The Sikh case demonstrates the way in which the tentacles of the war on terror have spread not just from focusing on terrorists, extremists, or Muslims, but also visible minorities more generally.
As the processes of racialisation continue to accelerate in the war on terror, Islamophobia has increasingly come to condition the lives of diasporic Sikh populations, particularly in America.
The racialisation of Sikhs through the coercive security state apparatus demonstrates the relationship between every day and exceptional forms of Islamophobia.
The state’s racial profiling of “Muslim-looking” people feeds into the broader racial history of the West, which over decades has established sophisticated systems to manage and restrict the movement of racial populations.
The regulatory power of the state is dependent upon racial classifications. Expressions such as ‘flying while brown’ and ‘walking while Muslim’ have gained increasingly popular currency and in the context of the “War on Terror” demonstrate not only the illegitimate targeting of particular ethnic and religious groups, but also the replaying of an entrenched racial past (and present).
Turbaned Sikh men have been specifically targeted as ‘problematic’, and encounters with airport security are especially telling. Speaking to members of the Sikh community it has become apparent that they face widespread, sustained harassment and discrimination from security officers when entering or leaving the United States.
One Sikh man recalled an incident at an airport whereby a security officer patted down the material on his turban, claiming he was ‘looking for gun powder.’
Others spoke of being looked at differently and targeted by airport security for questioning and further screening. Coming face to face with discriminatory practices of this kind are seen as commonplace. There was also a strong inclination that such checks were not in fact ‘random’ but rather part of the wider racial profiling policy of the war on terror.
In other examples, Sikh families had experienced their cars being stripped and searched while crossing the border, and on a day-to-day basis many Sikhs complain of violent racism from police officers.
These experiences illustrate the complex and contradictory paths that Sikhs have come to encounter as they find themselves increasingly signifying those ‘who could be terrorists’ or those ‘who look like Muslims.’
As a consequence, they are trapped within the racial logic of the "War on Terror", which not only finds it difficult to distinguish between ‘terrorist’ and Muslim, but also between Muslim and non-Muslim.
Within this we are able to see the various ways in which Sikhs have to carefully negotiate and manage their ‘difference’ and visibility. As a result, the classification of ‘Muslim’ has been extended by the state to regulate racially marked groups more broadly.
From undergoing pat downs at security checkpoints, to being stopped at borders and encountering police brutality, the Sikh case is illustrative of a wider set of symbolic and structural exclusions experienced by racially marked populations in Western liberal democracies.
As a result of their visibility, Sikhs are an interesting example epitomising the fears of the nation state through precautionary practices of sieving out ‘dangerous’ brown people. This process has intensified in a climate of entrenched Islamophobia. Sikhs therefore become suspect not because of what they do or who they are, but because they are caught in the in the gaze of the war on terror which constructs them as ‘outsiders’.
The effects of increased securitisation in the war on terror poses major consequences for racialised communities in both escalating the moral panic around ‘dangerous’ brown people, and redefining the boundaries of those who fall under the vague category of ‘terror suspect.’
Aesthetics, smells, sounds and attire, are inspected, dissected, and analysed, as a way to both allay wider Islamophobic anxieties around the invasion of the imagined ‘other,’ and strengthen Western narratives around which bodies belong.
From Trumps travel ban, to ongoing racist police violence, the visible ‘other’ is the marker upon which underlying concerns around difference and diversity have been inscribed.
It is against this backdrop that racialized bodies can be seen to represent key sites upon which state racism is performed and enacted.
The surge of aggressive surveillance methods combined with discriminatory profiling practices not only revives Orientalist representations around ‘otherness,’ but also reinforces racial hierarchies through the disciplining and domestication of non-Western populations.
The construct of the ‘problematic’ racialized body therefore serves as an ideological tool to legitimize a wider politics of inclusion and exclusion.
The Sikh case demonstrates the way in which the tentacles of the war on terror have spread not just from focusing on "terrorists", "extremists", or Muslims, but also visible minorities more generally.
The blurring of these classifications appears to signal that the very category of Muslim no longer denotes a fixed and stable identity, rather a Muslim is simply another way of describing someone who does not belong: a signifier of all that cannot be included within the white Western body politic.
In short, the Muslim, the immigrant, the refugee, the terrorist, the Sikh, and all the other ‘crypto Muslims,’ become shadowy figures on the edges of society under the watchful eyes of the surveillance state.
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