As information about the tragic attack in Wisconsin unfolded, people across the globe were shaken, saddened and moved by a sense of solidarity with the targeted Sikh community. What too many do not know, though, is that this is not an isolated occurrence. No matter your religion, if you are practicing your faith as a member of a religious minority, you may be at risk -- whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or a host of other religions, including being Sikh in the U.S.
On Sunday, a man entered a Sikh temple in a Wisconsin community and slaughtered six people who were gathering for morning prayers. Undoubtedly, some were in the midst of praying for understanding, peace and lives filled with good health and happiness. But in just a matter of minutes, their community was devastated, and our country was sent reeling by what apparently is another instance of consuming hate.
As of this writing, it is not clear whether this act of horror intentionally targeted the Sikh community because of its beliefs; whether it reflects confusion about differences between Sikhs and Muslims and was intended as another in a long list of anti-Muslim acts of hatred; or whether there was some other motive.
But current reports posit that hatred was a motivating factor. In the United States, Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims because of the religious practice of covering their hair with turbans. On Sept. 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, was murdered in a retaliatory act for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He was the first American among too many who have been blamed and victimized for the acts of a small group of terrorists on 9/11.
That Sikh's are targeted is tragic. It shows how little we really know about these members of our national community. According the World Sikh Council, "A Sikh loves all creation as God's own manifestation. Acceptance of all faiths, and interfaith tolerance and understanding are basic to his faith." To be Sikh, therefore, includes a responsibility to honor other religious traditions and their followers.
Tragically, the Wisconsin devastation is not new or unique. Nor is it limited to one region of the world.
In March, Mohammed Merah murdered three children and a Jewish teacher in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse, France. Just last month, five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian were killed by a suicide bomber at Burgas airport, Bulgaria.
Fifty Christians were burned alive while seeking refuge in a Nigerian pastor's home on July 7, and that is not the only place where Christian persecution is being felt. Human Rights Watch has accused the Burmese military of killings, rapes and mass arrests targeting Rohingya Muslims during recent sectarian violence in Western Burma.
Every religion has adherents that live as a minority somewhere on this planet. And it appears that this is becoming a high risk living situation in too many places. Globally, we are trending toward "othering" these religious minorities, often perpetrating hatred of them, or even violence.
On July 30, the State Department released a report that found almost half of the world's governments "either abuse religious minorities or did not intervene in cases of societal abuse." The report states that Christians in Egypt, Tibetan Buddhists in China and Baha'is in Iran are among those without religious rights. And these are governments that are perpetrating prejudice. In other cases, it is neighbors who seek to destroy the religious "other".
To be a faithful member of a religious minority can mean risking your life. Ironically, those who target members of minority religions perpetuate a global phenomenon of religious hate that can put members of their own religion at risk in other areas of the world. Hate begets hate, but love and respect can beget love and respect.
Which will you chose? What will you spread?
We can either allow tragic events like last Sunday's slaughter to pass us by, to feel the pain and shock of the moment, but ignore the larger danger they foretell. Or we can recognize that we are living in an ever more integrated globe, one in which our own individual actions and attitudes reverberate and amplify, and return to us.
If peace and freedom of religion are important to you, now is the time to stand with our Sikh brothers and sisters. It is also the time to be proactive about respecting religious difference so that all people of every religion are safe to worship. Imagine what this world would look like if men and women -- of every faith and none -- could express their beliefs without fear of being murdered for that expression.
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