It has been nearly a week since the shooting at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara. Yesterday, the memorial and funeral services were held for the six victims who did not survive. I pray that the Divine Spirit accepts their souls, and for the recovery of the critically injured. The loss of those from this physical realm can only be truly appreciated by their families and friends. The souls of the departed continue on their journey. In their memory, we must press forward and not let their deaths be in vain.
We must also acknowledge the first responders, civil rights organizations (SALDEF, the Sikh Coalition, SCORE, United Sikhs, and certainly non-Sikh groups) – official agencies, volunteers, media outlets and countless others who supported the Oak Creek Sikh and broader community, one that itself showed inspirational resilience in their response to the attack.
The path through which we carry forward is the determination we must make using different lenses and historical perspectives, each of which charts their own courses to the same destination.
For Sikhs, Muslims and other visible minorities, this tragedy can be viewed through the lens of post-9/11 backlash and xenophobia. These communities have suffered a steady stream of discrimination, hate crimes and murder until today. Often, the perpetrators of these acts invoke the memory of the terrorist attacks in 2001. It is in this view that many have taken on a campaign of education and of taking up the cause of civil rights of minorities.
Another lens through which we may view these attacks is the history of such crimes as a pattern in this country. Over the past two decades, mass shootings have occured on an almost annual basis in the United States, for varying (and often, undetermined) motives. In just this year, there have been four of these attacks on innocent people. Given this pattern, we must accept that there is a failure of culture occuring. And, through this perspective, we need to look at ourselves as a society to ask important questions. How are we failing as a country that individuals believe such vicious and large-scale assaults on innocent people are justified? How is it that a society that proclaims peace, liberty and justice for all also produces individuals who lack conscience to such a radical degree?
We must also look at the angle of extremism in this country regardless of race or religious bias, for this is a common thread that ties many acts of mass violence. Have individuals become so partisan that they have lost all perspective of universal values of right and wrong?
These streams of history intersected Oak Creek, Wisconsin on Sunday. The implications are mindboggling in terms of determining an actionable course that we may never see such tragedy again. But, we must acknowledge all of these aspects if we are to learn and progress as a people. We cannot accept these tragic events as the norm in a society such as ours.