WASHINGTON - Sikh-Americans launched a million-dollar ad campaign over the weekend to spread awareness and address the "collective misunderstanding" about the minority community amid a spike in hate crimes against them in the United States.
The series of commercials will run on CNN and Fox News as well as on local channels, and the aim is to curb the hate-crimes against Sikhs whose beards and turbans make them easy targets for the angry and the uninformed Americans.
"We have found that there is widespread ignorance about the Sikh faith and identity, about the turban and beard. Over 65% of Americans have no clue that there is a community called Sikhs," Rajwant Singh, co-founder and senior adviser of the National Sikh Campaign -- an advocacy group -- said in a statement.
Singh, who is a dentist based in Washington D.C. and has lived in the country for over 35 years, said the main goal of the campaign is to get the information out to Americans across the nation about who Sikhs are, their belief in equality, respect for women and all religions and that Sikhism is the fifth largest religion.
"We have been part and parcel of America for the last 100 years and have been making this country strong. We want to change the narrative, rather than always being the victims of hate crimes - many people mistake us for belonging to the Taliban or ISIS," Singh said.
"We're the least understood major faith in the United States," said Gurwin Singh Ahuja, executive director of the campaign and former Obama administration staffer. "And that leads to a whole host of issues."
"Kids get bullied. Mothers have to be extra cautious to make sure their kids aren't being harassed," he continued. "There's significant employment discrimination. And in some cases, people have even been killed."
According to The Huffington Post, "the ads explain the basic tenets of the religion, founded in India over 500 years ago. It is the fifth largest religion in world and the third biggest monotheistic faith, after Islam and Christianity. Sikhism's more than 25 million followers embrace progressive values including gender equality, religious tolerance, social justice and community service."
Shawn Singh Ghuman, communications director for the National Sikh Campaign, says he hopes the commercials will show how Sikhs are as much a part of the fabric of the country as anyone else: "We want to showcase to our neighbours how quintessential our immigrant story is to the American dream," he said. "It's fundamental to our religion that we work hard and put in effort to better ourselves and our generations and our communities."
While numerous initiatives have been undertaken since the September 11 attacks to spread awareness about the Sikh faith, Rajwant Singh said "the needle has not moved. We felt that the messaging has to be very clear. The 'We are Sikhs' campaign is more positive, proactive and has a targeted messaging, he said.
In the years since the 9/11 terror attacks, Sikhs remain more likely to be targeted in cases of profiling, bigotry and backlash than the average American. In the latest incident of hate crime, a Sikh man was shot near Seattle last month after the gunman allegedly told him to "go back to your own country."