Raj Kumar, founder and president of the Gandhi International Institute for Peace in Honolulu, decried the shooting today at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin as “a crime not against Sikh people but against all humanity.”
The attack left seven people dead, including the lone gunman who was shot by police.
Kumar said he has been following media reports of the incident and has been disheartened by mounting evidence that the shooting was a misdirected hate crime.
“He misperceived these people as Taliban based on their look,” Kumar said, noting that followers of the Sikh religion have a distinct dialect and language as well as a different manner of wearing their turbans. “He attacked and killed innocent civilians.”
Kumar, a native of the Punjab region of India who follows Sikhism, said the incident raises the need for greater gun control and an emphasis on nonviolence in schools and in overall American society.
“This is not what the founding fathers had in mind when they spoke of the right to bear arms,” he said. “There needs to be more love, tolerance, patience and understanding if we are going to live together in peace.”
Kumar said the Sikh population in Hawaii is relatively small — “about 10 families,” he estimated — but Sikhs number in the millions in North America.
“Intolerance is less of a problem in Hawaii because we live in a diverse community,” Kumar said. “This is one of the best places to live on earth, but on the mainland there are still a lot of problems. We need more education so that there is better understanding of other people and other religions.”
City Councilwoman and U.S. House candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who is Hindu, issued this statement this evening:
“I offer my deepest condolences for the victims and their families. I am deeply saddened to see something like this happen at a peaceful place of worship. This senseless violence has led to a great loss, not just for the Sikh community, but for our entire country. It is disheartening that so many people across the country know so little about some of the biggest religions in the world, including Sikhism and Hinduism, respectively the fifth and third largest religions in the world. Ignorance of other people’s cultures and religion is a breeding ground for fear, suspicion, prejudice, and discrimination. This tragedy points to the need to unite our country and celebrate our diversity by garnering respect for the different religions of the world through education.”