Today, we are all Sikhs.
You don’t think so?
What’s to stop a man, filled with hatred, from showing up at your church next Sunday because he doesn’t like how you look or what you believe in?
Do you think it won’t happen to you because you’re a Christian in a Christian-majority nation? Tell that to the survivors of the seven members of the Living Church of God in Brookfield — not all that far from the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek — killed by a fellow congregant on March 12, 2005.
What happened to the members of the Sikh Temple on Sunday happened to every American, every Wisconsinite. Because the six men killed were guilty of nothing more than what millions of Americans do on Sundays, and Saturdays, and Fridays: exercising their freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there’s been an appalling series of attacks on Sikhs, oftentimes apparently confused with Muslims by their attackers. Not that attacking Muslims worshipping in their mosque would have been any less despicable and abhorrent. For the record, terrorist attacks in the name of Islam are just as abominable as terrorist attacks in the name of Christianity. Such attacks are a perversion of the beliefs held by 99.99 percent of all Muslims and 99.99 percent of all Christians.
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in South Asia. It has about 27 million followers worldwide. Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair. Male followers often cover their heads with turbans — which are considered sacred — and refrain from shaving their beards. There are about 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S., according to estimates. The majority worldwide live in India.
We suppose it’s the turbans and the beards that cause people to confuse Sikhs with Muslims. They do, we concede, look different than most Americans.
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You know who else looked different when they first came to this country? The ancestors of an overwhelming majority of Americans.
It seems there are those who choose to forget or ignore that everybody who came after the Pilgrims were, at one point, the new immigrants, and that there were American Indians already here when the Pilgrims arrived.
After we learned Sunday of the horror of peaceful people gunned down on the grounds of their house of worship, we learned Monday of the hate inside the mind of the alleged shooter.
Wade Michael Page, who joined the Army in 1992 and was discharged in 1998, was described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “frustrated neo-Nazi” who was active in the obscure underworld of white supremacist music, the Associated Press reported.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC, a nonprofit civil rights organization in Montgomery, Ala., said Page had been on the white-power music scene for more than a decade, playing in bands known as Definite Hate and End Apathy.
While this leads to some disturbing connections, we cannot state conclusively what propelled Page into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Sunday.
But if you think what happened in Oak Creek happened to somebody else, you’re wrong. It happened to all of us.
Because all of us exercise freedom of religion, including those who exercise it by having no religion. That, too, is freedom of religion. It’s among the freedoms that make us Americans.
It’s also among the freedoms that every member of the Sikh Temple was exercising before a man, filled with hatred, entered their holy place.