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Sep 23, 2013 12:36 PM EDT

Sikh Columbia Professor Attacked: 20-35 Jump Prabhjot Singh, Call Him 'Osama' and 'Terrorist'; Police Call Hate Crime


A professor at the University of Columbia was attacked Saturday night on a New York City street by a mob of people who called him "Osama" and a "terrorist," only the man is not a Muslim, the New York Daily News reported.

Prabhjot Singh is Sikh, a religion that originated in India, unlike Islam, which is more prevalent in the Middle East. He was attacked by a mob of about 25-30 people who likely targeted him because he wears a turban and a long beard.

Singh, an assistant professor of international and public affairs at Columbia, suffered a broken jaw, but fortunately no injuries worse than that. His jaw required surgery, performed Saturday night.

Police are investigating the attack and have classified it as a hate crime.

"There was a group of 25 to 30 young men. One of them said, 'Get him, Osama,'" Singh, who suffered a fractured jaw, told the Daily News on Sunday night. "I got punched directly in the face about three times."

He said he only remembered lying on the ground when an onlooker came to intervene, breaking up the mob.

"I'm grateful to them," said Singh. "It could have been a lot worse."

"It's important that they are caught and be held responsible for what they did."

Singh noted that Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims because their similar outward appearance. Sikhs, and regularly practicing Muslims for that matter, should not be associated with the very few radical Islamists linked to organizations like Al Qaeda.

"I've written about this in the past," Singh said. "But it's one thing to go from writing about something to receiving an assault. It's scary."

Singh and his friend, Simran Jeet Singh, wrote an op-ed published Aug. 24, 2012 in the New York Times about hate crimes toward Sikhs.

The articled followed the tragic events of the Aug. 5 shooting involving a Sikh temple in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wis. On that day, Wade M. Page killed six people before shooting himself and since, the authors wrote, Americans began to pay attention to the difference between Sikhs and Muslims.

In the article, they called for tracking of anti-Sikh hate crimes and for an end to all biased crimes against Muslims and all Americans.

"The legacy of anti-Sikh violence and its contemporary prevalence make it painfully obvious that anti-Sikh violence is often purposeful and targeted," the authors wrote. "The government must begin tracking and counting anti-Sikh hate crimes, just as it must continue to vigorously combat bias and discrimination against all Americans, including Muslims. We must do away with a flawed and incomplete assumption of "mistaken identity" regarding Sikhs; until we do, we will all be the ones who are mistaken."

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