So have you heard the one about Jay Leno and the Golden Temple?
A recent sketch on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno (aired January 19th) featured a clip of the Republican candidates and their summer homes. The last image was supposed to be the summer home of Mitt Romney. The image that appeared was that of the Golden Temple (also known as Harmandir Sahib or Darbar Sahib) a sacred and revered temple to many Sikhs around the world.
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How rich is Mitt Romney? He’s so rich that his summer home is the Golden Temple! Ba Dum!
Many in the Sikh American community did not find the insinuation of Romney’s wealth and ownership and the image of the Golden Temple very funny. The implication that the center of Sikh faith and center of charity was viewed as a luxurious vacation home was viewed as racist and derogatory. An online petition was launched over Jay Leno’s sketch. BBC World News reported Indian-American, Randeep Dhillon, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Leno, stating Leno’s sketch “clearly exposes plaintiff, other Sikhs and their religion to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy because it falsely portrays the holiest place in the Sikh religion as a vacation resort owned by a non-Sikh”.
India’s Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, Vayalar Ravi, found it “quite unfortunate and quite objectionable.” The US State department weighed in on the controversary. US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US Constitution strictly protected freedom of speech and commented that Leno’s remarks were “satirical in nature.” She also emphasized the US had “absolute respect” for all Indians, including Sikhs, and that President Barack Obama was the first president to celebrate the birthday of the religion’s founder, Guru Nanak, at the White House.
So I searched the internet to find how others felt about the sketch. I came across the blogger Rupinder Mohan Singh‘s very insightful blog “American Turban: A Discussion about the Sikh American Experience”, about his observations about the treatment of himself and other Sikh Americans around the United States. Singh makes the suggestion that this misstep, should be seen as an opportunity to have an open discussion as to what it means to be Sikh in a 9/11 world.
“Jay Leno’s bit was our chance to welcome the public into our world to educate people in a positive way about what Darbar Sahib is and stands for. We have lost that opportunity and, instead, we have demonstrated that we are a close-minded, short-sighted and paranoid group of people. For many, the real comedy is now not the joke that Jay Leno told, but the response to it by Sikhs and Indian politicians.”
In a response to a comment on his blog, Singh writes that Jay Leno is in business to mock. He’s a comedian. So why not choose other religious site like the Udupi Sri Krishna Matha, or the Vatican, or the the Masjid al-Haram or the Mormon Temple?
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Rajshree Solanki is the Registration Specialist for Loans at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.