Oak Creek Tragedy Puts Sikh Community In Spotlight Questions remain about the motives of the shooter who led Sunday's deadly attack at a Sikh place of worship, known as a gurdwara, in Oak Creek, Wis. Authorities have identified Wade Michael Page as the shooter in the rampage that left six others dead.

Oak Creek Tragedy Puts Sikh Community In Spotlight

Oak Creek Tragedy Puts Sikh Community In Spotlight

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Questions remain about the motives of the shooter who led Sunday's deadly attack at a Sikh place of worship, known as a gurdwara, in Oak Creek, Wis. Authorities have identified Wade Michael Page as the shooter in the rampage that left six others dead.


Dina Temple-Raston, counterterrorism correspondent, NPR
Chuck Quirmbach, reporter, Wisconsin Public Radio
Navdeep Singh, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Neal Conan. The gunman who killed six people and wounded three others yesterday at a Sikh place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, has been identified. Authorities say it was Wade Michael Page, 40 years old. He was a U.S. Army veteran, discharged in 1998. The Southern Poverty Law Center says he was at one time the leader of what they say was a racist white-power band, but questions remain about the shooter's motives. The FBI is investigating the crime as an act of domestic terrorism.

And the American Sikh community is not new to discriminatory acts of violence and harassment. If you have a connection to this incident - perhaps because you live in the Milwaukee area, or because you are yourself a Sikh - tell us what you're talking about today in your homes, at your offices, in your places of worship. Our number is 800-989-8255. You can also email talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation at our website, npr.org.

Later in the program, we'll hear from the Sikh community. But first, Dina Temple-Raston is NPR's counterterrorism correspondent. She's been busy covering the investigation, and joins us now from our New York bureau. Dina, thanks for coming in.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: You bet, nice to talk to you.

GJELTEN: Yeah. Listen, some potentially important information coming out now about Wade Michael Page. Fill us in, as best you can.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think we need to look at him a little bit more holistically than we have been in the early hours after this happened. I mean, we know that he joined the Army in 1992, and as you said, he was discharged in 1998. He was given what's called a general discharge, which is something below an honorable discharge. And we know that he was a sergeant and had been demoted by two ranks, to specialist. He had some brushes with the law, in Colorado and in Texas. He had a DUI - I think that was dismissed - and then he had some mischief charges. We also understand that he was ineligible for re-enlistment in the military, and that could have had something to do with these charges. We don't know exactly why. We know he was in a psychological operations unit at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but he was never posted overseas.

And as you said, there are some indications that he might have been a neo-Nazi of some sort. The Southern Poverty Law Center said he was part of this white-power music scene since about 2000; and he actually started a band called End Apathy, in 2005. But I'm quick to point out here, while people have been talking a lot about his connection to this white-power music movement, the FBI hasn't confirmed any of these neo-Nazi details.

GJELTEN: Well, the - first talking about his military background, the fact that he was discharged, now, 14 years ago and did not serve during a time of war, would probably suggest that that military service may be irrelevant to what happened here. I'm sure a lot of people are looking much more to these alleged associations with white power or supremacist movements.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, very much because those are more recent. I mean, 1998 was a long time ago; and if he had been discharged more recently, I think people might be wondering about PTSD, or what had happened to him during the war. But he was never overseas, and I think that's an important detail to sort of focus on here. And I think people are focusing on this neo-Nazi angle because apparently, some witnesses who were there - in the temple - said that they saw a 9/11 tattoo on him, and that they thought that was some sort of indication of his white supremacy.

GJELTEN: Well, Dina, authorities are investigating this as they - as an act of domestic terrorism. How do they decide when to consider a mass shooting like this, an act of possible terrorism? When do they not move toward that option? Why does the FBI, when does the FBI get involved, as opposed to local police? Can you fill us in on that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Sure. I think that this domestic terrorism - sort of label has taken on more importance than maybe it should, at this point in the investigation. Essentially, what happened is, this is a case that spans more than just Wisconsin. It spans a couple of different states where he lived - North Carolina, where he was posted - and generally, when you have a kind of crime that spans more than one state, the FBI steps in.

In addition to that, apparently, local law enforcement said that they felt that the FBI had more resources to investigate this. So the FBI assigned a unit to investigate, and the unit they assigned is from the Domestic Terrorism Unit. And I was told by my sources there, that not too much should be read into that. I mean, clearly, they wouldn't assign a mortgage fraud unit to do this.

GJELTEN: Well, what difference would it make if it were determined that this was domestic terrorism, in terms of how it is prosecuted? If they were to determine, for example, that this could have been a hate crime, would that make any difference in the way they investigate or prosecute it?

