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My Take: Sikh temple shooting is act of terrorism
August 6th, 2012
11:20 AM ET

My Take: Sikh temple shooting is act of terrorism

Editor's note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and author of the book "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era."

By Arsalan Iftikhar, Special to CNN

(CNN)–Imagine that you woke up on a beautiful Sunday morning to hear the news of a brown, bearded, gun-wielding madman who stormed into a Wisconsin church full of blond-haired parishioners and killed six innocent people.

If that scenario did occur, would most Americans have any problem calling that an act of "terrorism"?

Of course not.

Now imagine that the shooter was a white man and the innocent victims were bearded brown men and head-covered women. Suddenly, the discussion of "terrorism" gets a lot more complicated.

Of course, this is exactly what happened in a Milwaukee suburb on Sunday, when six people and the alleged gunman were killed at a Sikh temple.

One of the congregation's members told a local news station, "Nobody's angry here. We're just confused. Was this a random act? Was this directed at us because of the way we look?"

Sadly, it's probably going to be the latter.

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Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Police Chief John Edwards said at a news conference that the case is being treated as domestic terrorism, and the FBI is taking over.

But it's important for our greater American society to also condemn acts of terrorism when the perpetrator happens to be a white guy.

If not, we send millions of people of color around America the message that the term "terrorism" has been co-opted, that it shall apply only when brown bearded men are the shooters and not when they are the tragic victims.

Unless we acknowledge this attack on the Sikh temple as an act of terrorism, we will essentially be relegating brown-skinned Americans to second-class citizenry by perpetuating the myth that "terrorism" is only a Muslim, Arab or South Asian phenomenon and beyond the pale for any white person to commit.

To give another recent example, imagine that a brown Arab Muslim male tried to assassinate a member of Congress by shooting her in the head, killing six innocent people and wounding 13 others outside a grocery store during this assassination attempt.

Would we have any trouble calling this scenario above an act of terrorism? Nope.

Since authorities say the gunman was a white dude named Jared Lee Loughner, he was just a kooky loner whose mental health must have been the triggering factor. But if his name were Ali Akbar Nahasapeemapetilon, nobody in America would care a bit about his mental health issues.

Since observant Sikh men keep a turban (known as dastaar or pagri) and unshorn hair, which often manifests itself into a long beard, many Americans after September 11 wrongfully conflated Sikh Americans with Muslim Americans because of this "turban-and-beard" look. To highlight the sheer tragic irony and stupid human ignorance of bias-motivated hate crimes within America, the first actual tragic victim of a post-9/11 "hate crime" murder in the United States was neither a Muslim nor an Arab.

Four days after 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Indian Sikh-American businessman, was brutally shot several times and killed instantly by Frank Roque in a Mesa, Arizona, gas station. According to BBC World News, the county attorney stated that Sodhi was killed for no other apparent reason than that he was dark-skinned and wore a turban.

Just like America has been on high alert for brown-skinned terrorism since September 11, millions of Americans of Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian descent have equally been on high alert about reprisal attacks against brown-skinned Americans that happened immediately after September 11.

On the same day as the Sodhi murder, September 15, 2001, Adel Karas, a 48-year-old Egyptian Orthodox Coptic Christian and father of three, was viciously murdered outside his suburban Los Angeles import shop. In Texas, both the FBI and local police investigated the murder of Waqar Hasan, a Pakistani store owner who was found shot to death outside his grocery store in suburban Dallas.

One day after 9/11, in the early morning hours of September 12, at least six bullets shattered several windows of the Islamic Center of Irving in suburban Dallas. Similarly, on September 12, 2001, 29-year-old Eric Richley of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, decided to drive his white Ford Mustang into the front glass doors of the Grand Mosque at the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland. Places of worship including Muslim mosques, Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras became instant targets for patriotic terrorists seeking to lash out at innocent Americans like the Sikh victims of the terrorist attack in Wisconsin.

