Sunday morning the orgies of the lone gunman took hold in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a town in the dragnet of Milwaukee. He targeted a Gurudwara, the religious home of the local Sikh community. The gunman entered the Gurudwara, and as if in mimicry of the school shootings, stalked the worshippers in the halls of the 17,000 square foot “Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.” Police engaged the gunman, who wounded at least one officer. The gunman killed at least seven Sikhs, wounding many more. He was then killed. A few hours after the shooting Ven Boba Ri, a committee member of the Gurudwara told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “It’s pretty much a hate crime. It’s not an insider.”
The local police smartly said that this is an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI concurred.
Members of the Gurudwara in Wisconsin listen to FBI Special Agent in Charge, Teresa Carlson, during a news conference in a municipal building in Oak Creek, Wisconsin./AP
This is the not the first act of violence against Sikhs in the United States.
That story begins in the 19th century, when Sikhs migrated to the US, fleeing British colonialism for far-flung pastures. Many landed along the western coast of the United States, working alongside Japanese, Mexican and Filipino workers to make California into a fruit-producer and Oregon and Washington into major lumber producers. But they were not welcomed. Riots in Bellingham, Washington (1907) and Live Oak, California (1908) targeted the “rag heads,” the turban-wearing Sikhs. The mob “stormed makeshift Indian residences, stoned Indian workers and successfully orchestrated the non-involvement of local police.” The Bellingham Morning Reveille ran a drawing of a “Sikh” man with the caption, “This is the type of man driven from this city as the result of last night’s demonstration by a mob of 500 men and boys.” It was a mark of pride to have cleansed the city of the Sikhs.
The Sikhs didn’t take this lying down. A decade later, one Sikh man bragged, “I used to go to Maryville every Saturday. One day a ghora [white man] came out of a bar and motioned to me, saying, ‘Come here, slave!’ I said I was no slave man. He told me that his race ruled India and I hit him and got away fast.”
Anti-Sikh violence does not reside only in the early part of the 20th century. It returned a century later, when, after 9/11, Sikh men and women were targeted once more for their turban and head-scarf. Since Osama Bin Laden wore a turban, it was the turban that attracted the racist to the Sikhs. As I note in Uncle Swami, within the first week after 9/11, a disproportionately large number of the 645 bias attacks took place against Sikhs. The statement on the Oak Creek shootings that came from the activist group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) drew a straight line between the post-9/11 violence and this attack, “While the facts are still emerging, this event serves as a tragic reminder of violence in the form of hate crimes that Sikhs and many members of the South Asian community have endured since September 11th, 2001.”
Surinder Kaur, center, the wife of Sita Singh who was killed in the shooting attack at a gurudwara
in Wisconsin, is comforted by her son Armeet and daughter Sarabjit, second right, at the family home
in New Delhi. Sita Singh was killed alongside his brother Ranjeet Singh who he had recently joined him
in the United States during the attack on Sunday. AP Photo/Kevin Frayer
Two quick reactions to the Oak Creek violence raised the hackles of some of the sharp organizers in the South Asian American community:
Sapreet Kaur of the Sikh Coalition offered her take of the situation, “There have been multiple hate crime shootings within the Sikh community in recent years and the natural impulse of our community is to unfortunately assume the same in this case.”
Vijay Prashad is the author of Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today (New Press, 2012). This article was first published in the Counterpunch
83D - GN Rao,
Thank you for clarifying... I enjoy reading your posts, but there are some times we should disagree. AMT/AIT/OIT whatever should not be part of our textbooks since there is no hard evidence for same. I stand firm on this.. Good Day!!
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