the Sikh Temple Shooting
Portraits of the six worshippers
fatally shot at a Sikh temple
on Sunday Aug. 5 in Oak Creek, Wisconsin
On Aug. 10, I participated in a memorial for the
victims of the Aug. 5 shooting in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
I am a third-generation Sikh American, and, as the ceremony drew to a
close, I tweeted, “May this not be the last moment the nation watches
and mourns with us. May this be the start of lasting solidarity.”
Now is the time that we, as Americans already embroiled in an
increasingly bitter election year, must curb the rise of hate, fear and
discontent in our communities and on the airwaves. We must call on our
elected officials, media, educational institutions and faith leaders to
renew their commitment to a nation where all can live, work and worship
Hope can come out of tragedy. In the past week, an untold number of
Americans learned something about the Sikh religion. People of all ages,
races and religions came together at memorials in numbers far surpassing
expectations. Politicians, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
renewed the call for stronger gun control. Police officers who put their
lives on the line to stop the shooting were hailed as heroes.
Now it’s time for everyone, as Sikhs believe, to accept the will of God
and move forward and to jumpstart a national conversation about how to
transform hate, fear and polarization in our country.
The attack on Aug. 5 was not an isolated incident. It was part of a
pattern of hate and violence against racial and religious minorities in
the last decade and long before. Since 9/11, Sikh, Muslim, Arab and
South Asian Americans in particular have been marked as automatically
suspect in our national imagination. Ignorance about these communities,
combined with a powerful impulse to scapegoat, has led to hate crimes,
discrimination, bullying, profiling and prejudice.
The tragedy in Oak Creek can incite all Americans to do more to support
Sikhs and other communities targeted by hate. Many have called for
tougher laws restricting access to guns after the shooting. While we
must pass tougher and smarter legislation, each of us has the
opportunity to step up our commitment to human dignity in our own
spheres of influence.
Elected officials and political candidates must commit to civil
discourse and stop using ethnically and religiously exclusive rhetoric
to score political points. We must recognize that hateful political
rhetoric reverberates through society and dangerously activates the
imagination of those seeking scapegoats.
Congress must pass the End Racial Profiling Act for all people who
endure racial and religious profiling. If our government continues to
profile in national security, immigration and criminal arenas, how can
we expect more of a person on the street?
The FBI must begin to track hate crimes against Sikhs. We must be able
to measure the scope of this problem in order to solve it and ensure
that law enforcement can better serve all communities.
The media must help keep national attention on the causes and
consequences of the tragedy in Oak Creek. Already media coverage has
rapidly decreased. Reporters can commit to following the story,
reporting with accuracy and maintaining relationships with Sikh
Americans about their community’s issues.
Let us use what happened in Oak Creek as a teachable moment and continue
the conversation at home and in the classroom. We must teach students
about Sikhism and world religions, starting in primary school. Sikhism
dates to 1469 and is now the world’s fifth largest religion with 26
million people and counting. Sikhs first came to the United States in
the late 1800s and now more than half a million live here. It’s time to
incorporate all communities’ histories into our educational curricula.
More importantly, educators must step up campus interfaith projects that
facilitate dialogue and service in all levels of education. We can equip
a rising generation, not only to tolerate one another, but to engage
with one another with curiosity, compassion and respect. I believe that
storytelling has the power to cultivate the empathy that can change the
world. Educators can use storytelling through such films as American
Made, Divided We Fall, Dream in Doubt and Dastar on their campuses,
starting this fall on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.
Together, I believe we can respond to this tragedy with lasting
solidarity and, most importantly, change. As Americans, let’s set aside
the metaphor of the “melting pot” and embrace the metaphor of a
“mosaic”—a home where each of our differences are valued and celebrated.
* Valarie Kaur is a filmmaker, legal advocate, interfaith organizer
and founding director of Groundswell, an initiative that combines
storytelling and advocacy. You can learn more about Sikh Americans at <www.dwf-film.com>.
This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: CGNews, Aug. 14, 2012, <www.commongroundnews.org>.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.