Belonging to a five-century-old monotheistic tradition, professor Stephen Prothero writes,

Sikhism emerged out of a culture steeped in both Hinduism and Islam, and early Sikhs attempted to reconcile the two, in part by focusing on heartfelt devotion to God rather than rites and doctrines. "There is no Hindu and no Muslim, so whose path shall I follow?" asked (Sikh founder) Guru Nanak. "I shall follow the path of God." Like Muslims, Sikhs are strict monotheists who emphasize divine sovereignty. They reject the view that God incarnates in human form, believing instead in a formless God that can be known through singing and meditation.

According to professor Gurinder Singh Mann, the "Sikhs lay emphasis on a life of hard work, social commitment, and ethical living. A complex set of doctrinal, historical and sociological reasons made them a very political people and they have kept up that heritage in both the Punjab, the land of their origin, and wherever they have migrated to in the past century."

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Most Americans do not know that the first Sikh American member of Congress was Dalip Singh Saund, who represented California's 29th congressional district in 1957. Since Sikhs have served America as doctors, lawyers and teachers for more than a century, any attack on their house of worship should be considered an attack on all houses of worship.

So, if the mass murder at the Sikh temple is not referred to as an act of "terrorism" by virtually every member of our American media and sociopolitical elite, the only message that this will send to millions of people of color across America is that the term "terrorism" has been co-opted and shall apply only when brown bearded men are the shooters, not when they are the tragic victims.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arsalan Iftikhar.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Crime • Sikh

soundoff (849 Responses)
  1. Jim in PA

    The cognitive dissonance spewing from the Right is pathetic and predictable.

    August 6, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • RaisedEyebrow

      I have yet to see enough evidence of cognition to even think that they've detected dissonance in their views.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Caramba

      you dazzle us with your brilliance but please don't baffle us with the emerging terrorist threat with extremist hindu orgs.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • RaisedEyebrow

      Shh shh shh, the grown ups are talking. Back to your coloring, little paranoid bigot.

      (I do not think baffle means what you think it means, by the way.)

      August 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  2. uh

    question.. There were so many articles in the last two weeks about how "religious liberty" is under threat.. how come none of those speak out when they were on the side of aggressor here? Do they say the "religious liberty" is under threat if someone challenges their rule, but when a sick guy following their doctrines does something bad to another religious group, it is not to be considered a threat?

    August 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      The rightwing hypocrites are all sitting with their fingers in their ears saying la-la-la-la, hoping that it ends soon.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  3. steve-o

    All far right are white supremacists And they are all idiots like this twit. They are not Muslim...dummies who are voting for Romney-Sikhs are not Muslims...It's useless but the right wing has gone off the deep end.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Caramba

      Hindus are the emerging class of terrorists emanating from India. they are now spreading their wings in USA. Americans need to wake up before it is too late. i hope CIA is on top of this emerging Hindu/Indian threat.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • ken99

      So all left-wing extremists are black supremacists?

      August 6, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  4. Charles

    If there is one good thing to come out of this terrible and sad thing it is the Sikhs teaching all of us who and what they are. What other group, having just been attacked they way these people have been would have opened the doors of their temple and welcomed all outsiders to come in and sit and eat with them and see who they really are. The Sikhs have been known as fierce warriors in the past, but now they show us their other side and the obviously practiced core of their religion that we are all brothers and that all religions are to be respected. This caused me to Google them and try to find out more about them and their religion. I was impressed. I must say their religion appears to have more Christianity in it than in our Christianity as it is practiced and proselytised today. Today, I can honestly say I would be glad to have a Sikh as a neighbor.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Caramba

      Sardar Ji give me a break !!!! this ain't funny anymore !!! Who u kiddin guru? We are onto you. Today we have learnt that you sikhs are racists. That to preserve yourself you would gladly throw other cultures under the bus. That is at best cowardly. I have changed my opinion about you guys today. i thought Sikhs were brave. Not so today based on what I have heard from your leaders. You guys are meek and cowardly demeaning other people to prop yourself up. Shame on you. May god open the gates of heaven to the deceased and bestow blessings on the injured.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  5. Haram Zaada

    If this was not an act of terrorism, then perhaps the dude with the van full of explosives in New York or Nadal Hassan didn't commit acts of terrorism either. Of course, we all know that's what we've been referring to them as.

