America was still coming to terms with the murderous rampage in Aurora when the savage shootings at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin took place on the 5th of August. We were reminded yet again of the horrors of Columbine and those of Norway. We were reminded of the bestiality that exists in men, the arbitrary places where it can be unleashed and the ephemeral nature of our lives.
The horrors that the congregants of the Sikh Temple underwent this Sunday morning are unimaginable. The women who were stunned by the sound of gun shots while preparing food, children that had to run past bodies on the ground, the men that lost close companions – this certainly was a catastrophe of incalculable magnitude.
It is now known that this barbaric act which so far has claimed the life of 6 innocent souls was conducted by Wade Michael Page. Page has been identified as a US army veteran, a neo-Nazi and was the member of a white-supremacist band called ‘End Apathy’. Their music was characterized as being extremely violent and with references about murdering Jews, blacks and gays; Page’s friends also mention his belief in a ‘racial holy war’. Survivors describe a ‘9/11’ tattoo on his arm which perhaps gives us some clue about his motives.
Often confused for Muslims, hate crimes against the Sikhs in the US has increased substantially post 9/11. Soon after this incident, commentators began theorizing about the possibility that this incident, too, was a misdirected hate crime. Muslims also began to view this as something which was aimed at our community. However, no concrete evidence has yet emerged about the motives of the killer; nothing we know so far shows the killer’s disdain for Muslims.
Labeling this tragedy as a misdirected crime whose real targets were intended to be Muslims is inappropriate and detracts the discourse away from the real victims. It is yet another manifestation of the victim mentality which is increasingly pervasive in the Muslim community. Similar sentiments were expressed after the Norway shootings where many placed a greater emphasis on Brevik’s Islamophobia and perverted political theory than on the victims of the shootings. Discussion about why this incident wasn’t called ‘terrorism’ have already sprung up, but as Iesa Galloway already mentioned in his piece on the Colorado shooter– we don’t need to go there again.
We do know that the man was a white supremacist and it is very likely that this crime was racially motivated; not religiously. However, given the history of hate crimes against Sikhs, it is possible that they were in fact mistaken for Muslims. If that is the case, the Muslim community has an even greater obligation to stand in solidarity with American Sikhs and join them in this time of need.
Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims. We pray that this incident will strengthen – not strain – the ties between Muslim and Sikh Americans. May God make this period of difficulty easy for them and protect us from any such tribulations in the future.