The terror killings at the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Sikh Gurdwara (place of worship) on 5th Aug. 2012 have left the Sikh community in deep shock. As the FBI and other security agencies continue their investigation into this act of "domestic terrorism," the initial signs and series of events point towards yet another hate crime against the Sikh community. This is not the first time that this peace loving community has suffered loss of life in the hands of hate, perhaps due to mistaken identity. Hate is hate. And no one should have to pay with his/her life. Concrete action is needed to ensure that tragedies like this don't come back to haunt the Sikh American community repeatedly.
UNITED SIKHS, a UN affiliated non-profit organization, has responded to the tragic event by sending its Task Force team members to Milwaukee, to support the impacted families. Hardayal Singh, Director of UNITED SIKHS, stressed, "This attack is the latest in a long list of national tragedies and our prayer and sympathy goes out to the families of the victims including the heroic police officer, who was injured whilst he put his life at stake to protect the Sikh community."
"We have set up a Task Force to work with law enforcement agencies in the United States, to ensure that the Sikh community is reassured of its safety. Simultaneously, we have called on the interfaith community to show solidarity by holding prayer vigils in places of worship. We will also be releasing a community safety kit for Sikh Gurdwaras on how to handle such disasters" said Jatinder Singh, UNITED SIKHS director. The UNITED SIKHS national helpline has been extended to victims of this tragedy who may call 1-855-US-UMEED.
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with over 25 million followers. There are approximately 700,000 followers in United States. Ninety nine percent of individuals wearing a turban in the United States are Sikhs from India. Despite this, Sikhs are often mistaken as Muslims, partly because of their distinctively similar appearance -- they sport a beard and a turban. The post 9/11 decade has seen an increase in hate crimes against the Sikhs. In fact, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station owner in Arizona, was the first casualty of hate crimes committed in the name of retaliation against the act of terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11. Frank Roque, who shot Sodhi five times, selected Sodhi as his victim because he "looked like a Muslim with his beard and turban." The Associated Press has reported that more than 700 such incidents have taken place in the United States over the last decade.
There have been multiple hate crimes in the recent past with majority of these incidents going unreported, an action that does not help the cause of increasing awareness. The most recently known incident in California, in December 2011, involved a 56-year-old Sikh preacher, S. Anup Singh who was attacked by a 26-year-old white man, Mitchell Dufur, at Fresno airport.
So soon after the events in the town of Aurora , where a crazed gunman had targeted innocent people watching a movie, this comes as another shock. Many in other parts of the world often criticize the US for its ready availability of guns -- the right to bear arms is of course enshrined in the Constitution. In the three days after the Aurora shooting, applications for the background checks needed to buy a gun legally were up 43 percent on the week. Our hope is that this trend isn't accelerated with the latest developments in Wisconsin.
It is difficult to speculate on the causes of the tragic event so early on but many have commented on the rise of an anti-religious sentiment in the Western world especially post 9/11.
Even if the perpetrator of these sad events was not a militant secularist, to what extent has society made it acceptable to treat religion, especially if it is seen as emanating from foreign shores, as a malign force.
UNITED SIKHS advises Sikhs and all other minorities who suffer racial profiling and hate crimes to report these incidents immediately. UNITED SIKHS has and will continue to push for funding and creation of programs that allow the American communities at large to be educated on the diaspora of immigrant communities like the Sikhs. Sikhs in America cannot afford to have more examples of such wanton violence. Such senseless acts have to stop, NOW!