By ATUL COWSHISH
New Delhi (Syndicate Features): The dance of death played out in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin (US), Gurdwara on August 5 in which six Sikhs were killed was not the first tragedy of its kind in the El’Dorado of the 21st century; nor unfortunately it is likely to be the last. Much as America tries to hide it, the fact is that psot-9/11 it is ridden with a nation-wide wave of hate crime that is aimed at ‘Islamists’ but mostly results in shooting, killing and unprovoked assaults on innocent Sikh men who are taken to be ‘Arabs’ because of their beard and turban. Mosques too have been desecrated and attacked as have been clean-shaven brown skinned people from the sub-continent, Hindus and Muslims.
It is disturbing to realise that there is antipathy towards followers of Islam among the white Christians in the US; it is even more worrying that the Sikh community is presumed by the same Americans to be followers of Islam. Religious diversity cannot be unknown to the Americans. But religious tolerance and communal harmony do not seem to be strong points of the present day America. Dangers seem to be lurking in and around all the 120 or so Gurdwaras as well as the mosques and Hindu temples in the US which are not guarded by security personnel.
Judging by the protests in India, the tragedy in Milwaukee seemed to have angered Sikhs in India more than their brethren in the US. A leader of the Sikh community in the US has been telling audiences of US TV networks that he did not approve of the ‘burning’ of US flags by the Sikhs in India. The gentleman may have his reasons to underplay the tragedy that befalls his community with disconcerting regularity. For that reason what happened at the Milwaukee Gurdwara cannot be dismissed as an aberration by some lunatics or ‘supremacist’, as US officials have been saying.
According to the Washington-based Sikh Coalition, following the post-9/11‘anti-Islam’ sentiments, there have been more than 700 attacks on Sikhs and their institutions in America. The Sikhs are easy targets because they stand out with their bearded face and heads covered with turban. To the average American both features are associated with Osama bin Laden and his terror gangs.
In dismissing the suggestion that the Sikhs have been victims of hate crime in the US, officials in that country now blame it on ‘domestic terrorism’. Resort to ‘domestic terrorism’ is a way of aggressive and violent advocacy of a political or social objective.
That ‘objective’ has been spelt out often enough by the perpetrators of the crime who have been telling their ‘Arab’ victims ‘to go home’. These are xenophobic zealots who hate just about everyone who is not white and a Christian. The man who went on a deadly shooting spree at the Milwaukee Gurdwara has been a member of hard-core racist organisations which believe in the supremacy of the white race. Americans who subscribe to this belief are unhappy that they have a ‘black’ President.
The race- and ethnicity-based hatred among some Americans is perhaps as old as the arrival of the first white settlers from Europe who went about the task of exterminating the native Indians. After the successful civil rights movement of the 1960s, which claimed the life of Martin Luther King this hatred was presumed to be subsiding. But 9/11 changed that.
While extreme anger generated by acts of terrorism is understandable, it becomes a matter of concern when it is directed at a particular community, race or religious groups. It is as much true in India as it is in the US. Despite its economic downslide, the US remains a world leader and it is shocking to find that the phenomenon of hate crime has been allowed to grow unchecked in that country.
The Obama government’s effort to downplay hate crime is understandable. (Australia did the same when Indians students were being killed and attacked.) It militates against the American policy that finds US officials eagerly lecturing to the nations of Asia and Africa about human rights and religious freedom abuses. These abuses come in handy when the US decides to interfere in the affairs of sovereign countries that have gone ‘astray’.
The countries accused of human rights violations are also told to take corrective measures and a strict watch is kept to notice how far they have succeeded in respecting these rights. Violations and failure to respect or improve the human rights record of America are naturally beyond reproach.
The quality of life that America offers can obviously not be compared to the conditions in countries like India. But as a world leader, the US has to set an example in ending all kinds of discrimination and prejudices against ‘coloured’ immigrants. In no case can religion or religious identity become the basis for such prejudices.
It will appear that the average American, or maybe the majority of them, is unfamiliar with the ways of other religions. When more than 11 years after 9/11 they cannot distinguish between a bearded Sikh and a bearded ‘Osama bin Laden’ it can be assumed that the American state has done nothing to enlighten its citizenry about non-Christian religions and the way ‘others’ live.
The ‘supremacists’ who ask the victims of their attacks to ‘go back home’ pretend to forget that the USA is a country of immigrants. It can be argued that America would not have attained its position but for the contributions made by these immigrants who have come from both the ‘white’ as well ‘coloured’ countries.
The communities which are repeatedly attacked in the US because of their religious beliefs have every right to demand full protection. It is equally important to punish the guilty, awarding the severest possible punishment. It will not do, as happened some years ago when a Sikh youth was killed in the US, to reduce the sentence on grounds of the ‘low IQ’ of the perpetrator of the crime. (Syndicate Features)