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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. thisisterrorismandimawhiteamericanman

    100% agree with this article as a 25 year old white male American. Its absolutely disgusting what happened and proves people are just complete idiots. And you wonder why the rest of the world hates Americans. Absolutely disgusting.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  2. Blame the deserving

    By defining acts like this terrorism, we can look forward to the government using the outrageous "anti-terror" laws against average Americans, including environmental groups, Right wing groups, black separatist, groups and anyone who says, does or posts anything in support of them.
    All of the above groups have been blamed for what could be called terrorism.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I certainly hope so.

      I remember back in the 70's, most of these types would be in a looney bin where they belong.

      Alas, no one could make money off it, so now the wackos are in our subways, in our churches, and forming Nazi's militias.

      WE NEED TO PUT THE CRAZIES BACK INTO HOSPITALS

      August 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  3. Angie

    Let's be honest with ourselves; this was terrorism. So were the shootings in Colorado, Ft. Hood, Seattle and so many other places, not just 9/11 and Oklahoma City. If we take off the blinders placed upon us by government and bigotry there have been dozens of terrorism incidents in the USA since 9/11, many of them you've likely never heard of because of their classification as the act of a disturbed individual and media compliance with government censorship. From the hijacking of a Greyhound bus in Tennessee by a Muslim right after 9/11 to the attacks on Jewish cultural centers (there have been several) and attacks against Muslims and Sikhs it is ALL terrorism.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Blame the deserving

      k

      August 6, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  4. Blame the deserving

    Yes, if we call it terrorism we can start going after Americans as terrorists! It's about time. Americans seem to think they should have rights.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  5. daknife

    From the FBI: Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.

    Until you can point to a statement note or letter stating his political or social objectives this is not terrorism. We need to be careful about calling terrorism too quickly. The Fort Hood shooting barely qualifies. A more significant terrorist event was the Oklahoma City Bombing, which counter to what the idiot who wrote this believes was committed by a white guy. A determinism of Terrorism is NOT based on skin color, but rather on motive and intent of the perpetrator. Tim McVeigh was a terrorist, ALF and ELF are terrorist organizations, Peta is borderline because it supports the actions of ALF and ELF.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So we need to be PC?

      Why do the rightest want correctness when they get scrutiny, but offer to none when they are scrutinizing.

      To claim this mans motives were NOT terrorisim is just silly.

      He was a christian skinhead Nazi. He is the DEFINITION of a terrorist

      August 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • CJ

      Thank you sir. More facts, less sensationalism.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • StevenR

      That is absurd. It fits the definition to a "T". He was a white supremacist. There is no question about it. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking him for more than a decade. You would know that FACT if you listened to NPR, not FAUX NEWS!

      August 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • thisisterrorismandimawhiteamericanman

      your an idiot, racist, and should travel and learn about other cultures.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • nostrildamus

      And there's plenty pointing to the fact that this demon was a white supremacist who believe non-whites should be thrown out or subjugated. That was known even before this op-ed was penned, so your attempts at "fairness" fail.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • William Demuth

      It never ceases to amaze me how quickly both Christians and right wingers want to disavow themselves of their madmen once the ballon goes up.

      We shall find many knew this space cadet was going over, just as we ALWAYS do with these types.

      Alas the critical difference is that a decades worth of insane rhetoric from the killer will be written off as free speech.

      Nazi groups are basically gangs for madmen, yet we "respect" their rights?

      I hope the FBI has the courage to round up the lunatics before someone else snaps.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      daknife is correct. Terrorists use acts of violence to create fear.

      This shooting was almost certainly a hate crime, but to establish that it was terrorism, the intent to create fear must exist. It is quite possible and perhaps even probable that it was a terrorist act. I don't think we can really know.

      It is quite possible that Wade Michael Page was insane and was expressing nothing but unreasoning hatred of people who were 'different' to him.

      Hate crime? Yes.
      Terrorism? Let's wait for the investigation.

      Was the attempted murder of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords terrorism?

      August 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Proph3tMotiv

      Don't just argue semantics.

      If you have a political ax to grind (ie Anarchist) and you go on a shooting spree to kill people who don't look like you, then......... wait for it....

      YOU ARE A DOMESTIC TERRORIST.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Texas

      Political or social objectives for skinheads/neo -nazis means an aryian nation/white america. Read about a guy named Hitler- I believe he was involved in both politics and social issues. Fail.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  6. doc doc

    The semantics of what we call these acts aside, they are horrific; literally. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. Does anyone else wonder if this sort of thing happened in ancient Greece? Rome? Egypt? Is this a modern phenom?

    August 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Blame the deserving

      Yes.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      People have done appalling things to each other for centuries.

      Usually in the name of God.
      Guns make it sooo much easier.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  7. lefty avenger

    Anyone who is running around in the street shooting unarmed innocent people and the police is a terrorist.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      So people who rob liquor stores and hold shoot-outs with the cops are now terrorists?

      August 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  8. CM

    Just because someone of a different skin color or faith kills a bunch of other people doesn't make it terrorism. Terrorism is a political action; terrorists are seeking to change a policy (AQ wants the US out of the Middle East, for us to stop supporting Israel, etc). Timothy McVeigh sought to spark a militia uprising against the government, among other things.

    This guy could have just been loony for all we know. I also hesitated to call Nidal Hassan a terrorist until all the evidence came out. I originally wondered if Hassan had simply snapped due to his upcoming deployment, but its clear he was a radical Islamist.

