Brought to the US by Indian Immigrants, Sikhism Still Misunderstood Wisconsin Shooting Shows

Media coverage of Sikhism has been criticized for being clumsy and misinformed. (Photo: carlescerulla/Flickr)

Soon after news broke of the terrorist attack on a gurudwara (Sikh Temple) in Wisconsin, people were tweeting messages of disbelief, sympathy and anger. Some were also posting information about Sikhism.

Among those sending tidbits about the victimized community were the Sikh Community of British Columbia and Kulpreet Singh, founder of South Asian Mental Health Action & Awareness.

@BCSikhs  #Sikhism is a universal teaching with over 22 million adherents. Rooted in #Punjab#Sikhs are the 5th largest world faith group.#Wisconsin

@kulpreetsingh  Since 9/11, #Sikhs have been targets of racist / xenophobic attacks in the US, including school bullying, assault and shootings. #Wisconsin

@BCSikhs  A #Sikh place of worship is called a #Gurdwara. It is open to everyone regardless of faith, caste, class, race, gender, etc.#Wisconsin


A few questioned whether it was too soon to start educating the public about the world’s fifth largest religion. But Singh and many others were reacting to media coverage of the tragedy which was at times clumsy and dismal. As Christopher Zara writes in the International Business Times, “The shooting rampage that left seven people dead at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., on Sunday has prompted misinformation, sloppy reporting and outright ignorance about the Sikh religion.”

Indeed mainstream media was lambasted on Twitter:

@kulpreetsingh  Mainstream media is doing a crap job of covering the #WisconsinShooting. Get your act together you clowns.#sikhgurdwara #Sikh #Wisconsin


@bhalomanush  Fox News asks distraught Sikh, Manjeet Mangat if there have been “anti-Semitic acts in the past against the Sikh community”


@nihalmehta .@donlemonCNN please let another anchor drive, you are a trainwreck. hinduism and sikhism are as different as judaism and christianity.


@BCSikhs  Attn @CNN @FOXNEWS and other news agencies – please contact The Sikh Coalition for information on #Sikhs or #Sikhism or send us a message

Sikhs have been in the United States for over 100 years with an estimated population of 500,000. But they remain a mystery to most Americans, often mistaken for Hindus or Muslims.  Since the September 11 attacks they have been singled out because of the way they dress.

The Sikh Coalition, a New York-based group “born in the aftermath of bigotry, violence and discrimination against the city’s Sikh population following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,” reports to have received more than 700 requests for legal assistance from Sikhs asking for help with cases including hate crimes, employment discrimination and school bullying.

“For centuries, Asian Pacific Americans, including Sikhs, have made their homes in the United States,” said Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together. “Yet incidents such as this one remind us of the need for greater understanding surrounding our diverse communities.”

As our nation increasingly becomes diverse and pluralistic, Iyer is right that we need to better know our neighbors. The United States is a country of immigrants from all over the globe who have come to fulfill their American dream. They have also brought with them their religion, culture and unique contributions which enrich and revitalize to our society. This is a good a time to learn about Sikhs who hold that all humans are equal, regardless of race, social class, creed or gender.

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Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.