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Preetam Kaushik Headshot

Religious Hatred and Gun Culture: Recipe for Disaster

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Recent killings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, US only brings to limelight the hatred and contempt people aka nut cases can have about religions other than their own. Even in a largely globalized world where national boundaries seem to be melting especially on social networking sites and where religious understanding has grown to some extent; real world seems to be still very different and rigid. Much of the news coverage in India was about how India has not been able to create awareness about Sikhism, as a different religion from Muslim religion. This just shows the rhetoric is still around that of mis-identification, as if such a crime in a Mosque would be justified.

Howsoever ridiculous it appears, the fact is that identity of the accused being an ex-US army personnel, white male, with a 9-11 tattoo does indicate signs of whatever is being talked about. Also the fact that this incident is not a lone incident against Sikhs; there have been numerous attacks on the community earlier in United States mostly stemming from a mistaken identity. There is a list of such crimes against Sikhs that show that they are misidentified as being connected to Osama bin Laden.

The perpetrators of crimes against Sikhs during attacks or before mentioned explicitly about their connection with Bin Laden.

Another point in question is that such incident of indiscriminate shooting is not isolated. Many Schools, Columbine, University towns, Virginia Tech and recently, a film screening of Batman somehow witnessed similar shooting incidents. So, such shooting incidents are nothing new in the recent history of United States. In a way, this could be anywhere.

The recent Sikh temple killing however, is dubbed by the investigating agencies as 'domestic terrorism type incident' and not a 'hate crime' as many are alleging. The answer apparently lies in the fact that nut cases in America have a very easy access to guns, courtesy all the lobbying at the right places by NRA. "Bowling for Columbine'' by Michael Moore brought into focus the absurdity of letting just about anyone have a gun and having a sense of freedom to do whatever with it. Similar incidents have happened elsewhere in the world, Norway, as an example, where the crime was meted out against his own countrymen but the underlying hatred was to stop immigration of Muslims into Europe. In this case, even the access to arms was not easy as per Norwegian Laws, but he somehow managed to get access to arms to carry out his plans. The arguments therefore can be on both sides, for people determined to carry out such crimes, the access can be had, even if it is not easy. However, the easy access does make it really simple to commit such crimes.

Coming back to religions and the fact that the ultimate goal of all religions is to be at peace with one's own self to achieve much higher spiritual goals and be at peace with the community you live in, it is very astonishing that religions across the temporal and spatial boundaries have failed to deliver the ultimate goal. A reality check on all religions could suggest that the religions have ended up providing a very distinct identity of self and the community that you belong to which somehow translates to being superior to other communities and groups. After the 9/11 incident, Muslims, have been the primary targets across the world be it airport security checking or even renting houses by non- Muslims. It is not uncommon to see an auto rickshaw driver or a taxi driver being thoroughly checked while entering any security cordon as compared to others. While this may be considered an absolute must in the wake of terrorist attacks perpetrated by certain Muslim militants, the crimes committed by others such as in recent incidents does not lead to similar conclusions for other religions somehow. This definitely is a fuel for furthering religious hatred amongst various communities.

Is it about the time that we are taught religion in a way that helps in understanding and building bridges across religions, or should we stop discussing religions at all. While one school of thought would prefer this approach, a US-Indian philosopher Deepak Chopra says if you take out religion from the world, nothing is really left. He is apparently talking about the spiritual wealth that comes out of most religions. How then most people miss the bigger picture of what a religion is all about and get into the narrow confines of pitting one against the other?

Gun culture fuelled with religious hatred obviously makes for an easy, potent and lethal case for perpetrating crime against humanity. The answer therefore lies either in controlling the Gun culture or diffusing tensions between people belonging to various religious communities. Cross education of other religions, educating people in a way that they have respect for other religions irrespective of their own is an important task at hand for American Government and religious leaders if they think it is politically suicidal to engage with NRA.

While the recent violence against Sikh Community may be taken as an opportunity by the community to educate Americans that Sikhs have nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden, the approach may back fire on Muslim community. While this may only be important from the point of view Sikh or other communities that they are not in the line of fire, it also signals in a way, even though indirectly that you can indeed hate the likes of Osama bin Laden. And the likes usually imply religious community that he belongs to. Therein lies the problem of growing hatred towards Muslims across the world.

United States of America and in a way the rest of the world as well have a big task on hand. The task is much more than educating people about religion, it is about having no hatred for other communities. Is it possible for nations to help focus on a much more basic human virtue. Many religious leaders will say, if religions failed to deliver that basic human quality, no other education will work.