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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. Paddy O'bama

    The sad thing is he probably thought they were muslim. Skinheads are such idiots.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  2. Charles Ratz

    Everyone in their right mind knows this was an act of terrorism. What troubles me are the politically correct who will not even use the word for fear of offending a group or groups of people. Terrorism is a reality, and pretending it does not exist or is something else is not going to make it go away.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Hate crime – yes. How do you know it is terrorism? Can you define terrorism?

      August 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  3. isabellaaa23

    The author has written a wonderful article and is very precise.
    When a white man does a rampage of killing for whatever the excuse maybe, we like to think of it as if he needed help or he was a mental case...
    The incidents below done by tea partiers or psychos are ALL terrorism ALSO:
    – Oklahoma City Bombing
    – Batman movie theatre shootings
    – Shooting of Gifford in Phoenix
    – Brevik shooting in Norway
    – Virginia Tech shootings
    – Sikh Temple shootings
    They all indicate an ill in the society.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @isabellaaa23

      What about the Korean-American man who went postal at his church in California a few months ago?

      August 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Sorry, it was a vocational school, not specifically the church.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Paddy O'bama

      The Batman Movie shooter was not a tea partier, you liar! HE WAS OWS!!!!!

      August 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • GK in WA

      Please provide the source of information that you relied on to infer that these horrific acts were caused by someone affiliated with the Tea Party. If you cannot, please go easy on the kool-aid.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  4. aggiemara

    I will agree to call this terrorism if you will agree that what Nidal Hassan did was an act of terrorism, too, and not euphemistically "workplace violence." I agree to start calling a spade a spade.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Nidal Hassan went postal. By that logic the postal workers who 'inspired' the term 'going postal' would be terrorists too?

      While the incident in Wisconsin appears to be a hate crime, there is nothing to suggest that it has terrorist motives. An investigation of 'stormfront' might uncover this to be true.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  5. Simon

    Who isn't calling it terrorism?????

    August 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • smokin39

      well mainstream media isn't. Did they call the movie theatre shootings an act of "terrorism"? NO THEY DID NOT!!!! but it was so.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  6. Proph3tMotiv

    Don't just argue semantics when trying to define Terrorism.

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

    YOU ARE A DOMESTIC TERRORIST.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  7. thisisterrorismandimawhiteamericanman

    @Proph3tMotiv: couldn't agree more... it disgusts me that all people can talk about here is the semantics of what to call this... how about we talk about those innocent victims who were killed violently and celebrate their lives and consol their families. I am disgusted to even be considered an American the way Americans have responded to this.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  8. Blame the deserving

    Look for a new wave. A Tsunami of Homeland Security fascist advances on average Americans freedoms. After this unexplained wave of mass shootings this election year... We will need much more surveillance of average Americans.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  9. mariner v

    This was an act of a man filled with hatred honed by years of affilitation with a group of racist lunatics. We didn't call these acts of terrorism when they were directed towards blacks. We called them racist acts. We need to be mindful of the fact that all kinds of political groups like to capitalize on events like this and attach the tag of "Terrorism" to fuel their own agendas. In the name of "Terrorism" the Bush administration hustled the US into two wars and spent trillions of dollars because of the fear it generated. The writer of this article clearly has an ax to grind based on his insistence that this be characterized as an act of "Terrorism" as such he is doing a disservice to objective journalism, as well as the community that he is supposed to be representing. At the end of the day several members of a a close community are dead, killed by a madman. Does it really matter that we don't call it terrorism? We call it murder and under our laws people go to jail for a crime such as this, that is all we need to know. The rest of the charade matters little to the dead. As in all instances, the best way to honor the dead is to care for the living.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • 1safechick

      I agree that it wouldn't matter if the labeling was consistent, but it's not. When somebody who burns down some SUV's at a car dealership in the dead of night is tried and convicted as a terrorist but somebody who bombs an abortion clinic is not, we have a cognitive dissonance. I'm glad they called this attack terrorism because that seems appropriate.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @mariner v

      Hate crime? Yes.
      Terrorism? Only if investigation demonstrates his intent was to create fear through violence.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @1safechick,

      your abortion clinic analogy is sound, but how do you know this is more than a hate crime? How do you know his objective is to create fear and not just mindless hatred of people who are 'different'.

