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. David Brunette

    I'll call it a hate crime, there is no evidence of an organization behind this action.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      I agree. It is clearly a hate crime.

      If there was intent to create fear through this act of violence, then it is also terrorism.

      "Organization" is not a requirement of terrorism. It is frequenly a factor because most terrorists are not martyrs.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  2. hemchandra

    More than terrorism, this looks like a racist attack.

    August 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  3. curosity

    NRA ... why do the victims who actually need guns for self defense never had it ?? !!
    because only loonitics buy guns for one reason only .....

    August 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  4. Chris G

    This is an act of terrorism and he should rot in Gitmo for the rest of his pathetic life

    August 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Trevor Black

      Since 1950, American Terrorists with guns have killed more U.S. citizens than the fatalities to the USA in the Vietnam war. If we had England's gun laws, we could have saved over 65,000 American lives and the haunting tragedies for so many families and close friends. We need our nation, our President to declare a War on American Terrorists now. Assault weapons are sold like hotcakes (especially in Phoenix Arizona's 850 gun shops) to any 18 year old with $20,000 in his pocket. Wake Up. America is in a War Zone.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  5. Darrell W.

    Of course this was a horrendous act of terrorism, and fortunately the authorities have called it 'Domestic Terrorism'. And yet Obama refuses to call the obvious act of terrorism by by the muslim Major Hasan as an act of terrorism. He calls it 'Workplace Violence'. What's with that?

    August 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Bill

      Something you made up.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Alverant

      Well for one thing, the guy was driven insane by PTSD. Obama's term was accurate then. If a christian postal worker went crazy and shot up his office would you call that terrorism too?

      August 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Trevor Black

      When a US soldier is killed or wounded by a Foreign Terrorist, the US government compensates the family members, often for the rest of their lives. We citizens in a War Zone in America should now urge the families who are victims of American Terrorists to flood the courts with lawsuits demanding compensation from the U.S. government which has allowed and created the War Zone freedom for American Terrorists to kill innocent Americans

      August 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  6. Bill


    No doubt about it, this was an act of terrorism, especially since this guy belonged to a domestic terrorist group homegrown in the USA. Terrorist groups are a small minority of radical nuts that need to be wiped out at the root. We have the white supremists, Black Militants, and many other hate groups. The US Government needs to admit it and not label just Alkadia as the only terrorist group that threatens our people and our country. It is a shame every time our government attempts to rid us of these radical groups, the police and federal agents are scrutinized by the media. Then when something like this happens they want to say, oh the guy was a nut. Sure he was a nut. Others knew what he was going to do, nuts brag about it to other nuts. The normal people need to seize back America for the sake of peace. We all pray together from all religions to take action to stop useless bloodshed.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  7. Snoop

    For all of you pinheads that like to speak in sound bites, keep this in mind: "Extreme right wing" does not equal "Tea Party" or "Conservative".

    August 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • TKO

      Not always, perhaps, but sometimes for certain . . .

      Oh, and i am not a pinhead, by the way.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Rush

      Sure it does dude. This is the way you folks have been talking since a black man became President. YOU brought this you. Blood is on YOUR hands. Well done.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      Extreme right wing doesn't equal Tea Party or Conservative you said? Really? A year ago, Sarah Palin painted crosshairs on a map of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' district at the Tea Party's request and Gerrard Loughner followed suit, killing six and leaving the Congresswoman crippled for life. And not so long ago, Ted Nugent who identified himself as a Tea Party activist, threated revolt against our democracy if our President is re-elected. You need to have your pinhead examined.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • MetheBLKman

      LMAO....................really, but if you were to really look at history "always" is a good word to def describe.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Reasonable1

      @Snoop - You are so right. We should not ignore the difference between "extreme right wing" vs. "Tea party" vs. "conservative". Just like we should not ignore the difference between "criminal", "felon" and "convict".

      August 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • steve in texas

      This guy hated minorities, and had too many guns. That's the very definiton of conservatism in America, isnt it?

