Parents with children in middle and high schools should be aware of a video and curriculum that was distributed throughout the country by the US State Department Bureau of Public Affairs. The video refers to the 1984 Darbar Sahib (commonly referred to as the ‘Golden Temple’) Attack as a siege by “Sikh terrorists.”
‘Terrorism: A War Without Borders is the name of the video. It is six and a half minutes long and is accompanied by curriculum materials with instruction guides for teachers and activities for students. The video may have been released as early as mid 2002, but was definitely in schools by the beginning of 2003. The State Department distributed 15,000 copies of the video and curriculum to schools throughout the country.
The video contains significant misrepresentations of Sikhs. It uses the term “Sikh terrorist” to broadly label all of the world’s 24 million Sikhs – 500,000 of whom live in the United States – and wholly condemns all people of the Sikh faith.
The video highlights eleven terrorist attacks throughout the world, beginning with the 1972 Munich Olympics when ‘Black September’ took eleven Israeli athletes hostage in an attempt to release 200 Arab prisoners. Nine hostages were killed in the rescue attempt. Other terrorist events include the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis by Iranian students, the 1988 Pan Am Plane Crash by Libyan agents; the 1995 Tokyo Nerve Gas Attack by the group ‘Aum Shinrikyo,’ the Oklahoma City Bombing by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols; 1997 Suicide Bombing in Israel by the group ‘Hamas,’ and the 9/11 World Trade Center by Osama Bin Laden.
In all the terrorist attacks cited in the video, the perpetrators are labeled as either an individual(s) or a group of a certain nationality or a group with its own identity. But in the 1984 Attack on Darbar Sahib, the video refers to the terrorists as “Sikhs”. The clip shows Sikhs, easily recognizable from their turbans and beards, with weapons in the Darbar Sahib complex along with some Indian soldiers.
The transcript from that segment states: “In an effort to establish an independent state, Sikh terrorists seized Darbar Sahib Shrine in Amritsar, India. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a military campaign to drive out the terrorists. Hundreds were killed.”
The video was discovered by a Sikh teacher at a professional teacher’s training conference on teaching terrorism in a classroom led by a State Department official. The expectation was that teachers would introduce this curriculum material along with the video to the classroom. This teacher did not expect such a broad defamation of the entire Sikh community worldwide.
The greatest concern is that the video may come as a surprise to a Sikh middle or high school student. Sikh boys usually wear turbans by the time they are in middle or high school and may be ostracized, harassed or have to face hate crimes as a result of this video. Middle and high school years are the most volatile for students. Recent hate crimes against Sikh male students were documented in New Jersey and in California, one in middle school and one in high school.
The video was brought to the attention of Sikh advocacy groups – SMART, SCORE, USSA and The Sikh Coalition. Their representatives met with the Office of the Historian, US State Department, in March 2003 to request the immediate recall of all videos and curriculum in circulation. They organized a presentation and materials to provide information about the attack by the Indian State on the Darbar Sahib complex in June 1984.
The Sikh representatives pointed out that the video was incorrect in stating that Sikh political activists in Darbar Sahib were separatists. Jarnail Singh, the leader of the political activists that the Indian government was after, never claimed himself to be a separatist. Equating separatists to terrorists is inaccurate. For example, many citizens of Quebec, Canada, consider themselves separatists; no one considers them as terrorists.
The Sikh representatives showed that the video was incorrect in stating that the Sikh political activists in Darbar Sahib were terrorists. The State Department defines terrorists as those who “seek to attract publicity for their cause.” But in the 1984 attack, the Indian government that cut off communication, media and public access to not only Darbar Sahib, but the entire state of Punjab. They did not want the world to know what they were about to do.
The State Department defines terrorism as “violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets.” But, in fact, the Sikh political activists did not have any hostages. The Darbar Sahib was open to thousands of pilgrims coming and going freely from the complex. It was the Indian army that attacked and killed thousands of innocent citizens.
