An enlightened approach to hate crimes
October 5, 2013 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Palmeet Kaur, whose father was killed by a gunman at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, attends a vigil on August 5.
- Sikh doctor forgives teenagers who beat him and called him a terrorist
- Amardeep Singh works with hate crime victims who display a different approach
- Rather than jail time, he says, people who commit hate crimes can do community service
- Singh: It's helpful for victims and perpetrators to overcome fears about each other
Editor's note: Amardeep Singh is program director and co-founder of the The Sikh Coalition.
(CNN) -- Prabhjot Singh, a turbaned Sikh doctor and Columbia University professor, was surrounded recently by a gang of teenagers on bicycles who beat him, fracturing his jaw. He says they called him a "terrorist" and "Osama."
His response: "If I could speak to my attackers," he said, "I would ask them if they had any questions, if they knew what they were doing. Maybe invite them to the gurdwara where we worship, get to know who we are."
Most people would be surprised by Dr. Singh's willingness to forgive and constructively engage his attackers. I am not. Like most Sikhs, I was taught at a young age about Bhai Ghaniya, a famous Sikh who would distribute food and water to wounded enemy soldiers. The lesson instilled was that the work of mending fences begins as soon as one can no longer harm you.
Members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin erect a sign on August 5, the first anniversary of a shooting in the temple
As a professional advocate working with Sikh hate crime victims for more than a decade since 9/11, I have consistently seen Sikhs move beyond the punitive bent of our criminal justice system and adopt a Sikh approach to addressing our attackers. The result is a decidedly Sikh-American brand of justice that produces more social benefit than the revolving-door criminal justice system in our country.
Take our work with Gurpreet Singh and Thomas Brand. Thomas worked at Marsh McLenan at the World Trade Center. He never had a chance to say goodbye to his colleagues who died there on 9/11. Traveling on trains made him scared and angry. He acted on his anger a year later by pushing Gurpreet on the Long Island Railroad, urging him to leave the train and calling him a "terrorist."
Thomas was stopped by an off-duty police officer, arrested, and eventually prosecuted. When it came time for sentencing, the prosecutor was ready to recommend jail time for Thomas.
Gurpreet did not want that to happen. He saw a man in real pain who needed a lift up and not jail time. He asked that the prosecutor recommend Thomas engage in community service aimed at combating hate in a post 9/11 world.
Thomas was very nervous when he came to our office. He said he knew nothing about us and always thought we were "stern" and "angry." He said he was surprised that one of my colleagues was wearing shorts instead of pants. We got to know each other and eventually Thomas was standing with Gurpreet and me as we went to gurdwaras, Sikh houses of worship, collecting reports of bias against Sikhs.
All of us were better for the experience. Gurpreet and I had our own prejudices and fears of people who looked like "Joe America" and clearly Thomas had his own perceptions about us "turban folk" as well. Rather than allow him to spend time incarcerated in the overworked criminal justice system, we all found healing and became better people for it.
Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.
Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Amardeep Singh.
Part of complete coverage on
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 2348 GMT (0748 HKT)
While in jail, Nelson Mandela was able to fundamentally change himself and emerge as a potent leader, says John Battersby.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
Kennedy Odede says Nelson Mandela's example kept his spirit alive when he lived on the streets as a child in a dangerous slum in Nairobi.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sally Kohn says hospitals are closing in GOP states that refused to expand Medicaid. Republicans want to spite Obama, but they end up hurting their constituents.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1451 GMT (2251 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah: Who could've ever predicted that 140 characters could screw up so many people's lives?
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Matthew Fraser says racism is a sensitive issue in France, and Bob Dylan's comments have touched a raw nerve.
December 5, 2013 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
Johnita Due says we can understand and empathize with the pain felt by survivors of the Newtown shootings, yet access to public records is vital if we are to fully understand our society and its ills.
December 3, 2013 -- Updated 2255 GMT (0655 HKT)
Robert Ellsberg says Rush Limbaugh's remarks show no one is troubled by a pope who loves the poor until the pope dares to reflect on the causes of poverty
December 4, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Brian Donovan says we don't know what went through Paul Walker's mind in the moments leading up to his fiery end, but the crash may provide yet another example of speed's addictive power
December 3, 2013 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
Kyle Ayers says it's OK to share conversations publicly as long as the people involved are kept anonymous.
December 4, 2013 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says people criticizing Mitt Romney's son for tweeting a picture of himself after helping people in a car crash are petty haters slamming someone for a good deed
December 4, 2013 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Susan Nossel says it's not just interrnational relations that suffered from Edward Snowden's revelations. Some writers have begun censoring themselves out of fear.
December 3, 2013 -- Updated 2109 GMT (0509 HKT)
Kate Ascher says everyone laments the state of the U.S. rail system after a deadly New York train derailment. But high tech improvements won't make train travel safe as long as humans are in charge.
December 3, 2013 -- Updated 0153 GMT (0953 HKT)
Sanjay Gupta says whether the Affordable Health Care Act ends up improving health has a lot to do with whether Americans start making better personal decisions about eating, exercise and weight loss
December 2, 2013 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
John O'Dell says it's wrong to question the viability of Tesla as a company because of recent incidents of fires
December 1, 2013 -- Updated 1717 GMT (0117 HKT)
Bill Gates says the Global Fund, which matches the best tools to those who need them most, is one of the kindest--and smartest-- investments the world has ever made
Today's five most popular stories