      August 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  8. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Timothy McVae was a decorated war veteran who carried out one of the worst terrorist attacks in US history and he wasn't a Muslim, Hindu or Arab. He was an All-American white boy who killed innocent Americans because he had a grudge against his own government. let's face it, terrorism is terrorism and it is not limited to race or religion.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • str8vision

      Well put. It's only going to get worse as more and more people see the government/other groups as their enemy.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Terrorists try to create fear with acts of violence. So yes, Timothy McVeigh was certainly a terrorist.

      We're bandying this word (terrorist) around before we even know what this guy thought he was doing.

      Was it a hate crime? Almost certainly.

      – Did he try to create fear in the Sikh community? We don't know.
      – Did he try to create fear in the Muslim community and mistakenly killed Sikhs instead? We don't know.
      – Was this guy completely insane and had no clue what he was doing other than some random act of hatred he didn't understand? We don't know.

      If his purpose was fear, then yes, the word 'terrorist' is appropriate.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • MetheBLKman

      Correct, but in America one can say the opposite of what your saying is true..

      August 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  9. squashleo05

    arsalan is right as with the colorado shooter/murderer,questions of mental state come into mind,no one,just as in this case,called that or this act as an act of terrorism by a terrorist!now had the colorado shooter or this man been muslim,you would have heard act of terrorism by a terrorist a plenty!!
    apologies to all offended by my comment.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  10. Motor

    Fort Hood was classified by Team Obama as "workplace violence"....

    August 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  11. Thomas E. Shafovaloff

    Iraq war – oh yes they were the ones with weapons of mass distruction – let the ignorant public believe it is true.[Trillions not billions to take out one oppressor?] Now – more ignorance – but the ignorant violence has been brought home. This looks like a hate crime and terrorism however you want to define it. How can these people that commit these acts think our justice system will not punish them? Have the real "terrorists" stolen from them the hope for a good life ahead? Or have our own leaders fed "ignoranace" as justification for violence and now can't take it back from the ignorant that were used before?

    August 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  12. answeringislamphobes

    Agreed, it is an obvious act of terrorism, when norwegian killer committed his disgusting crimes no body wanted to blame the islamphobe hate groups and instead they focused on testing his mental illness and not doing anything to address the root of the problem which is the hate groups.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  13. DBdemocracy

    So, I have a question to ask the NRA and others who's un-comprimising view of the 2nd ammendment contributes to the sensless killings we continue to see. What do you think can be done to better prevent crazies and criminals from their rampages? I have a full understanding of the 2nd ammendment and support it, but not without limitations. Since the stongest argument against further gun control comes from the NRA and other such groups and individuals I leave it to them to figure this out. Until such time,I Iay the murdered innocent at your feet and know that when you meet your maker he will expect an answer from you on this subject.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Annynomous

      What an ignorant statement. If someone has the mindset to do this they will not have any problems finding weapons. Banning them will simply burden those of us who have guns and who like to shoot but have no intent to kill people.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • evan

      nothing can be done to prevent crazies from attacking people. 9/11 was the worst terrorist attack on america and no guns were involved, timothy mcveigh killed over 180 people and injured over 800 with homemade explosives. Guns were absent in both cases which were america's worst terrorist attacks

      August 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Eric

      The issues of ill people wandering our cities and killing people is NOT a second amendment issue, nor an NRA issue. It is a mental health issue for our government to address. It is a moral issue for our society to address.

      Take your political view and shove it.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • kaligaclark

      EXCELLENT POINT!!!! There is NO reason that some people should be banned from buying guns! NOT EVERY person SHOULD have the right to buy a gun legally! If someone has a psychological issue or if they have a restraining order they should NOT be able to buy guns PERIOD!!! Don't even try to argue the point that they could buy an illegal weapon becuase that is NOT a reason for letting everyone buy guns. If that is the case then make murder legal, because people will still do it even if it is illegal!!! Get over that arguement it has NO BASIS!!!

