Our VoiceCulture

One Year Later: Looking Back at Oak Creek

Kalia Abiade • Aug 09, 2013

On Aug. 5, 2012, a white supremacist entered a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and began shooting. Six people were killed and four were wounded.

This past week, there have been vigils and tributes in Sikh and interfaith communities across the nation. In remembering the victims, the gatherings have struck a hopeful tone.

“The legacy of Oak Creek is not one of bloodshed,” said Valarie Kaur, founding director of the interfaith group Groundswell, a project of Auburn Seminary in New York. “[It’s of] how a community rose to bring people together to heal and to organize for lasting social change,” she told the PBS television program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”

As Amardeep Singh, co-founder of the Sikh Coalition points out, Americans from diverse backgrounds have proven themselves capable time and again at responding to tragedy in compassionate ways that strengthen bonds within and across communities.

However, what is often missing from the conversation is an honest look at who and what is behind the hate that causes such violent attacks.

Wade Michael Page, the gunman, acted alone and is directly responsible for his own actions. But his actions did not occur in a vacuum. They were part of a broader climate of xenophobia that continues to affect communities of color and religious minorities through rhetorical attacks in the media and public discourse, discriminatory laws, state-sanctioned profiling and, in the most tragic cases, injury and death.

Just one day after the Oak Creek Gurdwara attack, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri, was burned to the ground in a second such attack. This year, there have been several documented acts of violence against Sikhs and Muslims.

Despite these attacks against people of color and religious minorities, the profile of a domestic terrorist is still considered by many to be brown and bearded men. This type of profiling is not only distorted, it distracts and further victimizes vulnerable communities.

Yet in the face of existing challenges, there are still many reasons to be hopeful. This year, at the persistent urging of the Sikh Coalition, the FBI has finally decided to track hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs. Having official data about crimes targeted at these communities is a major step toward implementing political and law enforcement policy that reduces and punishes incidents of hate crimes.

And in Joplin, an interfaith coalition has recently announced plans to rebuild the mosque.

Many Sikhs in Oak Creek and across the United States have said that the attacks have brought them closer to their faith and made them more vigilant against hatred. And a common theme throughout the week’s commemorative events has been that of chardi kala (CHAR’-dee KAL’-ah), which means a sense of optimism even in the face of adversity.

It is that combination of vigilance and hope that will drive communities to continue to build a safer and more just society for us all.

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