By: Awnit Singh
With great fortune, I was invited with 13 other individuals via the Sutton Trust US Programme and Fulbright Commission to attend a town hall with the presence of President Barack Obama. Surprisingly quieter than we expected him to be, he urged young people to “reject pessimism and cynicism” and “know that progress is possible and problems can be solved”.
After his remarks, he opened it up to the floor, comprised of around 500 sixth formers, exchange students and a dozen media organisations constantly clicking their shutters to capture shots of the President.
Then it came to the final moment. “We’ll take two more questions”, he said.
The last question. Everyone raising their hands higher. “The Sikh gentleman at the top” and he pointed at a blue turbaned Sikh teenager: me.
My mind went blank – I did not even say my name, forgot what I wrote in my little diary, held in my hand, and blurted out about attacks against minorities and why, unlike Justin Trudeau, who has just come into power, Mr Obama has not taken a full on stand against such issues. For example, many Sikhs are discriminated by the TSA.
His reply was rather satisfactory.
The Guardian wrote this on his answer to my question:
Obama ended the session by taking a question from a young Sikh Londoner who asked about the issue of racial profiling at airports and being mistaken for a Muslim.
He said that although there were people with “crazy ideology”, pluralism was important. “I visited a mosque a few months ago and said our greatest allies are American Muslims who are most integrated and economically well-off,” he said.
A Sikh man asked him about U.S. policies on religious profiling and discrimination
The Telgraph and Argus wrote:
A Sikh questioner called for movement on issues like discrimination at airport security. Mr Obama insisted it was explicit US policy not to racially profile at airports.
My question was misinterpreted and taken off topic by both the President and the media. I don’t blame them, though: it was the last question, therefore I assumed I’d have to wrap up quickly, and I became very nervous.
Although I did mention the TSA, it was a mere example of the increasing number of attacks on Sikh, turbaned, individuals as well as the rise of – surprise, surprise – Donald Trump.
My question definitely sparked debate and put the issue into the spotlight since I was questioning him for something he has not been able to do well – unlike the other questions on, for example, his best skill as president.
One thing I can say, though: I was surprised that no one asked or even mentioned Donald Trump. Or the fact that Bernie Sanders is the best candidate, of course.
Fast Forward to 1hr 7 minutes:
President Obama addressed students at a town hall meeting in Westminster, UK during a three day visit to the country. A Sikh student asked a question about racial profiling to which President Obama respondent with an extensive answer.
US President Barack Obama insisted on Saturday that it was not his administration’s policy to target people based on their looks at airports, but said keeping people safe and preventing terrorism was one of his “biggest challenges”.
Responding to questions from a young Sikh at a town hall-type meeting in Westminster on the second day of his three-day visit to London, Obama said he had taken an “adamant stand” on not racially profiling people at US airports.
Asked why he had not taken a firm stand following reports of Sikhs being targeted as Muslims or being racially profiled at US airports, Obama said terrorism in pluralistic societies like the US and Britain would continue to be a challenge, but one that would be overcome.
He said: “I have taken an adamant stand on not racial profiling at airports. It is explicit TSA (Transportation Security Administration) policy not to racially profile”.
“Does that mean that out of hundreds of airports and thousands of TSA officials that there has not been times where a Sikh is going through the airport and somebody targets them for secondary screening because of what they look like? Of course that’s happened.”
“But that’s not my administration’s policy. But it does raise a broader issue, that in pluralistic societies like the United States, like the UK, in diverse societies, one of our biggest challenges is how we are going to approach keeping people safe and preventing terrorist acts”, Obama added.
On Sikhs being targeted after being misunderstood as Muslims, he said: “There was a time when here in the UK terrorism was emanating from the IRA (Irish Republican Army). So this is not uniquely a Muslim problem. What is also true is today there are tiny subset of groups that have perverted Islam and justify killing innocent people”.
“And how we do that (face the challenge) in a way that is consistent with our values, pluralism and respect for religion, is vitally important. This is going to be a challenging issue for some time to come but I am confident that it is an issue that we can succeed at”, he said.