      August 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • TKO

      Annynomous–You might want to be careful with that word "ignorant"–look at your argument: "limiting weapons wont work because they will still get those weapons"? That is absurd–if you limit those weapons there will, by definition, be no weapons to get. If they get those weapons, they are not being limited

      August 6, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  14. therealpeace2all

    Reblogged this on peace2alldotme.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  15. nolongerdem

    The Fort Hood Shooting was 'workplace violence' though. even though the shooter was shouting "Allahu Akbar" while he killed as many as he could. Even though the Ford Hood shooter Anwar al-Awlak many times, he was not considered a terrorist by this administration. Anwar al-Awlak, a known terrorist, was assassinated by a US drone. But this skin head is declared a domestic terrorist. I know that somehow this makes sense to liberals and progressives – it will be independents who decide the next election.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • wolfpackbob

      Well said. Terrorism now falls under rules of political-correctness has become politicized and used for propaganda. The definition is selectively applied only when it supports the agenda of those in power. The silence by President Obama's administration and the media regarding Fort Hood's terrorist shooting rampage is deafening.

      August 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • llatpoh

      I am fine with calling this guy a terrorist, but I think it is the height of hypocrisy to call the Ft Hood Massacre "workplace violence"... what a joke... the O administration clearly has a whitewash jihad agenda... sorry O and your enablers – you can't have it both ways! Independents WILL decide the next election...

      August 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • answeringislamphobes

      Fort Hood, this was an attack on U.S. military personnel - not civilians - by a traumatized psychiatrist acting 100% alone, and who was "deeply disturbed" mentally according to his psychiatrist colleagues.

      August 6, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Alverant

      Is it also terrorism when a postal worker went crazy and shot up his office?

      August 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      Independents decide EVERY election. What's your point? Need to feel 'special' today?

      August 6, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • llatpoh

      Attacks on military can be counted as terrorism, like when the jihadist in germany blew up two US army guys on leave getting off a bus... when an attack is carried out by someone who is screaming Alahu Akbar! and proclaiming themselves a Soldier of Allah, I think it is safe to say they are a jihad-inspired Terrorist. Ft Hood Masscre was a horrendous terrorist attack on US soil... to classify it as anything else is obscene. Sorry buddy, you can't have it both ways...

      August 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  16. therealpeace2all

    Well... it was just a matter of time until the crazy bat -sh!t right-wing christian nut jobs started blaming the "Satan loving Atheists" 😯 for this tragedy, according to Pat Robertson.


    Wow... the ignorance is mind boggling at times.


    August 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  17. James D

    It is terrorism, if there is any reluctance to call this one "as is" than it would be BIG mistake ! They want to terrorize NON-WHITES ! What else there is to it ?

    Once you start pampering these elements there is no end to it !

    We have been lecturing countries all over the world how to get rid of this why not here ?
    This snake bites any country that tries to use it or neglects to nab it in its infancy USA could see this menace in face of growing economic pains, unemployment.

    Idle mind is devils work shop and we are growing in numbers for idle minds and such eagerly waiting NOT outlawed groups to take advantage of this in name of 'freedom of speech' !!

    There are too many guns out there and may be there might be a genuine need to own a gun for every IMMIGRANT after all !!!

    It is all down hill from here if this escalates or not checked ! There are hardly any police to do much about anything anyways !

    August 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  18. hello

    Tim Mcvay was a terrorist and he was white. No one is mistaking that. Get over yourself

    August 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • larryb

      but tim mcvay killed mostly white people...for sure racism, xenophobia and stupidity was involved in WI

      August 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • evan

      he also didnt use guns to carry out his attacks

      August 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  19. Todd E

    There is no doubt that this is terrorism.

    August 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  20. Andrew

    Abso f@#%ing lutely, Arsalan. Otherwise "terrorist" means "brown guy from middle east".

    August 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
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