      Does beating up a gay man now qualify as 'terrorism' and subject to domestic terror laws?

      August 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  10. mslisac363

    Call it what ever you want, but it doesn't change a thing and will not bring these people back.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  11. Blame the deserving

    PETA, Greenpeace, Black Panthers will all be on the list of watch, sneak and peek targets now.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  12. Visiontest

    I call it a false flag.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  13. Raven

    Wow, the hate of some of these post, and I'm sure they're all white males. Cowards you are all! The white American male like this guy, are the most dangerous creatures on the planet! He is a m onster, yes this nation IS milticultural, with cowardly monsters that would bring back slavery if they could.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Visiontest

      FAIL!

      August 6, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  14. Devon

    If this is terrorism, then the Fort Hood murders are terrorism and more so...lets not be hypocritical you leftists and Muslims....

    August 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • independentlyowned

      No one's arguing that Fort Hood wasn't terrorism. Pretty much everyone agrees that it was indeed terrorism, which is the author's entire point: It's easy to call it terrorism when a Muslim or brown-skinned man is the one who commits the crime.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • melchior37

      It's terrorism because the man singled out a group of people..supposedly muslims because of his warped radical ideology. What else do you call that? And this skin color crap is not so damn relevant . Do people really think that if we were attacked on US soil by White Chenyan or Bosnian Muslims, it wouldn't be considered an act of terrorism??? Get real.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  15. steve in texas

    Has Fox blamed video games and music yet?

    August 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • JeffinIL

      They'll have to switch from blaming Obama first.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • eroteme

      Has MSNBC blamed George yet?

      August 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • fred37ify

      Why is this guy a terrorist and major Hassan is not ! Could it be that Hassan and Barrack share the same religion ?

      August 6, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • JeffinIL

      eroteme, I wouldn't be surprised.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • 1safechick

      Attacks on military targets are not normally considered terrorism, in general. Attacks on civilian populations are.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  16. CJ Topspin

    Perhaps this guy was figting to maintain the American way of life that he knew and grew up with? Multiculturalisim is a failed social experiment.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Jeff

      Your head is so far up your ass that you probably are having a tea party with your mother.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Billy

      In that case, why didn't he just leave this great nation instead of murdering innocent people?

      August 6, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • steve in texas

      Good god. It;s hard to believe we just landed on Mars when you read comments like that.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • independentlyowned

      Oh you mean the American way that never let anyone across its borders after the American Revolution, the one where Ellis Island never existed, that American way which was pretty much a direct copy of the British way except that we didn't pay taxes?

      August 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Pitstop

      If multiculturalism is a failed social experiment, then white people should leave the US, since the Indians were here first.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • 1safechick

      You're a complete idiot! The Sikhs have a long history in America, going back over 200 years and were a pivotal part of Rail Road construction in the Western Unites States. You, are what's wrong with this country, not them.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  17. Jeff

    What a gigantic COWARD. Page has been been traced back to terrorist militant hate group StormFront.org. He regularly attended their meetings and called for a war against all non-whites worldwide. I hope the government goes after StormFront and crushes the entire group of sewer rats and cowards.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • fred37ify

      Let's just let Hassan off the hook ! After all – that was just workplace violence !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11111

      August 6, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • 1safechick

      Fred – so because a Muslim officer is not being charged in a manner you agree with, you think this skin head murdering coward should get a pass? You're pathetic.

      August 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  18. JeffinIL

    Yea. All bad guys are terrorists now. This makes it easier to get longer convictions. It also has us in an unending war against "bad guys" because there is no one with the authority to surrender to us because "bad guys" will always exist.

    Where is Nero with that fiddle?

    August 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Blame the deserving

      Will also make it easier to snoop on average Americans. Everyone of us belongs to or supports a group only one or two links removed from what could be defined as terrorists now. PETA, Greenpeace, Tea Party, NRA, NAACP are all associated with more radical groups.

      August 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  19. Citizen

    Multiculturalism is a colossal fraud.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      So you think this skinhead acted righeously by exterminating those that were 'different'?

      August 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  20. Sagebrush Shorty

    We treat citizens like terrorists and terrorists like citizens.

    August 6, 2012 at 4:35 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.