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. maxamad cabdullaahi

    its a work of christianity extremists who have high level political connections. if they don,t involve physically they psychologically. they wage hate religious propaganda againstbe muslim minority and all sort of wide spread intimidation and harassments. it became allmost part of the norm, nothing wrong with it so long its about muslim minority. now, this will never be limited on muslims. religious hatred its religious hatred, in the end, result will be what happened on sikh minority. muslim minority was indeed intended target. but it will be matter of time before muslim minority being massacred.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Mike

      Please do not compare Sikhs and Muslims. Sikhs are not Muslims. Sikhs were not involved in 9/11 attack. All minorities are not the same – Muslims are exceptionally violent, brutal and fanatics whereas other minorities are not. This is a tragedy. Please do not use this tragedy to spread your filthy Islamic agenda.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Hank

      Yes, you are right @ Mike. Muslims consider an insult to be compared with Sikhs or Hindus. Stand on your own two feet and be defined what you stand for. First off, don't hide behind Christian names.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  2. gmenfan54

    This person is an extreme example of hate and Intolerance. It has nothing to do with religion or politics.

    August 6, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  3. irlmwookie

    I wanted to let you know that I've long believed that though foreign jihad-terrorism are an ongoing threat, White Christian Supremacist domestic-terrorism has been on the rise since Timothy McVeigh exploded the truck bomb in Oklahoma City. And will likely blossom into many terror cells. I think America will run out of luck soon, car and truck bombs are likely to be in our future, some set off by the very same Americans who fear the same from the Muslim/Sikh/Buddhist American communities. We already had one near bombing in Washington State during an MLK-day parade, it's started.

    Domestic terrorism is under everybody's radar, except for a few in our Gov't who are very aware of the trend, and groups like the SPLC's Right-wing Hate Watch. Hopefully, before the bombings happen, we can take steps to turn away from violence and antipathy toward 'other' Americans. But I'm realistic.

    But many people are not getting or paying attention to the signs. But if it starts, hopefully it will end our islamaphobia and replace it with a healthy Caucaphobia.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Actually it has been happening since the McCarthy era when the congress unconst i tutionally allowed in "under god into the pledge and allowed the national motto to change to ingod we trust, which is a lie. Look at the christians who shoot abortion doctors. This is terrorism, and they feel empowered by their god, and believe the govt will protect them.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Mike

      Only Islamists would call it Islamophobia. Islamophobia is good. Having Islamophobia can save your life. If someone says "Allahu Akbar", it is better to take cover immediately rather than worrying about being accused of Islamophobia.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  4. Paul Z.

    Unfortunately, the author is WAY off-base! With the exception of this liberal, I haven't heard a single person make ANY implication that this is NOT an act of "domestic terrorism". It seems that the author is the only person who holds the belief that "white" americans don't consider acts of terrorism to be such, unless the suspect/s are "brown skinned". Oklahoma City; Atlanta Olympic park bombings; the Unabomber; Austin IRS attack; 2001 anthrax attack; ALL acts of domestic terrorism perpetuated by "white" people. And no one has EVER believed otherwise!

    In other words, this is just another whiney liberal feeling "guilty" for something and therefore, rushing to the defense of a class of citizens who are NOT asking for any defense!

    August 6, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Nicko

      Really Paul? There are some people just a few lines below your posting that don't believe this is terrorism. I've also yet to hear a major media outlet or government official refer to this as terrorism. I think the author of the article is fair to point this out.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Paul Z.

      The Police Chief himself, called it an "act of domestic terrorism" and EVERY major media outlet carried the quote. What more do you want?

      Who's disputing this as anything OTHER than an act of "domestic terrorism"?

      August 6, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Thinker

      Paul Z., I'm just appalled at what you have expressed. It is the white extreme conservatives who have given birth and encouragement to racist feelings as such. We see the result...few weeks ago in Colorado and now in Wisconsin. Step aside and look at this from others' point of view who happen to be a minority.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • ele

      Isn't this what terrorists usually do Paul ..fear, violence

      August 7, 2012 at 2:13 am |
  5. larry

    It's only terrorism if it's a white guy.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Thinker

      Let me introduce you to the definition of Terrorism: ter·ror·ism
      the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
      the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
      a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

      Being white, brown, or black has nothing to do with terrorism. But in this case yes, it is a white man.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
  6. Spearwielder

    Well...terrorism by definition comprises those acts of violence that are meant to instill terror in a populace in order to bring about social or political change. Does this qualify?

    August 6, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Michelle


      August 6, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • Gas Predictor

      Exactly right. "Terrorism" does not mean any attack upon the innocent. It has nothing to do with the color or religion of the perpetrator or the victim. It has to do with an attack upon individuals who have no control over a political situation in order to pressure those who do have control to bring about a desired outcome.

      IRA attacks upon innocent Londoners: Terrorism

      IRA attacks upon Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks: Armed insurrection

      Possible al Qaeda affiliates' attack upon USS Cole: Unconventional warfare but not terrorism because it was an attack upon a military target.

