July 18, 2014 (New York, NY) – Responding to reports that NSA and FBI officials used the ethnic slur “raghead” in surveillance programs targeting American Muslims, the Sikh Coalition yesterday filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with both agencies. This request demands production of all employee emails since September 11, 2001 that contain the epithets “raghead” and “towelhead.”
According to the FOIA request, “[d]isclosure of the requested information to us is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the extent to which [agency] employees have used epithets indicating prejudice in official correspondence.”
Since the 9/11 attacks, Sikh Americans have repeatedly endured violence and bigotry because of their religiously-mandated turbans. Many have been called “ragheads” or “towelheads.” In August 2012, a gunman with known ties to neo-Nazi groups attacked a Gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six worshippers and injuring several others, including a local law enforcement officer. In the months after the massacre, a Sikh business owner was shot and injured in Port Orange, Florida; a Sikh octogenarian was beaten with a steel rod in Fresno, California; and a Sikh professor was assaulted in New York, New York.
Given the persistence of hate violence against Sikh Americans, and after a lengthy campaign by the Sikh Coalition, civil rights groups, and numerous members of Congress, the FBI finally agreed in 2013 to begin tracking hate crimes against Sikhs.
“As Americans, we expect law enforcement officials to behave professionally,” said Amardeep Singh, Program Director of the Sikh Coalition. “The Sikh Coalition will not tolerate the use of racial and religious slurs by people who are supposed to protect us. We therefore demand a full accounting of NSA and FBI emails to determine the extent to which agency employees are combating bigotry, not promoting it.”