America is at a crossroads.
It has been reported that the suspect in the Sikh temple shooting who killed six in Wisconsin on Sunday has been identified as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old, white male. Officials believe Page may have ties to white supremacists.
In an article published today, the New York Times goes on to say: “Though violence against Sikhs in Wisconsin was unheard of before the shooting, many in this community said they had sensed a rise in antipathy since the attacks on Sept. 11 and suspected it was because people mistake them for Muslims. Followers of Sikhism, or Gurmat, a monotheistic faith founded in the 15th century in South Asia, typically do not cut their hair, and men often wear colorful turbans and refrain from cutting their beards.”
As the coverage of this heinous and cowardly attack unfolds, we are being informed repeatedly by the press that Sikhs are not Muslims. The implication being that the shooter was too stupid to know this. That he was too ignorant to understand the Sikh’s are not followers of the Koran.
But there is a second underlying implication. That Muslims are more at risk for being attacked in America than other religions. Did the shooter mistake Sikh’s for Muslims? We can’t know until more is discovered about the shooter. But it is safe to say that Americans are shocked by the brutality of this attack on innocent men, women and children.
In the meantime, we Americans have to ask ourselves some hard questions. In what ways since the attacks of 9-11 are Americans being subtly (and not so subtly) encouraged to view other religions and cultures as suspect? What kind of dialogues are taking place in our politics, our media and in our houses of worship? Are we teaching religious tolerance and acceptance, or are parts of the American dialogue encouraging racial and cultural divisiveness?
What does it mean when 11% of Americans say they believe Barack Obama, a self avowed Christian, is a Muslim? Who continues to encourage these kinds of divisive narratives in American politics? And to who’s advantage is it to do so? As if such a thing would make Obama unfit to be President? Or unfit to even be an American?
The loss of lives at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin is creates yet again a deep sense of bafflement and shock. It creates a feeling of powerlessness. But we are not powerless. Americans of all races, creeds and religions are offering their heartfelt prayers of support to the Sikh community. And this is a wonderful thing. But as Americans we can and should do more.
When people preach intolerance from any pulpit, media outlet or political party, it is for only one reason; to consolidate and hold power. And it is this single motive that underlies the darkest episodes in our nation’s history. It is past time for all decent Americans to stand up and speak out against the politics of division. If we are truly a nation founded on religious freedom, its time to reassert that central tenant for all religions in America and stamp out the slimy undercurrent of religious bigotry and bias that has grown in some quarters since 9-11.
America is at a crossroads. America has a choice. We can either blossom into a new American age, recharged yet again as we have been so many times since our founding, by the ideas, energy and spiritual dynamism of immigrants from across the globe, or we can fall prey the vile manipulative politics of bigotry and distrust, sliding into cultural and economic decline as the rest of the world surges past us.
Young fashionable Sikh courtesy of paul prescott / Shutterstock.com