Where Do We Go From Here? A Sikh Response to the Oak Creek Gurduara Massacre

Guest blogged by Santbir Singh

candle.jpgWe are not strangers to random acts of violence and discrimination. Although mass shootings have become far too common in America in recent years, rarely have these horrific crimes been targeted at one community. Today, that changed. Our beautiful gifts, our kesh and dastars, have become easy targets for the ignorant and angry. Since 9/11 that discrimination has only increased. However, with the exception of the senseless killing of Balbir Singh Sodhi, these attacks have never been so deadly. Now Sikh Americans are left confused and uncertain of how to respond.

Our first priority must be the survivors and their friends and family. We are a generous community that is admirable in our response to tragedies. Seva is really nothing more than an act of love, a demonstration of recognizing the spark of the divine in others. Just as Guru Nanak sought to serve those in need wherever he traveled, we must reach out to our sisters and brothers in Oak Creek and demonstrate our support for them in every way conceivable. Whether this means monetary assistance, providing people on the ground, or offering support and understanding for the psychological trauma the Sangat of Oak Creek have suffered, a tragedy such as this provides us a unique opportunity to demonstrate our strength as a community.

Standing together in times such as these, we can feel the warm embrace of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib and feel that we are truly part of a nation, the Khalsa Panth. Even in this first day after the shooting, there are Sikh groups that are planning and organizing assistance. Let us support each other and put our communities’ resources to good use in helping those who have the necessary expertise and skill needed. And let us support those groups that are doing the necessary work in whatever way they need.

Secondly, we need to be realistic about our current circumstances. Sikh Americans were attacked today, and they were attacked because they were Sikhs. We must take measures to ensure that such tragedies can be, as much as possible, avoided in the future. Our Gurduaras are remarkable institutions. They are spaces open to everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion or caste. The food we serve at Langar, free to whoever comes, is an example of how widely we open our doors to anyone. You can step into a Gurduara anywhere in the world, whether it be New Delhi, Hong Kong, London or Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and be cared for. However, we need also to take some basic security measures to make sure that these spaces can stay safe and open to all.

Our community has ample resources. Let us take advantage of this and make our Gurduaras more secure. We need professionals, with the requisite training and tools, who can make sure that if our Gurduaras are attacked again, that we can deal with these threats efficiently and quickly, while ensuring that those there to partake in the Gurduara are safe. Let us remember that our Guru has enjoined us to be ever vigilant. The right to bear arms isn’t something guaranteed to Sikhs in the 2nd amendment, but is a gift of sovereignty bestowed on us by Akal Purkh as revealed by Guru Har Gobind Sahib at Akal Takht four hundred years ago. We need to take an active role in our defense and protection and not wait for others to save us. Our community has suffered too much in the past because we did not take basic precautions to protect our lives. We need only look back at the terrible fate that befell our sisters and brothers in Delhi. Sadly, it appears that whenever we grow too comfortable and at ease, and begin to lose our martial tradition, that we suffer atrocities such as these. While we can never blame the victim, it is also worth remembering that Guru Hargobind Sahib taught us to always be prepared.

Thirdly, remaining in a spirit of Chardi Kala (ever growing optimistic attitude), let us use the brutal murders of our sisters and brothers in Oak Creek as an opportunity to educate. Just as Guru Gobind Singh invited the Hill Kings to Anandpur Sahib—many of whom were antagonistic to the Sikh nation and had conspired to attack us—in order to educate them and teach them about the Khalsa and the institution of Amrit, let us seize this moment and the resources at hand to educate those who fear and misunderstand us.

We are in the news in a way that we haven’t been since 1984. #Sikh is one of the top trending topics on Twitter, and my Google News feed shows over 1500 stories having already been written about the incident at Oak Creek. With the advent of the Internet and today’s social media, we are given opportunities that our community didn’t have 25 years ago. There is no excuse!

Enough of the disorganized and unprofessional responses.

Enough of the uncoordinated statements.