By their own definition, the State Department was shown why it was incorrect in its classification of the Sikh political activists as terrorists and the attack as terrorism. The 1984 attack on Darbar Sahib did not fit the State Department’s profile of terrorists or terrorism, and it did not qualify to be in the same league as the other acts of terrorism discussed in the video.
The 1984 Attack on Darbar Sahib has an important place in history. The State Department was presented with substantial evidence that it should more appropriately be defined as ‘State Terrorism.’
Following the presentation, in the discussion session with State Department officials involved in the production of the video, it quickly became apparent that they were not willing to make any corrections. Sikh representatives tried to convey that if the State Department were willing to call Sikhs terrorists, then they should modify the video to call Timothy McVeigh a Christian terrorist and to call Hamas a Muslim terrorist group and so on. They also tried to convey the emotional devastation that a Sikh student would face if he or she had to watch this in a classroom. Sikh students, they said, may become more vulnerable to hate crimes by their peers who had seen the video. A memorandum distributed at the meeting stated that “such a portrayal promotes stereotypes that have led to hundreds of hate crimes against Sikhs in the United States.”
Recently, the video has also come to the attention of Tarlochan Singh, chief of the National Commision for Minorities in New Delhi, India. In an interview with the Indian newspaper deepikaglobal.com, he said, ” [the video] shows armed Sikhs fighting the Army at the Golden Temple at a time when the community is struggling to portray its culture and traditions in real ways, free of negative stereotypes and biases in post 9/11 America.” The film, he added, was untimely and uncalled for. Singh has requested Foreign Secretary Kapil Sibal to seek editing of the State Department video. To show the Sikhs as terrorists will create permanent hostility among Americans against the community,” Singh told Sibal in a letter. The article goes on to say, “In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, a crazy mix of terrorists, turbans and images of Osama bin Laden caused widespread confusion in America, which resulted in physical and verbal hate attacks on Sikhs.”
After months of attempted negotiations, the State Department has made no official statement about any of the requests to modify or recall the video and curriculum.
Sources at the State Department stated that they were in the process of preparing a response which should be released soon, possibly next month. It will only be released to the Sikh representatives of the Sikh advocacy groups – SMART, SCORE, USSA and The Sikh Coalition – that previously met with the State Department.
In an interview with a State Department official, it was revealed that the bulk of the 15,000 copies, perhaps all, were distributed at the professional teacher’s training conference. The official, who declined to be named, also said that at the time of distribution, no records were made as to the school names or the contact information of persons who picked up the videos and curriculums. Therefore, a recall is not possible. When asked if the State Department could send an official letter to schools stating the misrepresentations in the video and curriculum, they again said that without a mailing list, they had nowhere to send it to. The State Department could send a letter to the conference officials where the videos and curriculums were distributed, but they seem to unable or unwilling to do that either.
The Sate Department official did acknowledge that mistakes were made in the video and curriculum, but attributed it to a part of the learning process in creating a new program. She said, “this was the first time we created a video and curriculum for schools.”
But the damage is done. Sikh students may have to face hate crimes and increased social and academic problem because of this video released by their own government.
The official letter that the State Department is preparing for Sikh organization is not expected to contain anything significant to correct the situation. The only remedy they have to offer is that the next release of the curriculum material will contain something on tolerance and will “put the situation in a different light with the reference to Sikhs as terrorists taken out of the print material only,” said the official. “We have no plans to redo the video.”
SMART, in consultation with the other Sikh organizations, is taking the lead in sending the State Department a follow-up letter. Further action will be decided after they receive an official response.
Meanwhile, there is only one month left before the beginning of the next school year.
Sikh parents can take matters into their own hands and inform their children’s schools of the wrongful and inflammatory nature of this video and curriculum. They can request that the video not be shown in their schools. As taxpayers with children in public middle and high schools, they have every right to do so.
 For information: source report entitled ‘Children Sikhs are Terrorists’ TSS Staff Writer Jasbir Kaur contributing, July 23, 2003: Washington D.C.