Sikh dismayed by Terror Suspicion

Indian immigrant Jaspal Arora, a religious Sikh, wears a turban everywhere he goes, including to morning workouts at the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview.

On Thursday, his turban apparently sparked suspicion by one patron, after Arora tossed a bag of garbage into a trash can on his way into the building.

 
Now, a security guard who worked at the Jewish center on Manetto Hill Road is out of a job, after refusing a member's request to check the trash can for a bomb.

"I said this is nothing but a racist thing," said the guard, Stephen Ardell of Bethpage. "And that is when they told me to get my stuff and get out."

Susan Tregerman, an assistant director at the center where Ardell has worked for two years under contract with a security firm, denied that he was fired and characterized the episode as a misunderstanding.

"There was no bomb scare, there was no one fired," said Tregerman, who declined to comment further.

The incident has upset members of Long Island's Sikh community, who have said the post 9/11 climate has brought with it an atmosphere of discrimination and unfair scrutiny.

"They know me personally," said Arora, 48, of Plainview, who has been a member of the community center's fitness club for eighteen months, and who also does wedding photography there. "They've seen me for two years. I work there. Why do they think I'm a terrorist?"

The incident occurred when a woman at the center spotted Arora throwing a plastic bag into a trash can near the center's entrance.

According to Ardell, the woman told him she was worried the bag might contain a bomb.

Ardell, 46, who had worked at the center for more than two years, told the woman that Arora was a regular customer, and that there was no need for suspicion.

Ardell said he was fired after the woman complained to the center's staff.

A person contacted at New York Security Patrol where Ardell worked, who described herself as the company's owner as well as a member of the Jewish center, said Ardell was dismissed by the security company only after walking out on his own and not because of the earlier incident. She gave her name only as "Jackie."

Many South Asians say they often are profiled, sometimes after being confused with Arabs because of their religious headwear.

In August, police handcuffed five Sikh tourists and forced them to kneel on a sidewalk on Manhattan's Broadway after a tour bus employee reported them as suspicious. Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized for the incident, and urged people to use common sense before calling the police.

In December, four men from Long Island and one from Queens were convicted on various charges involving the taunting and beating of a Sikh spiritual leader outside a restaurant in Richmond Hill, Queens. The men were said to have hurled slurs regarding the turban worn by the victim, before beating him unconscious.

Mohinder Taneja, a Westbury resident and a leader among Long Island's 3,000-family Sikh community, said the post- 9/11 environment has been a challenge for Sikh followers. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion with roots in Northern India.

"Certainly, when ignorant people mistake us for terrorists because we are wearing a turban, or link us with bin Laden, certainly we feel very much upset and offended," Taneja said. "But we take it as a challenge to teach people and remove that ignorance."