Opinion: ATL anti-Sharia rally sets bad example for children

On June 10th, an organization calling itself "ACT for America" plans to hold an anti-Muslim rally in Atlanta and over 20 cities nationwide. As a Sikh American, I am concerned rallies like these will set a bad example for our children and lead to an increase in bias-based bullying in our public schools. (Editor's Note: ACT for America leaders say its rally is anti-Sharia, not anti-Muslim).

Brigitte Gabriel, the organizer of the June 10th rallies, consistently stereotypes Muslims. Instead of focusing her ire on actual criminal groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, she makes the mistake of equating all Muslims with terrorists. For example, she has asserted that practicing Muslims are incapable of being loyal Americans and even attacked the integrity of Khizr Khan, whose Muslim American son – the late Capt. Humayun Khan – lost his life in Iraq while courageously serving in our nation’s armed forces.

It is patently illogical to link any religion with terrorism. The KKK claims to be a Christian organization, but this does not mean that all Christians are KKK sympathizers. Similarly, although ISIS and Al Qaeda claim to be Islamic organizations, there are over a billion Muslims in the world who reject these groups.

Somehow this point is lost on Ms. Gabriel and those who plan to attend her rallies. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers her organization to be an extremist group. With dubious credentials like these, it is tempting to ignore her, but I believe we must call her out. In particular, I know firsthand that this type of Islamophobic rhetoric trickles down into our public schools and leads to bullying against children who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.

My brother is a bullying survivor. As a student in DeKalb County, he endured verbal harassment at school because of his turban, which observant Sikhs like him are required to wear. He also experienced physical assaults, including a broken nose and a swollen jaw requiring two surgeries. One student even cut my brother's hair, which observant Sikhs are required to keep uncut. His bullies called him "Osama" and "terrorist" and told him to "go back to your country."

My brother is not alone. According to a 2014 report by the Sikh Coalition, a majority of Sikh students experience bullying in our nation’s public schools because of their actual or perceived religion. A federal task force that studied bullying against Asian American students between 2014 and 2016 found that Muslim American students are also bullied because of their religion.

It is painfully obvious that children who torment others are learning this behavior from adults. There’s an old saying that, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” When parents lash out against immigrants and religious minorities, it sends a message to our nation’s youth that it is permissible to do the same in our public schools.

As Americans, we need to ask ourselves whether this is the kind of legacy we want to give to our children. Do we want to be positive role models, who encourage children to appreciate people who look different or follow a different religion? Or do we want to follow in the footsteps of bullies like Brigitte Gabriel, who thrive on stereotypes and try to drive a wedge between Americans?

My Sikh faith is based on a belief that the Divine light resides in each and every human being and that all people are entitled to dignity and respect. As Americans, we may follow different religious paths, but surely we can agree that our nation is strongest when people of all religions stand up for each other. If this is the message we deliver to our children, I am confident that our schools will be safer and that our future generations will build an even more vibrant and unified nation.

Aasees Kaur is a resident of Atlanta and a community development fellow at the Sikh Coalition, the nation’s largest Sikh American civil rights organization.