Only in AmericaSANDEEP SINGH BRAR
I have been amazed by the outpouring of grief and support and sympathy by ordinary Americans since the horrific events of the Wisconsin shooting.
Like many other Sikhs, I was glued to watching the all-day coverage on CNN on Sunday. As I watched, I had my laptop on and I posted the following on facebook, as well as tweeted it:
‘The United States is a tolerant country, Most Americans are friendly & nice people. The actions of the crazed gunman killing people at the Wisconsin Gurdwara today do not represent America or most Americans.’
Although I live in Toronto and love Canada, I’ve also spent some time in the United States; I lived for two years in Chicago. As one of the founding members of the Sikh Coalition, I was recently invited to the White House to attend the first ever policy briefing on Sikh issues and attended with my son Arjan Singh.
What I’ve seen and experienced in my time in the United States is that most Americans are honest, decent, simple folks who are both friendly and courteous towards Sikhs.
I remember a few years ago when I took Arjan on a much-relished trip to Dallas, Texas to watch the Dallas Cowboys play a Monday Night football game (I’m a huge Dallas Cowboys fan). Here we were, two Sardars, turbaned father and a patka-d young son going to the heart of America – Texas, the wild west of America, where folks walked around carrying guns. I had assumed it would the heart of redneck America.
Roaming around the city, taking the public transit, even getting a free ride to the stadium for the big game from some other
Cowboys fans that we had met at the hotel, we experienced nothing but the friendliest reception from Americans – white, black and Hispanic. At the game, I’m sure most people had never seen a turbaned Sikh before; they greeted us with smiles and thumbs up whenever they saw us walking around, father and son, both decked out in our Dallas Cowboys football jerseys with team blue turban and patka for the big game.
That wonderful reception in Dallas and all of the other experiences that I’ve had in talking and dealing with ordinary Americans has convinced me that they are a good people.
You have a tiny minority of evil people in all cultures and all countries. Can you name even one country without crazies? The outpouring of love, support and sympathy that we as a community have been receiving in the aftermath of the shooting make it clear to me that there is far more goodness and decency out there in America than most countries in the world, including India.
It saddened me this morning when I watched a news report on television showing a small crowd of locals in India protesting
against America at the US Embassy in Delhi.
I watched the police press conference in Wisconsin this morning and was struck by the details of the heroic action of the first police officer to arrive at the gurdwara during the gunman’s shooting rampage. Lt. Brian Murphy, a 21 year veteran of the Oak Creek Police Department rushed to help a wounded Sikh and was shot 9 times at close range by the gunman as he stood over the officer.
When other officers arrived on the scene, they engaged in a gunfight with the gunman before finally killing him and then rushed to render medical attention to their wounded fellow police officer. Incredibly, shot 9 times and near death, Lt. Murphy waved them off, signaling that they should go into the gurdwara first and help the other victims first rather than him.
If that is not a great example of the Sikh concept of sacrifice and selfless service to others, I don’t know what is.
I contrast the actions of Lt. Murphy with the eyewitness reports of how the Delhi police stood idly by, sometimes just across the street, while Hindu mobs dragged out innocent Sikhs from their homes and burned them alive in the street during the November 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi and other Indian cities.
Here are just a few examples of some of the emails that I’ve received on my web site (Sikhs.org) from ordinary Americans since the shooting yesterday. I think it’s very important that I share these with you (verbatim):
“To all Sikh followers: Although I know little about your way of life, I want to personally extend my condolences for the horrible tragedy in Wisconsin. I sometimes wonder about our plight in life ... why we have such craziness in the world ... what is it about mankind that produces this hatred? Please accept my prayers for the fallen members of your faith, and I hope that your community can feel comfort in knowing many Americans condemn this act, and send their prayers to you. May God have mercy on the fallen, and may your fellow believers gain strength and comfort from Americans that join you in mourning.”
“My family and I are sorry for this horrible act that took place today. You are all in our thoughts and prayers. I came across your website and was impressed with how you believe. God Bless.”
“Wanted to express my grief for your people in Wisconsin, and nation and world wide. Had some friends years ago who were Sikhs, some of the most decent people I ever knew. I weep with you, and will pray for you.”
“I have just seen what has happened in Wisconsin on TV, and I would like to send out my sorrow to the Sikh community. Ignorance cripples all who embrace it.”
“To who it may concerned: Im shocked and sadden by the loss of your people. They are Home and in Peace but the pain and the lost is ours, may our God be with you and carry you through this very difficult time. I pray that one day we will not know hate or senseless killings any more. My thought and prayers are with you.”
“I would like express my deep sympathy to people of the Sikh religion, for the shooting in Wisconsin this day. The horrible truth is ignorance led to this. I believe you are good, peaceful people deserving of our love and respect. May you find some comfort in the support of thousands of non-Sikhs ... who today stand with you. My heart is with your people in this time of action based on ignorance and intolerance. Peace to you.”
“I am so sorry for the terrible news out of Wisconsin. My heart goes out to the Sikh community. People are ignorant and angry but that's no excuse for the tragedy that happened today.”
“My thoughts are with you and all the members of the Sikh organization during this time. I pray this brings about a greater understanding of the Sikh religion in America. I join you in prayers for peace and an end to all violence. Peace to you always.”
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of life at one of your temples in Oak Creek, Wis. My condolences to all the victims and families of the victims too.This country is so full of hatred and evil people, and we all pray for all the people to find the right road and path ...”