TEMPLE-RASTON: It wouldn't make a difference in the way that they investigate it, but it would make a difference in the way they prosecute it. But this is more of a decision that's made not from - in the FBI, but at the Department of Justice, when they decide how to prosecute a case. And very often, there are times that they don't want to make something a hate crimes case. Maybe they don't have the right kind of evidence they need to make that kind of case; that they'll just make it a more simple, straightforward murder case. So, you know, I know people in the Sikh community in Wisconsin are talking about this being a hate crime. But I'm not quite sure that they've determined that yet.

GJELTEN: Well, in fact, Sikhism is completely distinct and separate from Islam, even though Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims because of their appearance and dress. But isn't it true that even the FBI lumps Sikhs in with Muslims, when they are suspected to be targets of hate crime?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, yes. I guess I would say that if you have a neo-Nazi - and we don't know if the shooter is, in fact, a neo-Nazi. But if you have someone who's a white supremacist or neo-Nazi, you know, they're not going to focus on Muslims or Sikhs. I mean, they're going to notice - focus on people who are not white, and not like them. So I think there's been this sort of understanding that this must be some mistake, looking at Sikhs as Muslims. But it's very possible that he just looked at them as foreigners.

GJELTEN: Of course, and we are going to be talking later, in more depth, about the Sikh religion and the Sikh community. One thing you haven't mentioned, Dina. There have been some reports that the shooter had tattoos. What do you know about that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it's interesting because the witnesses who were there, in the temple, apparently very much focused on this one tattoo he had, that was sort of a 9/11 tribute tattoo. And they focused on that as being a sign of his white supremacy. But in fact, these 9/11 tribute tattoos very often are worn by the military - or at least put on by military people - or first responders, like firemen or law enforcement people. And there are some pictures that are supposed to be of him in his band about five years ago, and he was covered in tattoos. So the question is, why did people zero in on this particular tattoo? And we haven't gotten to the bottom of that yet.

GJELTEN: Well, you know, Dina, I want to hear from a caller first - at this point. Yaseen(ph) is actually calling us from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a Muslim, and Yaseen, you feel for the Sikh community. Is that correct?

YASEEN: Yes, and I live in Milwaukee, and I used to work with the Sikh community. They are very nice people. I am trying to extend my sympathies to the Sikh community.

GJELTEN: Yes, and what are your own connections to the Sikh community? You live in Milwaukee. I'm sure you know Sikhs. What kind of kinship, if any, do you feel with that community?

YASEEN: OK, so I used to work at a gas station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And I know, now, a lot of them. And there is some terrible fear in the Sikh and also, the Muslim community, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But, you know...

GJELTEN: And Yaseen, is this incident being discussed much in your own community?

YASEEN: (Technical difficulty)

GJELTEN: You're - yeah, I'm afraid, Yaseen, that your call is - your phone is betraying you here. We're going to go back to Dina Temple-Raston now. Dina, what is the next step in this investigation?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, one of the things that we heard in a press conference this morning, from the FBI and police officials, was that they have a second person of interest. And they've released a photo, and they're trying to have the public help them identify them. That's been - sort of the big break in the case that we've heard since he was actually named this morning, and some details of his past in the military have been revealed.

GJELTEN: A second person of interest, even though the police chief earlier said - in his press conference today - that there was only one person involved, and that we should - or the community should be relaxed about, or not worried about the prospect of something else happening.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, a person of interest could be anybody. It could be somebody who happened to have walked by the temple when this was happening, and they caught him on a security camera - that sort of thing. So I wouldn't look too much into that except that they have released this other photo, and they'd like to talk to this person.

GJELTEN: Dina, give us a little background here on what has happened in the past. We've mentioned that the Sikh community has been targeted in the past by what appear to be hate-crime-type attacks. Fill us in on what this community has been subject to in the post-9/11 period.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there's been a lot of confusion, as you had said earlier, between Sikhs and Muslims. And in particular, I think the sort of famous case was a Sikh gas station owner in Arizona was killed because someone thought he was Muslim. And the man who killed him went out saying, I'm going to go and shoot myself some - and these are his words - "a towelhead." And he ended up shooting this Sikh who had nothing to do with anything.

GJELTEN: Right. And in fact, there's been some concern by members of Congress and others, that the definition of hate-crimes legislation needs to clarify exactly who the Sikhs are, and where they should be included.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly, exactly. And I think this has been, really, an issue that they've been having to deal with ever since 9/11. And I'm not sure that that clarity is where it needs to be. But again, I guess I would say that before we jump to the conclusion that this was someone who was mistakenly targeting Sikhs for - and thinking that they were Muslim, we actually have no idea what this shooter's motive was; and we don't know if he knew exactly what he was aiming at, or not.

GJELTEN: Well, thanks, Dina, for being so careful in clarifying what we know and don't know. Dina Temple-Raston is NPR's counterterrorism correspondent. She's been covering this story from our bureau in New York. Dina, thanks for being with us today.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Always a pleasure.

