An American Tragedy, 3 Years Later

Punita RiceCulture

A Sikh Tragedy, an American Tragedy

Some of the content in this post, I originally shared here three years ago. You can read that post here.

Three years ago, on August 5, 2012, in Oak Creek Wisconsin, a man opened fire at a Gurdwara (Sikh house of worship), murdering six people, and injuring four more. For those slain or injured in this hate filled day, their loved ones, and for Sikhs (who are a minority in the United States) in America and all over the world, this shooting was horrific, heartbreaking, and a reminder that hate still exists in our country.

“For me, the mass shooting is not just about how to keep guns out of the hands of a murderous few. It’s also about my community’s sacrifice in the struggle to live as free and proud Americansthis is not a Sikh tragedy but an American tragedy.”
Today, we are all American Sikhs by Valarie Kaur

In the days that followed, I remember reading comments online (usually a bad idea, I know) and someone said something like “Sikh men shouldn’t be surprised by the prejudice some of them face when stepping out in the morning.” And I can’t accept that.

Land of the Free

To that someone, and to any other person who would raise the notion that any person should “expect” to face prejudice because of what they believe, I have to say no, in America, they shouldn’t have to expect it.

A Sikh man, like any freedom loving American, should not have to “expect” to be treated with injustice, intolerance, or hateful murderous rage, because that’s not the country we live in. Not in this day and age, and not in this place.

Having an unshorn beard and wearing a turban are things that men should just walk outside and “expect” to face consequences for having; not in the country that prides itself on such freedoms. We are a nation that defends the right to follow one’s religion (not just allows it, but actively defends it).

So, to perpetuate the notion that a man who chooses to follow his should “expect” to be treated with violence is unacceptable, and it means we’re failing as a nation. Not as a Sikh community (which is known for being non-violent and sharing with the community), but as a nation.

As a nation, and as individuals, we should not be suggesting that Sikh men and women can exercise their religious freedom at their own risk (particularly in a nation where exercising religious freedom is a fundamental right, and one of the very things our country was built upon), but instead should be working to remind others of our national values.

Americans support the Sikh community

Thankfully, in the weeks that followed the horrible shooting, Americans from all backgrounds have rallied together to show their Sikh brothers and sisters how supported they are: Without Fear or Waver (Navroop Mitter) observes the camaraderie of Americans after this tragedy, and revels in how Sikh Americans have had no cause or need for fear following this incident. The feeling in the nation is one that certainly makes clear how isolated the perception of the terrorist responsible for this tragedy is.

Americans still have more to learn

In contrast, the article “Why the Reaction is Difference when the Terrorist is White” by Conor Friedersdorf approaches America’s reaction from an admittedly more glass-half-empty perspective. The article is disappointing and frustrating, but interesting, and certainly illustrates that we as a nation have room to grow.

The bottom line is, our nation’s well being and interests are best served when Americans of all creeds and walks of life band together and give support to one another, with no tolerance for anyone who threatens our tolerant way of being.

More about Sikhism

Sikhism, a peaceful religion originating in North India, is the 5th largest Organized Religion in the world, with approximately half a million followers living in the United States. Click here to learn more about Sikhism, its fundamental beliefs, and central tenants. FYI – Wikipedia‘s overview of Sikhism is straightforward and helpful for those who are completely unfamiliar with the religion.

Stray final thoughts:

  • The shooter, Wade Michael Page, was a white supremacist who committed this heinous act out of hatred. Is this not domestic terrorism?
  • The shooter purchased his gun legally.
  • Related: Obama called for “soul searching” on how to reduce violence following this horrific incident.
  • Focusing on the differences between Muslims and Sikhs, while valid, basically “misses the point” (article by Paul Raushenbush).
    Here’s a great quote from that article, to end with:
    “Let us get to know our Sikh sisters and brothers, as well as all of the ‘others’ in our neighborhoods so that we might grow stronger as one nation, and as one global community.”