      Nutcase shooting up Sikhs, regardless of whether he thinks they're Muslims or not: Random nutcase. Unless he has some particular political agenda and is affiliated with others likely to carry out similar attacks, this does not rise to the level of "terrorism."

      August 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  7. SecularTruth

    Don't just call it terrorism. Call it Christian fundamentalism, Christian extremism or Christianity.

    When you give a gun to a religious person (like James Holmes or this shooter here) you're bound to have something happen.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Thinker

      I would call him extremist, or for sure Lunatic or A Nut Case. Being religious should give birth to love and peace in your heart but this man had denounced humanity.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  8. darkrunner

    There is a serious cancer in this country, And it starts with the media,

    August 6, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • ele

      Don't blame media, it supplies exactly what you ask for.. otherwise we wouldn't see barbies and dolls getting attention who spread mostly hate

      August 7, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  9. maxamad cabdullaahi

    its evil christianity terrorism, right, if not, why?

    August 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  10. kristenzuray

    For those who don't know, there are witnesses that saw 3 more attackers. Where are they? Why is CNN and FOX not talking about what the witnesses saw? We should be concerned about the others who are out there.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • ME II

      " there are witnesses that saw 3 more attackers."
      what's your source?

      August 6, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  11. ME II

    It appears to have been a hate crime. Not sure which label denote more abhorrence 'hate crime' or 'terrorism', although, I guess 'hate crime' is a form of terrorism.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • liamdevlin

      Using the same logic, the Sept. 11 attacks should be coined as a hate crime. They attacked because they were full of hatred toward the US. They didn't attack out of love.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  12. organically

    There is as much bigotry and racism in 2012 and there was in 1912. The only difference is that over the century humans have been forced to suppress it through culture and laws. We have failed. I am an atheist but there is a large Sihk temple in my rural town where I live. They are far superior to any Christian Church.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • ME II

      "There is as much bigotry and racism in 2012 and there was in 1912."
      I think I understand your point, but that's a bit much. Jim Crow laws were all over the south. White / Black water fountains. Blacks in the back of the bus. etc. We have made a lot of progress, I think, although there is a lot left to do as well.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      If the Supreme Court had not banned any mention of religion in schools, people would at least know something about the world cultures and religions, and might have more respect for others. The school curriculum is to blame, but so is the Supreme Court ruling which should have only been against prayer. Why go to school for so many years and learn NOTHING about the world? We can't expect others to know about the religions here if there is no mention of them. I agree with the author: this is terrorism and hate. Even though the shooter is dead, I think America needs to stop and think, and start to focus on education.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • ME II

      "If the Supreme Court had not banned any mention of religion in schools, .... the Supreme Court ruling which should have only been against prayer. "
      The Supreme Court has not banned "any mention" in school. A public school, since it is a representative of the government, cannot endorse any religion. World religion classes and the like are perfectly legal.
      Also, any student is free to pray in school, read the Bible, and join religious clubs, etc. but, again, the school cannot endorse any religion, or non-religion either.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • RAY

      Why don't we call it what it is ? Christian terrorism !

      August 6, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  13. Michelle

    Arsalan Iftikhar interesting opinion piece. I'm curious, what are your thoughts on the Obama administration calling the Fort Hood shooting "Workplace violence" instead of terrorism.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      That brings up an interesting question: I don't think the President is the prosecutor in a case, or the judge. The prosecutors can call a case terrorism, or the police, as the local police did in this case, referring the case to the F.B.I.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Michelle

      Elizabeth – the point escapes you entirely.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • ele

      Michelle, if you read and followed the case you would know the difference , but then a certain sector is by default terrorists and others are not , right

      August 7, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  14. Blaine Parrott

    This article is truly a breath of fresh air to make people realize that you can't I repeat can't categorize terrorist into one person, group or religion. thank you.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  15. Susie

    Uh they are already calling it domestic terrorism. What a waste of print.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  16. Bo

    It is waht it is... Racial hatred by whites.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Ken

      But the Ft Hood shooter who killed 12 in November 2009 is still "work place violence." Lib's are so tied up in knots afraid to offend everyone except the white male Christian. LOL..

      August 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • ME II

      That's a valid point. Although, Nidal Hassan didn't go into a Church, he was actually at his "work place".

      August 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Maj. Nidal Hasan is a United States Army officer who went postal and shot fellow soldiers in his work place.

      No different to the postal employees all those years ago. You want to call him a terrorist because of his name and religion.

      Were the postal employees who 'went postal' terrorists too?

      August 6, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  17. Bhupi - proud towelhead/raghead, ready to take another bullet

    Ironically, Sikhism was born to fight Islam and now they have to take bullets for Islam's media based image. This is not the first time Sikhs were killed because they looked different. In India, the muslim rulers had a price on each Sikh head because they stood up against forced religious conversion (and helped to kick them out of India as well till the Brits came in). Most recently, the current ruling govt in India, unfortunately headed by a Sikh, planned and killed thousands of Sikhs in 1984 – THEY WERE BURNT ALIVE. Even more shameful were events in Punjab where innocent Sikhs were labeled terrorist and killed by their own police. So for those 'racist folks or right wingers' who see this as a victory, they are not aware of what the Sikhs have gone through and how resilient they are. Maybe this country is going down the same path and politics is getting dirtier using color and religion to divide society. Look at India and see how racist and corrupt it has become by playing the racism (different religion and castes there) card in each election. This is a great country and we should be proud of our immigrants who have helped build this up rather being ashamed of it. For skin heads, they should find some other country to live in....

