely biased, and I feel that you are trying to humiliate a very peaceful community by relating it to “terrorism” based on something that has no real grounds. It’s people like you who stuff fear and disgust into the faces of public and make them fear minorities.

Sahaj Singh, San Luis Obispo

Follow the money
Good job exposing the wolves in lambs’ clothes. If American government did cut them loose, that will be bad for so many peace-loving, hard-working Sikhs. I know them closely. Sikh Youth of America’s main aim is to control the temple finances.

Raj Dhillon, Livermore

Singhs vs. India
In his otherwise well-researched and sensitively written piece on the Fremont Sikh Temple, Malcolm Gay misstates several important facts.

While discussing the climate of state terror and government oppression in Punjab, India, in 1984, Gay labels Sikh leader Sant (“Saint”) Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale as “a heavily armed Sikh separatist.” In fact, Sant Bhindranwale never demanded a separate Sikh state. Bhindranwale instead sought equal rights for Sikhs within India’s political system. He did warn that an armed assault on the Golden Temple would ignite demands for a separate Sikh state. Hence, India’s brutal June 1984 invasions of seventy Sikh shrines sparked a decade-long resistance movement.

Disturbingly, Malcolm Gay links the Fremont Sikh faction with the murderous 1985 bombing of an Air India 747. In fact, investigative journalists Zuhair Kashmiri and Brian MacAndrews argued in their book Soft Target that India’s Soviet-trained intelligence services masterminded this bombing.

Overall, Malcolm Gay’s article is highly accurate in its descriptions of Sikh theology and modern political history. But his implication that Sikhs who support Khalistan, or the idea of a Sikh “Israel,” are ipso facto terrorists is plain wrong. The Harvard Law School-sponsored human rights report “Reduced to Ashes” details the savage anti-Sikh violence waged by the Indian nation state during the 1980s and ’90s. The Sikh resistance movement must be evaluated in the context of India’s anti-Sikh policies.

If Sikhs are committing crimes, they should be punished. But the idea of a Sikh nation is not itself a crime.
Gurman Singh Bal, Esq., Berkeley

Does anyone outside Sikhdom really care?

As a member of the Sikh community, I am deeply offended by your inflammatory and sensationalist article, in which Malcolm Gay paints the Sikh community in a negative light by making false assumptions and attempting to establish Sikhs as terrorists. Gay’s purpose doesn’t seem to be to say anything of import, other than that “some Sikhs are terrorists,” a grandiose, false, and incendiary claim.

The front page of the paper says that some Sikhs are “linked to violence and drugs. Some say terror, too,” suggesting that these people are not only engaging in crimes, but even terror. I don’t think I need to explain to the editor what “terror,” stated so vaguely, means in current usage. It will be linked by readers to al-Qaeda and jihad, two movements diametrically opposed to the aims and interests of Sikhs.

The author also claims that the Sikh religion is a “mixture” of Hindu and Islam. The only thing it shares with Islam is monotheism, something that Jews and Christians also share. The Sikh people were Hindus that converted to Sikhism, largely in order to abolish caste. And the Kirpans they carry are not “ceremonial daggers,” but are carried by Sikhs because they represent — and are meant to enforce — every Sikh’s right to defend his/her religious freedom to the death. This democratic impulse, this suspicion of hierarchy, may be the reason behind the infighting that, it is true, has been a part of the Sikh community. This is probably the reason why Sikhs have not galvanized their protest against the racism and discrimination they face, and which is reflected in Gay’s article.

To call the Sikhs “insular, yet polite” and “exotic” is also inappropriate, because this language deems them distinctly “Other.” The next step would be just to call them “niggers.” Most of these Sikhs are American citizens, and do not deserve to be looked upon as outsiders in this way.

Furthermore, by labeling a few people in a temple as violent gangsters and terrorists is ridiculous in light of the fact that the biggest charge against this Jai Singh is copying DVDs — something that many people do in their own homes. If his worst crime were transporting a truckload of pot, I would ask the Express staff and readers to consider whether or not they have ever used or bought pot. Personally, I don’t give a damn about the illegal selling or transport of the substance, so you can put that in your bong and smoke it.

Immigration fraud? What would happen if you accused all the Mexicans that flood over the border and live and work illegally in this state, and those who employ them, of immigration fraud? I don’t think I need to say more about this issue.

Terrorism? If you want to decide that because these men belonged to the SYA that they are terrorists, you are engaging in ignorant fearmongering à la George Bush. And what kind of “terror” are we talking about? The activities of the Khalistanis hardly register on the world stage. They are not a terrorist organization, although some of their members have unfortunately inflicted terror IN INDIA. Gay suggests that their claims are somehow evil and have something to do with global terrorism, and links them to a particular act of terror from 1985 (leveled at Air India), in the wake of Gandhi’s massacre (not an “assault”) of the Sikhs during Operation Blue Star.

The Khalistani desire for sovereignty in Punjab stems from the historical oppression of Sikhs, who are a minority in India. It is similar to the claims of the Bosnians, Chechnyans, or Palestinians. Or, the sending of arms to the Khalistanis in India could be compared to the Zionist movement in this country. We need to look closely at what is taking place in India in order to understand the forces behind this movement, and we should not draw the conclusion that the few violent members of such organizations are going to take their struggles with the Indian government to Fremont. The roots of Hindu, Sikh, or Islamic fundamentalism lie beyond the scope of Gay’s article.

