First, and most importantly, I want to express my deepest condolences to the families of the six Sikh Americans killed in their suburban Milwaukee temple last Sunday. I also want to express my sincere hope that everyone wounded makes a full recovery.
I'm deeply moved and inspired by the temple membership's generosity, even in the minutes and hours after the attack, as they organized themselves to provide food and water to the police and journalists on the scene. This act reflects the Sikh tradition of showing hospitality to any visitors.
Fundamentally, the killings in Oak Creek, Wisc., are an attack on America. The alleged shooter was a white supremacist who talked constantly of a "racial holy war" that was coming to this land.
We don't know yet whether the alleged shooter targeted his victims because they were Sikhs, because he thought mistakenly that they were Muslims, or simply because they were not white Aryans. He did, however, target them and define them as being part of a group he hated. That hate is America's greatest existential threat.
The America we need to be, the America I hope we are becoming, is an America that defines itself specifically against hate. This America is a nation where every member is a full member of the American community. This is why President Obama, after the Oak Creek shootings, emphasized that Sikh Americans are "part of our broader American family."
That's what he meant in 2004, when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention:
Alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we're all connected as one people. If there is a child on the South Side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me even if it's not my child. If there is a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription drugs and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer even if it's not my grandparent. If there is an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper -- that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, and yet still come together as one American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.
We need to feel, in our hearts, that we are truly connected as one people. Whatever your own background, each of us must recognize that those who are different from ourselves in terms of skin color, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, and region are first and foremost members of our broader American family. Making that recognition is a non-negotiable, core value of the America we need to be. Making that recognition doesn't mean we all agree all or even most of the time on specific issues, but it means we work together to ensure each of us has the opportunity to reach our full potential. It starts with tolerance, but it's much more than that. The America we need to be stands diametrically opposed to hate. It has to, in order to survive.
President Obama has tasked America with a new "mission" for the 21st century. Not only should America stand as a beacon of freedom, we also have the opportunity to show the world that an incredibly diverse society can also be one that feels itself to be one family, that we can truly be one, out of many. Such a society stands opposed to hate and to fundamentalism of every kind. This mission is central to Obama's understanding of American exceptionalism.
The deaths of Sikh Americans at Oak Creek -- because it was a crime motivated by hate -- are a cancer that threatens our ability to be that family. There is no surgery we can perform to cut out that hate. How do we fight that hate? With love.
I'm one person, one American, saying to the families of the victims, the survivors, and the Sikh community targeted that I'm with you. We share this land. We are bound together by our country's history and by our shared future together. We are Americans together. I'm with you. And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.