GJELTEN: Yeah. We're talking about the shooting at a Sikh place of worship in Oak Creek. After a short break, Chuck Quirmbach joins us from Wisconsin Public Radio, with an update on today's events. Stay with us. I'm Tom Gjelten; this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


GJELTEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION; I'm Tom Gjelten. Today we're talking about the massacre in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The suspect in the shooting, who's been identified as Wade Michael Page, reportedly went on a rampage in a Sikh place of worship, terrifying congregants and killing six, including one of the first officers to arrive at the scene. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The police officer was critically injured. The six victims who died were all members of the Sikh community.] A second officer then shot and killed Page.

If you're somehow connected to the story - if you are Sikh, or if you live in the Milwaukee area - how are you talking about what happened with your kids, your co-workers and your friends? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or email us, talk@npr.org.

Sikhs around the country are keeping their gurdwara doors open to all corners, on this day of tragedy. And in Oak Creek, the Sikh community has just wrapped up a press conference. Chuck Quirmbach is just back from that press conference, and he joins us now from his office at Wisconsin Public Radio. Hello, Chuck.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH: Good afternoon, Tom.

GJELTEN: So what did you learn at this press conference?

QUIRMBACH: Well, it was - as I say - about an hour long, and it was emotional at times. There were several messages that there is great sadness in the Sikh community, here in the Milwaukee area and both - and there were some visitors from Chicago and New York, and so on. So great sadness at the senselessness - they called it - of the shootings and - but there's also a lot of praise for how law enforcement is handling things and also, the federal government's support in this matter.

There was also some emotional comments from the son of the temple president who died. The son, Amardeep Kaleka, went on at length about how his father was a very patriotic American, and flew a very tall flag in the front yard; and said this whole mix, a whole range of things.

GJELTEN: You're not mentioning any sort of sentiment of anger or desire for, you know, kind of - some kind of action, demands for some type of action. You're - what you're portraying, it sounds to me, is actually a pretty peaceful sort of response, on the part of the Sikh community there in Milwaukee.

QUIRMBACH: At least of the eight or nine people that spoke, the consistent message was of peace, and so on. There were two folks from the national - a couple of the national Sikh - the Sikh Coalition, and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. They offered a little more stronger remarks; just sort of saying, you know, just because Sikhs wear - usually wear turbans, and they have long - men have long facial hair, does not mean they're terrorists.

There was - references to 9/11 and so on, and some of the atrocities the Sikhs have faced since that time - murders and other things, since that time. So there was reference that they wanted to get the message straight that there is a - the Sikhs are a peaceful, loving people; believing in God, believing in families, believing in being generous to less fortunate.

GJELTEN: Now Chuck, we mentioned that five Sikhs were killed, plus a policeman who was one of the first responders there. What about the injured? What can you tell us about their condition, including the policeman who was - I'm sorry, the policeman who was shot by the shooter?

QUIRMBACH: Correct. It is my understanding that no police officer...

GJELTEN: Yes, I'm sorry. Thanks for correcting me on that.

QUIRMBACH: Yes, there were six members of the Sikh community that died. There is an officer who remains in critical condition at a local hospital, as do two other members of the Sikh community. So the three men in serious condition at the hospital, and the ages of the - who's died, range all the way up to 84 years old. And one of the points made at the news conference a little while ago is, what do you tell the children of the community; what do the elders tell the children about what happened, how do you help them process things.

GJELTEN: And what - can you tell us anything about the preparations for burial and funeral services, etc.?

QUIRMBACH: Well, that hasn't been fully announced. There is going to be a prayer vigil at the other Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee - the community of Brookfield - this evening; a vigil and a meeting. At the news conference with law enforcement held two hours ago, the Sikh members were allowed to ask questions. And one of them asked about, well, when will you be able to clear the temple where the shootings occurred, so we can prepare for funerals. The FBI wouldn't give a firm answer, but they hoped maybe by Thursday. And that seemed to satisfy the Sikh person that answered the - that asked the question.

GJELTEN: OK, Chuck, stay on the line, if you would, for a few minutes. I want to go a caller now, Rebecca(ph), who's on the line from New Haven, Connecticut. Thanks for your call, Rebecca. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

REBECCA: Hi, thank you for having me. The reason why I'm calling is because I always feel deeply, deeply connected with the Sikh community, although I'm living in Connecticut. And the reason why is one, I'm a U.S. Army veteran; and two is, I'm a Muslim-American whose life was actually saved by a Sikh. I was doing relief work in Indian-occupied Kashmir, and there was fighting going on and there was, you know, street fires.

