No one is an enemy, no one is a stranger. We befriend all. We Believe in the Fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of mankind. We are one family. One becomes inferior or superior only by one’s deeds, and not by what caste, class, creed, or tribe one is born into.
All of the above are the core beliefs of Sikhism, but the Sikh American community which so proudly calls America home is hurting today. And in the midst of that pain, the outpouring of profound love and support the community has received from our fellow Americans following the shootings in Wisconsin is unbelievable.
Loss of any innocent life is sad, but when it happens at a house of worship where men, women, and children come together to celebrate their open, all inclusive faith by praying and offering gratitude to “One Universal Ultimate Supreme Being,” asking for the well-being of all humanity, then it has to be heart wrenching.
The shooting in the Oak Creek Wisconsin Sikh Gurudwara (place of worship) on August 5th that took so many lives was such an enigma and senseless act of violence that has shattered many innocent lives. No one expected it. No one would have thought it possible that such a tragedy could occur on a peaceful summer Sunday, in a place where members of all faiths are welcome to share in the community and develop their bond with God and their neighbors. But it did not define America for Sikhs. Perhaps it can lead to better understanding of Sikhs for America.
Oak Creek Wisconsin police officers did a commendable job, and likely saved many more lives by confronting the attacker.
The entire country is baffled, and President Obama stated, “As we mourn this loss, we are reminded how much our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.”
There is no doubt the Sikh American community feels a great sense of unease resulting from this incident. Feeling both that we are mistakenly associated with people of other faiths and that neither we nor any other innocent people should be singled out for abuse or ridicule because of our faith. Such unease has been there, not only since the Iran Hostage Crisis of the late seventies, but also from the backlash of 9/11 when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American wearing the traditional articles of faith of a beard and turban was shot and killed in Mesa Arizona on September 15, 2001, by a gunman who ignorantly declared, “I stand for America all the way.” The Sikh American community, and other similar minorities, have long lived under an unfair burden of vulnerability from baseless attacks and threats by individuals who cannot rationally justify their hatred.
Incidents directed at Sikh Americans may appear at first glance to be random and isolated, but when they are viewed collectively over a period of time, a troubling pattern emerges that requires enhanced actions by policymakers and law enforcement. It is crucial that the Department of Justice, through the FBI, collect and provide more detailed statistics on such incidents, so that local and federal law enforcement are better equipped to combat hate crimes. It is also crucial that members of the Sikh American community, and other minority groups, continue reporting these incidents, pushing for prosecution, and working with law enforcement to be heard.
This time it was Sikhs who were targeted; tomorrow, it could be any other faith or ethnic community. The cognizable fear associated with such directed acts of domestic terrorism is very disturbing to Sikh Americans, as well as to an overwhelming majority of peace loving, caring, and charitable Americans. We are solaced only by the outpouring of profound love and support the Sikh American community has received from our fellow Americans, and appreciate that we all stand together in times like this.
We hope that this tragedy will compel Americans to unite as a single community, working together to counter this culture of intolerance, bigotry, hatred, and senseless violence.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” We must take a firm stand of supporting organizations that build bridges of understanding with one another rather than walls of separation and fear.
Maybe the civil war isn’t over yet. Maybe the attacker here was motivated by additional factors, such as the economy. We will never know the entire truth, but we must seek ways of resolving the ultimate root causes of frustration, anger, and hate that lead to violence. It may not happen overnight, but it needs to be done – and we can do it!
Acting on hate is on the rise. But how can law enforcement protect every shopping mall, every school, every movie theater, and every place of worship at all times? They need our help, as a community.
Education alone can dispel ignorance. The mediating forces of faith and interfaith must become stronger through mutual, open dialogues about ways to establish peaceful and productive relationships of co-existence among diverse groups.
We all need to educate ourselves about the people who live here and make up our nation, starting with the Native Americans. How can we learn about people’s faith and culture? And how can they learn about us? That is a significant step in promoting a sense of camaraderie and reduced fear of the unknown; about someone who is unfamiliar, looks different, or has an accent.
We are proud of our men and women in uniform because of their gallant service to our nation. Soldiers are our defenders and protectors, but when a former Soldier – one who fought for the same freedoms we as a Sikh American community also fight for – massacres his own innocent, unarmed countrymen, there is something seriously wrong. Such issues must be dealt with – they must be addressed and fixed.
Let us work together in solidarity to ensure that love prevails over hatred, and such tragedies never happen again.
We must stand up for each other, no community should be made to feel isolated and vulnerable in a society that values diversity and was founded by immigrants.
Haven’t we always been global and importing and exporting our products and knowledge overseas? Haven’t we received goods and knowledge from other countries and people of all faiths? We are a global society, and all interdependent on each other. May we learn sooner rather than later that we are all one… and each other’s keeper.
Rajinder Singh Mago
Trustee Emeritus, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions
Member, Sikh Religious Society (Palatine, IL, USA)
Co-Founder Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago