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'Violence against Sikh Americans risen post 9/11'

August 07, 2012 10:41 IST
Condemning the shootout at a gurudwara in Wisconsin that killed six worshippers, US lawmakers said that the government should take action to protect Sikhs and prosecute hate crimes. Aziz Haniffa reports 

American lawmakers, currently in their home constituencies after leaving Washington DC, for the summer recess, have strongly condemned the massacre of innocent Sikhs at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurudwara. They called for an end to the ignorance about Sikh Americans, who have continued to be a target of hate crimes and racial profiling since 9/11.

US Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said, "My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims and to the Sikh community nationwide, which is in shock over this senseless shooting. While we mourn those lost in this tragedy, we must redouble our efforts to end hate crimes of any kind and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those intent on mass killing."

Boxer also said it was imperative that "we must also end the ignorance about Sikh Americans, whose faith is devoted to peace and understanding and who have contributed so much to California and our country."

US Congressman Brad Sherman, also a Democrat representing Califorinia, and a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, hosted a Town Hall meeting in Tarzana, California, where he discussed the tragic events that unfolded at the gurudwara in Wisconsin.

Along with more than 300 attendees, Sherman observed a moment of silence in recognition of the lost lives. He was then joined by three members of the Sikh community of the San Fernando Valley, who led the Town Hall in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Sherman then went on to express his sorrow over the shooting of the Sikh worshippers by lone gunman Wade Michael Page, 40, who was killed by the police when he refused to surrender. "I am deeply saddened by the events in Oak Creek, my thoughts and prayers are with the families, and I'm sure that's true for everyone here.

"I condemn the senseless act of violence against the Sikh community in the strongest terms. Sikhs are a very peaceful and tolerant community, but violence against Sikh-Americans has, sadly, risen dramatically since 9/11."

Sherman added, "I have always backed stronger US government action to protect Sikhs and prosecute hate crimes," and recalled, "less than a month after 9/11, I joined my colleagues in introducing a resolution to condemn bigotry and violence against Sikh-Americans in the wake of the terrorist attacks."

He noted that the community was highly susceptible to violence because of their appearance. "Most recently, in April of this year, I joined with my colleagues in sending a letter to the Department of Justice urging the Federal Bureau of Investigation to begin collecting data on hate crimes committed against Sikh-Americans."

"Today," Sherman said, "I join with the entire nation in calling for the FBI to do a complete and thorough investigation of the tragic events in Wisconsin."

Meanwhile, US Congressman Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat, who was the first off the blocks in condemning this wanton violence perpetrated by Page, noting that "Sikh Americans are too often the victims of intolerance and hate," and that "we all grieve for those lost in this tragic event."

He had scheduled a press conference on Tuesday along with New York's Sikh Community leaders at the Shri Guru Ravidass Temple of New York in Queens, " to denounce the tragic shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and to express solidarity with the Sikh community."

Crowley said, "While motivations of the shooter in Wisconsin are still unknown, Sikh-Americans are often the target of crimes because of their distinct identity and common misperceptions with respect to their attire and appearance."

"Attackers often appear to erroneously believe that Sikh Americans are affiliated with extremists and were somehow responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States," he added. "Over the past year, Sikh Americans and their religious institutions have been threatened or attacked in highly-publicised incidents in New York, Michigan, Virginia, and California."

It was Crowley, who in April had initiated the letter that was co-signed by 93 members of the US House of Representatives urging the FBI to document and quantify the commission of hate crimes against Sikh Americans.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC