"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance," said Thomas Jefferson. But the price of eternal vigilance in the post-9/11 era, sadly, seems destined to include too many painful cases of innocent people being suspected of terrorism. The latest example was a Sikh man who fell under suspicion last week, simply because he discarded trash at a community center, while wearing the turban that his religious belief dictates.
The story is not without its complications, but the simple truth at its core is this: The man regularly uses the exercise facilities at a Jewish community center in Plainview, and he has also taken wedding photographs there. But a woman saw him drop trash into a can on his way into the building, and she asked a security guard to check for a bomb. To his credit, the guard refused, because he knows the man. The guard says his refusal cost him his job. His bosses say no.
This cautionary tale offers proof that vigilance can too easily descend into something like profiling. No one should make assumptions about Muslims and terror. That's unfair. But suspicions of Sikhs are just as indefensible. In India, Muslims and Sikhs were once rivals, but now live in peace. Still, they're not the same. So, for a Sikh to be suspected of terrorism, because some Muslim foes of the United States (such as the ayatollahs in Iran or Osama bin Laden) also wear turbans, is doubly unfair. Yet it keeps happening.
Here's a hint: If you see someone in a turban here, 99 times out 100, it's a Sikh. Like Muslims, they are monotheistic, and their scriptures are essentially peaceful. And like Muslims, they shouldn't be stereotyped as terrorists.