Gabby Perez on “Canada, Turbans, and Geertz”

Harjit Singh Sajjan

With Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, comes a newly appointed cabinet. A contrast from his conservative predecessor, Trudeau has the most diverse cabinet in Canada’s history. Harjit Sajjan, Amarjeet Sohi, Bardish Chagger, and Navdeep Bains are now part of the 30-member cabinet. However, there is concern over figures like Sajjan taking a cabinet position because he is connected to the Sikh World Organization and the Khalistan Movement of the 1980’s, even though he dismisses the claims. Similarly, another cabinet member, Sohi, was imprisoned in India without charge. He was later released and returned to Canada where he currently works to end discrimination against the Sikh community.

Thinking about human diversity, it becomes difficult to overlook this story. The fact that four of the cabinet members identify as Sikh is a huge accomplishment in terms of bringing equal access to groups who historically haven’t had that access. Amid the Islamophobia in Canada and the United States, Sikhs have been targets of hate crimes simply for looking different. In a post 9/11 world, long beards and turbans have, unfortunately, become symbols of terrorism. Geertz would agree that humans give these objects meaning. In turn, those meanings create a culture, in this case a culture of fear and anxiety. Fortunately, if humans give symbols meaning, then they can also remove meaning. This would eliminate fear of having Sikhs serving as government officials in the future.


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