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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. Ossie_John

    so here's the thing. Neo-Nazis have been openly marching in support of Tea Party initiatives, like Arizona's immigration law. If the sponsors of that law didn't want this association, they could have made that clear. Instead, they have literally embraced white supremacists and posed for photographs with them. The author of the AZ law, State Sen. Russel Pearce, is a close associate of leading Neo-Nazi JT Ready. So there is substance to the feeling of outrage when a massacre like the one in Aurora takes place, as we know that that white supremacists have been coddled and encouraged by the far right of the GOP.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpiKaoFXaRU&w=640&h=360]

    August 7, 2012 at 6:14 am |
  2. gliese 42

    I am a Punjabi Christian whose grandparents were Sikhs but we decided that we need to change and change we did. Perhaps its time the Sikhs does the same by changing its format just like the young Sikhs who hardly wears turbans and can't even understand the Granth Sahib which is usually written in punjabi. Christianity evolved and so can Sikhism

    August 7, 2012 at 3:44 am |
    • Sargun

      Why would you even say that? Aren't you ashamed of yourself? If your parents were true Sikhs, they would bother to teach you the pure, divine meaning of Sikhism. And yet you have the guts to suggest we change?! Ok, so Christians drink, take drugs and have an internationally laughable reputation. Would you like our religion to end up like that? Khalsa means 'Saint Soldier', so we were sent by God to worship to our creator and help and defend those in need. You, however, are doing neither. What has YOUR personal opinion got to do with us. If you want to become a puppy-dog for the Americans, ny all means, go right ahead. But if you are wary of your own reputation, then be aware next time you even think of such a backward thought. Waheguru ji ka Khlasa, Waheguru Ji ki Fateh! May the Khalsa live long.

      August 7, 2012 at 5:35 am |
    • Amy

      Ouch, that other comment has got to hurt:P
      But I gotta say, in you face!
      LOL

      August 7, 2012 at 5:46 am |
    • Pakistani

      @gliese 42 is a Pakistani Muslim also known as krm1007 who is using this tragedy to post his hateful messages about both Sikhs and Christians. Please realize that it is muslim Ramadan time. Ramadan is a muslim festival of terror during which they are not allowed to speak the truth. If muslims speak one word of truth during Ramadan, their terrorist god called Alla will punish them with extra cruelty. So, go ahead krm1007, continue with your lies. We understand what muslims do – it is so obvious.

      August 7, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • Carl

      Hey Pakistani hate monger, eat a ham sandwich. Stop spreading your Islamic hatred toward Sikhs and Christians under the guise of false names.

      August 7, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Butch

      Your point is well taken. These medieval religions need to evolve and keep up with modern times. Sacrificing people, killing girls as in Hinduism and keeping uber long beards circa Charles Manson and wearing technicolor helmets/turbans as in Sikhism are things of the past. If they want to be Americans they need to integrate in the society not stand out with weird cult like practices.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Ashley

      If Sikhs and Hindus can turn towards Islam perhaps they can find some salvation and peace. Ramadan is a good time to do so. Just sayin....

      August 7, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Pakistani alert

      @Butch aka Ashley aka gliese 42 aka krm1007 - Your Mohammed was a pedofile. Sikhs or Christians would not want to become Islamic. Keep dreaming, you Pakistani Islamist. Ramadan is a Muzzie festival of lying. So, keep lying and your terrorist "god" alla will be pleased with your lies and hatred.

      August 7, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  3. Lucille

    I'm for gun control laws now.

    August 7, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  4. zippy51

    It is absolutely terrorism! Those people were TERRIFIED when they were being shot at, weren't they? Not to call it terrorism is a lie. I don't care WHAT color the people are who got shot. Wasn't the maniac in the theater a terrorist as well?

    August 7, 2012 at 2:22 am |
  5. White Terrorist!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Anytime a white person commits acts like these ( Terrorism) white folks find any wording, but terrorism to describe it. Oh but if its a middle eastern man, its complete terrorism, and, all the draft dodging ( how fitting) want war.

    August 7, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  6. Canadian

    Reading the comments by Americans on the CNN page make me extremely proud to be a Canadian.

    August 7, 2012 at 2:03 am |
    • Ryan

      Probably not too happy to be Canadian after USA soccer beat you guys in the 120th minute. Go USA !

      August 7, 2012 at 2:56 am |
    • grand058

      you're right ryan, but hey at least if i had cancer my treatment would be free 😉

      August 7, 2012 at 3:04 am |
  7. xaton

    Walk down the streets of Obama's South Chicago and be prepared to duck, cover and run from all the domestic terrorist there; on a daily bases I might add.
    Not terrorism people as terrorism is classified. Or are we redefining the meaning of 'is' once again?

