As a Wisconsinite, my heart broke this morning when I heard about the news of a domestic terror attack at a Sikh gurudwara in my home state. As a Christian woman, I was ashamed that this act was committed by a man bearing the symbol of my faith on his arm. And as an American deeply invested in our interfaith landscape, I was angry that it takes an act of violence to raise Sikhism to the level of visibility needed to prevent religious violence.
The terrorist attacks of September 11 radically heightened the visibility of Muslims in America, with both negative and positive results. On one hand, Muslims became linked to terrorism, and American Muslims were subjected to widespread prejudice, violence, and discrimination. On the other, there arose in the aftermath of the attacks a great amount of interest in learning about this religious tradition, which had previously seemed foreign and distant. The demand for professors of Islam in universities suddenly outstripped the supply. Arabic classes became highly sought. Even ten years later, when those who started attending college after 9/11 have begun getting their graduate degrees, competition remains much lower in this field than in other academic religious fields. The supply has only begun to catch up. Some of the most exciting new scholarship on Islam is now coming out of the West.
Sikh Americans were subjected to the same prejudices faced by Muslim Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. Yet only now, in the aftermath of this tragedy in Wisconsin, am I seeing the educational interest. Only now am I seeing Washington Post publishing "Sikhism: What do you know about it?" and Glamour magazine touting must-read Indian-American and Sikh women’s perspectives. Only now am I aware of the existence of a Sikh community in my home state, and I am reading articles and posts by Sikh Americans like Valarie Kaur and Simran Jeet Singh. I lament that it took an act of terror to bring me to this point. It only makes it worse that it is this very knowledge that destroys the breeding ground of fear, ignorance, and intolerance that made the act of terror possible.
I realize that hate crimes are fueled by a complicated set of sociological and psychological forces that cannot be prevented by mere religious education. White supremacy will continue to be a blight upon our communities, especially when we strive to dismantle the systems of privilege it seeks to preserve. But if we can make some good out of this tragedy, we must let it shake the foundations of privilege in this country. We must realize how the hypervisibility of Christianity has eclipsed so many other religious traditions, and how that invisibility has left Sikhism on the margins and vulnerable to prejudices born of ignorance.
And finally, we must pray for a day in which it will not take the deaths of our fellow-citizens give to our brothers and sisters the listening ear they deserve.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.