The Nonsense of “Mistaken Identity” Hate Crimes

Quoted in Prof. Omid Safi’s piece, originally published by The Religion News Service on 9.23.2013

A Sikh-American, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, who’s a physician and Columbia university professor, was beaten by a gang of 15-20 people while they shouted “Osama” and “terrorist.”   The attack left Professor Singh with a fractured jaw.

While there are some important news stories about this attack, there are two points that deserve to be emphasized more clearly:

1)  Dr. Prabhjot Singh was not “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

This statement is one that often gets mentioned in times of violent attack and hate crimes.   No, Dr. Singh was in Harlem because that is his community.   He was in Harlem because he lives there, because he works there.  He is a physician who works in East Harlem.   His specialization is community-based health care delivery there.

Harlem is also Dr. Singh’s community, a point he emphasized:

“This is my community…I live in Harlem, I see patients here…It’s not the side of Harlem I’ve come to know and not how I’ve been embraced.”

The language of “wrong place at wrong time” also avoids the questions of people whose daily life and routines are in these community.

2)   We have to stop with the “mistaken identity” and “misdirect” hate crime  narrative.

Many of the stories have focused on the “mistaken” identity of this hate attack, highlighting how the attackers “mistook” the long beard and turban of Dr. Singh for being a Muslim, and called him “Osama” and “a terrorist.”

Given the similarity in the headgear that most Sikh men and some Muslim men wear, it is understandable how there might be a confusion about this.

However, the whole language of “mistaken” identity and “mis-directed” hate crime is also one that we have to put an end to.  There is no such thing as a “properly” directed hate crime for there to be a “misdirected” hate crime.

This language contains an assumption that the problem was that the hateful attacks mistook the Sikh man for a Muslim man, instead of stating what has to be stated clearly and unambiguously:  the problem is violence, the problem is hatred, the problem is xenophobia, against anyone, everyone, no matter their race, creed, color, sexual orientation, gender, and nationality.

And as Dr. Singh himself has stated, to only connect this to attack on Muslims is to miss out on the long legacy of attacks against the Sikh community.

I invite all readers to read the wise words of a leading Sikh-American activist/scholar Simran Jeet Singh on the intertwined linkages of anti-Sikhism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia.  


– See more at:


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s