In The New Yorker, Naunihal Singh has an excellent piece on how differently the media and politicians responded to the domestic terrorist attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., compared to the similar attack two weeks before on an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. Judging from the relative silence on the former, Singh writes, "it is hard to escape the conclusion that Oak Creek would have similarly dominated the news cycle if the shooter had been Muslim and the victims had been white churchgoers."
The Oak Ridge attack wasn't some sort of remote sectarian dispute, Singh writes, but an assault upon the very people, institutions and traditions Americans revere:
The relative neglect of Oak Creek was not a foregone conclusion. Although the shooting took place at a gurdwara, or Sikh temple, the narrative of the incident contained enough archetypal elements to be compelling to all Americans. The murders took place at a house of worship on a Sunday. There was the heroic president of the congregation who, even though he was sixty-two, battled an armed attacker, sacrificing his own life. There were the children who sounded the alarm and joined fourteen women huddled in a tiny pantry for hours, listening to the agony of the wounded outside. ...
There is also Wade Page himself, with his hate tattoos, photographs in front of swastikas, and his Southern Poverty Law Center dossier. Page so fits our stereotypes of white supremacists that, if he did not exist, it would have been necessary for Quentin Tarantino to invent him. Page appears to have hated blacks, Jews, Latinos, and probably everything else associated with modern multicultural America. Here is a figure whose malevolence should frighten all Americans, not just Sikhs, in the same way that Holmes should terrify all of us, not just those who watch movies at midnight.
Sadly, the media has ignored the universal elements of this story, distracted perhaps by the unfamiliar names and thick accents of the victims’ families. They present a narrative more reassuring to their viewers, one which rarely uses the word terrorism and which makes it clear that you have little to worry about if you’re not Sikh or Muslim. As a Sikh teaching at a Catholic university in the Midwest, I was both confused and offended by this framing. One need not be Pastor Niemöller to understand our shared loss, or to remember that a similar set of beliefs motivated Timothy McVeigh to kill a hundred and sixty-eight (mainly white) Americans in Oklahoma City.