WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 12, 2014)—Classified NSA training documents using the racial epithet “raghead” surfaced this past week in a recent release of documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Edward Snowden put his life on the line in order to expose the US spy agency’s violations of human rights and privacy around the world.

In the most recent article by reporter Glenn Greenwald, it is revealed that high level US citizens who happen to be Muslim, with no ties to terrorism, were also spied upon.

In a document released by Snowden in 2005, intelligence community personnel are instructed on how to properly format internal memos to justify secret surveillance. In the place where the target’s real name would go, the memo offers a fake name as a placeholder: “Mohammed Raghead”.

When asked by reporters about the document that refers to a potential target of surveillance as a “raghead,” an NSA spokeswoman said the agency “has not and would not approve official training documents that include insulting or inflammatory language. Any use of racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs, or other similar language by employees is both unacceptable and inconsistent with NSA policy and core values.”

The Sikh Coalition, a Sikh civil rights organization, reacted to the news saying, “We are deeply offended that US government officials used the word ‘raghead’ in official documents. Epithets like this one are often directed toward Sikhs, and are ironically treated as evidence to prove bias in hate crime investigations when Sikhs are physically attacked.”

A list of people secretly spied on by the NSA. Email addresses of CAIR, a Muslim civil rights organization that has worked closely with Sikh organizations can be clearly seen.

Sikhs across America have the common experience of being called names like “raghead” and “camel jockey” amongst other, more colorful names. Maninder Singh, an American Sikh, said, “They’re ignorant. We get called these things all the time. I feel angry when I hear it, but what can you do?”

Rajdeep Singh of the Sikh Coalition, said, “We’re obviously very concerned…We’re disappointed and also concerned about some of the language that was used in some of the documents that were released. There were some ethnic slurs used in some documents that show bias. It’s not helpful for US government officials who are responsible for upholding our laws to be using language of that nature.”

United Sikhs released a statement saying that they are “saddened by the actions of the US government officials [using] the term ‘raghead’ in official documents. United Sikhs condemns such illiberal language, especially when bias comments are reminder of how minorities are still being verbally and physically attacked with the USA. “

“While we do not know all of the facts of the individual reported cases, we believe the government has an obligation to explain the basis for its actions,” said a letter by a coalition of American organizations—including Sikh organizations SALDEF and Sikh Coalition—addressed to the US President, Barrack Obama, in response to the document release. “Moreover, we cannot presume that the government acted without prejudice or bias. “

The letter further stated:

The First Look report is troubling because it arises in this broader context of abuse. Documents obtained through an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act request show that the FBI has been mapping a broad spectrum of communities, including American Muslim communities, the African American community and Latino American communities, without any basis for individualized suspicion.

Under the guise of community outreach, the FBI targeted mosques and Muslim community organizations for intelligence gathering. It has pressured law-abiding American Muslims to become informants against their own communities, often in coercive circumstances. It has also stigmatized innocent Muslims by placing them on the No Fly List and other watch lists.

In short, the government’s domestic counter-terrorism policies treat entire minority communities as suspect, and American Muslims have borne the brunt of government suspicion, stigma and abuse.

An American Sikh man who has previously been a Sikh24 source and has asked not to be named, has had a number of contacts with Federal agencies. Commenting for this article, he said, “Law enforcement agencies have met me a lot of times. They always know where I am going and when. One time I was going abroad and they had no idea I was going there until they asked another Sikh who told them I was going on a trip.”

This shows that the same tactics of turning innocent American Muslims into informants is also being used on Sikh communities in the US.

He went on to say, “They offered to pay me hundreds of dollars in exchange for audio and videos. I asked ‘what do you want from us? What does it benefit you to know what’s going on in Sikh organizations around the world? Are you working for India?’ When I came back, they asked who I met, where I went, and what I learned.”

Our source told us, “This is probably being done on behest of requests by the India Government which wants Sikhs to be marginalized and troubled.”

Commenting on American spy agencies, the source said, “I noted this much, even things they don’t need to know, they want to know about. What are they going to do with so many recordings of so many people?”

Another Sikh man who is involved in civil rights activities and also wished to remain anonymous, said, “I got a call from the FBI randomly one day and was asked to meet them for coffee. I went and sat down and they had a folder full of pictures of Pakistani Muslims. Some were in villages or factories, others were near what looked like military equipment. As an average American, born and raised, I had never been to Pakistan. They told me these were LeT terrorists and asked if I knew any of them or had heard any other Sikhs in my community talk about them. I said ‘no, how would I know? Do I look like a Muslim?’ At that time, I had never heard of LeT as they had not yet committed any serious attacks. I guess all of us ‘ragheads’ look the same to them.”

An American Sikh looks out over San Francisco. (Source: Brandon/Flickr)

History of Discrimination in USA

There is a history of discrimination in the USA, and since 9/11 that discrimination has been targeted at Sikhs, Muslims and other South Asians. The National Security Entry – Exit Registration System (NSEERS) served as a tool to allow the government to target Arabs, Middle Easterners, Muslims, and South Asians from designated countries by requiring them to register with the federal government, as well as to be fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that the 25 countries listed under the NSEERS program would be delisted.

Sikhs have been so consistently targeted for airport screenings by the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA, that now Sikh organizations circulate newsletters documenting the incidents. The agencies have gone as far as informing advocacy groups that turbaned Sikh travelers at US airports should always expect to undergo secondary screening in the form of a turban pat-down and/or a metallic detector wand over the turban.

Although defenders of racial profiling in the counter-terrorism context argue that terrorism is most likely to be committed by members of a particular racial, ethnic or religious group (in this context, Arabs, South Asians, Muslims, and Sikhs), and that members of that group are, in general, more likely than non-members to be involved in that type of criminal activity, this argument is without merit. Some of the worst terrorist attacks and mass shootings are committed by Caucasian extremists.

Sikh Organizations targeted?

As the list of targets has not been published in its entirety, it is still unclear whether Sikhs or Sikh organizations were targeted.

“We’re trying to learn more as to the full extent and magnitude of this. Is the White House going to take disciplinary action against officials who used ethnic slurs in their official documents?” asked Rajdeep Singh. “Although the individuals involved in this matter happened to be Muslim, the underlying issue is of American civil rights.”

 Obama Still Popular Among Targeted Populations

Despite these issues, President Obama remains popular among 72% of Muslims who approve of the job he is doing. A recent Sikh24 poll shows that 88% of Sikh Americans approve of the job President Obama is doing, but when asked specifically if they approve of his handling of NSA spying, specifically on Sikhs and Muslims, only 29% said yes.

 

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