Soon after news broke of the terrorist attack on a gurudwara (Sikh Temple) in Wisconsin, people were tweeting messages of disbelief, sympathy and anger. Some were also posting information about Sikhism.
A few questioned whether it was too soon to start educating the public about the world’s fifth largest religion. But Singh and many others were reacting to media coverage of the tragedy which was at times clumsy and dismal. As Christopher Zara writes in the International Business Times, “The shooting rampage that left seven people dead at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., on Sunday has prompted misinformation, sloppy reporting and outright ignorance about the Sikh religion.”
Indeed mainstream media was lambasted on Twitter:
@bhalomanush Fox News asks distraught Sikh, Manjeet Mangat if there have been “anti-Semitic acts in the past against the Sikh community”
Sikhs have been in the United States for over 100 years with an estimated population of 500,000. But they remain a mystery to most Americans, often mistaken for Hindus or Muslims. Since the September 11 attacks they have been singled out because of the way they dress.
The Sikh Coalition, a New York-based group “born in the aftermath of bigotry, violence and discrimination against the city’s Sikh population following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,” reports to have received more than 700 requests for legal assistance from Sikhs asking for help with cases including hate crimes, employment discrimination and school bullying.
“For centuries, Asian Pacific Americans, including Sikhs, have made their homes in the United States,” said Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together. “Yet incidents such as this one remind us of the need for greater understanding surrounding our diverse communities.”
As our nation increasingly becomes diverse and pluralistic, Iyer is right that we need to better know our neighbors. The United States is a country of immigrants from all over the globe who have come to fulfill their American dream. They have also brought with them their religion, culture and unique contributions which enrich and revitalize to our society. This is a good a time to learn about Sikhs who hold that all humans are equal, regardless of race, social class, creed or gender.