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Monday, January 30, 2012

Jay Leno vs. some angry Sikhs

From BBC News:
A Leno skit showed the temple as the summer home of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 
Mr Romney has faced taxation questions over his huge wealth and many Sikhs are angry the temple has been depicted as a place for the rich. 
The Sikh community has launched an online petition and an Indian minister called the comments "objectionable". 
Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told reporters: "It is quite unfortunate and quite objectionable that such a comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple." 
Mr Ravi said the Indian embassy would take up the matter with the US state department, the Press Trust of India reported. 
He said: "The Golden Temple is the Sikh community's most sacred place... The American government should also look at this kind of thing. 
"Freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others... This is not acceptable to us and we take a very strong objection for such a display."
The Golden Temple is....well, it is what you might expect: an enormous building, literally covered in gold. Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab, India looks like a monument to ostentatiousness. Leno's writers could have done a GIS for "fancy building" and picked the most impressive one that showed up, but part of the joke  I'm guessing in choosing to use the Golden Temple as Romney's summer home is to suggest that he is obscenely wealthy. Not just well off, not just private jet rich, but affluent to the extent that it seems offensive. Profane. You know, like the kind of guy who would live in a monument to someone else's religion if he found it sumptuous enough. Here's the bit:



You have to admit, in comparison with the preceding photos of quite nice but not crazily impressive homes belonging to Gingrich and Paul, respectively (which I assume are their actual residences), following it up with what appears to be the fanciest building ever to exist and calling it Romney's "summer" home is pretty funny. It's funny in part because it doesn't remotely even look like a home. Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, pointed out in a statement that Leno's use of the photo is both a) Constitutionally-protected and b) obviously satire. And it was satire of Romney, not of Sikhs. But even if it was making fun of Sikhs, it's still protected. That is because freedom of speech does, in fact, include "hurting the sentiments of others." If it doesn't, well...that hurts my sentiments. Further appreciation to Nuland for saying that the United States government respects India and its citizenry without saying that the it respects Sikhism.
The online petition organised by members of the US Sikh community says Leno has been guilty of derogatory comments on Sikhs before. It adds that "Jay Leno's racist comments need to be stopped right here". 
Petition signatory Simran Kaur says: "Jay Leno must apologise and promise not to make any direct or oblique references to Sikhs or their places of worship." 
Leno has not yet commented on the matter.
Not being familiar with Leno's show, I have no idea what "derogatory comments" this refers to. But if it's simply making references to Sikhs or their places of worship, acknowledging that they exist, my question would be...why? Surely it would be worse to have your existence ignored?

I also don't know what "objectionable comment has been made after showing the Golden Temple," because so far as I can tell there was no comment after showing it-- simply depicting it was the gag. I can't help but wonder if Ravi and the community who organized this petition actually saw the bit in question and understand it.

ETA: From Ken at Popehat:
First up, we have Dr. Randeep Dhillon! Dr. Dhillon is suing Jay Leno. Is he suing Jay Leno for being a trite, phone-it-in placeholder? NO! There's no California cause of action for that! SAG would never allow it! No, Randeep Dhillon is suing Jay Leno for a lame joke about Mitt Romney suggesting that his vacation home was the Golden Temple of Amritsar, a holy site for Sikhs! Dr. Dhillon says that by making this joke, Leno "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." He's backed up by an Indian foreign affairs minister who says "freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others." 
Congrats, Dr. Dhillon! You win a date with California's robust anti-SLAPP statute! You're going to pay Jay Leno's attorney fees in this case, which I will estimate to be $50,000! And because some people will generalize about Sikhs based on the act of one asshole — you — you've just done more to expose Sikhs to hatred, contempt, ridicule, and obloquy than that threadbare hack Leno ever could! Way to go!

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