This week we commemorate the one year anniversary of the hate violence that gripped the community of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, when a gunman stormed into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on the morning of August 5, 2012. Our hearts are with the families and loved ones of Paramjit Kaur, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Sita Singh and Suveg Singh who lost their lives in the massacre. As we reflect on this day one year later, it is important to place the Oak Creek tragedy in a broader history and context of racial and religious injustice in our country. To help us understand, reflect and move forward, SAALT is featuring a blog series featuring a range of diverse voices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not reflect the positions or opinions of SAALT. They should be understood solely as the personal opinion of the author.
On the morning of August 5, 2012, members of the Oak Creek Sikh Temple were preparing for langar, the communal meal common to Sikh culture. The tradition of langar (roughly translated as “Guru’s kitchen”) radiates inclusiveness: the meal is open to all visitors, regardless of background, and often consists of vegetarian dishes in order to accommodate all eating habits.
We cannot know the motivations of the shooter on that fateful morning, or the biases that shaped his worldview. But as we reflect on the meaning of this tragedy one year later, we can choose to focus on what we do know for certain: the beauty of the six victims’ final act on Earth.
Langar is a symbol of all that is right in the Sikh tradition, and all that we should aspire to in this country. The langar table is a place where the traditional boundaries of religion, race and class melt away over good food and conversation. The worshipers at Oak Creek temple sought to offer a safe space for cross-cultural discussion and reflection.
We can work to honor their vision. As our country grows ever more diverse, and our politics ever more divisive, we will face a deep question about our future. Can we truly become the “One Nation” that we claim to be in the Pledge of Allegiance? Or will we let our superficial differences tear us apart? This tragedy seems to give us one answer, but the victims’ actions tell us something else entirely.
The Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib tells us that “the light of God is in all hearts” – just as Christ’s disciples wrote that the Creator “made from one man every nation of mankind” [Acts 17:26–28 ESV], and the Quran urges different tribes to “know one another” [Surat Al-Hujurat 49:13]. Our spiritual traditions remind us that cohesion is the natural state of mankind – even if the most violent acts of man sometimes make us forget that.
Just three weeks after the shooting, on August 26, 2012, the Oak Creek temple held a langar for the entire community. If this small Wisconsin community can open their doors and their hearts after such a breach of security, the rest of us can learn from their example. On this anniversary, take a moment to ask yourself how you can open doors and embrace diversity in your own life.
In our search for answers in politics and religion, we can look for examples of divisiveness, or we can focus on our shared traditions and shared beliefs. Violence will always grab our attention, but love and understanding will sustain us.
Benjamin Todd Jealous
President & CEO
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP