Post Oak Creek Massacre, Faith Leaders, Dignitaries Spread Message of Tolerance

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Washington, DC – Nearly a week after the tragic shooting death of six individuals at a Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5, leaders from a wide spectrum of faiths and political parties joined the top Indian diplomat from Washington, DC, at the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, Maryland on Saturday to emphasize the need to engage with one another, promote awareness, and eradicate ignorance in hopes of preventing such acts of hatred in the future.

Addressing the gathering on behalf of President Barack Obama, Gautam Raghavan, Associate Director for the White House Office of Public Engagement, said, “I am here on behalf of the White House, first to express condolences on behalf of the President, the First Lady, all of us in the White House, and all of us across the Obama administration for what happened last Sunday in Oak Creek. But I am also here to stand in solidarity on behalf of all of us with the Sikh Community, with the Indian American community, and with all  Americans everywhere, regardless of their faith or origin – all of who were heartbroken by what happened on Sunday.”

Given the interfaith nature of the gathering, Raghavan echoed the words of President Obama spoken at the Iftar dinner at the White House on Friday evening. “Tonight, our prayers, in particular, are with our friends and fellow Americans in the Sikh community. We mourn those who were senselessly murdered and injured in their place of worship. And while we may never fully understand what motivates such hatred, such violence, the perpetrators of such despicable acts must know that your twisted thinking is no match for the compassion and the goodness and the strength of our united American family,” Raghavan read from Obama’s speech.

“So tonight, we declare with one voice that such violence has no place in the United States of America. The attack on Americans of any faith is an attack on the freedom of all Americans. No American should ever have to fear for their safety in their place of worship. And every American has the right to practice their faith both openly and freely, and as they choose,” Raghavan continued quoting from President Obama’s Iftar speech, concluding, “That is not just an American right; it is a universal human right. And we will defend the freedom of religion, here at home and around the world.”

Indian ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao, spoke about President Obama’s remarks in the aftermath of the “horrible tragedy” and his outreach to express his condolences to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Speaking in a voice laden with emotion and eyes on the brink of tears, Rao recalled her feelings during her visit to Oak Creek, just two days after the tragedy, saying, “Words failed me on that occasion. My emotions were very difficult to control.”

Reflecting on her attendance at a vigil at Oak Creek, Rao said that she saw “everybody unite and come there to light a candle, to light a light that would dispel the darkness of this tragedy and that becomes then a beacon of hope for the future.”

Stressing the need for “Easternization,” Rao said it is, “Time to sensitize friends in the West to the values of tolerance and compassion of plurality, of the beauty of diversity, which is what we bring from our Indian experience.”

Offering condolences to the Sikh community, Kumar Barve, the Maryland House Majority Leader, noted that the lesson “we must learn from the Sikh community today is that the best form of revenge is not to take revenge. The best way to succeed against hate is not to hate.”

In addition to Barve, representatives from the Maryland Governor’s office were in attendence, including Maryland Attorney General Douglas Genslar, Deputy Secretary of State Rajan Natarajan, and Delegate Aruna Miller.

Commenting on the response of the Sikh community to the tragedy, Attorney General Genslar called it a “teaching moment” — one that shows how to respond to hatred with nonviolence, peace and love.

Officers from the Lanham Police Department also spoke, urging the community to engage and get involved by always remaining alert and reporting any suspicious activity.

Standing in solidarity with the Sikh community, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, Zorastrian, Catholic, Ba’hai and Ahmadiyya faith representatives were present.

Bhai Gurdarshan Singh from the Sikh community embraced the outpouring of support and quoted Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, saying, “Powerful are not those who destroy. Powerful are those who unite.”

The event, organized by the Siva Vishnu Temple and the United Hindu Jain Temples of Washington, DC, culminated in a viewing of excerpts from the PBS documentary, “The Asian and Abrahamic Religions: A Divine Encounter in America.” Jerry Krell, filmmaker of the documentary, was present in the audience. (IATNS)

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