    At the end of the day, right wing nut jobs much like Osama, get on their pulpits on the radio and spread hate, fueling psychopaths like this guy to commit acts of terrorism.

    This isn't the first incident either, just the worst. Look at all the attacks against the sikhs in the last 10 years. Then look at all the acts against the muslims over the same period. Heck, there was an arson attack on a mosque that burned it to the ground... TODAY!

    America, lets all stand together united and call a spade a spade instead of playing favorites!

    August 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Haram,

      you are using the word terrorism. Terrorism is the use of violence to create an atmosphere of fear.

      The guy with the van in Times Square was a wannabe terrorist.

      Maj. Nidal Hasan went postal and shot fellow soldiers in his workplace. He was not a terrorist.

      Deliberately burning a mosque is arson. It might be terrorism, or not. It might be a hate crime. It might be stupid children. We don't even know for sure that it was arson – yet.

      A nutcase skinhead killing Sikhs is a hate crime. It might be terrorism if the intent was to create fear, particularly if other white supremacists were involved in the plan. An investigation is necessary.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Sorry ... should be, 'overusing the word terrorism'

      August 6, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  6. woof

    where is the freedom of religious expression advocates outrage? oh, yeah, they are at chick fila getting type II diabetes, mike huckabee probably had the day off!

    August 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  7. Jim

    The word "terror" is overused and has lost meaning. If one person kills another violently, don't you think the person being killed will be terrorized? Why does it have to be N people where N is a large number? It doesn't. The words "Murder", "racist," "hate crime," "fascist," certainly capture the latest, Wisconsin attack.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      So were the 9/11 hijackers terrorists?

      August 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  8. Freize

    Are Indians going to drone US for this act of terror on Indians?????

    August 6, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      They weren't Indian, they were American. Try again.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Snow

      so, following your idiotic argument, if an Irish/european descendent becomes victim of crime here in the US, his ancestor's country should intervene? what have you been smoking? really.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  9. Freize

    Why is the Indian Supreme Court not sending the dossier to US Supreme Court to prosecute those responsible? Why is India not asking the American government to send CIA Director to be sent to India? Are indians so meek and cowardly that they will take it on the chin by Americans? This is an act of terror unleashed on Indians on foreign soil.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Helene

      They're... Indian Americans. They're all Americans. The shooter was an American. It's not the same, and I don't think encouraging war is a humane response to this tragedy.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Louis Drummond

      Why are you people so ashamed of your Indian ancestory? Aren't you proud of it?

      August 6, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
    • Helene

      Well, I'm Irish, so first off, bad assumption. Second off, does ancestry = citizenship? No? If I move to another country and my great-great-grandchildren are caught in an attack there, should the American government do something about it? No? Then I'll take it you've either got a very poor understanding of international relations, or you're kind of a bigot.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  10. John

    Can anyone explain to me how this shooting is considered an act of terror, while the Colorado shootings were not???? Both meet the criteria of Terrorizing the public. In fact, why don't we classify Cyber crimes such as Viruses, Spyware and Malware as acts of terror. They are created by groups with the intent to terrorize the public into their point of view...
    I personally would lay the patriot act on them all and send them to Gitmo for life. Gun control needs to begin with punishing the criminals to where they won't ever consider using a gun in any crime.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Terrorism is an act specifically meant to cause fear. As an IT tech, I am never afraid of viruses or any other malware, since my computer feels no pain, and I can always reload it. To cause fear to someone else is the intent of terrorism, fear to use your freedoms, free to believe your beliefs, fear is the key.
      If you are afraid of a cyber attasck, perhaps you should turn off your computer...permenantly.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Freize

