By Nadya Agrawal – Guest Contributer
The shooting that occurred August 5th, 2012 at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was a tragedy of horrific proportion that invoked a response from groups across America. However what was equally tragic was the response by those representing the “affected” community. Even before it was known that the shooter responsible for the Wisconsin Gurdwara massacre was a white supremacist, my Facebook newsfeed was blowing up with comments like “99% of turban wearing Americans are Sikh… We should never let a hate crime like those of today to occur over ignorance” (sic) or “In light of the tragic events of August 5th, I’d like to take the time to share with you some facts about Sikhism…” While I consider what occurred in Oak Creek to be a tragedy, I do not think learning some quick facts about Sikh traditions will go far enough to keep catastrophes like this from occurring. We’re missing the real message – hate crimes still occur in our world of instant information and golden tolerance. These internet actions seem to scream, “Why are you attacking Sikhs? They’re not the people you are looking for!” To say this would be just as ignorant as a killer storming into a temple to kill people he mistakes for Muslims or other “dangerous” communities.
The events of Sunday, August 5th began when a Caucasian male, Wade Page, entered the Oak Creek Gurdwara armed with a gun. He picked out his victims one by one who were no match for the young man and his firearm. Seven people died in the shooting, their ages ranged from 39 to 84 and they were all unarmed. Lt. Brian Murphy finally shot down Page outside the temple. In the past few days, it has been reported that Page was an Army veteran and a member of a white supremacist rock band. It is understood that he was fueled by hatred for those responsible for the September 11th attacks.
Attacks against Sikhs have been occurring frequently in the wake of 9/11 (a full timeline can be found here). Middle-aged and elderly Sikh men sporting turbans and going about their daily business have been assaulted countless times over the past decade with many either having to go to the hospital after or dying of injuries sustained. Even many Gurdwaras have been set on fire by arsonists, and the last reported hate crime against Sikhs was only a little over a year ago. Each time it was clear the attackers meant to target those responsible for the September 11th attacks or simply those of Muslim descent. Sikh men have been mistaken as terrorists as their turbans and beards are similar to those worn by Osama Bin Laden. Valerie Kaur, a filmmaker based in the U.S. who has chronicled attacks against Sikhs, told the Associated Press that “the turban has tragically marked us as automatically suspect, perpetually foreign and potentially terrorists.” The Sikh community, while the most common target, is not the only focus of post 9/11 hate crimes; many other communities, including the Latino community, have been targeted for their brown skin.
It is terrible that these hate crimes occur, but I refuse to believe that those attacked were somehow more innocent than the originally intended victims. What hasn’t been addressed is how everyone is unsafe in the presence of a person bent on hate, no matter who or what the hate is directed at. The U.S. hasn’t been exactly the friendliest place for brown people after the attack on the Twin Towers with the series of racial slurs that have become more common to hear – only one of which will be mentioned. Things like “A-rab” and gross mispronunciations of countries like Iraq on the evening news are demonstrative of the subtle but abject disrespect Middle Easterners face from other Americans. As such, none of us are impervious to misdirected Western hatred. Attacks like all those against Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, and brown people in general that have occurred in the last eleven years are symptomatic of a nation that resigns itself to hate anyone who opposes it. The worst thing is the men and women who died in these attacks had created lives for themselves in America with their families. They were all chasing the same dreams as other red-blooded Americans. They were shot dead by wayward Americans high off their xenophobic hatred. Those who died posed no threat to anyone; they were not perpetrators of terrorist activities. And all we can do now is remember them for their part in a series of tragedies.
It does not make sense to allow one tragedy like the 9/11 terrorist attacks to breed more tragedies like the previously enumerated crimes against Sikh men. Pointing fingers at fellow Americans who are only tenuously linked to the catastrophic event foreshadows the onset of a witch-hunt. The only course of action at this point would be to take a firm and uncompromising stand against all hate crimes. Simply put, there really is no good reason for shooting anybody and increasing vigilante efforts like this against people who have done no harm. To allow this to occur would only go so far as to further engender fear. It will never alleviate the pain of the past tragedy. Even though the readers of this article are probably not the type of people who would shoot up a temple or anywhere else, there are still strides to be made towards being more accepting of all peoples. Education is key here in keeping hate crimes from occurring. It does not do anybody any good to point to the differences between people as we all share a common humanity that stands regardless of personal beliefs, religion, or physical attributes.
Surprisingly, as I was writing this article I came across another gem on Facebook. This time, though, I could totally agree with it:
“I was gonna post something that would tell you the difference between Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims but I realized that you don’t need to know anything about somebody’s religion to know that you shouldn’t shoot them” – Eric Parsons.
And that’s all there is to it.