We 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 [hair] and dastars [turbans], 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 [or selfless service] 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.