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The discovery of a swastika on a car near Electchester last week is disturbing but not surprising.
Queens is a world microcosm. Nearly every nationality and all of the world's great religions are represented here. There is an overriding spirit of tolerance. But incidents like the swastika show that tolerance does not run deep.
On May 5, a statue of San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila was stolen from the front yard of a Filipino cultural and religious center in Jamaica Hill. On June 4, a young Sikh attending Jamaica High School was punched by a classmate who tried to remove his patka, the small turban that covers his hair. Queens Sikhs say they frequently suffer abuse from people who assume they are Islamic.
Five days later, a grade school student cut the hair of a young Sikh girl and harassed the classmate and her brother over their head coverings.
When these incidents happen, they are often followed by a demand from a politician or community leader that the attackers be arrested and charged with a hate crime. State Sen. Toby Stavisky said, "Hate crimes need to be dealt with swiftly and decisively. These crimes are not just against the communities they target, but against us all."
Those who commit these crimes deserve punishment, but we do not believe tougher sentences or crackdowns will solve the growing intolerance problem.
The real and only lasting solution is better education. Today's students need to be taught about the world's many cultures and religious beliefs. They need to understand the reasons why Orthodox Jews wear yarmulkes and Hasidic Jews dress in black. They need to know the difference between Muslims and Sikhs. Others need to understand why priests wear a Roman collar and some nuns wear a habit.
Without education, it is too easy for youths to be hostile toward people who dress and worship differently. Hatred and intolerance grow out of ignorance. Making acts of intolerance a hate crime will not solve the problem.
Sikh Educational Foundation President Harpreet Singh Toor told our reporter that he hopes to foster better understanding among Queens' many cultures.
"Everybody understands that this country is ours as much as anybody else's," he said. "New York should be the last city in the world where these things happen."
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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