    August 7, 2012 at 1:30 am |
  8. Taila McNeal-Krøyer

    "...We're American. We tend to embrace our ignorance, not get embarrassed by it." - The Rude Pundit

    August 7, 2012 at 1:29 am |
  9. lolatliars

    Nice article, finally somebody in the idiotic media has the guts to say "You don't have to be a Muslim to be a terrorist."

    America biggest problem isn't gas prices or Jersey Shore. It's radical right wing conservatives who are trying to take away the freedoms so many have come to this country for.

    August 7, 2012 at 1:26 am |
    • xaton

      "come to this country for."?
      Don't like the laws don't unpack, keep moving. Right to Mexico, Iraq, Brazil, Chile, Syria which all have strict gun control laws. Go ahead, make yourself feel safer and move. Perhaps there are enough here who will chip in and buy you a one way ticket even; sounds like better tax use than Solyndra was.

      August 7, 2012 at 1:38 am |
    • lolatliars

      what kind of bone-headed response is that xatron?

      August 7, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • Sarah

      Love your comment! And agreed! It's about time someone recognized the OBVIOUS hypocrisy in calling non-whites terrorists and every other slanderous words, but letting whites off with a tap on the write and a slip to the mental ward.

      August 7, 2012 at 3:47 am |
  10. Tony

    Did you really use a Simpson character's name in attempt to make a serious point? I also like how you tried to make your incredibly obvious thesis seem controversial–Great article! Great job!

    August 7, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  11. Tyler Durden

    Um.... The Oklahoma City bombing was terrorism committed by a white man.....perhaps the author conveniently forgot about that? This latest tragedy looks like a very serious hate crime so far.... but I'll let the FBI do their job to determine if it is actually terrorism. And I think we all know the incident at Ft. Hood was terrorism (or enemy attack) despite what the PC conscious Obama Administration tried to tell the American people. Again, maybe the author forgot how that was so desperately spun to not offend the Muslim minority in the US. Regardless, this recent event is tragic and senseless. I hope the victims and their families can find peace.

    August 7, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  12. Reality

    READ AND LEARN:----------->

    AND THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC CONS CONTINUE TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family) (As did the red-neck "Christian" white-supremacist)

    Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

    "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.
    Some added references to "tink-erbells".

    August 7, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • Jim

      have another hit

      August 7, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • Lucille

      Jesus was not part of a cult.

      August 7, 2012 at 2:16 am |
    • Sassy

      What the hell has Jesus got to do with this...
      If it were a Church, it would have been all over the headlines.
      I live in Australia and only learnt of this hate crime online
      Whose fault?
      Only one answer- Racist Aussies

      August 7, 2012 at 5:41 am |
    • Reality

      This nut job was apparently a Christian as evidenced by the Celtic Cross tatoo.

      :Celtic cross (Irish: cros Cheilteach,[1] Scottish Gaelic: crois Cheilteach, Manx: crosh Cheltiagh, Welsh: croes Geltaidd, Cornish: krows geltek, Breton: kroaz geltek) is the common name given to a symbol that combines a cross with a ring surrounding the intersection. It belongs to a kind of crosses with a nimbus.[2] In the Celtic Christian world it was combined with the Christian cross and this design was often used for high crosses – a free-standing cross made of stone and often richly decorated.[3] With the Celtic Revival the shape, usually decorated with interlace and other motifs from Insular art, became popular for funerary monuments and other uses, and has remained so, spreading well beyond Great Britain and Ireland."

      August 7, 2012 at 7:22 am |
  13. Klaark

    I call it the distillation of conservative Republican ideology. All their politics can be summed up here. Love of guns. Hatred of people they think look a little too Muslimy. Violence. All we need now is to learn this guy didn't pay his taxes and we've got a pure, unleavened Republican conservative.

    August 7, 2012 at 12:17 am |
    • Ryan

      So, if I understand you correctly.......

      I am certainly a conservative Republican. Are you saying that I am no different from this lunatic who committed this act of terrorism today? I don't have a hateful bone in my body. My wife has black hair and brown skin. Again, I am extremely conservative, but this terrorist and I have nothing in common. Your effort to paint me and all other conservative republicans with the same brush is nauseating.

      August 7, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • tallulah13

      Sadly, Ryan, the lunatics have hijacked your party. It isn't fair, but as long as the worst Republicans continue to use lies and hatred as campaign tools, all Republicans will suffer the stigma. It's sort of like those people on these boards who blame all muslims (and sikhs) for the actions of radicals on 9/11.