We have organizations that specialize in media work. Utilize these resources and join together and present a united front. Let us make inroads in our local neighborhoods, towns and cities, and teach Sikhi. Every Gurduara in North America needs two representatives that can speak to the media on behalf of that local Sikh community. Those representatives need to coordinate with our media advocacy organizations so that the community can give a coherent and thoughtful response. We must plan to keep the doors of our Gurduaras open and to set up open houses where we invite our fellow Americans to learn about us, our traditions, beliefs and practices. Let us teach the beauty of Sikhi and why it is we have chosen this path.

Finally, we need to do the most difficult task of all. Let us take a deep breath and step back. We must reflect and remember that which connects us all, that spirit that ties all of creation together. It is easy to live in connection with Vahiguru’s Hukam (divine command) when the news is good, it is a great deal more difficult to bow before Guru’s bhana (divine will) and accept what has occurred when we are faced with such tragedy. Let us stand together and offer a collective Ardas for the victims. Let us pray for the wellbeing of the Sikh Nation. And also, let us keep the spirit of Guru Nanak’s vision of Sarbat da Bhala (wellbeing of all) alive and pray—pray even for the perpetrator and his family, who must be facing a very difficult and tragic day themselves.

The Guru has given us beautiful gifts. The gift of calm acceptance in tragic situations is one. But the Guru also demands us to be active agents of positive social change, and it is at times such as these that we must stand strong and give a principled and strong response. Let us gain strength from our Gurus’ example, and just as they did, let us keep our dignity, grace and compassion intact as we move forward, together as Sikhs.

Santbir Singh is a Project Associate with the Sikh Research Institute. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada, with his wife and two children.

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29 Responses to “Where Do We Go From Here? A Sikh Response to the Oak Creek Gurduara Massacre”

  1. Akala says:

    Thank you for this Very well written article Santbir Singh. I can tell it comes from the deepest recesses of your heart. May the ones who passed have a short walk through the valley of death. For Jesus said "Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise." I laid some flowers at the local Gurudwara and it was very painful.

  2. Jesse Bateau says:

    My deepest thanks for your words. You have so beautifully put this into an appropriate Sikh perspective. Whereas other information that I shared earlier on Facebook was to help people understand why it is part of the cycle of violence that is happening in this country, your words help to put in into the proper Sikh perspective. I agree with every point that you have made. It will take work and coordination, but as you pointed out, the skills and the resources are present within the community, and Sikhs are always able to meet the challenges that have faced them in the past. As an American convert to Sikhism, I truly appreciate your inspiring words, and thank you most sincerely.

  3. @djtiggher says:

    I am sure others will ask this but who specifically should this be run through? Saldef or Sikh Coalition? In my mind Sikh Co is a our lobbying group & Saldef our legal group but I could be wrong. I think before we can ask the Gurdwara committee's to work with the organizations specialized in media relations. We need to clarify which organization to work with locally, and who are the local contacts. I want to make sure we get our gurdwara sangat's pushing for cooperation across the board and let them know who to talk to.

  4. Kanwaljit Singh says:

    Please try and remember 5 August as the World Sikh Awareness day. Every Sikh Gurudwara should have a program annually where we invite non-Sikhs local regular people (rather than leaders) with their kids. We should let them get accustomed to our customs and beliefs and share our values. Thanks.

  5. MarkInEugene says:

    Nearly 40 years ago I traveled to India in search of a more authentic spirituality and remain grateful for what I had found. When I returned to the US I encountered a very few individuals that responded to my saffron clothing and mala with such contempt and seething anger, it shocked me. I experienced for the first time in my life what it was like to be on the receiving end of deep prejudice and hatred.

    I come from a loving family and was associated to a loving Ashram so I was not prepared to deal with some very dark minds that walk among us. But it happened and I grew from the experience. Today I understand the maladjusted mind much better and that roughly 4% of the population is severe to mild sociopaths. I hesitated to post here because I am not a Sikh, but I wanted to remind you of this and ask you to take care because there are many outside your community that look fondly upon our Sikh brothers and sister and want to see you prosper and live a joyful life.

  6. Gurjeet Kaur says:

    That's a very sweet message, MarkInEugene. Thank you, and please don't ever, ever feel hesitant to post somewhere just because of a difference in belief systems. In the end the core message of all our faiths is the same – to love.

    Great article by Santbir Singh.

