Quick: Name an episode in which a bunch of Sikhs mounted a violent assault or holy war against a nation or competing religious group.
Nothing coming to mind? That's because the Sikhs practice—for real—a commitment to peace and nonviolence, with force used only as a last resort. And that's what makes the most recent gun-related murders 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.
There are important policy questions that may—and should—be raised following this most recent episode. One includes the availability of guns: Wisconsin has permissive gun laws, and the shooter, according to CNN, acquired his semi-automatic pistol legally. But there's a deeper cultural tragedy going on, one that has been displayed in a number of mass shootings. The shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona was an attack not just on a congresswoman (not to mention the bystanders who were killed), but by extension, on our democracy itself. The gun murders in a Colorado movie theater last month were an attack on community. And the murders this past weekend on the Sikh temple were an assault on peace, on a religion that values equality and nonconfrontation and which gives women equal status. The weapons are deadly and inexplicably easy to get. But the hate and intolerance in a nation built on the precepts of equality and diversity are an equal threat.
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