Attack on Sikhs: Tolerance and Intolerance

On August 5, 2012 a mass shooting took place at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, next to Milwaukee by a male white supremacist. Wade Michael Page killed four people, including a responding police officer, and wounded four. After being shot in the stomach by a police officer, he fatally shot himself in the head. defines Sikhism this way:

A way of life and philosophy well ahead of its time when it was founded over 500 years ago, The Sikh religion today has a following of over 20 million people worldwide. Sikhism preaches a message of devotion and remembrance of God at all times, truthful living, equality of mankind, social justice and denounces superstitions and blind rituals. Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book and Living Guru, Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that began in the Punjab region in what is now Pakistan, was founded by Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539).

In his 2011 book, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote:

Though a follower of Kabir [a Muslim], Guru Nank studied the sacred Vedas at the feet of many Hindu masters and went on pilgrimage to Mecca. One day at the age of thirty-one, as he was bathing in a river, Guru Nanak mysteriously disappeared. Up on his reappearance three days later, he proclaimed that God is neither Hindu nor Muslim, and that he himself would follow God’s way. Combining the essence of the two great religions he had encountered, Hinduism and Islam, he began new teachings that came to be known as Sikhism. (page 30)

Many male Sikhs do not cut their hair and wear turbans. They often have beards. Following 9-11, they have often been mistaken for Muslims and have been discriminated against or attacked as “terrorists.” Many have South Asian skin-coloring and appearance.

It is ironic that members of a religion that specifically preaches equality of mankind and social justice should be attacked by one so intolerant, but the intolerant do not seem to be able to tolerate the tolerant.

It was both ironic and coincidental to receive in my family’s mailbox about the time of the attack at the Sikh temple, the print edition of the Christian Science Monitor that contained in its Difference Maker series an article about Arno Michaels, a former white supremacist, who changed and took a different path, one of compassion and love against hate. Ironically, also, he grew up around the area of the attack, near Milwaukee. About the time of the birth of his daughter, he began seeing things differently and started to change. He has written a self-published book called, Life After Hate, began an organization of that name, and under that organization, has an  outreach program, Kindness Not Weakness, that talks about nonviolence. Michaels especially focuses on youth.

On August 14, PRI’s The World radio program featured an interview with Muslim American rapper, Zaki Syed, who posted a video shortly after the attack on the Sikh temple as a tribute to the victims and calling for love, tolerance, and understanding. Syed had been thirteen at the time of 9-11 and had been befriended by Sikh schoolmates. He performed his rap in a Sikh temple in Sacramento where he is a college student. (The videos may be viewed here.)

On Saturday, August 17, the Louisville, KY published a letter from the President of the the Sikh Society of Kentucky that is based in Louisville.  Daya Singh Sandhu expressed gratitude for the community’s support following the tragedy and explained Sikhism. Also that day, published in its faith blog about the Sikh community and a service in their temple.

The day before, on August 16, published a letter from an African-American woman who was a retired bank executive. Deborah Turner wrote that when she was walking home in her middle-class neighborhood with her groceries on a beautiful day she was suddenly yelled at with the “N” word by a young white male in an SUV. This was the first time this had happened to her.

Writing that she would like to say several things to the young man who yelled at her, she ended her letter this way:

Finally, I would say to the parents of this young man: Please remind your son (and any other children with whom you come in contact) that they have control over the decisions they make and the choices made determine the path of each of their lives. I am aware that sometimes our visible leaders do not set an appropriate example, but as parents, even if we are challenged in our day to day experiences, we must convince our children that the future is theirs to make with it what they will.

There is no reason for yelled epithets on a Sunday morning toward an old woman who can do nothing for or to them. Instead, get out and put energy into working to make the world the best it can be for all of us.

Yes, we all need to put energy into working to make the world the best it can be for all of us. In that light, I would like to encourage readers, if they have not done so, to please affirm the Charter for Compassion.

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