  7. A_Singh says:

    We should also maybe say Thank You but No Thank You to the Indian Embassies and Indian Government's speaking on our behalf. We are more aware of the American legal system then they are. Who is to say all of the people involved in the incident were all Indian?

  8. gurmtt singh says:

    great & well written thoughts & suggestions santbir singh , long live khalsa

  9. Bik says:

    Excellent article. The involvment of the indian embassy is hypocrisy of the highest order by the Indian government given that the murderers of tens of thousands of Sikhs openly walk the streets of New Delhi. Also their involvement will give the impression that Sikhs are still foreigners and not Americans. When was the last time there was an incident involving say Italian Americans and the Italian government got involved? The massacre highlights one thing and that is that American Sikhs had become complacent. The attempts of some Sikh spokesmen to inform the American media of who Sikhs are in the first few hours of the tragedy were dire. I don't want to criticise anyone but we need to have professional and articulate Sikhs who can put the Sikh point of view across. The only way that there can be a positive from this tragedy is if young professional Sikhs now step forward and take an active role in running the Gurdwaras and taking leadership roles in the comunity at large. The danger is that after a few weeks of great activity the American Sikhs will return to their slumber and complacency until God forbid there is another outrage.

  10. Chris says:

    Bik, you fail to realize that many of those killed were priests from New Delhi, and Indian citizens; hence the Indiian govt's involvement.

  11. Daljeet Singh says:

    Boycott the U.S. and move to Canada.

  12. Marilyn Pfaff says:

    I weep for your loss, and my heart aches for your sadness. I am not a Sikh, but I mourn with you, my fellow Americans. I thank you for this post, and I pray for strength, comfort, and peace for us all.

  13. Ivy says:

    This was shocking to me as a resident of Milwaukee. It shows how sickness is latent everywhere. We need to educate children early on and be more aware of the warning signs…Please donate to the Victims Memorial Fund at the temple. People will need to cover health care costs, legal fees, etc. You can also donate when you buy coffee, and we mostly all do that… There is an online coffee fundraiser for the cause at http://www.honduranjoe.com/blogs/featured-fundrai…. It includes a look to the future by supporting peace activism as well.

  14. […] now?” There are some excellent articles and blog posts that address these issues, including Santbir Singh‘s aptly titled post, “Where Do We Go From Here?” and Sundari’s post on […]

  15. […] Singh, a volunteer with the Sikh Research Institute, eloquently made a case for his thoughts on “where do we go from here?” He provided much food for thought and I’ll […]

  16. Blighty Singh says:

    Fate is a very weird thng. A day before the terrible massacre took place simple internet searches for 'Sikhs' yielded results after results mentioning the word 'Wisconsin'. This was weird coz you could quite easily spend a lifetime existence without ever hearing the word 'Wisconsin' more than twice in your life. But there it was. Each day. The reason ? Because old Mr Badal himself was coming to Wisconsin this weekend to attend a family wedding at the Gurdwara there. Not just Mr Badal. Oh no siree. I don't know what the correct terminology is for a collective of rich and corrupt individuals but the word orgy seems apt. A whole orgy of Punjabis were getting together to throw the obscenist of parties with the money they had stolen from the common man. Turns out that the brave Sardar that died trying to tackle the gunman was the brother in law of the fella throwing the billion dollatr bash. Old matey throwing the soiree says the show must go on. The orgy of punjabis are cerrying on with their jamboree. Mr Badal says he's gonna visit the Gurdwara and pay his respects. There's 2 families that sit around 60 miles from him in Gurdaspur who had their sons gunned down in the back by Badal's police force. Perhaps Mr Badal should visit them first. Badal and his Indian friends have been 'summoning' American ambassodors and Secretaries of State such as Hilary Clinton 'demanding' that the Americans take action. What 'action' is this then ? The Americans have not only punished the killer of Sikhs they've sent him to the morgue. Perhaps Hilary Clinton should remind Badal and his friends about the 10,000 Sikhs massacred in Delhi who still await any justice.
    So…..Skinhead music. Or 'Oi' to be exact. The movement and the music started in London in the early 1970's. In June 1981 the movement were having one of their racist oi rock concerts in Southall. The Sikh youth of Southall came out on the streets in force and burned their racist rock venue to the ground before fighting all night running street battles with the skinheads and the thousands of police that were protecting them. The event has gone down and history as the moment the skinhead movement and the racist music that goes with it were killed and driven out from the land of its birth. From that moment onwards the movement was nowhere to be seen in England but moved instead to places such as middle America and Australia. Fate….is a very weird thing.

