This Too We Shall OvercomeT. SHER SINGH
Monday, August 6, 2012
It’s going to be a few difficult days ahead. Even weeks, I’m sure.
The tragedy yesterday in Wisconsin is heart-wrenching. It has taken loved ones away, and left behind families struggling with the senselessness of it all. A brave police-officer has paid heavily by putting his life on line to help his colleagues contain the terror.
And a troubled man brimming with hatred lies dead, leaving behind a lot of pain … and questions.
No doubt it's going to be tough grappling with this one. But it’s times like these that test our mettle as Sikhs. Once again, we will dip deep into the well-springs of our faith and find strength therein.
At times of trial and turmoil - particularly in times of trial and turmoil! - there is no place for anger and hatred, fear and revenge.
It is time to be together.
It is a time of prayer.
It is a time of celebration of the loved ones who have enriched our lives, but have, inexplicably, been taken away from us.
It is a time to be thankful to God for all blessings, the easy and welcome ones, as well as the painful and difficult ones.
It is a time to support each other.
It is a time to be compassionate.
It is a time to forgive.
It is a time to freely give our love not only to those who deserve it, but also to those who appear undeserving.
It is a time to be merciful.
All of the above come easily when times are good, but they don’t mean anything unless we can do the same when it is not easy, and we have to take a deep breath and a long sigh and be big-hearted and equanimous. If we cannot find these same sentiments deep within us in time of trouble, then we lose all claims to them.
It is a time to be strong, really strong. Now’s the chance to show that we understand the meaning of the khanda we sport so proudly on our t-shirts and bumper-stickers, our jewellery and our flags. Now’s the time to be truly macho.
It’s no time for despair. Because there is no reason to despair.
Death will come to all of us, without regard to merit or lack of it. How we die is an excuse, a bahaana, as we call it in Punjabi. When we die is a mystery … we have no access to the time-table. Early, timely or late, there is no significance to the juncture in which death appears … other than for those left behind bereaving.
True, the nature of the Wisconsin tragedy - its magnitude, its enormity, its outrage - complicates how we feel during this time of passage.
But we must be very careful, as a community, to refrain from drawing the wrong conclusions from it.
These communities we live in, in the West, are decent societies, run on humane ideas and principles, and those who have been born here or somehow had the good fortune of having the opportunity of moving to live here, are extraordinarily blessed.
True, these societies are not perfect. But they do try hard and chip away steadily and commitedly at their failings and shortcomings - unlike those we have left behind.
How then do we explain the evil that befell on the good Sikhs of Oak Creek on Sunday morning?
To begin with, we should not fall into the trap of thinking that the world is against us, or that America is. Because they are not. I don’t need to give you the umpteen examples we have, to prove that such violence has victimized all pockets of life in the United States, the recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, being but one example.
In Wisconsin too, this is not the first such instance. On the opposite side of Milwaukee, almost the same distance that the suburb of Oak Creek is from Milwaukee, in March 2005, a 44-year old gunmen opened fire inside a Christian evangelical church and killed 7 innocent church-goers, and then killed himself.
These facts don’t make Sunday’s tragedy any more easier to bear. But they collectively remind us that American society itself has to grapple with and answer the questions raised by the tragedy, not the Sikh community.
Sikh-Americans have done no wrong. There’s nothing they could have done to prevent this tragedy. There’s nothing much they can do to prevent such a tragedy from happening again - and, sadly, it will, inevitably - against other Americans somewhere or the other.
America as a nation needs to come to grips with this.
In the meantime, let us not lose faith in America, in its inherent goodness, in its strength and decency, in its celebration of a society which is indeed like no other.
If we have any doubts of this, all we need to do is stop and think for one brief moment how quickly, how thoroughly, how efficiently, the authorities have reacted once news broke of the presence of a gun-wielding madman in the gurdwara. Within minutes, swift action was taken, further deaths were averted and the community was made secure.
There is no other place on earth which does this and does it so well.
There is no reason on earth to feel any less safe than we were on Saturday, the day before the massacre.
America is still America the Good for all its citizens, including Sikh-Americans. Let’s not lose sight of that while we nurse our wounds and comfort those who have lost so much on that fateful day.
It is a time for prayer and remembrance.
