In a comment I prepared recently, I asked rhetorically whether if bigotry against religious minorities, same sex couples and women is out in front, hatred of immigrants can be very far behind. Horrifyingly, one answer to this question appears to have been provided by a lone white gunman who attacked a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin at about 10:40 am local time on Sunday, August 5, and, so far as is known at this writing, shot six people dead before himself being killed in a shootout with a brave police officer who was seriously wounded, along with two other victims who are now also in the hospital.
The gunman attacked at a time when a festival expected to include three or four hundred people was about to begin, and the temple was already packed with women and children. Our prayers and condolences go out to the innocent victims and their families.
But prayers and condolences alone will not bring back the dead or erase the grief which their family members, friends and members of Sikh communities everywhere will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Nor will they prevent future incidents of violence. Therefore, we must ask ourselves whether anything could have been done that might have prevented this horrible attack and, even more importantly, might prevent other mass killings in the future.
As as been the case with other recent incidents of mass shootings, such as those in Aurora, Colorado, Tucson, Arizona, Virginia Tech and Columbine High School, to list only a few, the immediate reaction by the media and the political class has been to warn against "politicizing" the shootings and to withhold any comments until the perpetrator's "motives" are known.
But these attempts to suppress discussion of the causes of these incidents, and possible ways to prevent them, are themselves political. Their only purpose is to protect the gun lobby and, in this latest case at least, the anti-immigrant hate groups. There could not be a greater insult to the memory of the victims.
What was the motive of the suspected killer at the temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin? We will never find out from him directly. But actions speak louder than words. In this case, a white men, apparently armed with semi-automatic weapons, goes into a building packed with South Asian people, mainly women and children, and starts shooting at random. There are unconfirmed reports that he may have had "extreme racial views". What an incredible surprise!
What more do we need to know about his motives? The suspected killer, for whatever reasons, wanted to murder as many people from a South Asian immigrant community as possible. Since the 9/11 attacks almost 11 years ago, there have reportedly been some 700 incidents of violence in the US directed against Sikhs, whom many Americans mistake for Muslims.
There is only one way to stop, or at least reduce, future hate crimes of this sort. First, our politicians must keep guns out of the hands of the killers, through more effective gun control laws. Secondly, our politicians must abandon appeals to hate, including hatred against brown skinned immigrants and Muslims, in order to win votes. This also applies to President Obama. He should stop all deportations, except for convicted violent criminals or terrorists - until Congress passes genuine immigration reform. Caving into hate is not the way to stop hate crimes from happening in the future.
Finally, what would the result have been if the situation had been reversed? Suppose a deranged brown-skinned immigrant had walked into a crowded movie theater or a white church and started shooting? One can only imagine the screams of rage on Fox News and in the other right wing media, the calls for cutting off all immigration, and the draconian measures, similar to or worse than the "Special Registration" for citizens of Muslim countries (including Christians) that was put into effect in the wake of 9/11.
Aug 03, 2012