Squamish Sikhs honour victims of temple shootings 

click to enlarge OPEN HOUSE Congregants at the Sikh temple on Fifth Ave. in Squamish read from the holy book at a prayer meeting organized to honour the Wisconsin temple victims.
  • OPEN HOUSE Congregants at the Sikh temple on Fifth Ave. in Squamish read from the holy book at a prayer meeting organized to honour the Wisconsin temple victims.

Seventy members of the Squamish Sikh community gathered together last week to honour and pray for those killed and injured in the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin on Aug. 5.

Huddled together, joined in their deep sadness over the act of terror in the U.S., they joined with the priest to read the Sikh holy book at the Sikh temple on Fifth Ave.

Wade Michael Page, a man police say was a well-known white supremacist, shot and killed six temple members at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin located in Oak Creek. Authorities say Page then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.

In the Squamish community hall over dinner the congregants talked about how the shooting had deeply impacted the hearts and minds of the Sikh Diaspora.

"Look at that door," Makhan Sanghera, the temple president, pointed at the wide open door at the entrance.

"Everyone who walks through that door should feel welcome, but what can you do if someone walks in and starts shooting?" he asked.

"What can be worse than being shot in a place where you have come for a moment of silence and prayer?" said Kulwinder Singh Padda.

The Sikh temple, or Gurudwara, in India is a place of prayer and meditation.

Outside India, it serves as a refuge, an island of community and fellowship, and for many new families, a buffer and a respite from the foreignness of the world beyond its gate.

Some Sikhs men also bewailed the fact that they were being mistaken for Taliban with their turbans and flowing beards.

"We should have more educational programs to tell mainstream Canadians and Americans about ourselves," said Chamkaur Singh.

That has become a common refrain in the community, especially since Sikhs have borne the brunt of many racist and xenophobic attacks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. A few days after the 9-11 attacks, a Sikh man, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was shot dead in Arizona by a man who assumed he was a Muslim.

Kavneet Singh, the managing director of Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said there have been more than a 1,000 reported cases of attacks on Sikhs since 9-11.

In a recent interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Sikh men in the Oak Ridge area of Wisconsin called the killings "collateral damage" of the so-called war on terror.

They also said they were routinely called Osama bin Laden, even after they tried to explain that Sikhs are an entirely different religion.

Yet, it's not lost on Sikh community leaders that there is something disturbing about underscoring the religious difference between Sikhs and Muslims, as if the attack on the latter were somehow more acceptable.

"We don't want anyone hurt because of their beliefs or their religion," Sanghera said.

Squamish Sikhs at the temple also expressed their pride in Canadian multiculturalism, and took comfort from stricter gun laws. And they took special pride in Squamish, where cultural and religious differences have rarely frayed the social fabric of the community.

Said Sangera: "In Squamish, we have, and we will always, keep our doors open."

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