When a simple, classic-looking Gap poster featuring Indian-American designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia was defaced in a subway station, the response from the South Asian community was as might be expected: A mixture of anger and a little sadness. But then Gap offered their own response to the situation and changed everything.
Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor of The Islamic Monthly, first spied the ad after a friend posted it on Facebook. The ad showed Ahluwalia sporting a thick beard and a turban, both of which are indicative of his Sikh religion.
Many may not recognize Ahluwalia, but he is a heavy hitter in the fashion world, a high-end jewelry designer and actor. His company, House of Waris, creates elaborately wrought jewelry pieces coveted the world over. He appeared in the 2004 film "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," 2007's "The Darjeeling Limited" and even a few episodes of the CW show "The Carrie Diaries." His style has landed him on numerous best-dressed lists, and he is considered a role model for Sikhs in the entertainment and fashion industry.
Probably prompted by Ahluwalia's South Asian appearance, someone had scrawled over the poster, changing the caption from "Make love" to "Make bombs" and writing "Please stop driving TAXIS."
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion primarily practiced in Eastern nations, with a majority of its followers located in India. It is one of the largest organized religions in the world, and despite confusion from some quarters, it is a completely different religion than Islam.
Iftikhar shared the picture of the defaced poster on Twitter. Much to his surprise, Gap responded. Soon after, the company changed its own Twitter background to the ad that had been defaced, an ad that -- ironically -- is part of the retailer's holiday #MakeLove campaign.
PHOTO: On this GAP subway ad featuring a Sikh man...Vandals have written "Make Bombs" & "Please stop driving taxis" pic.twitter.com/yvw2vhfexW
— Arsalan Iftikhar™ (@TheMuslimGuy) November 25, 2013
@TheMuslimGuy Hi there. Thanks for informing us. Can you please follow & DM us? We'd like to know the location of this.
— Gap (@Gap) November 25, 2013
Gap also released a statement about the episode to HLN: "Gap's marketing campaign is about inspiring people to fill the world with love this holiday season. It features a range of cultural icons, including actors, singers and artistic collaborators, chosen for the ways they are spreading and creating love in the world...Gap is a brand that celebrates inclusion and diversity. Our customers and employees are of many different ethnicities, faiths, and lifestyles and we support them all."
It may seem like a small gesture, but to many offended by the racist graffiti, Gap's actions were an appreciated nod of solidarity. The Facebook page "Thank you, Gap" has nearly 2,000 fans, and features user-supplied pictures and stories of Sikh and South Asian men and women as they actually are: normal people, with normal jobs and normal hearts; models, soldiers and, yes, cab drivers.