Sikh Murders Call for Outrage and Clarity

ColorLines' Rinku Sen argues that it's not enough to say Sikhs were "unfairly targeted."

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"Sikhs Lament Being Mistaken for Radicals or Militants." That's a headline in the New York Times this week, in the wake of a gunman's attack on a Sikh temple in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, CNN's "expert" on the massacre explained that this confusion means the religious group is "unfairly targeted."

But no one seems to be mentioning that killing anyone for his or her religion is wrong, or that Islamophobia is rampant in the United States. That's just one of the gripes that ColorLines' Rinku Sen has with the public conversation about this most recent mass shooting. In a piece on Tuesday, she makes suggestions for how to stop the deaths that result when some question "whether suspicion of brown skin is justified." Limits on gun access, better education and a robust mental-health system are partial solutions, but Rinku says the real key is for all of us to "muster up clarity and courage."

Details are going to emerge in the coming days, but I already know what they'll amount to. A white man, in his 40's, nursing resentment over 9/11 for more than a decade, planned for a long time to kill some "enemies." The guns will turn out to be legally acquired, or if not, so accessible as to make the law meaningless. The man will turn out to be mad. In the debate, people will argue that the cause is racism…no, it's gun control…no, it's mental health. It is impossible for us to navigate the deadly tangle of all three.

The Sikh community has been thrown into high visibility under the saddest possible circumstances. Sikhs are generally of Indian origin, practicing a monotheistic religion in temples called gurdwaras since the 16th century. Sikhism is not a sect of Hinduism or Islam. Sikhs grow their hair as a signal of their devotion to God.* The religion emphasizes unity and peace among all people.

I've known many Sikhs, though there are only 750,000 in the U.S. I'm often struck by how devout and considerate they are, regardless of age or gender. I have learned a lot by following the Sikh Coalition, as well as United Sikhs and the Sikh Activist Network. Sikhs have been a prime target for racist violence since 9/11, and this is not the first murder of a Sikh by a misinformed, angry white man. Earlier this year, 92 members of Congress pressed the FBI to start counting hate crimes against Sikhs.

Only CNN attempted continuous coverage yesterday, and I'm grateful that they tried. Yet that coverage was so generally devoid of Sikh voices that it just reminded me how ill-equipped the media are. The "expert" they turned to most often was the sincere but inadequate Eric Marrapodi of CNN's Belief Blog. He kept saying that Sikhs were not Muslims, but were often mistaken for Muslims and "unfairly targeted." The first time he said it, I thought, wow, that's unfortunate phrasing and he'll stop using it after he realizes or someone points out the implication that Muslims can be "fairly" targeted. But no one ever got a clue. Islamaphobia was never mentioned, much less condemned for the ignorance and violence that it spreads.

Read more at ColorLines.

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