At 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning, an armed gunman walked into the 17,000-square-foot Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, near Milwaukee, and killed six people, wounding three others.
Amardeep Singh, a Sikh and an associate professor of English at Lehigh, responded to the tragedy on his blog. Here's an excerpt and a link to the full article.
Singh: One of the issues that has come up periodically in the Sikh community in the U.S. since 9/11 has been how to handle the common problem that men in turbans are presumed by many Americans to be Muslims. A man named Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot down in Arizona just a few days after 9/11 for precisely that kind of misrecognition, and there were quite a number of other instances of attacks not as extreme as murder that occurred in those first few months.
Today as I've been keeping up with the community's reaction to the Gurdwara shootings in Wisconsin I've been seeing a lot of friends and family reminding everyone not to dwell on the shooter's likely "misrecognition" -- the sentiment that "we didn't do anything, we don't deserve this" is actually not one we should be giving voice to, even if it might be understandable after such a ghastly attack.
Many of my friends online are also suggesting we renew our efforts as a community to educate Americans about who we are. These are well-meaning and valuable efforts, and I myself will try and support them if I can.
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.
As I have experienced it, the turban that Sikh men wear is the embodiment of a kind of difference or otherness that can provoke some Americans to react quite viscerally. Yes, ignorance plays a part and probably amplifies that hostility. But I increasingly feel that visible marks of religious difference are lightning rods for this hostility in ways that don't depend on accurate recognition.
Professor Singh's primary interests include World Literature in English (also known as "Postcolonial Literature") and 20th/21st Century British literature. Professor Singh also has an interest in film; he is currently completing a book-length manuscript on the filmmaker Mira Nair.