Gurpreet Singh: Countering white supremacists requires a collective response, not balkanization
The Wisconsin shootout at a Sikh temple that left seven people dead, including neo-Nazi gunman Wade Michael Page, has many lessons for antiracist groups in the U.S. and Canada.
The August 5 attack left six Sikhs dead and three more people injured. Finding himself surrounded by the police, Page turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
Going by the ideological background of Page, this was clearly a racially motivated crime directed against a visible minority group.
This was not the first time that Sikhs have been targeted by white supremacists. There has been a spate of attacks on both Sikhs and the Muslims since 9/11.
The Sikh leadership has consistently emphasized their separate identity and educated mainstream society about their distinction from Muslims. And since the 9/11 attacks were blamed on Islamic militants, many believe that Sikh victims of hate crimes have since been mistaken for Muslims because of their turbans and facial hair. Apparently, these efforts by Sikh community leaders have failed to get through to white supremacists. One might conclude that these trigger-happy white racists are dumb or ignorant.
That’s why we hear clichéd description of these people as "senseless", but that is definitely not the case. They are all attached to a racist ideology that believes in keeping the U.S. and Canada as white men’s countries. For them, any distinction or diversity within the South Asian community does not matter. Blinded by racial hatred these people have targeted aboriginal people, blacks, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs alike.
For them, all racial "others" are their enemies. So much so that whites who vehemently oppose their ideology are also targeted. It is not a coincidence that most victims of the Oslo massacre last year were Caucasian, although the mass killer, Anders Bering Breivik, hated Muslims and wished to drive them out of Norway. There are a few more instances in the Canadian history to illustrate this.
Tony McAleer, a former neo-Nazi who works with the antiracism group Life After Hate, told me that he and his former associates used to frequently target whites who were liberal. It is the same as what is happening in many Islamic countries where religious fundamentalists have frequently killed their own people who resisted violence in the name of Islam.
Likewise, the supporters of a theocratic Hindu nation or a Sikh homeland have also tried a number of times to silence moderate voices within their groups.
A white lawyer, Edward Bird was intimidated by white supremacists for defending passengers of the Komagata Maru ship that was turned back by the Canadian government in 1914 under the discriminatory continuous-journey law.
Following the Wisconsin murders, we should learn to put blame where it belongs. Instead of brushing aside such killings as senseless, we should openly challenge the ideology of various hate groups that are active in North America. All we need to do is work together to defeat the designs of these forces.
Unfortunately, the Wisconsin mass murder has come to be known as a Sikh tragedy, whereas it is not. A mosque was also burned in the U.S. while people were still in shock. Meanwhile, Sikh hardliners in India burned U.S. flags and blamed the U.S. for not doing enough to educate Americans that they are not Muslims.
Does that mean that any attack on Muslims can be conveniently ignored? Obviously not. In Greater Vancouver, the Surrey Hindu temple set a good example by organizing a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims of the Wisconsin attack. Speakers from different faiths—including Sikhism, Islam, and Christianity—were invited to attend. Only people’s unity and collective resistance can defeat white supremacy.
The executive director of Life After Hate, Arno Michaelis, describes how he was a twisted racist before seeing the light.
Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.