Of Sikhs and Sheikhs and Mitt Romney


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (Pic: www.mittromney.com)

Let’s not be too hard on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for confusing Sikhs with sheikhs. In his defense, he at least got all the letters in the word Sikhs right and very nearly nailed the pronunciation.

It was also remarkable that his geography was off by less than 3000 miles. Those are remarkable achievements for someone under such intense pressures.

At a fundraising event in Des Moines, Romney made it a point to mention the Oak Creek Sikh killings.

“I was in Chicago earlier today. We had a moment of silence in honor of the people who lost their lives at that sheikh temple,” Romney reportedly said.

“I noted that it was a tragedy for many, many reasons. Among them are the fact that people, the sheikh people are among the most peaceable and loving individuals you can imagine, as is their faith.”

Yes, the “sheikh” people are indeed among the most peaceable and loving individuals one can imagine. He pronounced it the way an inebriated man might pronounce Sikh. I suspect subliminally he was going by the visual image of Sheikhs in his mind as people with some headgear and beard and superimposing that approximation onto Sikhs.

Rick Gorka, Romney’s spokesman, was quoted as saying, “He misspoke. It was the end of the day. He mispronounced similar sounding words. He was clearly referring to the tragedy in Wisconsin. You clearly heard him talk about it earlier today in Chicago.”

The worst I can say about the mistake is that this seems to stem from a subconscious laziness about such cultural details. Being himself a member of a faith that not a lot of Americans know much about, Romney should have been a little more focused on getting the details right, particularly because it involved such a tragedy.

That his mistake happened at the end of the day is hardly an extenuating circumstance precisely because it refers to a tragedy that goes to the very heart one of this country’s most divisive political and cultural debates—namely gun control.

I was imagining a scene where President Romney goes to New Delhi in his first term and is introduced by an Indian host. The Indian host makes an easy gaffe about his faith as a Mormon by dropping just one letter. I leave it to your imagination what that letter could be.

The point is we all make such mistakes but the point also is that some of us make it more frequently.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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