Wisconsin: Missing the PointPAUL BRANDEIS RAUSHENBUSH
In the immediate aftermath of the horrific shooting at the Gurdwara (that's the name of a Sikh House of Worship, not temple, not church), the media began to emphasize the difficulty many Americans have distinguishing between Sikhs and Muslims.
As Jian Ghomeshi tweeted: "It's both interesting and disturbing that CNN keeps feeling the need to point out that Sikhs are not Muslims."
Even some Sikh commentators found a need to make it clear that that they are peaceful people, which had a disturbing undertone of differentiating themselves from the bad, warring Muslims.
This is a good learning moment for the American people of all religions, and especially for the American media.
Yes, Sikhs are not Muslims and Sikhs are not Hindus, but jumping to clarify difference leaves the unfortunate, if unintentional, perception that there is something wrong with those "others."
I am reminded of the run up to the election four years ago when the Obama campaign kept on emphasizing that the candidate was not a Muslim. Only Colin Powell had the guts to stand up and say the obvious: The fact that Obama isn't a Muslim should not be the focus of the campaign, rather we should all remind ourselves that it shouldn't matter if Obama were a Muslim.
Sikhs from all walks of life have clarified to me over the last 24 hours that the most important outcome from this horrible tragedy would be for Americans to become more familiar with the Sikh faith and to understand that they are a beautiful part of the fabric of American spiritual practice.
Sikhs are not interested in being identified as "not Muslim." American Sikhs would rather their tradition be understood for what it is, rather than what it is not.
I want to offer a personal anecdote about my first major interaction with the Sikh tradition. In 2004 I brought students from the Religious Life Council from Princeton University over to Barcelona to present at the Parliament of the World's Religions.
We saw in the program that the Sikh community had decided that they would provide langar, which is a meal, for the entire parliament -- every day, for the whole week.
My first thought was that they must be mistaken, that only a few from thousands at the Parliament would be invited to attend. But no, all comers from every religious background, and from around the world, filed in and were seated in rows while gracious members of the Sikh community dished out wonderful food to all who were hungry.
While our Sikh hosts were preparing and serving the food, I noticed that their lips were moving. When I asked about this, it was explained to me that they were praying, as hospitality is a sacred act.
The act of generosity displayed by the Sikh community in Barcelona has stayed with me as I worked alongside the Sikhs during my remaining years at Princeton. These young people likewise have provided wonderful hospitality and good will across the University campus by working and learning side by side with Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and the entire wider Princeton community.
The horrific tragedy in Wisconsin was allegedly perpetrated by a man who was mired in the pit of white supremacy. He never had a chance to know the kindness and love the Sikh community and all of our communities have to offer. That was his and all of our loss. Let us get to know our Sikh sisters and brothers, as well as all of the "others" in our neighborhoods so that we might grow stronger as one nation, and as one global community.
The author is Senior Religion Editor at The Huffington Post.
[Courtesy: Huffington Post]
August 8, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Mohinder (Florida, USA ), August 08, 2012, 10:32 AM.
The Wisconsin massacre has been a very sad and disturbing event. However, there are few points that some Sikh commentators keep mentioning. We are not Muslims, we are peaceful people and our religion is in line with American values. The implication inadvertently is that it is OK for a crazed gunman to attack Muslims. The other point that should be made is that religion is above and independent of any country or lifestyle. It is for the individual to adapt and learn from religion to better their lives, not the other way round.
2: Dupinder Kaur Sidhu (Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A.), August 08, 2012, 11:34 AM.
Very well said. There are many other ways to explain who Sikhs are, other than the opening statement that we are hearing most - "Sikhs are not Muslims". Media really needs to get it right. And emphasize that if there were Muslims in the gurdwara, would it make it okay to kill them? Or if a Muslim was working at a gas station, would it be okay to kill him? Sikhs would never want any innocent brothers and sisters killed, no matter what race or religion they are from.
3: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), August 08, 2012, 2:52 PM.
As someone who has been glued to the TV since the first breaking coverage of the shooting, I can say quite confidently that whenever a Sikh says "We are not Muslims" it is almost always followed by a "but that is not a reason to attack Muslims either" or something along those lines. Although I will admit that CNN has gone out of its way to distinguish Sikhs from Muslims, but unfortunately this othering is the only method to ensure that misguided attacks on our community are reduced. That HAS to be done first and foremost! And then the point made that NO ONE should be similarly targeted, including the Muslims.