    August 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      I agree with you. But most history books are very sketchy about the 1960s and the history of the civil rights movement. It wasn't a one-time event, but a slow struggle, and it is still going on, peacefully. In some colleges, money is not distributed equally among the student body (student fees used for activities), and blacks are harassed in town areas. Opportunities and real estate still are difficult for many people of color. But racists found that their political careers would be helped in some parts of the country, and many included little racist words in speeches. Consider some of the Republican rhetoric: this is only done to get southern votes. The nastiness has increased in recent years, worse than in many years. I hope that America thinks hard about those little remarks about "us" "Anglo-Saxons" and other such things: there is no way that we should go back to a more racially divided country.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Thinker

      You may have it a bit wrong here...Sikh faith believes in standing up for injustice and cruelty towards the weak and all, including self. Sikhs have no agenda against ANY religion. And they'll fight for what is right for all human race.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Bhupi

      Sikhism was formed to fight injustice through two means – self sacrifice which the Gurus did and then pick up the sword – when all means had failed, which the tenth and the last Guru did. However, if you look at present day Sikhism or rather it within the realms of democracy, its a different picture altogether. The courts decide these days. So fighting injustice can be done by either joining the police or the army/air force etc, of which Sikhs do a lot in latter role in India. In US, I wish they had allowed turbaned Sikhs in army earlier which could have increased awareness (laws in US army are very strict compared to Canada, UK or Australia, etc). I was called a terrorist in India when I was growing up because some right wing Sikhs engaged in killing innocent Hindus, so I am aware of both sides of story. I decided to leave India when the Govt. organized and killed in 1984. That was a scar which is deeply entrenched. US is looked upon by others as a beacon of democracy, so we have lot of faith and hope. The way the police and other officials have reacted and saved lives is unheard of in India and won't be possible till a long time. So its still the safest country for any religion, in my opinion. And we all have to die someday, so why should be fear ? Fear gives radicals and right wings a chance to raise their ugly head and disrupt civilization.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Tom

      Another disgruntled taliban commander.

      August 6, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  18. tessaprn

    Why is it of importance to put on name on this crime? This man went and killed innocence people for no reason except most likely because he did not like them. It is murder regardless of who did this. He was taken down like the wild animal he was.
    I'm tired of media and their selective reporting. It's time to tell these so called "reporters" to either do truthful unbias reporting or just shut up. All news outlets need to stop this sorry blame game.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Michelle


      August 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Blame means that there are accomplices, which you do not want to face.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  19. NorCalMojo

    Terrorism is a form of social extortion. Unless there's an implied threat that the attacks will continue if some policy isn't changed, it's not terrorism.

    August 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Marvin

      Well said.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • J-Pap

      You got it. Terrorism is used too often. Terrorists hijack society and continue with demands . This was racial hatred by a nut job.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Michelle


      August 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • jk

      So, was the Norway shooter a terrorist or not? He hated internationalization of the Norway society, and more specifically Minimization.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      the Norway shooter's acts were politically motivated. He commited his crime not against a particular minority, but to make a political statement. I think he fits the definition of terrorist.

      August 6, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      Racism has been used by politicians to get votes, by radio talk show hosts to get listeners... there is a motivation, and yes, it is terrorism. Why would killing Sikhs be terrorism? This is a game of intimidation being played by people who incite violence, such as Miss "lock and load" and the rest. You won't admit how bad the rhetoric has gotten, because perhaps it is not directed at you. They are trying to manipulate our country into giving up rights and freedoms and justice, and that is indeed terrorism.

      August 6, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • ele


      August 7, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  20. sarahalbion

    It is really distasteful when people like the writer Arsalan Iftikhar exploit tragedies like this to promote his political agenda

    August 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Axes


      August 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Shakira

      What are you talking about?

      August 6, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • ConcernedCiti

      I would like to understand exactly what political agenda you decipher in the author's post? I for one can see a lot of truth in his concerns, Caucasian Americans should unequivocally call this out for this really is, racial hatred against a peaceful and might I say gracious (based on the Sikh community's responses) ethnicity. In fact this is a teachable moment to turn away from the extreme right wingers in social media (read Rush, Hannity, Bachman, etc) who have laid down the broader ideological framework for these Neo Nazi nuts to function in our society. In fact we seem to be hell bent on repeating history, anyone remember the Nazi ideologues Alfred Rosenberg, Alfred Beaumler, Lothrop Stoddard,etc?? The ideas, writings, and speeches of these thinkers were incorporated into what became Nazism, including antisemitism, eugenics, racial hygiene, the concept of the master race, and lebensraum. We slowly but surely seem to down that slippery slope again. Remember a society that does NOT learn from history is condemned to repeat it!

      August 6, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • ele

      what agenda.. please explain .. Faux news much

      August 7, 2012 at 2:19 am |
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