Religious Tolerance or Religious Embrace? Memorial Service Honoring the Six Slain Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin
“Spreading Love and Peace, Defeating Hate” Attendees and Speakers at the
Garden State Sikh Association Gurdwara, 977 Washingtonvalley Road, Baskingridge, NJ
on August 24, 2013
Bridgewater, New Jersey- UNITED SIKHS and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP), together organized a vigil/memorial service in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the Oak Creek Tragedy last year. The memorial event was hosted by the Garden State Sikh Association Gurudwara Sahib in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The theme and topic of the event was “Spreading Love and Peace, Defeating Hate.”
The congregation was addressed by Hon’ John Jay Hoffman, Acting Attorney General of New Jersey and Mr.Edward Dickson, Director, NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. AG Hoffman was kind enough to attend the service with his wife and spend a Saturday afternoon interacting with community members. AG Hoffman while addressing the gathering said that he was extremely saddened by the tragedy in Oak Creek. He ensured that Sikhs and other communities should be rest assured that his department will not sleep unless they have secured all houses of worship in the state. He discussed how uncomfortable he was using the term “religious tolerance” in explaining how people should be respectful of different faiths and said the correct word should be “embrace.” He explained we should embrace people of other faiths and not just tolerate them.
AG Hoffman also praised Director Dickson along with the NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness for the work their continuous efforts. Director Dickson informed the gathering about the achievements of his department including conducting workshops over the past year to train security coordinators and community members of various houses of worship in the state. He went over a dashboard and a timeline of OHSP’s work over the year in engaging closely with Presidents and security coordinators of various houses of worship to conduct workshops and threat based trainings on how to secure houses of worship, how to identity threat factors and suspects, and active shooter workshops. Director Dickson informed of OHSP’s significant achievements on the aforementioned fronts after the Wisconsin massacre and will continue to conduct more training and workshops. He acknowledged and complimented the efforts of UNITED SIKHS in working together with NJOHSP to develop a Sikh primer for law enforcement. He also acknowledged the efforts of UNITED SIKHS in working with the Department of Education to include information on Sikhs and Sikhism in the New Jersey School curriculum.
The Sikh turban is still seen as a symbol of hostility in the paranoia that has gripped the nation after 9/11. All the aforementioned incidents indicate that there is still a section of people that equate the Sikh turban with Islamic extremism. These people fail to understand the fact that this is a country of immigrants; that their fathers or forefathers were also immigrants and there is no set of rules, or a set definition of an American appearance. There is still a pressing need for more awareness campaigns to educate people about the fifth largest religion in the world, Sikhism.
Dr.Gurparkash Singh, Director of UNITED SIKHS, gracefully conducted the stage as the Master of Ceremonies for the event. Other speakers at the event include: Nina Chanpreet Kaur, MSEd; Scot Pruiksma, Founder of Interlocking Arms; Howard Norgalis & Filipe Pedrose, Councilmen
Bridgewater Township; Rev Moises Bogdady; Dr. Ellen J Lindeman; Timothy Burk; Anju Bhargava, Hindu American Seva; Dr Ali Chaudry, Islamic Society of Basking Ridge; Hafiz Samiullah Chaudhry, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; and Micheal Tiger, Anti-Defamation Leagure, NJ.
UNITED SIKHS Staff Attorney Manmeet Singh spoke on the topic of “Spreading Love and Defeating Hate.” He narrated Bhai Kanahaiyaji’s story to to illustrate the importance of the principle of spreading love and defeating hate in Sikhism. The story contained an account from 1704 during the battle of Anandpur Sahib when fellow Sikhs complained to Guru Gobind Singh ji, pointing out that Bhai Kanahaiyaji was serving water to the wounded soldiers from the enemy camp. Guru Gobind Singh summoned Bhai Kanhaiya and explained that he had received a complaint about his actions on the battlefield.
Guruji said, “These brave Sikhs are saying that you go and feed water to the enemy and they recover to fight them again – Is this true?” Bhai Kanhaiya Ji replied “Yes, my Guru, what they say is true. But, I saw no Mughal or Sikh on the battlefield. I only saw human beings. And, … Guru Ji, .. they all have the same God’s Spirit? – Guru Ji, have you not taught us to treat all God’s people as the same?” The Guru was very pleased with the reply. Bhai Kanhaiya Ji had understood the deep message of Gurbani correctly. Guru ji smiled and blessed Bhai Kanhaiya. Guru Ji said, “Bhai Kanhaiya Ji, You are right. You have understood the true message of Gurbani”.
Mr. Manmeet Singh also spoke about the Wisconsin massacre and the various hate crimes that were perpetrated against Sikhs around the country even after the massacre. Prominent among them were the recent scribbling of the word “terrorist” twice on the walls of a Gurudwara in Riverside, California; the vicious attack on 82 year old Sikh, Piara Singh, after he had just exited his local Gurudwara for a morning walk. Singh’s attack was confirmed as a hate crime; the attacker, a 29 year old male named Gilbert Garcia was arrested. The police reported that upon Garcia’s arrest, he shouted that he hated “those people” and wanted to bomb their temples. The shooting in Port Orange, Florida where a Sikh man named Kanwaljit Singh was shot multiple times while driving a car with his 13 year old son sitting next to him, was also mentioned.
UNITED SIKHS thanks Mr.David Leonardis, OHSP, and Director Dickson for leading and coordinating this event; as well as all the activities and efforts that OHSP had undertaken in the aftermath of Wisconsin to make all the Houses of Worship safe and secure; and their efforts to achieve grants for those houses of worship who need them. We strongly believe that such trainings play a pivotal role in thwarting similar attempts by misguided people to attack the congregation. We hope that these trainings, workshops and grants will continue until there are strong systems in place at all houses of worship to prevent such tragedies. We also thank AG Hoffman for his promise to the community, and his inspiring and insightful message that he gave to the congregation. Special thanks to all the speakers who took time out of their busy schedules to give insight on the topic at hand.