As a Sikh-American, I am absolutely heart-broken.
As soon as news broke about the massacre in Wisconsin, my parents called me to make sure I was safe. Our conversation was eerily similar to the moments immediately after 9/11.
After making sure I was safe, they asked me to be careful walking around the streets of New York City. They pointed out that: "You never know what someone might do."
While I accepted their advice, their words crushed me.
As a Sikh, I believe that people are inherently good. Our faith instills a sense of perpetual optimism, and our traditions teach us to always make the best of a tough situation.
Fear and negativity are foreign to our vocabulary. Sikhs are not a God-fearing people; we are God-loving.
The commitment to love and optimism shapes the way that Sikhs interact with their societies, and I'm concerned that becoming cynical and negative might lead us down a slippery slope.
So I am making a conscious decision. I am refusing to accept that human beings are malicious and hateful, and I am rejecting the notion that we need to live in fear.
This is not the first time Sikhs have been attacked, nor is it the first time that America has been targeted.
We will never forget the violence of Columbine, 9/11, and the Oklahoma City Bombing, and our wounds are still healing from the shooting in Aurora this past month. We will never forget the hate-crime murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the bullying of a young boy whose turban was set on fire, and the hate-inspired vandalism of a Sikh religious center in Michigan.
Both Sikhs and Americans have overcome every challenge they have faced, and I have no doubt that we will emerge prosperous again.
Considering the various challenges our communities have overcome, as well as my own experiences of growing up in Texas, I have no reason to believe that Sikh and American identities are mutually exclusive.
We share basic principles and values including a commitment to freedom, equality, and justice. Like countless other minority communities, Sikhs have fought through various forms of discrimination, have achieved success in different industries, and have become productive contributors to American society. The Sikh experience in the U.S. is quintessentially American, and as a society we have grown together. We each have our own experiences, yet we all share a similar story of struggle, sacrifice, and success.
The massacre in Wisconsin is an important part of this collective story.
We don't have enough information at this point to determine whether this act of domestic terrorism was inspired by hate. Although it will be important to understand what motivated the violence, this should not color the inspiration behind our own reactions. We should draw from our American and Sikh traditions by continuing to respond with love and compassion. Let us stand up together and turn the tragedy in Wisconsin into a turning point for our nation.
Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, by Naomi Ibuki.
Simran Jeet Singh is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. He is currently the Scott and Rachel F. McDermott Fellow for the American Institute of Indian Studies. Simran also serves as the Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition, Education Director for the Surat Initaitive, and Executive Director for the Sikh Spirit Foundation. Simran was selected as one of three Outstanding Contributing Scholars to speak at State of Formation's workshop held at the 2013 American Academy of Religion.