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Sikh News Study Suggests "turban Effect" As A Source Of "Islamophobia"


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Study suggests "turban effect" as a source of "Islamophobia"

A Muslim-style turban is perceived as a threat, according to a new study, even by people who don't realize they hold the prejudice, dubbed "the turban effect" by researchers.

Research volunteers played a computer game that showed apartment balconies on which different figures appeared, some wearing Muslim-style turbans or hijabs and others bare-headed. They were told to shoot at the targets carrying guns and spare those who were unarmed, with points awarded accordingly.

People were much more likely to shoot Muslim-looking characters - men or women - even if they were carrying an innocent item instead of a weapon, the researchers found.

"Whether they're holding a steel coffee mug or a gun, people are just more likely to shoot at someone who is wearing a turban," says author Christian Unkelbach, a visiting scholar at Australia's University of New South Wales. "Just putting on this piece of clothing changes people's behaviour."

Unkelbach largely blames one-sided media portrayals for the bias.

The results would almost certainly be the same if this study was conducted in Canada, says Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

"I'm hoping that Canadian Muslims one day become invisible," says Elmasry. "As such, Canadians will treat them like any others."

Islamophobia - "latent" before 9/11 - is on the rise, he says, but there is very little research on the issue in Canada.

The new study "does confirm our biggest fear that there is discrimination and prejudice within our society, and unfortunately people don't recognize it or don't admit it," says Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal.

"Sometimes they really don't know that it does exist."

Beyond a turban or hijab, someone's name, skin colour or a long beard may also identify them as a Muslim and make them a target of prejudice, he says. Elmenyawi wears a head-covering and long beard and says he struggles between recognizing that negative stereotypes exist and not becoming "paranoid" that he might fall prey to them.

In fact, the Australian study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, confirmed that people don't even realize they hold these biased views. When the true intention of the experiment was revealed, Unkelbach says participants insisted they were not prejudiced and must have reacted differently from everyone else.

"The most common response was, 'I'm sure I didn't show that effect,'" he says. "They're uncomfortable and I believe them - people are not doing this willingly. If they could, they would control that. Here, people are almost the victims of what they are fed by their environment."

A quick sampling of news items related to Muslims and the Middle East confirmed this, he says, with a focus on violence and terrorism almost obliterating more balanced stories about the culture and people.

"If everything about Middle Easterners is associated with terrorism, people tend to form stereotypes in their head," confirms Rima Wilkes, a sociology professor studying media at the University of British Columbia.

Even fictional media feed these biases, she says. One study showed that movies tend to feature "socially acceptable" villain stereotypes that have evolved over time, from evil Germans in the post-war years to vaguely Muslim bad guys more recently. Even swarthy, pixelated video game adversaries send the message that "ethnic others are bad," Wilkes says.

Shannon Proudfoot
Canwest News Service


Apr 9, 2009

""Whether they're holding a steel coffee mug or a gun,
people are just more likely to shoot at someone who
is wearing a turban," says author Christian Unkelbach,"

It's easy to understand why some people who lived a
very secluded/sheltered life, never went to university
or traveled may be narrow-minded and consequently
prejudiced against turban although understanding
is not the same as justifying or exonerating.

But what is truly astounding and beyond
comprehension is why some so-called educated
Punjabis (living in multicultural societies) whose
fathers or uncles or brothers or other loved ones
may have donned a turban at one time or another
develop a prejudice against turban.



May 8, 2009
I disagree with prejudice being a morale as I have often been able to ferret out prejudice in educated individuals by making a statement about the Founding Fathers' quotes on liberty, security, and political isolation. It seems that the prejudice is not only against Muslims, but Sikhs, Mexicans, Canadians, and immigrants in general. What they state as their reason is that many illegal immigrants fail to pay taxes, lower the wage scale, bring down property values by over-occupancy, drive without licenses or insurance, and disrespect our values by the illegal immigrants assumption that tolerance is mistaken for weakness.

There is a joke about what do you call a person who speaks two languages, three languages, four languages, and finally one language. The answer to the last question is an American. America has alway been a land of assimilation. The Italians, Chinese, Germans, Polish, etc. all came here initially as legal immigrants, worked hard (as do the illegal immigrants), took English Classes, spoke their native language in their homes and neighborhoods, and spoke English when conducting business or legal maters.

I feel as much love for people of all religions and no religion as I do for those who share my beliefs; fortunately, most of the Sikhs in this rural area are doctors and are known for their high morality and kindness.

As to the last paragraph of the above post, I too do not understand the lack of pride and antipathy toward turbans.

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