Yesterday we were again jolted by news of another deadly mass shooting. This time the location was suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the victims were worshipers at the local Sikh Temple. Six members of that community, along with the shooter, were killed. Several others were wounded, including a police officer. The shooter died in an exchange of gunfire with the police. Details are still emerging but a community of faith has been rocked, as has the broader community in which the members of the Sikh community live.
As a pastor who serves as a leader of an interfaith group located in and around Troy, Michigan, that includes Sikhs as members and participants, I offer my condolences to the families who have lost loved ones and to the Sikh community of Wisconsin who have been most affected by this act of violence. Because the Troy-area Interfaith Group, of which I am the convener, includes members of the local Sikh community, I offer to them my support and seek to stand with them in this hour of grief and shock. I know that I speak not only for myself, but for my church and for the interfaith group.
The victims of this shooting are Sikhs who form the fifth largest faith community in the world. With around thirty million adherents and forming a majority of the population in the Punjab, India, it is a monotheistic faith that emerged in India in the 15th century. It is a movement of religious and social reform, that at least from the outside seems to reflect both Hindu and Muslim influences. For more on the religion, you might read the Wikipedia article.
Since 2001, Sikh's have been subject to violence and prejudice because to some they look not only different, but possible like Muslims (that is the stereotypical Muslim has a turban). We don't know yet if this was the case -- that the perpetrator thought they were Muslims. That seems unlikely since this attack seems to be pretty well premeditated. But whatever the case, a community of faith, mostly immigrants was targeted and people were killed and terrorized.
As for the perpetrator, it appears that he was a white supremacist, which makes this a hate crime and possibly an act of domestic terrorism. Indeed, I think terrorist is an apt word to use here. The purpose of this attack was to take lives, but also to terrorize a largely immigrant community.
American Sikhs are, for the most part, immigrants from India. Sikh men are distinctive in their dress -- specifically their turbans. Because Sikh males do not cut their hair or shave, they pull up their hair and cover it (both beard and head) with the turban. Thus, the tendency among some to connect Sikhs with Muslims, and since Muslims are seen by many as prone to violence and even terrorism, well they become collateral damage.
Although the word "senseless" is again being used to describe this shooting, this is an unfortunate usage of the word. No violent attack on a faith community or any community for that matter makes sense. We don't yet know the motives of the killer, but there was and is no justification for an attack, whether the attacker thought he was attacking Muslims or Sikhs. It is time for us as a broader community to first of all say not to violence of any kind in our communities. We must also say no to the kind of bigotry that can lead to such acts of violence. There is an unfortunate stream of anti-immigrant and anti-foreign nativism present in America right now. We must say no to it as well.
So, as we stand with our Sikh neighbors, let us remember that this attack on their community is an attack on all communities. Violence has been on the decline, but it hasn't disappeared. We must be vigilant and we must work together to eliminate violence and stereotyping of the other.