This morning’s shooting in a Sikh temple reminds me of the morning of September 11th, 2001, when I was working with Sikhs in a major U.S. City.
I’d been working for several months at a job that required a group of us to travel around to different retail stores. We would work in the mall one night, a small kids store on the east side of town another afternoon, and a major-chain bookstore the next morning. The work wasn’t the best pay, many of my co-workers were probably not skilled to get other jobs, and My boss and his brother and nephew wore turbans.
I’d grown up in the Rocky Mountains, and was not used to seeing people in turbans, burkas, or other ethnic dress (aside from some traditional Japanese and Basque populations who had yearly festivals in the area). The “big city” was new to me in so many ways, and exposure to cultures I’d never heard of before was one of them.
A year or two before I’d been living with my long-time girlfriend. Her brother and dad came to visit us one week and we took them downtown. Her brother spotted a man in a turban and had screamed to him, “Sand N—-r!” I remember feeling a knot in my stomach.
I talked to my Sikh friends about their religion. One night I even stayed up all night reading about Sikhism. The religion is pretty interesting, actually. Given its birth in proximity to Hinduism and Buddhism, it is very similar to Christianity and Judaism in is structures and some beliefs. One day one of these gentlemen was talking about “going to temple.” It made me feel guilty for not practicing my own religion.
September 11th, 2001
The morning of 9/11 I was up late. in fact, I first learned of the attack – at that time it appeared to be a freak air disaster – when the movie I’d been watching on VHS completed and the VCR flipped to television while it rewound the cassette. The second plane hadn’t hit yet, and my eyes were fixed to the screen when it did. Like most Americans, I was in shock – the big kind of shock where you see the structure of the world change before your eyes.
Later that morning, as most of the country was glued to their television sets, I went to work with my upstanding turban-and bearded boss and his family. They were just as rattled as everyone else. I felt bad for not realizing that, as fellow Americans, this attack was an attack on their country too. From my reading I knew that Sikhs and Muslims were not the same, despite the similarities (to Western eyes) in their appearance. I worried for them, though. I half-expected at any minute to see bullets from an angry redneck flying through the shop windows. They didn’t seem worried, though. Maybe they knew they were different and didn’t understand that “they all look the same” to unlearned eyes. Maybe they already lived each day with that kind of threat. I don’t know.
Partway through the job one of the guys got a phone call. He returned a few minutes later to announce to his relatives that the local temple had organized a blood drive to assist the red cross.
I respect those who have fought for our country and for the wars we are involved in. I worry, however, that there are quite more than a few who are returning with an uncontrolled hatred toward anyone with brown skin and an accent. Several months ago I watched one veteran abuse a handful of African-American Muslims in his care. He proudly proclaimed that he “hate(s) their kind” and that he was “targeting” one of them. Though his actions spoke louder than words, it wasn’t until he made those comments in front of several witnesses that our superiors finally “let him go.”
I know and work with many veterans. Sadly, I would have to say at least one third and possibly half of those are embittered toward Muslims, despite the fact that most (and the religion itself) are not our enemies.
After seeing the headline today, the first thing that came to my mind was who might have done it. Being a church shooting (as I first heard over the radio), I would have guessed an insider. With few exceptions, shooters in churches are usually intimately familiar with the religion itself. When I heard it was a Sikh temple, it shifted the scenario to one that includes Jewish Synagogues and Muslim Mosques. My guess is that it was hate-related, possibly a U.S. veteran (though most shooters are not former military, so that’s not an educated guess).
A Peaceful Religion
The President and others are fond of calling Islam – the religion whose strictest followers bring us modern stonings, beheadings, acid attacks, suicide-bombers and terrorist attacks – a “religion of peace.” The current media is bestowing that title on Sikhism.
The Sikhs are a peaceful people, but a quick glance at their theology might lead a person to believe otherwise. Their members are expected to live as “Saint-Soldiers” – righteous living people who are ready to defend those who are persecuted (notice the word I put in italics). Sikhs even have a holiday that is sort of a “warrior olympics” which is called “the Charge of the Army.” Like other strict, encompassing religions (like Catholicism, Judaism, Seventh-day Adventism, and Mormonism), they have some specific rules to follow that are largely ignored, absent, or manipulated in mainstream Christianity. The Sikh’s rules include prohibitions on: Cutting their hair (hence the turband and beards), using drugs, getting drunk, committing adultery or having any sexual relations ouside marriage, superstition (what they consider “blind spirituality”), material obsession (Judeo-Christians might call this covetousness or idol worship), animal sacrifice or eating ritually-killed meat, non-family living (celibacy, etc), worthless talk (lying, bragging, gossip), having a priestly class (priests are no different than anyone else).
While I was dating a girl who also worked with myself and the Sikhs, our boss came to me one day and asked to speak with me alone. He mentioned that he had seen my girlfriend sitting in a car alone with another male worker. I was thankful he had told me, but it struck me as strange that in such a “progressive” city my boss would have the same moral concerns as me. It was one of many times he and his relatives impressed me with their good nature.
Oak Creek, Michigan
The terrible event which has happened today should sadden Americans on the same scale as the Colorado shooting. It should disturb us in the way Mosque and Synagogue bombings should disturb us. Religious buildings should be safe places to go and worship. Religious meetings should be safe places to excuses oneself from the world and focus on our Creator. When we bash anyone because of his or her beliefs, we are a part of this kind of vile action.
We live in a nation that preserves freedoms. We have the freedom to worship how, who, or what we please. We have the freedom to believe what we want to be without anyone else infringing upon that belief. We also have the freedom to possess firearms. We have the freedom to act how we want, as long as it doesn’t reduce anyone else’s freedoms.
Today, from what the news reports have said, six innocent people were killed and three were injured. The anti-American monster who used one of his freedoms to take away the freedoms of his victims also lost his life. In the days that follow we will hear a little bit about him. We may hear a little bit about his victims, but unlike the Colorado shootings these were not members of the mainstream society, and the news knows that, and will plan to ignore them in favor of more “interesting” stories. Few, if any, members of the media will step forward and give us stirring profiles of our off-center fellow Americans, and they will subsequently stay out of the spotlight, continue to be viewed as “unusual,” and they will continue to be persecuted by evildoers because they are different.
I will try to list them here, as the names and other details are made available.
PARKASH SINGH, mid-30s, had recently returned from India with his wife and children.
Officer ___, a 20-year veteran of the Oak Creek police department.
SATWANT KALEKA, age 65, The president of the temple since 1996.
____, a high-priest of the temple.
Our prayers are with them.