Conversation about this article
1: Baljit Singh Pelia (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), August 06, 2012, 11:15 AM.
The shooting at the Sikh Gurdwara in Wisconsin is a failure of epic proportions of the US government and media in that they have failed a very vulnerable minority by not informing the nation of the potential for mistaken identity since 9/11. The Sikhs, who practice total faith in the creator by keeping their bodies whole and wearing a turban are still vulnerable if there is another terrorist attack on the US. The people of this nation must protect the people that lay their faith and trust in God.
2: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), August 06, 2012, 11:16 AM.
I don't really think it's fair to compare what happened at this gurdwara to other incidents in the United States. Yes, church goers may have been killed in the same state by a gunman, but I guarantee those church goers never felt threatened due to their identity for even a single instance in their entire lives. The massacre in Aurora seems to be the actions of a raving lunatic. What happened at the gurdwara was the targeted killing of a community which has endured much for the wrongs and baggage of others.
3: Raj (Canada), August 06, 2012, 11:34 AM.
We must remember, the gunman received his fate at the hands of the guardians of law of the land. Unlike in the streets of Delhi, Lahore and fields of Punjab. The west is still the land governed by the rule of law. Let's show the world what Sikhs are all about; Truth, equality, justice, forgiveness and compassion.
4: Kaur (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), August 06, 2012, 2:46 PM.
Dear Sher Singh ji: I agree that it is a time for prayer but what about the wider community dialogue that is taking place? Many are describing their experiences online of Sikhs as a peaceful and loving people whereas others chose to rebut this with examples such as Indira Gandhi's assassination, domestic violence, Air India bombings - all pointing to the assumption that Sikhs are a martial and therefore violent people? A fund has been started for the victims and families (http://www.indiegogo.com/Milwaukee-Sikh) but how can we combat these statements and what should be done at this time in terms of education or community development? What do we need to do? Seeking guidance from an elder. Thank you ji.
5: G.C. Singh (USA), August 06, 2012, 5:07 PM.
Yes, there are pockets of hate, bigotry and intolerance, but this tragedy has again demonstrated the triumph of American values and the overwhelming decency of its people. The two police officers who confronted the killer and risked their lives did not bother about the race or religion of the victims and enforced the laws of the land. All law enforcement agencies including FBI were deployed immediately to control the situation. The media gave full coverage to the concerns and views of the Sikhs and the difficulties that they face due to mistaken identity. The top law enforcement officer of the country, Attorney General Eric Holder, sent his representative today to the press conference in Wisconsin, expressed his heartfelt sympathies with Sikhs and assured all resources for investigation and security of the community. The President of the country just a few minutes ago personally spoke to the media about this tragedy and promised to work with community leaders and take steps to prevent future incidents. Now all this has happened in a country where we are barely less than a million and with a short history of about 110 years. But compare and remember what happened to us just 28 years ago in a country for which our Gurus and our forefathers made untold sacrifices to free it from 1000 years of foreign occupation and exploitation. Sikhs gave their blood and sweat to defend and feed entire India and contributed to its welfare way beyond what their numbers warranted. But what did we get? Sikhs in India should not get hyped by the Indian media and start protests in front of the American embassy. And in the diaspora, we should be wary of the crocodile tears being shed by the Indian ambassador (who insults us by calling us Indian-Americans - we are SIKH-Americans, no less!) or any efforts by the Indian government in interfering in American affairs.
6: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), August 06, 2012, 5:19 PM.
In answer to #4: No matter what we do, no matter what ANYONE does, there'll be some people always who will find reason to trivialize it. We should not be so thin-skinned that we can't bear to hear those who don't engage their brains before they open their mouths or those whose only intent is to create mischief. When we come across such people, we must ignore them, avert our eyes, and carry on with what we need to do and not let fools distract us. We should not even waste anytime in answering their foolishnesses. Certainly, we shouldn't be giving them publicity by talking about them. This is a time for prayer, remembrance, for introspection and reflection. Re the fund: I would suggest that we as a community should open our hearts and pockets for Police Officer Brian Murphy. He is a true American hero, but especially for all Sikh-Americans and Sikhs the world over. [Compare this wonderful man with the sorry figures who pass in India as police-officers!]