Opinion Brief

The Sikh temple shooting: Mistaken anti-Muslim terrorism?

Police aren't publicly speculating on why a middle-aged white gunman murdered six Sikhs. Could he be as dumb as he was cruel?

Law enforcement agents are treating Sunday's shooting deaths of six Sikhs at their temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, as an act of domestic terrorism, but they are not publicly speculating on the motive of the 40-year-old white gunman, who was shot dead by police. But many Sikhs, and many others, have a guess: Ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Sikhs have been victim to — by one count — more than 700 incidents of violence and murder at the hands of people who wrongly assumed they are Muslims. Is it likely that the assailant, reportedly a "skinhead" with a "9/11" tattoo on his arm, was not only depraved enough to shoot six innocent men but also ignorant enough to target them based on a religion they don't practice? 

Yes, this is a case of "misdirected hate": It sure looks like Sikhs "once again may have been targeted with a misdirected hate crime," says Patricia Anstett in the Detroit Free Press. For the ignorant among us, "observant Sikh men can be confused with Muslims because they wear full beards and turbans." Attacks like this are precisely why Sikhs have been working hard since 9/11 to educate their neighbors on how to differentiate their peace-loving, non-terrorist religion.
"Sikhs ... fear misdirected hate is behind Wisconsin temple attack"

Who cares if the shooter got it wrong? Yes, "there is no right way to say it — Sikhs in Oak Creek were targeted because the gunman probably thought they were Muslims," says Seema Sirohi at Firstpost. But "you can’t call it a mistake because a crime against Muslims would be just as heinous." The bottom line is that whether I wear a Sikh turban or a Muslim hijab, or Catholic crucifix or Jewish Star of David, "I shouldn’t be killed for wearing my religion on my sleeve."
"U.S. gurdwara shooting: Why racism, ignorance are to blame"

We don't know the motive yet: I know we all want answers, but "it may take a bit longer before we hear about what strain of hatred, or delusion... compelled another citizen bent on mass murder," says Peter Gelzinis in the Boston Herald. Still, it's hard to see this act of domestic terrorism as all that different from the mass shooting two weeks ago in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater. So the real tragedy is an American one, not Sikh: "The dead of Aurora have hardly been laid in their graves, and we must brace for another round of stories about lives lost to savagery."
"Hate breeds our own terrorists, too"

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