Mourners including Singh and Kaleka, whose father, temple President Satwant Kaleka was killed, cry during a news conference in Oak Creek, Wisconsin
Eleven years ago, on the first Sunday after the September 11th attacks, a Sikh American friend called me to give the news that we knew would come sooner or later: "It has happened. A Sikh man has been shot and killed in Arizona."
Flash forward to another Sunday nearly 11 years later, this time in August, and another call from my friend. "When will it stop?" my friend asked as we watched the images from the massacre at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which left six people dead and three critically wounded.
It is a question I have been asking myself frequently over the past few days, as details emerge about what happened inside a place of worship, a house of refuge and sanctuary. The tragedy in Oak Creek this past Sunday sent ripple waves through communities in America and around the world. How could it be possible that a place of sanctuary and refuge could be targeted while individuals were praying and gathering together?
For those who might be in India, or other places in South Asia, the lessons to be drawn from this tragedy can hardly be confined to those of us living in the United States. There is often a tendency for those outside the United States to believe that the immigrants who live here are not subjected to mistreatment or discrimination or hate violence. The Oak Creek massacre should remove once and for all the notion that South Asian immigrants in the United States are somehow immune from race-based targeting.
Rather, let us remember that Oak Creek is not just an isolated incident. Instead, it is part of a longer history of violence and discrimination that has affected Sikhs, Muslims, South Asians and Arab Americans. There has been a tendency both in the United States and around the world to see the post 9/11 backlash in the distance, as only a historical moment: "it happened long ago; the hate crimes and bias incidents are not happening anymore; let's move on."
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In just the first week following September 11th, my organization, SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together), tracked more than 645 incidents of bias against community members, including hate crimes, workplace discrimination, airport profiling, and bullying. Seemingly overnight, South Asians, Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs became the socially acceptable target for discrimination and bias. Between 2000 and 2001, anti-Muslim hate crimes rose by nearly 1700%. And still, 11 years later, these attacks have not ceased. Instead, they have arguably accelerated with the gruesome attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek.
It manifests itself in different ways: a mosque blocked for the last two years from being developed in Tennessee; a Bangladeshi cab driver brutally assaulted in New York because his passengers thought he was a Muslim; and another mosque in Missouri destroyed by a suspected arson just a day after the Oak Creek tragedy. Over the past week, reports have come in about pig parts being strewn around a mosque during Ramadan in California, and shots being fired at a mosque in Illinois.
In order to change the climate in the United States and anywhere in the world that fosters racism and xenophobia to occur, we must each take individual and collective actions. We have a responsibility to meaningfully learn about and include individuals of different backgrounds and faiths in our civic institutions, workplaces and schools.
And for American elected officials, this means something more. They bear a particular responsibility to publicly denounce bigoted statements and actions, affirm the American ideals of inclusion and plurality, and end policies and practices that profile or target communities based on their race or religious backgrounds.
In short, each of us must make sure that what happened in Oak Creek is not forgotten, and use the impact of this tragedy to create a different world for our children.
(Global India Newswire)
(Deepa Iyer is Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national non-profit organization that amplifies the voices and perspectives of South Asian organizations and individuals in the United States.)
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