Only two weeks after the horrific Aurora shootings, another crazed, neurotic gunman was able to take innocent lives, this time at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Unlike Aurora however, the narrative is disturbingly centered around the confusion between Sikhs and Muslims when in fact it should become another opportunity to question American gun laws, the National Rifle Association and the power of American gun lobbies. Using religion as the theme of this terrible tragedy is not only dangerous, it misses the point and takes the pressure off gun lobbies that have become so entrenched within the American social fabric.
I understand that Sikhism is not Islam. I also understand that Sikhs aren't members of the Taliban or followers of bin Laden, but it isn't difficult to see how this debate becomes problematic -- most Muslims aren't members of the Taliban or followers of bin Laden either. Yet based on this "we are not them" narrative, Islam becomes the default negative and the contrast presumes that similar terror acts are justified if inflicted on Muslims. Such an assumption leaves American Muslims out to dry and subtly justifies the killer's actions as "misdirected hate." During times of tragedy, it's important for religious communities to come together rather than drift apart and framing the issue in this manner increases the potential for the latter.
Granted, Sikhs are being mistaken for Muslims since 9/11 based on the stereotypical image so often portrayed in the media. We've all seen it -- the bearded Muslim man with the headdress vociferously chanting Anti-American slogans while burning an American flag. Any group would want to distance themselves from such an image, but we're fooling ourselves if we think that a crazed Neo-Nazi who has made the decision to kill based on hate will make a similar distinction. This person is ignorant, ill-informed and high on hate. He will target anyone who looks different than himself. Trying to reason with such people through theological distinction is a flawed strategy and will not work.
Instead of focusing on the religious implications of this tragedy, Americans must ask the same questions that were asked after Littleton, Virginia Tech, Aurora and other cases involving gun violence. Can American gun laws be changed? Does the right to bear arms mean that innocent blood has to be shed? Can the American constitution evolve with the 21st century? Can American gun lobbies be challenged? What will the presidential candidates do about gun violence if elected president?
Americans must emphasize that gun violence and hate crimes are worthy of condemnation no matter who the target. The only way to do this is for Americans of all colors and creeds to work together by lobbying their governments to bring an end to this ongoing national crisis. The more this issue becomes about Sikhism and Islam, the more we allow the gun lobbies to disappear into the background.
Religion must not cloud the debate.