Tag Archives: oak creek

Op Ed: Condemning the violence against Sikhs


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

ALEX HEADSHOT

In the aftermath of the terrifying events in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the American Sikh community is grieving the loss of six lives. They are also awaiting answers.

Why would such a heinous act be perpetrated, committed within their own house of worship? Although the investigations concerning the motives of the killer are ongoing from local, state and federal authorities, there has been an unfortunate history of violence against Sikhs since the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Most devout Sikh males do not cut their hair, which they cover with turbans. The turbans and their uncut beards are frequently, and inaccurately, associated with images of terrorism and violence. Many times, attacks against Sikhs are cases of mistaken identity, with the perpetrators thinking the Sikhs are Muslims.

If the perpetrator of this horrendous attack was driven by a fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims, it must be stressed that the Sikh Coalition is vehemently opposed to all acts of religious bigotry. Sikhism is a religion of love, strongly advocating a peaceful coexistence with other faiths.

The fifth-largest religion in the world, Sikhism was founded in the late 15th Century in the Punjab region of present-day India by a succession of 10 gurus, or spiritual leaders. The first, Guru Nanak, was strongly opposed to the Hindu belief in castes — a class system — which in turn dictated one’s career, social standing and even who they were allowed to marry. Another fundamental belief for Sikhs was the promotion of equality among men and women. Sikhism is also a monotheistic faith, meaning they only believe in one god, who they call Waheguru. Their image of Waheguru is gender neutral, further promoting their concept of gender equality.

The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, laid out several rules of conduct for Sikhs, the most obvious being unshorn hair. Another rule was the adoption of a shared last name, Singh, which means “lion,” for men, and Kaur, or “princess,” for women. Sikhs worship at temples called gurdwaras, where all are welcome, even non-followers. After the worship service, the gurdwara offers a free community meal called langar.

Sikhs first came to the United States in the late 19th century. The U.S. has the fourth-largest Sikh population in the world, behind only India, the United Kingdom and Canada. Despite facing adversities such as bullying, job discrimination and racial profiling, Sikhs are a proud part of our cultural landscape, working in all professions and contributing to their communities. Queens boasts the largest Sikh population in New York City and is home to several gurdwaras.

What happened in Wisconsin was the latest in a dreadful saga of violence against Sikh Americans. What makes this the most upsetting is that this occurred at a house of worship. Attacks at any house of worship — church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or gurdwara — must be condemned, as these institutions are regarded as places of peace. Crimes like this strike at the heart of religious freedom, a core principle that is central to Sikhism and the United States alike.

Alex DiBlasi is an educator and advocate for the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights group in the United States. He lives in Long Island City.

Sikh shooting in Wisconsin hits home in Queens


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Though hundreds of miles away, the shooting at a Wisconsin gurdwara struck close to home for the tens of thousands of Sikhs in Queens.

“New York and particularly southeast Queens is the center of Sikh life in the United States,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg outside the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill on Monday, August 6.

Of the at least 300,000 Sikhs in the United States, between 30,000 to 40,000 live in New York City, with the bulk residing in Queens.

Elected officials and religious leaders held two press conferences at the Sikh Cultural Society — where thousands of Sikhs congregate weekly — the day after the shooting rampage inside the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin to offer condolences to the community and show support.

The shooting by Army veteran and reported white supremacist Wade Michael Page that killed six shook the Sikh community throughout the borough.

“People go for worship; they are praying to God and they get killed,” said Gurdev Singh Kang, president of the Sikh Cultural Society. “Their loved ones were home and [the victims] are not going back home.”

Following the shooting, police were dispatched to Sikh gurdwaras throughout the city to prevent any copycat crimes, though no threats were reported. Commissioner Ray Kelly said the NYPD will keep a presence at gurdwaras and continue to monitor the situation on a day-to-day basis.

Harpreet Singh Toor, who works at the Sikh Cultural Society, thanked the mayor and commissioner for assuring no new incidents took place, but said he always felt secure in the city.

“We are safe in New York City,” agreed Richmond Hill resident Devinder Singh.

Singh said that there is understanding in the city about the religion, though 9/11 introduced many problems for the community.

Post-9/11, the country experienced a large spike in hate crimes against Sikhs, said Amardeep Singh, director of programs at the Sikh Coalition. Incidents have slowed in recent years, with zero being reported against Sikhs in 2011 or so far in 2012 according to the NYPD, but Singh said discrimination in schools and the work place still persists.

“There have been 11 years where the predominant image of a turban and beard is that of a terrorist,” Singh said.

Religious leaders of all faiths descended on the gurdwara to stand as one with the Sikhs and try to breed understanding by all citizens.

“We stand as a community not divided, but united,” said Pastor Matthew Singh, of New Haven Ministries in Richmond Hill. “Let this be a message for those that hate, we will stand together. When you hurt one, you hurt all.”

Councilmember Mark Weprin cited education as the key to weeding out discrimination.

“If there is one possible silver lining that these people may not have died in vain it’s the idea that maybe we can educate people about Sikhism and other religions so we get to know each other better so maybe we hate a little less and maybe in the future protect another tragedy.”