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Bush Meets With Sikh Leaders - 2001-09-26

President Bush says America's fight against terrorism must not include mistreatment of ethnic or religious minorities in the United States. The President met with Sikh leaders at the White House Wednesday.

Continuing his appeal for greater religious tolerance in the wake of this month's terrorist attacks, President Bush said everyone must be treated with respect "particularly during this time" as the country prepares for war against terrorists and those who sponsor them.

Mr. Bush told a group of American Sikhs that he was saddened by the murder of an Indian store owner in the state of Arizona who was shot shortly after the attacks because, police say, he wore a turban in keeping with his faith.

"An American Sikh has been killed, unjustly so. These citizens bring their hearts with them, " the president said, " and I can assure them that our government will do everything we can to not only bring those people to justice, but also to treat every human life as dear, and to respect the values that made our country so different and so unique. We are all Americans bound together by common ideals and common values."

Some Sikhs have been caught-up in a growing wave of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment following the attacks in New York and Washington. A Moroccan gas station attendant was attacked in the state of Illinois. Police arrested a man in Seattle, Washington who allegedly tried to set fire to a mosque.

Visiting a mosque last week, President Bush said those who feel they can intimidate fellow citizens do not represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the President is continuing his message of religious tolerance, including another meeting with Muslim leaders Wednesday, because Americans must stand united against terrorism.

"It's important for all Americans to remember the traditions of our country that make us so strong and so free our tolerance and openness and acceptance," the spokesman said. " We come from a very rich cultural heritage no matter what anybody's background in this country."

The FBI is investigating more than 40 hate crimes against Arab-Americans since the attacks. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has set up a telephone hotline for victims to report anti-Arab or Anti-Muslim hate crimes.