Wade Michael Page killed six Sikh worshipers in their gurdwara (Sikh Temple) in Wisconsin earlier this week. Page, a 40 year old who is said to have been an active member of a white supremacist group, died of a self inflicted gunshot to the head. Although the motive of the crime is unclear, or has “died with Page,” most analysts, reports and members of the Sikh community are assuming it was a case of mistaken identity — Page thought Sikhs were Muslims and thus responsible for 9/11. In an attempt to rectify this misunderstanding, Chicago’s RedEye printed a “Turban Primer” to explain the difference between a Sikh turban and turbans worn by Muslims throughout the world to ensure the hate-crime is not targeted at the wrong people next time.
Writing about such mistaken-identity-hate-crimes against Sikhs, Mr. Sonny Singh said, ” ‘We are not Muslims’ hasn’t been so effective for our community, has it? Even if we do so in a positive way that does not condone attacks on Muslims, simply educating the public about the fact that we are a distinct community and that we in fact “are not Muslim” will not get to the root of the problem. As long as we live in a country (and world) where an entire community (in this case, Muslims) is targeted, spied on and vilified, we will not be safe, we will not be free.”
Page has not been labeled a terrorist, possibly because he has no religious or ethnic affiliation to South Asians or Arabs, but these are just the semantics. Shakespeare said “in time we hate that which we often fear.” We often fear what we do not understand. Amardeep Singh, writing for the Guardian sees “rays of light in this tragedy. On Sunday, CNN and other print and broadcast outlets expended more constructive copy on Sikhs than I have ever witnessed. Journalists of all sorts rushed to explain the basic tenets of the Sikh religion and the practice of our faith.”
He goes on to say how it is the responsibility of the Sikh community to educate others about their beliefs. But it is also up to the media to report what these communities are doing — how the mothers in their communities are soccer-moms and how their children vie to be valedictorian. “Humanize” them.
Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh religion, once said “owing to ignorance of the rope the rope appears to be a snake…” Ignorance feeds fear, fear spirals into hate. So while there are discussions of what triggered Page to kill (“hate music“), the fact is he did. How are we going to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?