      It is election time and these Indian expats are big donors to democrats. That is why. American politicians have sold their soul for money and political donations. Obama and Clintons are big takers of this money. Check the records and you will get answer.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • John

      Who Invited me? So, you are saying that damaging or destroying a non-living thing is not terrorism? I'm not sure that I can agree with that. Let's say Al Queda were to blow up the Status of Liberty (No one was inside at the time). No one is hurt, but it would be a huge act of terrorism against this country and it's people. I'm also in the IT industry. Viruses, Malware and hackers can cost everyone millions in lost sales, lost time, SLA Penalties, maybe even jobs. As an IT person, you should understand this well. Big companies are hurt every year by such attacks. Often their good name is destroyed by hackers stealing ID's and Passwords.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  11. Robert

    I thought that an act of terrorism was by deffinition, a violent act by an organized group performed with the intent of intimidating into submission, those they consider their enemy. And that is what you see in the history of Islam, until they were strong enough to force conversion at the point of a sword. It is also why people will not insult Islam the way they do Christianity. People will not insult Islam because they have been terrorized into submission, or at least acceptance. In a word, they fear Islam. However, they scoff at Christianity because, as true representatives of the grace of God in Christ, Christians convict people of their sin but are harmless.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Robert

      P.S. To me, this seems more like the violent act of an angry and deranged man who doesn't think these folks belong here. It was evil none the less. However, terrorism would be more organized.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Robert

      Did you forget what Christians did when they were in power? The only reason that Christianity is somewhat harmless now is because they are held in check, especially in this country. Look at places where they don't have a secular constitution to hold them back. Look at Uganda, where gay people can be put to death.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Caramba

      India poses a clear and present danger to the regional security of the world. ...to USA...NATO...and Afghanistan people and armed forces. Hindu cult extremism is on the rise and fanning all terrorism worldwide. Indians are the bankers to and financing terrorism and supporting Talibans and Al Qaeda and harboring them in India

      August 6, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Robert,

      The prophet died in 632.
      Between 634-638 Muslims captured Syria, including Jerusalem.
      Between 633 – 644 the captured Mesopotamia and Persia.
      Between 639 – 642 they captured Egypt.

      And so it went on.

      It was extraordinary. There has never been anything else like it in the history of the world. No wonder they thought it was the will of God.

      They did not generally force conversion by the sword. Many cities surrendered, after which they paid a tribute tax (or jizya). To participate in what became the Muslim ruling class, over time, people in the Muslim countries converted. There were economic motivations to do this.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • ConcernedCiti

      @Caramba I certainly hope you are kidding about India being a state sponsor of terrorism, if not you are either deranged or a Paki. India has plenty of problems of its own to go look for trouble outside.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  12. Mike P

    Yep, guy's got a point.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  13. Freize

    The bottom line is that there is a backlash in America against Indians. They don't want to integrate within american society. They just wantto make money and scram.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  14. Freize

    Where are all the hindu trolls hiding today? How come they are not come up to the forefront and defending their countrymates. Pathetic, these hindu cowards.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Snow

      news flash.. troll... "hinduism", "sikhism" .. two different things.. try again

      August 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • bob

      ha, hindu trolls, that's a good one. it's the muslim loonies that go around the world murdering people indiscriminately.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      LOL. The Hindu "trolls" are all too busy laughing at the fact that you think a Hindu is a Sikh.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Helene

      I had no idea that one's religion gave one immediate citizenship to another country... Does that make Christians Romans? Israelis? Oooh, does it mean that only atheists get to vote as true American citizens?

      tl;dr – stop being a bigoted troll.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Louis Drummond

      New, More Dangerous Hindu Extremist Groups Emerge in India

      Christians concerned as rightwing factions splinter to form militant outfits.
      PUNE, India, October 29 (CDN) — After more than a decade of severe persecution, India’s Christian minority is growing increasingly concerned over the mushrooming of newer and deadlier Hindu extremist groups.

