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Request to Americans for Building a bridge over hatred

hreats against Muslims and Sikhs since 9/11 spawn Tri-City forum
By Chris LauCORRESPONDENT and dirty T-shirt," the caller said. It was the first of several such messages Sundas said she received. and Sikhs say, they consistently have been victims of hate crimes since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. and

FORUM, Local 2 "I encourage all my fellow Americans to join us for this forum to learn about each other first-hand," she said.
The free event — open to the public and titled "Our Community — Who Belongs?" — is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Valhalla Theatre on the campus of Irvington High School.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer will serve as the keynote speaker. The event also will feature personal testimonies from several Irvington students and representatives from the Sikh and Muslim communities.

Sikh men and Muslim women are most vulnerable to hate crimes because of their physical resemblance to the Arab terrorists seen on television, said Kavneet Singh, Western regional director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who will speak Thursday on the Sikh perspective.

Sikh men are obligated by their faith to keep their beards and wear turbans, which are the scarves that are rolled up as headwear. Likewise, Muslim women must wear hijabs to cover their hair and faces.

Even Sikhs and Muslims who don't conform to traditional dress are targets, Singh said, because of their skin tones.

Hate crimes against Sikhs and Muslims traditionally have spiked during times of Middle Eastern conflict, Singh continued. The Islamic Revolution of Iran in the late 1970s and the Persian Gulf War in the 1980s both led to increases in race-motivated attacks in America.

"During these times in history, we have seen the exact things happen," Singh said. "When the media portrays who the terrorists are, people mistakenly lash out against innocent Sikhs and Muslims."

Since 9/11, there were two murders and four cab drivers shot at in Bay Area Sikh and Muslim communities, according to Singh's organization.

And, added Dr. Mohamad Rajabally, president of the Islamic Society of the East Bay, there were countless more cases of school harassment, vandalism and intimidation. Rajabally, who sports a long beard, will speak on the Muslim perspective at Thursday's forum.

He said he hopes to see an end to attacks on religious communities, such as the cell phone message left for Samina Sundas.

"We still see the guilt by association, and we're concerned about profiling," he said. "We want to let the general public know that. We need to address the issues and fight the stereotyping."

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