As callous as it sounds, most people don't truly grasp tragedy unless it hits close to home.
As a Sikh-American, raised in Northern Virginia but with deep roots in Punjab, India, the shooting at the Wisconsin Gurdwara reminded me of the reality many turban-wearing Sikhs face in post-Sept. 11 America.
Since 2001, nearly 700 reported hate crimes against innocent, turban-wearing Americans have been committed throughout our nation because, unfortunately, people who are unaware and uninformed connect a Sikh turban — a Dastar of Pagri — with the headdresses Osama Bin Laden and other Al-Queda leaders wore.
In the aftermath of the shooting, it was imperative media coverage of the tragedy inform people about the physical characteristics and progressive morals that define a Sikh. As gatekeepers of information in this globalized world, the press knows, more than anyone else, the value of a picture’s worth — it is not just a thousand words.
A visual depiction of recognizable turban-wearing Sikhs in all media platforms, not just television, could add educational value to a story, which, in the end, could save lives. What people often do not realize is the Sikh turban is not anti-Western or a sign of fanaticism, but rather it epitomizes some of the very ideals America is founded upon.
Like America’s founding fathers who once wrote, “All men are created equal,” the founding gurus of Sikhism also believed in this very progressive thought nearly 300 years before 1776.
This was during the time of Mughal rule in India, where only Muslims were allowed to wear turbans, and non-Muslims could not.
In an act of defiance against forced religious conversions and the embedded caste system, our tenth and final guru, Guru Gobind Singh, asked all Sikhs to wear a turban, which made it a distinguishing part of the religion. The turban became an article of faith, which combined the freedoms of religion and speech in order to illustrate that within our devotion — no matter Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, male, female, rich, or poor — we are all equal in God’s eyes.
The turban is a distinct outward brandishing of our faith. If a person is wearing a turban, they are staying on the clean path, representing their high moral values.
Our culture is dangerously misunderstood, yet it highlights the need for awareness and understanding within our country. For an American to attack and target something that truly characterizes American values demonstrates the need for attentiveness to diversity in this nation. Remember, this was not a Sikh misfortune, but rather an American tragedy.
Our university is a breeding ground for social diversity. Through education, we can learn to accept human beings no matter their race, religion or social standing. Take the acceptance you have garnered at school and apply it back home.
Use this understanding in your personal and professional lives, and educate the misunderstood.