The Sikh Community Teaches America About Forgiveness

Oak Creek Sihk president Satwant Singh Kaleka

One issue that I have with the current coverage of the Oak Creek shooting in Wisconsin is that the media seems to be focusing way too much attention on the dead neo-nazi who committed this atrocity and not the lives of the people whom he attacked or the community he victimized. As someone who has followed right wing extremist groups for as long as I can remember, I understand the appeal behind examining people who devote their lives towards pursuing hate. However in this case in particular it seems that the Sikh community in Wisconsin happens to have an incredible universalist message to spread regarding how to respond to this sort of hate. For a variety of reasons, their words need to enter the national zeitgeist.

The first thing that the victims of this shooting have tried to tell the rest us is that America still represents the land of opportunity for immigrants- in theory. However in saying that we must also come to terms with the fact that our current policies and attitudes amongst our citizenry are making life difficult for some of our newest arrivals:

KALEKA: Rachel, let me tell you, like, I think there`s a lot of soft attacks that happened on immigrants. And by soft, I mean things that kind of go unnoticed or like you get a broken window or somebody slashes your tires. I was in Georgia and somebody hit me from behind and then wrapped around me and then started whipping their middle finger, and told me to get out of this country, and that was just post 9/11.

In a sense, these soft attacks, I thought it`s just happening to me once in a while. We had a congregation at our house of well over 200 people that came to pay their respects to my father. And the more stories I would hear from them of these soft attacks where people thought, it`s not something we should tell people, it`s not something we should just let — you know, push it out there, they wouldn`t even tell their friends and family.

I didn`t tell mine until they started telling their stories. And I started thinking to myself, oh, my god, how many soft attacks are actually happening out there? I mean this is obviously like critical attack. But what is happening out there right now? What`s the pulse of our nation? How is immigration and immigrants, how are they doing right now? Because 99 percent of us are immigrants on this — on this land. And we all have to look at each other and figure out each other`s culture and background.

The Sikh community has experienced racism and violence throughout the last thirty years in this country. Ironically much of this violence has occurred not because of any hatred specifically towards the Sikh faith, but rather because they are frequently mistaken for Muslims. The ironic ignorant racism on display in these sorts of actions is of course no surprise in a country that is more than comfortable embracing and encouraging Islamaphobia (even within our political candidates). However the Sikhs has chosen instead to forgive our communal stupidity and instead to celebrate our country’s stated goal of religious and political pluralism:

Today and in the days to come, I believe Americans are hungry for the next step. We are ready to come together in a groundswell of healing, hope and renewed commitment to a world without violence. We are ready to come together in true national unity, we are ready to listen.

There is a Sikh gurdwara in nearly every city in America. Come this Sunday morning. Listen and be with us. Americans’ support — every candle, every prayer — will be felt by Sikh Americans across the country. Together, we can all be Sikhs; we can all be Americans — and know what that means.

The vast majority Americans I still think are unwilling, or incapable, of conceptualizing (much less demonstrating) this sort of profound mercy and understanding. When we are attacked as a country we have largely used that opportunity to exact revenge and exercise our pent-up feelings of wrath on whomever we happen to think is responsible. America has always been a place that is improved whenever a new group of people enters the country and contributes to our national identity. Perhaps we should listen to this newer group of Americans when they speak about the need for acting compassionately in the face of tragedy.

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About stefanbc

I am an attorney who works mainly in criminal defense, child welfare, and medical marijuana advocacy. I live in Long Beach with my wife and four pets. View all posts by stefanbc

3 responses to “The Sikh Community Teaches America About Forgiveness

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