The Ignorance of Hate

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Atlanta – The full details of the shooting at the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin are slowly beginning to emerge. At its most basic, what is known is that six individuals attending a worship service were murdered by a lone gunman firing semi-automatic weapons.

The victims were described as pillars of their community and the loss is being felt throughout the world. One of the victims, temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, age 65, apparently saved the lives of many by giving them time to hide as he attacked the shooter with a butter knife.

In addition to the Sikh congregants who were shot, a police officer responding to the shooting was critically injured. The officer, Brian Murphy, a 20-year veteran, was ambushed as he attempted to provide assistance to one of the victims and was shot multiple times at close range. The quick response of the Oak Creek police likely prevented even greater bloodshed.

The gunman, Wade Michael Page, age 40, was killed by police at the scene. The biography beginning to take shape for him suggests a man motivated by hate and intolerance. A former Army veteran, he was given a less than honorable discharge from the US military in 1998 after six years, due to a “pattern of misconduct.” This behavior was apparently severe enough that he was barred from reenlistment as a condition of his discharge.

According to information from the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization which tracks hate groups and hate crimes, Page had ties to white supremacist groups and had been on their radar for some time. In addition, Page was the singer/guitarist of a neo-Nazi punk band called End Apathy. He can be seen in online photos performing in front of what appears to be a Nazi flag.

Why Page chose to attack this particular place of worship is still not clear. What is clear, however, is that this is not the first attack upon the Sikh community in the United States. The Sikh Coalition, based in Washington, DC, reports more than 700 incidents of bias, ranging from discrimination to hate crimes, directed towards Sikhs since 9/11. Among these prior incidents is the murder of a Sikh man in Arizona who was believed to have been killed when he was mistaken for a Muslim.

Much of the violence committed towards Sikhs may be misdirected aggression intended for Muslims. The fact that Sikhs are mistaken for Muslims demonstrates a profound lack of knowledge concerning the religion of others among people throughout the world. Sikhs being mistaken for Muslims is particularly ironic given that the Sikh faith arose in large part to oppose Muslim oppression of Hindus. Sikhism is the fifth largest organized religion in the world, with approximately 30 million adherents.

Whether or not Wade Page knew the difference between Sikhs and Muslims is not the real issue. He killed people he hated because he perceived them as different from himself. What is staggering about this attack is the profound ignorance which seems to motivate the violence. To suggest that he killed because of religious ideology is to give him too much credit. This is hate founded in a particularly primitive mindset that simply divides people into “us” versus “them.” Wade Page saw people who were different from himself and decided they should die.

Displaced aggression, that which is directed towards a target other than that of the actual source of anger, motivates many hate crimes. Almost always, the shooters are frustrated individuals who are seeking to blame others for their failures in life.  Page, thrown out of the military and recently separated from his girlfriend, fits this profile.

Unfortunately, Wade Michael Page is not the only person to harbor such extreme hatred. There are estimated to be more than 1,000 hate groups in the United States. Many of these groups adhere to a violent anti-immigrant and nativistic belief system that is openly racist. It would provide some reassurance to believe that Wade Page is a singular case, but the facts belie this construction. Ignorance and hate abound and none of us should take solace that the gunman acted alone. He is the tip of the iceberg.

This ignorance cannot go unchallenged. Just as the Sikh religion calls for its members to stand for what is right and to speak against the oppression of the weak, it is time for everyone, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Animist, Atheist, Agnostic, Christian or Jew, to stand against the ignorance and intolerance that has lead to horrific acts such as those committed in Oak Creek.


Ray Bawarchi
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Ray Bawarchi (b. 1962) is an American author, environmentalist, and columnist. Born in North Carolina, Bawarchi has lived throughout the US. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Auburn University. His early career in psychology involved working in inpatient psychiatric facilities and correctional institutions. He subsequently practiced in a diverse and extensive private practice in Colorado. At present Bawarchi is a professor of psychology at a large public university.

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