Last Wednesday, President Obama visited an American mosque for the first time in his eight year Presidency. While POTUS has visited several prominent mosques and Muslim institutions around the world, his visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore was a historic moment for much of the American Muslim community which has felt a rising tide of bigotry unseen since-and in ways perhaps even eclipses-the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I must confess that I haven't had the opportunity to watch his entire address, but the parts I have seen are quite moving (and I particularly love that he praised the fantastic work of Chicago's Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and its founder and Executive Director Rami Nashishibi, who I had the pleasure of meeting my junior year at Vanderbilt).
As the Republicants take turns piling on the small-minded bigotry and political chicanery-inspired xenophobia-and as the debate within the Muslim-American community rages on whether this gesture was a meaningful contribution to combatting Islamophobia or simply a case of "#TooLateObama"-one thought soon emerged at the top of my concerns: It's nice that we can have this debate, but I REALLY hope he visits the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin next.
Communal Carnage: Not Just Something That Happens "Over There"
If that house of worship doesn't ring an immediate bell: On August 5, 2012 a 40 year old White Supremacist entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and went on a rampage. Six worshipers were murdered in cold blood: 5 men and one women, ranging in ages from 39 to 84. Four more people were injured before police were able to respond and injure the killer, after which he took his own life.
As a shattered community came together to mourn and heal-and a nation recoiled in shared horror-there was to be some comfort in knowing that a man who has sadly become an expert healer in the aftermath of such tragedies would arrive to relieve the pain. Yet instead of President Obama addressing the grieving congregation, the equally eloquent FLOTUS went in his stead. While this was a beautiful and highly appreciated gesture, many members of the SIkh community, our nation, and the world at large could not help but ask: Why not the President as well?
The Day Bottom-Barrel Politics Trumped Compassion
The truth soon came out: Because the President would soon be running for re-election, and yet another photo of POTUS wearing a turban (what a "smear" on his competency and integrity!) simply would not do.
If the full gravity of that absurdity has not sunk it, let me break it down for you. We live in a country where our President couldn't pay his respects to a grieving congregation-who were victim-survivors of *yet another* gun massacre-simply because (and you'll have to hang in there to really follow this one):
1. Out of respect, he would have to wear a turban
2. Which is religious attire for Sikh men...
3. ,,,Who are mistaken for "Muslims" and "Middle Easterners"...
4. ...By ignorant, racist, bigoted haters...
5. ...Who hate all Muslims, Middle Easterns, immigrants, and minorities in general.
Thus leading to an absurd situation where:
A. One of the most famous American-born Christians
B. Whose life has been meticulously documented and is practically a matter of public record
C. Could somehow be "mistaken" as a "secret Muslim" and/or "foreign-born"
D. By unrepentant, unbreakable, force-of-nature racists.
Or you know, the exact target demographic who obviously would have voted for him otherwise.
Better "Too Little Too Late" than "Never, Nothing"
What happened four years ago was a travesty on so many levels-including being a stunning, mind-numbing indictment of large parts of society (To be particular and specific: White Supremacist society).
Yet the Wisconsin Sikh Temple Massacre did not come out of nowhere, and it does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, this massacre was borne out of over a decade of anti-Sikh bigotry, after Sikh Americans became "collateral damage" of a concerted campaign of anti-Muslim and anti-Middle Eastern hysteria, driven by numerous mainstream media and politicians who continue to benefit from the politics of racism and xenophobia. It many ways, you can say it's a bonafide American pastime.
But it's never too late to make amends. Even four years after the heart-breaking fact, it's far better for "too little, too late" than "nothing, never. Go do the right thing and visit our Sikh cousins-and our fellow Americans-next.
" #SikhSolidarity #HateSucks