“I am an American Roman Catholic. This is to express my sadness at the fatal attack on Sikhs in Wisconsin. I hope greater attention will be paid to preventing acts of violence against Sikhs and anyone else due their religion. May God be with you.”
“Would just like to say how sorry I am and my heart felt sorrow for the families and friends for their loss in Wis. When a cowardly act like this happens to good people worshipping their God, it happens to all no matter how or who they worship.”
I hope that in reading these messages from ordinary Americans, you are as encouraged and heartened by their sincerity as I have been.
This is the real America, not the crazy gunman’s vision of America. Let us remain positive, optimistic and keep our gurdwara doors open , because if we give into fear and anger, then we let the crazy gunman win.
One of the comments I received on our facebook page from a fellow Sikh was: "Americans are not supposed to be so ignorant to confuse Sikhs with other undesirable elements.”
It’s natural to be frustrated, but it calls into question a bigger issue – why do many Americans not know about Sikhs and their religion? My view is that you don’t blame a student for not knowing a subject; you blame the teacher for not teaching it. If some Americans don't know much about Sikhs or Sikhism, it reflects on our failure as a community to educate them.
Our community priorities need to be focused on educating our neighbors about who we are and what we believe in, rather than building more and bigger gurdwaras, or bigger homes and bank accounts. This tragedy gives us an opportunity to ponder this and take the initiative to explain and educate a sympathetic American public about who we are.
Let’s take this reminder to heart, to be ambassadors for the Guru, so that the deaths of those Sikhs on Sunday at the gurdwara will not have been in vain.
[The author is the Curator of SikhMuseum.com and the creator of the world’s first Sikh website, Sikhs.org]
August 7, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Bhupinder Singh (Tento, Italy), August 07, 2012, 1:53 PM.
2: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), August 07, 2012, 2:21 PM.
I don't understand why here in the West we cannot create a network of gurdwaras where Sikhs from across the diaspora can contribute to organizations which will better the situation of our community. For the most part, we are free from the control of the SGPC and although gurdwaras may lose some of their independence under such an initiative, it will ultimately help our community. I suppose the problem may lie in the fact that the gurdwaras are the last bastion of traditional power for people born in Punjab and living in the West.
3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), August 07, 2012, 4:32 PM.
Part of the problem we have is that we need to dissociate information about Sikhs and Sikhism from Hinduism and India - that is, keep the historical references and connections, but discard the mudification that has been foisted on us by our detractors. The world needs to see what we are, warts and all, but without the extraneous propaganda and misinformation.
4: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, USA), August 07, 2012, 4:50 PM.
I agree with Mr. Brat, that there should be one umbrella organization for Sikhs to handle this kind of tragedy and to educate people through TV media. I would like to say that all our organizations in the USA: Saldef, Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, and SCORE, that they all are doing wonderful work and service. But, it would be very much beneficial to have a central institution to solely handle the media on Sikh issues. All gurdwaras should support this financially.
5: Dale R. Bowers (Maynardville, TN, U.S.A.), August 07, 2012, 7:54 PM.
First, I would like to give my condolences to the victims of this horrible shooting. I must admit that before this tragic shooting, I did not know much about the Sikh Faith but since then have endeavored to learn more. If one good thing can come from this, I hope that more people will take the time to learn about your faith and stop persecuting your community. My prayers and good thoughts go out to you and all the victims of this tragedy.
6: JKG (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), August 07, 2012, 11:12 PM.
Could we please start naming the gurdwaras in the West as "---Gurdwara", not temple? Rightfully so, it confuses people and we get lumped with others. Easy enough to change the sign in front of a building, I think.
7: Harpreet Singh (California, USA), August 07, 2012, 11:36 PM.
Sandeep, a really well written article. Although, there are crazies in every culture and country, I think the 'crazies' are a fringe minority amongst "whites". Comparing this to the massacre of Sikhs in India would be akin to comparing this to the Jewish holocaust. What happened to Sikhs in India was state sanctioned and supported by a majority of Hindus. That is a separate topic though. We as Sikhs must understand our history but we must understand the present too. This killing may been conducted by a fringe lunatic but the fact remains that we as a community have become really passive and only wake up, get into action when something like this happens. If nothing else, average Sikhs should heavily support our institutions, such as the Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs.
8: Harshpal Singh (Khandwa, M.P., India), August 08, 2012, 6:02 PM.
Sandeep ji, a well written article. Though I'm far away from the world in which you are living but through internet I have been observing reactions of common American citizens which clearly shows how deeply they are moved by this incident. Flying the US National Flag half-mast shows the level of impact it has had on the US society. But one thing I want to point out. Other than Sikhs living in Punjab, US, Canada, or in any other place outside India, there are a significant no. of Sikhs living in other parts of India too where they are, of course, not in majority. And if you go by number they will be about 4 to 5 million. 1984 was an organized pogrom, not by a community but by a political party. How can we blame the common Indian, since everything was organized or crafted by the government of that time, but nothing was ever disclosed or accepted. Till now even the whereabouts of Subash Chandra Bose is never disclosed to the public. Sikhs are prosperous in areas outside Punjab also. Look how places of importance such as Huzur Sahib, Bidar Sahib, situated far from Punjab, have been maintained. The place where I live has been offering daily langar to the passengers of return train from Huzur Sahib to Delhi and people of various backgrounds offer donations to its fund.