    There's an agenda by this guy and the left to deem anything as "right-wing terrorism" because they've been predicting it for decades now.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • StevenR

      We know. He was a white supremacist. A White Supremacist TERRORIST. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking this jerk for more than a decade. He played in a punk WHITE SUPREMACIST ROCK BAND. What more do you need to know?

      August 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  9. Shakira

    Can we all agree this guy was a nutter who needed to be cleansed out of the gene pool. I don't know that he knew he was killing Sikhs but I would wager a pretty penny he thought he was killing Muslims instead. One less moron in the world.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • doc doc

      Not a fair trade, kinda like sacraficing your queen for a pawn when he gets 6 people and we get him. The one less moran line is harsh

      August 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  10. knucklecheese

    "If that scenario did occur, would most Americans have any problem calling that an act of "terrorism"?
    Of course not."

    How DARE you? You insolent little weasel! How can you claim to speak for the entire American Public? No, most people would NOT consider that an act of terrorism! Your entire opinion is predicated on the assumption that everyone in America is as dumb and whiny as you are. It doesn't matter what color any of them are. This was a homicide, plain and simple. The perpetrator should get a fair trial and (if convicted) a lifetime behind bars without parole REGARDLESS of the color of his victims. Grow up jerk. It's not all about race.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Shakira

      The guy is dead, it;s going to be hard to give him a trial.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • doc doc

      gotta say, he got the best trial possible, in my humble opinion.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • StevenR

      No, you nutcase. This guy is a PERFECT EXAMPLE of a terrorist. A white supremacist that the Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking FOR OVER A DECADE. Their aim is to TERRORIZE ANYONE THAT ISN'T WHITE.

      Stop listening to FAUX NEWS and get a FACT or two, you MORON!

      August 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Omar

      On the contrary, I do agree with the writer of this article that MOST of the American will NOT think to be an act of terrorism based on the facts he has written in his article. All this is true indeed! If the roles were reversed, this whole scenario would be labeled as an "Islamic Terrorism" but not in this case, where religion has played no part nor has the color of this shooter. The media will continue playing with the masses, as these are the orders given by the New World Order policy makers. Period!!!!!!!

      August 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  11. Dicazi

    Of course it's terrorism. These men and women were singled out for their appearance and/or their beliefs, by someone who was apparently threatened by them. .I grieve with the Sikh people. And since a lot of these white-power neo-nazi whack jobs claim to be Christain, as a Christain, I denounce him. This is definitely NOT something Jesus would do.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Chelle

      Did you know the shooter? Did you know the motive or what was going on in his mind before he did this horrific act? Let's wait until we have all the facts before we call it anything other than the tragedy it already is.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • StevenR

      YES. We know MORE THAN ENOUGH about him to be SURE that he is a WHITE SUPREMACIST. NO QUESTION about it! HE PLAYED IN A white supremacist rock BAND, FER' JEBUS SAKE! The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking him SINCE 2000!. Turn off FAUX NEWS and get some REAL FACTS FROM NPR! They interviewed the director of the SPLC and she gave chapter and verse about this nutcase. Who he followed, what groups he was involved with. Jeepers. You FAUX NEWS idiots should just BE QUIET and stop SPEWING LIES!

      August 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  12. Reality

    READ AND LEARN:

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

    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) (As did the lates, beyond-stupid) red-neck Christian aka Wade Michael Page,

    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.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  13. James

    Past U.S. foreign policy and unjustified wars have resulted in terrorism from abroad. Home-grown terrorism is a greater threat to americans especially when the flames are being fanned by the far right politicians.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  14. Nik

    Arsalan, well said my friend! I am glad you wrote this piece.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  15. Greg s

    A Muslim can kill and wound over 20 Americans and its domestic violence, A white man kills 6 Hindus and its terrorism, I dont get it.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • TommyTT

      Actually read the article and you might get it.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Frank

      Are you daft or something Greg?? I don't think you have even read the article and coming to this dumb conclusion of yours. Get off your fat end, ditch the McDonalds and the Heinekins or whatever you drink and face reality. Muslims are not the ONLY brand of people who do stupid things. There are amongst us too who do stuff like this, yet they end up going scott free and it gets labeled as an "isolated incident" or "mentally unstable condition" of the person.
      Lets not label everything as a "Muslim/Islam terrorism" but an act of terror, be it from anyone...Muslim, Christian, Jews, Hindus, etc.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  16. Akbar

    Only MUSLIMS can commit terrorism..
    At least let us have that word.

    Thank you!

    August 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  17. Pete Collyge

    Garland, Texas.... There's a (Christian) Nondenominational Church in close proximity to a Sikh Temple. I've proposed that they sponsor a candlelight march (to the Temple) and a minute of silence or prayer for the victims of the atrocity near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I've also suggested they invite other local churches to participate and that the local media be notified.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  18. lindy

    It is terrorism but so was Fort Hood where they still have not
    called it what it was..

    August 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • BigDaddy

      I was thinking the same thing. I can agree this could be an act of terrorism once the Obama administration considers the Fort Hood shooting an act of terrorism as well.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  19. M.

    This was an act of terrorism no matter of the color of the shooter or the victims. So was the shooting in Colorado, if you ask me. Nobody has ever said that terrorist were normal sane people.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  20. blade1975

    You wish it was the Latter. So what your saying whites killing whites is ok. (racist) But if a white man kills a brown man it's terrorism racism.

    But brown man can murder whites i nthe name of terror and be protected? bravo dork.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:03 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.