      August 7, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  14. amarjeet

    Terrorism at individual scale without justification of link with terror groups is subject to investigation by FBI. Punjab CM & CMS of other seven states disallowed anti-terror operation by Ministry of Home initiated by Chitambram Home Minister now Finance Minister of India. These Chief Ministers who have not allowed anti-terror operation in India by Central Forces should be banned to visit America being active supporters of terrorism in India with specifics of CM Punjab, West Bengal, Orissa where Churches & Christians were attacked by Bajrangdal, Shiv Sena besides others. List of Chief Ministers who denied Central operation against terrorism in India could be available in Indian Counselor in USA as they get stirrup on political & active issues. Pakistan Prime Ministers too opposed, nurtured & trained terrorism till attack of 911 on WTC in NY in USA beside others including White House, Pentagon & others. Action of Chief Ministers of States in India was undemocratic, illegal & irresponsible not in support of American principles of Immigration or visa to USA. Immigration must act fast & stop these CMs visits to USA who bring messages of terrorism & support directly in India & indirectly in other countries including USA. Modi CM of Gujrat has since been banned & was not given visa for USA on the same issue. America keep a watch on such CMs or politicians to check terrorism in USA.

    August 7, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  15. N

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uy09cXwsz6w&w=640&h=360]

    August 7, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  16. John

    Great points!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAvDtPz33w0&w=640&h=360]

    August 7, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • wassupUSA

      You only think he has good points because you do not attempt to think while listening. First of all, Christians generally don't want war. However, we are aware that it is sometimes necessary. You need to thank them for this, or you'd be speaking German (assuming you'd be alive). Furthermore, the whole Osama statement is baloney. His existence is a liability to the lives of many. As much as Christians don't like murderer, they won't potentially risk the lives of countless others to save a man that already was responsible for the deaths of thousands. Finally, had that speech came from Rush Limbaugh but with Muslims in place of Christians, it would be considered hare speech.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Rick

      @wassupUSA I found it quite interesting how you ignored the points in the clip completely and then you wrote a couple of nonsensical strawman arguments after telling the original poster that he doesn't attempt to think while listening. Perhaps you are confusing dogma and patriotism for thought.

      August 7, 2012 at 3:21 am |
  17. Mike Davis

    Your comment is true. And obama should have immediately called the Ft. Hood shooting terrorism, for the very same reason. He called that shooting an "isolated incident" for PC reasons. THIS shooting clearly was an isolated incident, albeit also a terrorist attack. But the left only jumps to terrorism, if the shooter isn't part of the PC demographics.

    August 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • ele

      And the right is often trying to hide true colors

      http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/07/us/white-supremacist-groups/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

      August 7, 2012 at 2:06 am |
  18. fred37ify

    Why was this terrorism and the Fort Hood shooting just "work place violence "??? Oh. I get it ! This guy was white ! Hassan was muslim ! And now we got us a muslim in the White House !

    August 6, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • flsnupe

      Please shut your pie hole! We need to keep a surveillance camera on your behind with this type of ignorance. Then you had the nerve to post something else just as stupid as this to remove all doubt of your stupidity.

      August 7, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Terae

      so very true..i also like how they say he was military vet...how about try a loser who got kicked out...i love how they twist words and false things up to get people to fear so they had over the guns...its so true about the muslim thing...and the one who comment before FLSNUPE you sound like a terrorist or communist either one your ignorant to speak against people when they are stating the truth...i think you need to look up the definition of stupid because your comment had it all over it...

      August 7, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Terae

      i meant FLSNUPE not before FLSNUPE

      August 7, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  19. fred37ify

    Reid should have to explain why the Nevada casinos are exempt from Ovomitcare ! Buy an election much Reid ??????????

    August 6, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • FritzfromPa

      You should stay out of the barroom and lay off the drugs before coming on line to babble like an idiot. Go crawl back under your rock you hater.

      August 6, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • ele

      Have you read the article or do you have reading problems..

      August 7, 2012 at 2:08 am |
  20. ramblinglarry

    When is the last time an American born minority went on a shooting rampage? The last (and only) one I can think of is the DC sniper guy. Even then, he was doing that to eventually target his ex wife. The funny thing about white supremacists is if they truly felt minorities were inferior, they'd simply let them be. As Chris Rock said, "If white people feel they're losing, who in the hell is winning?"

    August 6, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • Tyler Durden

      How many victims does it take to qualify as a rampage? Gang related violence comes to mind. Just this summer in Houston 3 were killed and 2 injured at a strip club when a man opened fire. I'm sure there are many incidents like this across the country every year, but the national media doesn't report it because it's not as controversial if minorities kill minorities. There was also an incident in 2010 where a black man killed 8 white people at his workplace. Thanks for playing....doesn't it make you wonder if you're being manipulated to have a certain perception by the media?

      August 7, 2012 at 12:59 am |
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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.