Letter to the Editor by Mike Lynch: Reflections on Wisconsin

Ana and I attended the vigil at the Sikh temple in Turlock on Friday evening. It was a solemn ceremony, with the participation of most of the Turlock Sikh community and of the cities’ elected leadership.

The temple, a beautiful building located near City Hall, reflects, both inside and out, the splendor and color of the Sikh community. I thought of how lucky I was to live in a community where we are exposed to so many different cultures and peoples who all coexist peacefully, living the meaning of the words on the Seal of the United States of America, “E Pluribus Unum “ or “out of many, one”

The speakers expressed grief over the shootings in Wisconsin, and also mentioned several other incidents where Sikhs have been attacked and murdered by people who apparently thought the Sikhs were Muslims. But no one blamed Muslims for the attacks. Instead, the shooter and other haters were condemned as ignorant. The heroism and valor of the police and church members was highlighted.

Most of us, or our ancestors, came here because we couldn’t make it in the land of our forefathers. Some wanted the freedom to hold their own religion, or no religion at all. Others fled persecution and genocide. Most came because it was the only way they could improve the lot of their families. They took a great risk to dare the unknown because they wanted something better. Even today, those who come here, both legally and illegally, have essentially the same motives. This desire to do better, to be free, to practice one’s religion in peace are fundamental to our society today.

It hasn’t been easy. We have struggled mightily to get it right, and rarely do so perfectly. But we do move forward.

Catholics were discriminated against until sheer weight of numbers made them equals in the power structure. Mormons had to flee from state to state to find a place where they could worship in peace. Japanese Americans were dispossessed of property and interned (imprisoned) in one shameful part of our past.

In our bloodiest war over 600,000 Americans died (the equivalent in today’s population to over 3 million) to remove from our land the curse of slavery. But in a few months time we will decide, as Americans, whether to retain as President of the United States a man who happens to be Black, or replace him with a man who happens to be Mormon. This is progress on a grand scale. The cliché is accurate: It could only happen in America.

It makes me proud to live in a country that is composed of so many different cultures and societies. The greatness of America is that we have made our cultural differences our strength. No one has to be Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, Sikh, Muslim atheist or Jew to be fully vested as Americans. The only requirement is that no one can force, either directly or indirectly, his or her religious or cultural practices on another. If you agree to that constraint, you are as American as the descendants of the Mayflower, and the Native Americans who were here first.

That is why Ana and I went to the vigil at the Sikh temple in our hometown. The attack in Wisconsin was an attack on our neighbors and our community also. It was an attack on us as Americans.

Such attacks, where haters murder at random for reasons no rational person can understand, will likely continue. But whether they happen in Wisconsin, in Colorado, in Arizona or in Stockton, we cannot surrender to the hate and intimidation.

Our police chief urged the attendees to be vigilant, that law enforcement would be there when called. But law enforcement alone will not stop these assaults. All of us must renew our commitment to be intolerant of the haters and liars that lurk in every walk of life. The hate and sickness that leads to such outrages as in Wisconsin is fueled by the hateful ignorant comments and attitudes that go unchallenged at schools, in our workplaces, on television, on the internet, in our churches, neighborhoods and families. It becomes corrosive, and results first in silence, then in fear. It culminates in terror when the haters feel empowered to act.

The attack in Wisconsin was not just an attack on a Sikh temple and its congregation. It was an attack on all of us. It was aimed at killing the very essence of the United States of America.

But the haters are in for a surprise. They don’t know our people or our history. They will not win.

– Mike Lynch

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