The horrific crime in which six Sikhs were ruthlessly murdered in the their temple by neo-nazi Wade Page is a tragic wake up call to those of us who fail to recognize the inherent danger of all hate groups. In a democracy in which free speech is tolerated, those whose rhetoric supports hatred of others must be closely monitored. It only takes one such demented individual, armed with assault weapons (for which there is never an excuse to be legal) to take innocent lives and inflict unspeakable suffering. Groups which have promoted hatred and intolerance of others need our special attention. Darkness and secrecy allows their power to grow. Shining the light of public awareness on them can make us all aware of their danger.
This is part one of the awareness. There are groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and others which do monitor hate groups. Jews know better than anyone the power of insidious hate-mongering and the real effects it has on innocent human life. Other groups both public and private do the same. Is this an invasion of privacy issue? Is the free speech of hate groups being compromised? Ah, the conundrum that will always exist. There must be a balance between protecting individual right of expression and the danger to innocent citizens. Monitoring is mandatory because the innocent cannot defend themselves against violent extremists.
And now the second area of awareness to arise out of the suffering. An understanding of the Sikh religion. With their colorful, prominently displayed turbans, Sikhs have been accused of being militant Muslims and frequently attacked. Their children are called Osama, their places of business trashed. In truth their religion is not well known or understood in this country. The world's fifth largest organized religion, Sikhism is a relatively young religion. It originated in the fifteenth century in the Punjab area of India and has nearly 30 million followers.
Their belief system may be of interest to those who are fascinated by how human beings seek to understand the divine in a multitude of ways. They are monotheistic, reject the caste system of their native land, believe in revealed truth by a series of Gurus, are peace-loving, believe in karma and do not aggressively proselytize. They are not terrorists.
There has been an outpouring of support from non-Sikhs in the Wisconsin area. As an article in MercuryNews.com pointed out "People of a range of races and faiths wore colored headscarves our of respect for the Sikh religion." This is the power of the American experience. The dynamic challenge of a democracy is to allow free speech of all varieties and yet protect those who may sadly become its victims. We need to defend the rights of those who differ from us in practice and belief to enjoy the freedoms we all take for granted.