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There’s More To Anti-Sikh Sentiments Than Ignorance


Aug 17, 2010
World citizen!
Guest blogged by Simran Jeet Singh

This past week, I visited a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania to introduce undergraduate students to the Sikh experience in America. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the professor had assigned Naunihal Singh’s piece from the New Yorker – “An American Tragedy” – one of the most insightful and well-written pieces published in the immediate aftermath of Oak Creek.

The professor had asked the students to submit short reflections on the shooting, and in reviewing their essays, I was struck by the consistent refrain that we have heard all too often: “If Wade Michael Page had only known that he was attacking Sikhs instead of Muslims…”

In other forums, I have discussed some problems with the framework of “mistaken identity,” including the implication of a “correct identity” to be targeted, the displacement of accountability, and the freezing of hate-violence within particular moments of time.

While I still stand by these arguments, I think there is a much more fundamental problem in our application of this idea to the shooting at the gurdwara in Oak Creek. We do not yet know Page’s specific intentions, yet we continue to assume that he actually intended to attack Muslims. For some reason, we have not seriously entertained the possibility that Page entered the gurdwara fully intending to kill Sikhs.

American society tends to delude itself into believing that ignorance is the exclusive source of hate-violence. Part of the reason for this is that this idea is more comforting than the reality. It’s comforting for us to think that people would be compassionate towards one another if they were more educated.

However, this approach ignores our country’s long history of oppression and discrimination of various communities. It’s wrong to think that every hate-crime committed against a Sikh actually intends to target a Muslim.

In thinking this way, we also tend to shortchange the intelligence of people who subscribe to racist ideologies. We assume that people are hateful because they don’t know any better, or that they aren’t educated enough to distinguish between Sikhs and Muslims. In the days and weeks following Oak Creek, I regularly visited some of the neo-Nazi sites that Wade Michael Page used to frequent, and I was interested to learn that many of the commenters on the site know quite a bit about Sikhi. [In fact, some of them even consider Sikhs to be allies in the militant struggle for Aryan dominance!]

For example, Wade Michael Page frequented the message board of Hammerskins, one of the most violent neo-Nazi skinhead groups in modern America. In reaction to the Oak Creek Massacre, one of the commenters wrote:
“I see these towel-headed Sikh a–holes walking around my city also. It disgusts me. What is this vermin doing in Wisconsin?… There are no tears which I’ll be shedding for these useless eaters. Apparently President-King Soetoro expressed his grief about this, and mentioned how Sikhs have enriched us so greatly with their religion, culture… whatever the f— it is.”
I came across another example of anti-Sikh vitriol on Vanguard News Network, one of the most highly frequented white supremacist websites. Top neo-Nazi leader Alex Linder evidences particularly anti-Sikh sentiments when he expresses:
“Take your dead and go back to India and dump their ashes in the Ganges, Sikhs. You don’t belong here in the country my ancestors fought to found, and deeded to me and mine, their posterity. Even if you came here legally, and even if you haven’t done anything wrong personally. Go home, Sikhs. Go home to India where you belong. This is not your country, it belongs to white men.”
The comments from these sites make no “mistake” about their targets – each demonstrates a clear and pointed disdain for Sikhs grounded in broader trends of xenophobia and racism. The commenters do not confuse Sikhs as Muslims, and it is overly simplistic for us to assume that hate-violence would only be committed on the basis of such “mistaken identity.”

While the comments do not prove anything about Wade Michael Page’s intentions in Oak Creek, they are useful in challenging our assumptions that the shooter identified and targeted Sikhs by mistake. We have been right to note that ignorance is very much a part of the problem, and it demands our attention as community members, activists, and educators. Yet we need to recognize that the problem of hate violence is significantly more complex, and that better understanding this problem demands our immediate and urgent attention.



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