Not all Sikhs share the desire for a separate Sikh state in Punjab. Most (including myself) feel that Sikhs should be part of a secular democracy in India. Let us not forget that in 1947 some Sikhs were actually living in what is now Pakistan, and were driven from their homes and the land that they owned and loved when the country of Pakistan was created. The Muslims on the Indian side were similarly driven out, and anyone left behind was slaughtered, in one of the biggest debacles in history. But the official claims of the Khalistani movement do not include the Punjabi regions of Pakistan.

Gay’s article is ridiculous. These few men he brands as criminals are really having little impact on the community at large, and I question the relevance of this story. Its purpose is to stir up racial hatred and fear. He would be better off discussing the cultural roots of the infighting in the Sikh community, or the racial hatred and racial profiling that both the Sikhs and Muslims are suffering. He could at least take a sympathetic approach to the community. The real story is that a bunch of thugs took over the Gurdwara. Does anyone outside the Sikh community really care? Only if the journalist fakes a story by calling them “terrorists.”
Name withheld by request, Oakland

Tsk-tsk
I find this article very disgusting and very anti-Sikh. It really offends me that how you guys are portraying the Sikh community of Bay Area in a very negative fashion. What happened? Don’t you guys have anything left to cry on?? Maybe you guys should pick the latest issue of Michael Jackson’s warrant instead of jumping into the Sikh community while having no knowledge of Sikhs … tsk-tsk.

Vicky Singh, Fremont

MALCOLM GAY RESPONDS
At no time did I state that local members of the Sikh Youth of America are linked to the 1985 Air India bombing. Nor did I ever imply that Sikhs who support Khalistan are “ipso facto terrorists.” In fact, my article went to great lengths to note that while there may be a militant faction of Khalistanis, the vast majority of Sikhs are committed to the democratic process. As for the boundaries of Khalistan, Colonel Partap Singh’s “Declaration of Independence of the Sikh Homeland” defines Khalistan as the state of Punjab and the adjoining Punjabi-speaking areas. Finally, as for Gurman Singh Bal’s point that Bhindranwale did not advocate a separate Sikh state, while this may be true, Bhindranwale did demand independence for the Sikhs, and he is widely regarded as the inspiration for the Khalistan movement.

“Afrobeatniks,” Music, 11/12

Debunking other myths
Thanks for the glowing review of Antibalas. However, in your attempt to debunk some myths, you’ve created others.

Despite your good intentions, you did a formidable job of whitewashing the actual ethnic and racial background of the Antibalas family. Vocalist Duke Amayo is Nigerian, not African American. Bassist Del Stribling is African American. Conguero Ernesto Abreu is NYC-born of Cuban and Dominican parents. My Latin roots are in Mexico. The shekere player that you hear on the first two records, Giancarlo Luiggi, is Puerto Rican, born in Ponce. Bryan Vargas, the original guitarist (who still moonlights with us) is also Puerto Rican. Guitarist Marcos Garcia is Cuban and Guatemalan, born in the US. Victor Axelrod is Brooklyn-born of Japanese and Jewish parents, and Yoshi, another percussionist who tours and performs with us, is from Tokyo. Eddie Ocampo, who moonlights with us on NYC shows on the claves, is Filipino. Trumpeter Ricardo Cox is Afro-Panamanian. Drummer Jojo Kuo (who you hear on half of the Liberation Afrobeat Record) is from Cameroon and was part of Fela’s Egypt 80 band. Dancers Kimani and Chichi are African American and Nigerian respectively.

All counting, that’s FOURTEEN (!!!) people (five of Latin backgrounds, three of Asian, and six of African) in the Antibalas family who you misrepresented or omitted from your piece.

In addition, the statement “As it stands, no women have infiltrated Antibalas yet” is completely untrue. Anda Szilagyi has recorded with us and was touring and performing with us regularly for two and a half years before she left the group. Toli Almasi Reid, a Jamaican vocalist/trombonist, was also performing with us for a spell before she went on to form her own group Femme Nameless, an all-women Afrobeat group based in NYC. For the record, Mayra Vega (vocalist on the “Che Che Colé” single) is a performing poet-actress-singer in NYC and is not a backup singer for the group, as was stated incorrectly in the article.

Again, thanks for the attention and enthusiasm, but please don’t further misinform the public in your efforts.
Martín Perna, Antibalas founder, Brooklyn, NY

The touring band and the band aren’t the same
I wanted to point out that it is not entirely accurate to say that no women have yet infiltrated Antibalas. The band has worked with five different female musicians on and off over the years (two trumpet, one percussion, one percussion/vocals, and one vocals). It is true to say that there are currently no female musicians touring with Antibalas. Maybe you’d like to audition when we come to San Fran?

Dylan Fusillo, Brooklyn

Send us your resolutions
The Express would like to know what you resolve to do differently in 2004. Whether you plan to get in shape (or go to seed), teach yourself a new skill (or forget everything you learned in school), or be a better (worse?) person, we’d like to hear from you. Please send a brief description of your 2004 resolutions by January 7 to [email protected], or to Resolution Guide, East Bay Express, 1335 Stanford Avenue, suite 100, Emeryville, CA 94608.

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