Washington: A Sikh American group on Friday criticized President Barack Obama for canceling a visit to the faith’s holiest temple, saying he missed a “teachable moment” to encourage respect among religions.
Obama, who pays his first presidential visit to India next month, was initially expected to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar where he would be required to cover his head in line with Sikh custom.
But a diplomatic official in New Delhi told AFP that he would not go to Amritsar, apparently in part due to concerns that the images would revive false claims spread by some of Obama’s adversaries that he is Muslim.
Manbeena Kaur, education director of the Sikh Coalition, said that the community group was “very disappointed” in Obama’s decision, noting that the Golden Temple welcomes people of all backgrounds.
“His visit would be an important ‘teachable moment´ in which the president could demonstrate America’s commitment to religious pluralism and respect for all,” she said.
Obama last year popularized the term “teachable moment” when he hoped that controversy over the police arrest of Henry Louis Gates, an African American professor at Harvard University, would lead to conversations about race.
Sikh men, who always wear turbans and beards, were subject to hate crimes in the United States after the 11 September, 2001 attacks from assailants who mistook them for Muslims. One Sikh garage owner in Arizona was shot dead by a man who thought he was an Arab.
Obama, however, has reached out to Sikhs previously. He is the first president to hold a White House celebration for Gurpurab, the birth anniversary of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak.