Under pressure from the Sikh community, Walmart on Friday pulled a turban-themed costume from its website that the Sikh Coalition has said is offensive to 9/11 victims and perpetuates "negative stereotypes about turbans and beards that have led to violence and discrimination against Sikhs and other minorities."
The Sikh advocacy organization sent letters or made phone calls to several retailers selling the item to request its removal. Amazon.com listed the costume as "Fun World Adult Mens Osama Bin Laden Middle East Costume Turban + Beard," while Walmart described it as "Turban Beard Adult Halloween Instant Costume."
Rajdeep Singh, Director of Law and Policy at The Sikh Coalition, told The Huffington Post, "If you lost a loved one during the 9/11 attacks or during our nation's war against Al Qaeda, or if someone attacked your father in a hate crime because he wears a turban, I doubt this costume would make you comfortable."
"We disabled this item for purchase and are in the process of immediately removing it from our site," a Walmart spokesman told The Huffington Post in an email, adding that the costume was not available in stores. "We sincerely apologize to any customers who may have been offended by this costume." Amazon did not yet replied to a request for comment.
For comparison, the Sikh Coalition offered this image of the original costume and Bin Laden as part of their letter.
Sikh Americans face an extremely high degree of ignorance surrounding their religious practices and beliefs, and a recent survey by Stanford University found that about 70 percent of Americans misidentify turban-wearing Sikhs as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or members of the Shinto faith.
The complaint to the retailers comes in the wake of a brutal hate crime against a respected member of the American Sikh community, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a professor at Columbia University and dedicated advocate for the underserved. His attackers shouted "terrorist," and "Osama" and pulled at his beard and turban in an attack that required him to get jaw surgery.
The turban is an important part of their religious identity for some Sikhs. In one case this year, Jagjeet Singh, who declined to take off his turban after Judge Aubrey Rimes of Mississippi Pike County Justice Court told him to "remove that rag," explained that to remove his turban would be sacrilegious and shameful.
See the letters from the Sikh Coalition below: