Bhatia 8-8-2012

My Word: Sikh killings: Where is true freedom?

JSB_0052-2 copy(Orlando Sentinel, August 8, 2012)

By Jasbir Singh Bhatia

Another senseless shooting. This time in a place of worship near Milwaukee.

What a tragic loss of innocent human life at the hands of one who wanted to violently express his hate-filled ideology before the American public. Had it not been for the brave police officer who was badly injured, this tragedy could have been much worse.

The attack on the Sikh temple has caused pain to Sikhs throughout the world. However, it wasn’t an attack on just one social-spiritual community but on the very essence and definition of the United States of America. A small but increasingly powerful and ruthless group is trying to define our nation in a different way from what our founders envisioned.

Sikhs have been immigrating to this country since 1899. A high percentage of the farming development in California’s central valley and the lumber industry in Northwest Canada owe their strength today to the hard work of those early Sikh immigrants.

Since then, Sikhs have participated in fields such as economics, science, technology, medicine and education. And they’ve done it for the well-being of our nation. Yet we as a people are still not accepted — at least not by some sections of society — as the integral and beneficial component of the American mosaic that we are.

Is it simply because we’re too passionate about some of our cultural traditions and spiritual values?

Since our arrival, individual Sikhs have been subjected to discrimination and hate crimes — but particularly so after 9-11. The attack on a Sikh temple may be the first. But is it only the first? I fear a trend. What’s next? And what’s next after that?

Our nation has suffered for the past 11 years because a small group of people from outside our country violently expressed their extreme view of life and religion in a manner contrary to our value system as Americans. In response, thousands of our brave men and women have sacrificed their lives. In addition, we’ve expended an enormous amount of our nation’s resources.

Now one of our own Americans has violently expressed his extremism. How are we as a nation going to respond? Should we all just barricade ourselves behind ID scanners and other machines? Or is there a better solution? Where is true freedom?

There are too many guns in the hands of too many out-of-control people. It’s our responsibility as a nation to find some form of control.

Jasbir Singh Bhatia is a past president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida and a member of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.