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Opinion 9/11 Decade: Sher Singh Holds No Grudges 10 Years Later


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
The day after the 9/11 attacks, Sher Singh was making his way from Boston to his home in Virginia when his train made a brief stop at Providence Station — where a phalanx of police and FBI agents armed with bomb-sniffing dogs yanked him out and interrogated him for several hours.

Largely because some people had seen him at South Station with an untrimmed beard and green turban, nervous agents had wondered if he, too, might be one of those terrorists — though the ceremonial dagger he wore would show he was a Sikh, not a Muslim.

Even though he was released the same day, the interrogation helped propel Singh, then 27, into the national spotlight as one of the first people in the wake of 9/11 to be arrested because of ethnic and religious profiling.

The irony: the once-suspected terrorist has, for many years now, held a top-secret government clearance and visits some of the most secure military bases in the country, advising Navy and Marine leaders on the use of the latest computer technology.

Reached at his home in Frederick, Md., where he was interviewed by phone with his 3-year-old son bouncing on his lap, Singh said he holds no grudge against the agents who pulled him off the train that day nearly 10 years ago.

“In situations where you have gone through some horrific events, it is possible to make an error in judgment,” he said. “They felt they were doing the right thing.”

Singh says it wouldn’t have happened if he and the nation’s 500,000 other Sikhs had done a better job educating Americans about their 500-year-old religion, which emphasizes gender equality, hard work, truthful living and community service.

It’s one of the reasons why he and his wife, Hemani Kaur, have spent so much time both in their former community of Leesburg, Va., and in Maryland, organizing interfaith dialogues and helping to teach people what Sikhism is about.

Singh, a U.S. citizen since 1998 and a son of an Indian Air Force pilot, is one of the founding members of Loudoun Interfaith Bridges, an organization that tries to create interfaith harmony and understanding by having Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Unitarians, Muslims, Quakers and others visit each other’s houses of worship, and by holding an annual “day of thanks” event, picnics and musical performances. The group has also been working to promote understanding in the county’s public schools.

He and other volunteers have also established a little community school in Virginia where he and other teachers try to pass on Sikh values to 125 children, through such service activities as taking the youngsters to homeless shelters where they can help feed the hungry.

Singh is also a teacher of music, taking pride in being able to play such stringed instruments as the dilruba and the saranda, and has been actively involved in advising the administrator of Loudoun County, Va., on such things as hiring practices as a way toward improving multicultural diversity.

“One of our core values as Sikhs is to serve humanity,” says Singh. “We believe there is one universal Creator who is there for everyone.”

In hindsight, would Singh still have taken the train if he knew he would be arrested? He had done so against his wife’s advice that he postpone the trip.

The answer, he says, is yes.

The country had just gone through a very traumatic event, and at times such as those, you want to be back with your family and your neighborhood. “I needed to get back. I have no regrets.”

He adds that while he underwent an unpleasant experience, he thinks a nation has a responsibility to take steps to ensure its citizens are safe.

True, he said, the authorities made an error in his case. “But an error doesn’t mean a policy is misguided.”



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