The Oak Creek, WI shooting: education is needed, but so is pursuit of justice

Sharon Pian Chan, of the Seattle Times, argues that the focus on Sikhs in the aftermath of the Oak Creek, Wisconsin shooting may be misdirected:

We’ve got problems if the first reaction to the news of the shooting was, “Who are Sikhs?” The first is that our educational system has not done its job in teaching about Sikhism.

More importantly, it’s the wrong question to ask. We have not dissected the victims of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, and why they like Batman films.

We are focused on the relevant question — who is the shooter, and what was his motivation. We’re breathlessly analyzing the color of his hair. We’re asking the hard question: Could law enforcement have done something to prevent the shooting?

This is not just a media issue, but it is also an issue for America’s Sikhs.  We have seen that the response to the attack in Aurora, Colorado was not mirrored in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The media has paid far less attention to the latter. And, because the victims in the latter’s case looked different and unique, perhaps much of America decided that the shooting was unique to the people wearing the strange clothes.

What’s worse? As Sarah Wildman in the New York Observer writes, our country’s leaders’ response to the Oak Creek attack was especially tepid:

Speaking out forcefully against this summer’s violence, as well as the rhetoric that has led to it, would seem to be a key role for the president, or anyone who aspires to the job. Instead there’s been an uneasy distance about the issue, starting with the reaction to the Oak Park carnage. As Naunihal Singh pointed out in The New Yorker last week, the Temple shooting was treated more as a Sikh tragedy than an American one. Where Aurora garnered full-page sympathy narratives—tales of those whose lives were cut short, and the heroes died to save their friends—we didn’t hear nearly so much about the kids stuck, terrified, in the back closet of the temple in Oak Park, or the desperation of the relatives reading horrific texts from inside the nightmare.

After the attack, Sikhs (including myself) came out in droves to help educate an uninformed media and public about who the Sikhs are and what some of our core beliefs were. We wanted to prove that we are not the enemy. And, many people, for good reason, believe that educating to eliminate ignorance would help prevent such hate crimes in the future. However, when looking back, one wonders: why are we the ones defending ourselves?

Education has its legitimate role to play, but there needs to be a greater pursuit of justice. On his blog Electrostani, Amardeep Singh wrote:

But here’s the thing: I don’t know if the shooter would have acted any differently if he had really known the difference between the turbans that many Sikh men wear and a much smaller number of Muslim clerics wear — or for that matter, the difference between Shias, Sunnis, and Sufis, or any number of specificities that might have added nuance to his hatred.

When this quote was brought to my attention, I agreed with him. There is only so much that education can do, and a parallel concern should be the demand that Sikhs, Muslims and other minorities should be protected from extremist movements and other tendencies within our own borders that are giving rise to bigotry, hate crimes, murderers and mass murderers on a regular basis.

We must demand more of our elected representatives and of law enforcement. There is a broader issue at play than just that of one deranged man who attacked a Sikh temple in the midwest. The persecutors and the culture that creates them must be held accountable. We cannot be content in hoping that we have been able to convince people not to kill us.

One comment

  1. A_Singh

    Good point. It is not just education, but also the pursuit of justice, and also what other organizations like UNITED SIKHS and others are doing in help those deal with the issue in various ways through the medical, and other fields.

    We speak of how “our educational system has not done its job in teaching about Sikhism.”

    But it is also important to first educated ourselves as well, but education in general is also very crucial. Many of us in the American Sikh community, and Diaspora Sikh community in general are not aware of the state of affairs on Sikhs in the “educational system.” At the University level in the west and here in America one thing that has been done is that “Sikh studies chairs.” To teach in say an academic American university one will probably have to get their pHD from a western college since the methods of teaching are different than those from back home. Many of us are also unaware that many “western scholars” in the west have not really understood the Sikhs, and people from that very school of thought are the ones Sikhs approach to set up these “Sikh study chairs.”

    Again education is also important (so Sikhs should educate themselves on certain issues), but recovery and the pursuit of justice through legal, medical, academic, etc. means is just as crucial for American Sikhs.


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