A Muslim’s Take on Terrorism at Sikh Temple

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.

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 Americas 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.”

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.


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.”

Originally published by religion.blogs.cnn.com, commentary by Sikh24.com Editors.

Arsalan Iftikhar, Special to CNN can be reached at .img


  1. Two things here Americans have no idea of cultures traditions and differences of any other race apart from their own. Islam, Hinduism is a million miles apart. All religions have the same doctrine absolution and salvation by God, the path and cultures are very different, the goal is the same.

  2. I agree. It’s funny how the majority placed media works. There are calls that oh the Sikhs are different from Muslims as if it would be ok to do this to the Muslims and so forth. It’s how some people have been taught to perceive Muslims as a whole as even if they are American. You know what I see when I see a person shouting Patriotism and waving the American flag and saying over and over again we will never forget? I see a racist ready to kill or use it as an excuse to kill.

    That definition of “WE” does not include me does it? When has it included me? I mean I am told to go back to where I come from naturally even though I grew up here all my life. I have been hearing it since childhood. Even before 9/11 but 9/11 amplified it.

    All this fear and such fear causing war mongers are creating panic and paranoia and it includes a lot of political officials. Looks like they are trying to find ways to alienate minorities to favor their own causes by distorting minorities and collectively punishing folks as a whole. In this case, the resemblance of Sikhs towards Muslims as if it was taboo to do it to the peaceful Sikh and not to the terror filled Muslim according to their mindset.

    Profile me, Analyze me, Discriminate me, Segregate me, Isolate me, Hurt me, Kill me, and so forth, you know what, maybe do it more often. This way the everyone can see the hypocrisy and analyze history from the start to see what the demographic is capable of.

    I am so sick and tired of minorities getting it hard. So sick and tired of the majority induced media distancing themselves from any “bad” notion or headline because it is not what their people represent.

    They say people like this are mentally ill, they say they need help, they say they are not Christian nor Jew nor white, they say it’s not because of any of that, they say it is a LONE WOLF or just one off act, they still don’t pull such folk aside at airports, but they gladly do this if you are of any other color or heritage “different” from their own.

    Talk about hypocrisy. Now, they are focusing more on the cop who happens to be me white for showing such courage and what not and distancing away from the act itself.

    Cop did the right job, but lets talk about equal reporting. Go back to the story and tell us more about that person that killed those SIKHS, his faith, his color, his age, his political affiliations, and so forth for WEEKS AND MONTHS as you like to showcase news from other countries linked to your own minorities the same way as if they are like the scum of the earth.

    Hypocrites, big time hypocrites. Cowards obviously.

  3. The silence in mass media on this is sickening…this is an OBVIOUS terrorism AGAINST MUSLIMS…with a twist in typical idiocy and ignorance of the Ave Americans who we ALL know, know NOTHING about other cultures and religions, so they had a mistaken identity case. BUT, this should not and does not take away from the REAL intention that was terrorism against Muslims or Middle Eastern people. And that is disgusting, I say this an an Atheist Middle Eastern who has gone through enough shit in the racist west only because I come from the region, can’t imagine how horrible the experience of others must be who DRESS and LOOK LIKE typical Muslims.

  4. Well said, indeed. The trouble is that American media is treating it as a Sikh tragedy, not as an American tragedy. This kind of incident is unacceptable, and should be labelled terrrorism, no matter what kind of church/ community or group is targeted. It is a clear case of “your perpetrators are terrorists, ours our disturbed loners”. All it does is increase the divide among Americans, whatever their colour or creed.

  5. The instigators are standby to find tiny hint to explore their hate towards white and activate social media attackers as they have no control of their emotions.
    I am a color, Sikh not Christian or white: Why Budhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh media do not declare terrorist to their own members on daily basis as same kind of incidents of murders in their own worship places all over the World?
    Most of drugs are smuggled from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Pakistan to India, India to all over the World; most of the media professionals have firsthand knowledge but do not publish, why? Where is their ethics? This is election year all politicians are twisting the stories to get votes from every corner but no truth hence any side story not reliable.
    We do not know what real stories are? Not coming out with facts due fears of backlash their own community members, afraid of bullying, boycotts and future consequences!
    Most of the whites are helpful and kind humans’ vs most of the colors humans are crooks, cheaters, liars and sabotages. They are not able to tolerate growing and shining democracy and try to destroy capitalism with their dirty socialism ideology. One individual disturbed white man could be hired hit man by color drug paddler; hence all white must not be blamed. Any contaminated color Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Sikh writer should not take advantage of constitution privilege to destroy and divide America.

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