      Gone are the days when Christians had to watch out only for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, which are closely linked with the most influential Hindu extremist umbrella organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). With voter support faltering for the RSS’s political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), moderate and extremist sections within the Hindu nationalist movement are blaming each other, and militant splinter groups have emerged.

      Claiming to be breakaway factions of the RSS, new groups with even more extreme ideology are surfacing. The Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India), the Rashtriya Jagran Manch (National Revival Forum), the Sri Ram Sene (Army of god Rama), the Hindu Dharam Sena (Army for Hindu Religion) and the Sanatan Sanstha (Eternal Organization) have launched numerous violent attacks on Christian and Muslim minorities.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Louis Drummond

      Hindus and Sikhs emanate from India. Why are they trying to throw sand in American eyes. They should be proud of their ancestry just like Italians and Irish et al are.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  15. maxamad cabdullaahi

    its a christianity terrorism intended to massmarder against muslim minority. well, it went wrong and hit another religious minority.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  16. Michael

    Someone explain to me why this is terrorism but the 12 people killed by Maj. Nadal at Ft. Hood were just victims of "workplace violence".

    August 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  17. harinder

    The silence and ambivlance from the right wing news and gurus like rush limbaugh and the clan is deafning, their silence says it
    all, unfortunately the world has lost it compass and there is nobody out there with a sane head and a clear vision which can lead the numanitu out of this mess. The future does indeed look bleak for the future generations

    August 6, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Freize

      What is more deafening is the silence from your fellow Indians and government. It is deafening. They have left the Sikhs high and dry. And Sikhs are struggling. They want to differentiate themselves by distancing from moslems. What a way to define oneself. Who are you? I am not a moslem. Give me a break. Why are Sikhs acting so meek in front of American Public. They are people who carry daggers and swords in India and cut heads off. They massacred moslems throughout history. And now they are acting so helpless? This is just an act people. Our heart goes out to those who died and are hurt. May God bless them. Amen. Americans stand behind those who are fallen.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • ConcernedCiti

      @Frieze You seem like an agent for the nefarious Pakistani secret service ISI – you seem stuck on anti India rhetoric in each and every one your posts. It is completely outrageous that in trying times like these for the Sikh (and the larger Indian) community, which deserve compassion from the rest of us, you would choose to spew so much hate. It is actually very gracious of the Sikh community to not display any anger publicly – they seem to understand that hate begets hate begets hate, it is a vicious cycle. Is this any way to behave in our civilized society? You might want to consider moving back to Paki land, you would fit in nicely in those Taliban held areas up North over there.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  18. Jamal

    If a WHITE non-Muslim guy shoots or bombs any one, it is NOT terrorism. It is just a simple and innocent act of violence.

    IF a Muslim guy starts shooting, it is terrorism. According to US led global definition, terrorism can only be performed by Muslims and NEVER by anyone else.

    There is not much to debate about. Come on people.

    Yeah right...

    August 6, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Vikram

      Well Musslims kill in the name of their religion. They also shout "Allah Ho Akbar" before they start killing. Muslims also get 72 virgins in heaven. Recently a mentally ill Muslim was dragged by a mob of pious Muslims incited by Mullahs and killed for Blasphemy.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  19. Mourning Sikh

    This article is penned with hate in heart. This does little to support the victims but fuel hatred. The author must understand that accusations and hate are the very problems that are responsible for these crimes. Spread love, not hatred.

    I am amazed, and proud of the community's reaction to this tragic event.
    http://cnn.com/video/#/video/crime/2012/08/06/nr-temple-shooting-rajwant-singh-intv.cnn

    August 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  20. Mary Jane

    So when the rebels in Syria fire their weapons aimlessly thru the streets and launch mortars into the air to crash indiscriminately is that Terrorism? Not according to you people, the US calls it a bunch of "Freedom" fighters (Who are being supplied by the West mind you) trying to kill government forces and overthrow a sitting body. So how is that any different than this? Aren't these so called freedom fighters killing innocent people? So is this guy.....He's a freedom fighter out to kill

    August 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.