On Wednesday evening, yet another Sikh American was assaulted by someone yelling racial slurs. A teenager beat 53-year-old Inderjit Singh Mukker, a father of two, while shouting hate speech like “Terrorist!”, “Bin Laden!”, and “Go back to your country!”
Mr. Mukker was beaten unconscious and hospitalized with a facial fracture and lacerations. With blood still staining his white-collared shirt, Mr. Mukker courageously stated to the press: “No American should be afraid to practice their faith in this country.”
Mr. Mukker is right to stand by the ideals of this nation. He is right that none of us should live in fear because of what we believe or how we look.
The challenge, though, is that for so many of us who live as religious minorities in America, living fearlessly is not always easy. We are constantly reminded of this through daily interactions that exhibit subtle discrimination in our society. Attacks such as the one on Mr. Mukker are eye-opening — though not surprising — in that they remind us the violent potential of the veiled racism we all experience.
So long as innocent members of our community are targeted in brutal acts of hate violence, how are we to live without fear in modern America?
I am not saying that I am afraid. My Sikh faith teaches me “a truly wise person neither fears nor frightens anyone.” With that said though, how am I supposed to feel when people I know — and who look like me — continue to be violently attacked because of how they look?
Yes, America offers us the opportunity to practice religion freely — but let’s be clear that some communities continue to pay a sizable cost to secure this freedom. Let’s also acknowledge that we as a society are not entirely free as long as we continue persecuting one another.
The pattern of violence against minority communities in America does not emerge in a vacuum. It can directly be tied to xenophobic statements our public leaders make against minority and immigrant communities. The negative rhetoric has real consequences for real people; it fans the flames of xenophobia and sends the message that it is okay to speak and act on the basis of bigotry.
Racism and bigotry are not in line with the values of this nation, and we cannot afford to wait for a hate crime to happen in our communities before stepping forward. It may help them win votes, but it also comes at a real cost — our freedom and our security. As a public, we have the right and responsibility to protect these basic American values — freedom and security — and it is up to us to hold our leadership accountable when they threaten these values.
One way we can do this is to ask our elected officials to send the right messages to the American public. Congress is currently considering a resolution (H-Res. 413) that would acknowledge and honor those who have been targeted in hate crimes since 9/11.
Those looking to honor and support Mr. Mukker can do so by reaching out to their member(s) of Congress to seek their support on the resolution. Certainly this resolution alone would not resolve the problem, but at least it will force our leaders to acknowledge publicly the seriousness of this problem and to have the right conversations about hate violence in our nation. This may be an important first step toward achieving a world where we can all live freely and without fear.