On Sunday a gunman killed six and wounded three when he opened fire at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. Wade M. Page, who is reported to have had ties to white supremacist groups, was stopped and killed when police officers arrived on the scene. (Reports suggest that the gun wounds that ultimately killed the gunman may have been self-inflicted.)
The tragedy is being treated as an act of domestic terrorism committed against Sikhs, followers of a religion founded in India. Sikhs typically do not cut their hair, and men wear turbans and keep their beards long, characteristics that can lead to them to be confused with followers of the Islam faith. Sikhs say that although there had never before seen such a violent episode against them in Wisconsin, they have noticed an increase in discrimination after the September 11 attacks and religiously-motivated attacks increased against Muslims.
The attack at the Sikh temple is not receiving the same national attention as another recent public shooting at a movie theater in Colorado, where a gunman killed 12 people and wounded more than 50. Some have noted that the national reaction to Sunday's tragedy is different, drawing less media coverage and condemnation for the rise of mass gun massacres. Some point to the number of deaths, 12 versus six, as being the reason that the Colorado shooting received more attention.
Yet it has also been noted that the fact that the victims were of a relatively unknown religion and were at their house of worship at the time of the massacre could make it more difficult for Americans to relate to the tragedy.
"[P]eople who shape discourse in this country by and large aren't Sikhs and don't know many if any Sikhs," writes Robert Wright in The Atlantic. "They can imagine their friends and relatives—and themselves—being at a theater watching a batman movie; they can't imagine being in a Sikh temple."
U.S. News's Susan Milligan notes that the religious confusion between Sikhs and Muslims makes the attack even more disturbing:
Is it because the Sikhs don't cut their hair, or because they wear turbans? It's upsetting enough that there are people who immediately suspect Muslims of scheming to commit acts of violence, but is merely wearing a cloth covering on one's head now cause for suspicion? We don't yet know what led a gunman to murder six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin Sunday, but reports that the killer was a member of a hate group indicate that it wasn't a random attack.
That lack of randomness may also be a reason there has been less public outcry over the incident. Although the motivations for the shooting will never be fully known, his alleged ties to white supremacy groups and role as leader of a white power band lead to the assumption that the act was in fact motivated by religious and ethnic prejudices.
Both President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney issued statements offering their condolences to the community and denounced the violence.
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