|Sikhs Outraged at Senator Knotts’s Words of Incitement toward Gubernatorial Candidate Nikki Haley
|New York, NY:
On June 4, 2010, during an internet political talk show, South Carolina
Senator John M. Knotts Jr., repeatedly used the term “raghead” while
referring to State Representative Nikki Haley, searing the
consciousness of Sikh and Muslim communities in South Carolina and
throughout the nation. Ms. Haley is of Sikh descent and converted to
Christianity when she was 24. The racially charged comments were
targeted at Ms. Haley because she was running for the GOP nomination
for Governor for the State of South Carolina, which she eventually won.
UNITED SIKHS is calling for Mr. Knotts’ resignation as Senator of South
Carolina and also for a hate crime legislation to be introduced in
South Carolina, a provision which is currently lacking. Such hate
crime legislation should be inclusive of hate speech, which often has
the effect of inciting violence.
Staff Attorney Hansdeep Singh stated that “Senator Knotts’ own words
reveal a deep seeded mistrust and anger towards those with external
religious identities, even when he is ignorant about the group he is
attacking. This is evidenced by his comments that ‘we’re are at war
over there,’ as he erroneously tried to make a link between Ms. Haley’s
turban wearing Sikh father and the war being waged against terrorists.
|GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley||Senator John M. Knotts Jr.|
What is particularly offensive about the term “raghead” is that it is
used to debase those who cover their head out of religious observance.
Following 9/11, there has been clear evidence of the use of the term
“raghead” in conjunction with violent acts. On September 15,
2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station owner who wore a turban,
was mercilessly gunned down because the attacker misidentified him as
someone of Middle Eastern descent, allegedly bragging to people at a
bar just hours before that he was going to “kill the [Expletive] ragheads responsible for September 11.” Similarly, after
the Fort Hood massacre in November 2009, the Washington Post reported
that a Muslim-American soldier, Army Specialist Zachari Klawonn, was
jolted out of bed when individuals were pounding and kicking the door
of his barracks. After the individuals left, Mr. Klawonn found a
note that said, "[Expletive] YOU RAGHEAD BURN IN HELL".
Throughout history, political leaders have used terminology and slurs
that dehumanized minority communities. Internationally, during
the Rwandan genocide, Tutsis were called “inyenzi”, or cockroaches and
the term was used as a call for extermination of Tutsis. Even
before the Holocaust, there were caricatures and slurs depicting Jews
as vermin or parasites in State run media. In United States, racial
slurs directed against the African-Americans by politicians perpetuated
slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. In each instance, the
dehumanization of an entire minority group permeated society and
incited mass atrocities. Dehumanization of a group allows
individuals to cross over the barriers of decency/ morality and allow
them to inflict violence on those they see as less human.
Traditionally, one half of the mantra, “sticks and stones,” has been
given legal sanction in the U.S. However, the emotional, spiritual, and
even physical violence that is provoked through words has largely been
ignored because of our deference to speech over dignity. Interestingly,
the State of South Carolina does not have a state statute on hate
crimes and it would require the crime to implicate federal jurisdiction
before the attacker could be tried under the federal hate crime
Therefore, South Carolinians need to demand greater accountability from
their elected representatives and they need to engage lawmakers in
policymaking that protects them from heinous acts of violence and
hatred. By intentionally vilifying the turban and other religious head
coverings, Mr. Knotts has waged war against the principle of pluralism
that this country holds so sacred, and therefore, the South Carolina
Republican Party needs to seek the immediate resignation of Mr.
UNITED SIKHS has sent letters requesting the resignation of Mr. Knotts
to The South Carolina Republican Party, the South Carolina Democratic
Party, gubernatorial candidate Ms. Haley, gubernatorial candidate
Vincent Sheehan, and Mr. Knotts himself. The letter also included
a recommendation to introduce hate crime legislation into the Senate.
To read a previous press release on UNITED SIKHS Advocacy Efforts, please visit: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-17-06-2010-00.html
Media and Communications Coordinator
|UNITED SIKHS has sent letters demanding Senator Knotts’ resignation to:
As a community member, make your voice heard! Contact your local
representatives and ask them to support their constituents and their
- The South Carolina Republican Party
- The South Carolina Democratic Party
- Gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley
- Gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheehan
- Senator Knotts
UNITED SIKHS Advocacy Efforts Are Made Possible Through Generous Donations of People Like You! To donate or volunteer, visit www.unitedsikhs.org.
UNITED SIKHS encourages the Sikh community to wear their kakaars, fearlessly exercise their freedom of religion, and to contact us with any problems, concerns, or incidents of discrimination.