Originally Published in the San Antonio Express-News on 5.10.2012. Co-Authored with Harpreet Singh
The recent massacre in Wisconsin has brought about a mix of emotions for the Sikh community in San Antonio. While we have been deeply saddened by the loss, we have been touched by the support of our neighbors.
These acts of kindness remind us that this is not just a Sikh issue. The shooter violated basic human dignity and fundamental civil rights, and we must respond as a united community.
Our responses should be guided by our ideals, and our Sikhi tradition offers a few basic messages that inform a Sikh response to the massacre.
First, Sikhs are taught to accept the will of the Divine with grace and optimism. One of the first ideas to appear in our scripture highlights the importance of cheerfully accepting the divine order.
This ideal was demonstrated by our fifth leader Guru Arjan. Even as he was being tortured and executed for standing up against political oppressors, he publicly stated that divine will seems sweet.
His story teaches us to feel divine grace in everything that happens.
While Sikhi emphasizes perpetual optimism and acceptance of the will, this does not imply that people should be passive.
Rather, we are taught that all members of society are responsible for helping to improve their communities.
Social activism is a central component of the Sikh message, and we believe it is critical that people of all backgrounds join together to affect positive change in our society.
In our efforts let us not allow ourselves to be inspired by fear or hatred. The words from our scripture apply to the modern world, as they remind us that truly enlightened people should not be fearful, nor should they cause others to fear.
They also remind us to love all of humanity as a single, interconnected family. No one is an enemy or “other.”
Let us embrace the Sikh ideals of love and compassion, the basic building blocks of religious and humane living.
In San Antonio, we’ve been blessed to receive a great outpouring of support from the community. People have offered our community words of encouragement, hugs and even flowers.
We are thankful to those who have offered these gestures of compassion.
Unfortunately, though, the dark side of our society rears its ugly head from time to time, even in a city as multicultural as San Antonio.
Hate crimes against Sikh Americans and Muslim Americans occur regularly. Both of us can attest to this, whether it was being disallowed from joining school sports teams or being called out as “Osama” while pumping gas at H-E-B. Our children, even today, face similar “cultures of fear.”
Studies have found that three-fourths of Sikh schoolchildren are bullied for their appearance. The statistic itself is frightening, but watching your nieces and nephews suffer at the hands of their peers is absolutely heart wrenching.
This unfortunate pattern is one that numerous minority communities have seen throughout U.S. history.
In thinking about hate crimes, which occur far too often in our society, we must register the importance of uniting as one. Despite our minor differences, we all share a common goal and a common experience.
And so, in prayer, we honor those who were brutally killed, we humbly accept the Divine Will, we unite to be active in our communities, and do so fearlessly. Because those who died did not die in vain but will have done so for a better tomorrow.