  17. Blighty Singh says:

    well….its nice to get some thumbs ups for a change but has the message behind the post really gotten through ? We…as humans…are creatures of history and tradition. The 6th generation Irish American looks to Irish history and the 2nd generation Sikh American looks to Sikh Punjabi history. As a skinhead rock musician do any of you really think Wade Michael Page was not aware of the events of the summer of 1981 ? Simple internet searches into skinhead music always point to what the Sikh youths did to the Hamborough Tavern pub that night as it is considered an important turning point in worldwide skinhead and skinhead music history. Simply saying " don't kill us ….we're not muslims……If you wanna kill muslims make sure you don't kill us by mistake" is not enough, notwithstanding the fact that it is implying that its ok to kill muslims. I'm simply saying that Wade Michael Page, if he wasn't a mental retard, would have been aware of the history of his beloved music and the part Sikhs played in its downfall.

  18. Sher says:

    Congratulation Santbirji, v well written, coherent article. I hope i am using the correct expressions and not making an "unprofessional response".

    Also, interesting comments by the well-informed posters who have, I am sure, the basic Sikhi tenets guiding them while making such …responses. But then it depends upon interpretation and understanding of the basic Sikhi tenets as I find some of the comments here really disturbing.

    Blighty Singh the aggression personified gloating over an act of violence (burning down the pub), can barely conceal, as usual, his admiration for those neo-Sikhs who believe in taking law into their own hands. He seems to have deep faith in summary justice…kangaroo courts Bhindranwala (and Babbars) would be so proud of unless a non-Sikh is making such diabolical decisions and a Sikh is on the receiving end (Wisconsin).

    What happened in 1984 winters in Delhi is a blot on humanity and this is how the 'majority' Indian community (Hindus) see it. No amount of remorse can wash the blood of those innocents from the collective Indian conscience.

    The killers did not lynch Sikhs because of their (killers') religion. sorry, not very good with English language so let me rephrase, 1984 delhi killers did not kill because they were Hindus and Indira's murder was an attack on Hinduism. No way as had it been true, there would not have been so many Muslims and the so-called untouchables among the killers. But who is interested in such an analysis and who is interested in acknowledging the fact that the number of those Congress lumpen (who happened to be Hindus) was a microscopic minority of even Delhi Hindu population forget their global numbers.

    Who is interested to give some credit to thousands of those brave Hindus who risked their lives and property to shelter Sikhs. Who would acknowledge the fact that hardly any Sikh was killed in such large metropolitan cities as Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai, etc.

    Also, who would have the clear conscience to acknowledge the back deeds of Sikh terrorism in both pre-1984 era and after the Op Blue Star? In highly flawed western Sikh narrative, only 1984 killings are what matters. this narrative even ignores the one disturbing fact (from Sikh community perspective) – terrorists killed more Sikhs than Hindus.

    While condemning senseless massacre in Wisconsin, I find it really perplexing how some of those condemning Wade Page are also ardent supporters of Rajoana who butchered 17 innocents (inc Sikhs of course) with Beant Singh. Do they not find it hard to sleep over the fact that there is almost no difference between these two massacres?

    Why 'humanity loving' Sikhs remained mum when the diabolical killer Rajoana was recently honoured by Sri Akal Takht and other harimandir Sahib clergy? Do you not find such contradictions hypocritical?

    Gurdaspur youth killed by Punjab Police during the recent Rajoana protests disturbances deserve justice in deed but how about those killed by Sikh extremists recently for following dera Sacha Sauda or that poor old sadh who was beheaded in Rajsthan by three sword wielding Sikh youth ? How you can condone the total repression of DSS (and other such fringe faiths) in Punjab?

    Khalsaji, do some introspection baaki te chalda hee rehna. Aurangzebs would continue to rule this world just names (and religious denomination) changes.

  19. […] we are in.  While I may not agree with all of their points, I suggest that you check out this, this, this, this and this (I am probably missing a few).  Here are profiles of those that were […]