And we were - my husband and I were very easily - very vulnerable; we're Americans. And we could have very easily been taken advantage of. There was gangs all around us, and fighting. And two Sikh men came by on their motorcycles and they were our, like, saviors at that time. They saved our lives. They took us to a safe place. And so I've always felt so much gratitude for the Sikh community for that reason.

GJELTEN: Well, that's...

REBECCA: And second, I also feel a deep connection with them because I do feel that the shooter chose the Sikh community because of 9/11 ignorance and labeling entire faith communities for, you know, the atrocities of 19 insane men. And I do feel that the label of terrorism is absolutely important because when we recognize that that label makes it something that's not based on ethnicity or religion but on insane - or on people that think that they can take other people's lives, then we recognize that terrorism is much broader. And people start to change their minds.

And I think that people who would commit hate crimes are much likely - much less - more likely to rationalize before they commit such atrocities. And there's a verse in the Quran that says when you take one person's life, it's as if you've taken, you know, the end of life of humanity. And the same - it says that when you save a person's life, it's like you've saved humanity. So I just wanted to extend the message to the Sikh community that I believe that they're heroes. And I'm pregnant right now, and my prayers are extra-special in our belief system. And I want to tell them that I'm just sending all my prayers to them.

GJELTEN: Well, thank you so much, Rebecca. Your testimony is really relevant and heartwarming. And in fact we have another caller now on the line from - also from Milwaukee. Kashif(ph), you're on the line. Kashif, can you hear us?

KASHIF: Yeah, I can hear you. Hi, how are you doing?

GJELTEN: Good. Tell us what you're hearing today, what you're talking about in your community.

KASHIF: Yeah. Actually, I'm a cab driver, and I drive with the same guy from Sikh community. And the problem with that community is after 9/11, there's an identity mistaken to, which everybody's talking about. My opinion is church, mosque and temple people come together, collaborate, and educate more and more...

GJELTEN: Well, I'm afraid that his line, Kashif's line, dropped on us. This is interesting that among the first callers that we're getting about this case have been several Muslims who feel solidarity with the Sikh community, and great sympathy for the Sikh community at this time. Chuck, you're still on the line with us. Can you tell us a little bit about the - both the Sikh and the Muslim communities in the Milwaukee area? How important are they, what's their history, etc.

QUIRMBACH: Well, the Sikh community is about 3,000 or so, which in metro area of Milwaukee - 1.5 million - is very small, of course. The Muslim community, I think, is a little bit larger. They have been more vocal on some issues, especially before and after 9/11. It's not - this is largely, I think, though, still a community that keeps to - communities that keep to themselves. There have been very few incidents along the way. But, you know, now this tragedy in Oak Creek will, you know, reveal some additional - you know, feelings, I guess.

GJELTEN: And we have another caller, Vivec(ph), who's on the line from Milwaukee. And Vivec, I understand that you are a Sikh. Can you hear us? Vivec, you're on the line, thanks for calling TALK OF THE NATION. Can you hear us?

VIVEC: I can actually hear you now. I'm sorry.

GJELTEN: OK, good. OK...

VIVEC: I couldn't hear you before.

GJELTEN: OK, great.

VIVEC: Hello.


VIVEC: Yeah, I'm from Milwaukee. I'm part of the Sikh community. I'm part Sikh. I'm not very active in the religious ceremonies, but I go at least once a month, and I was debating going yesterday to the (unintelligible) temple. That's where my parents go, and my sisters go. And, you know, one of the thoughts that a lot of us - I'm a director of engineering - a lot of us educated people are having is that, you know, what is this country coming to, in terms of gun control?

I understand people have the right to bear arms, but do they have the right to bear semiautomatic and assault rifles? Because you have all these people with free opinions and free thinking, and, you know, I don't want to say the neo-Nazi guy was manipulated or whatever happened to him, but if you give - if you arm him and give him a semiautomatic or an assault rifle, well, you know, they will do what they think they should do to protect, you know, their community or whatever.

So I think we really need to think about these gun laws. Wisconsin has become one of the most progressive states now for owning a gun and carrying concealed weapons. And I really think we need to go back and look at this. You know, looking at Colorado, looking at, you know, where else, other things that can happen. I just, you know, I think it's madness, you know; I think it's crazy, you know? And I was looking at CNN, on Fareed Zakaria, where they were saying, out of the whole world, out of 100 people, we have 88.8 people that are armed, and the rest of the world is about one in 100 or less, you know?

So I mean, I want people to have free opinions, you know, even if they are neo-Nazis, so be it, but I don't want them to have guns, at least semiautomatic and assault rifles.

GJELTEN: Yeah. Well, after every mass shooting, this, of course, becomes an important subject, and I'm sure that our policy on gun control will be discussed in the aftermath of this shooting, as it has been in the aftermath of other shootings as well. I want to go, now, to Navdeep Singh. He's a policy adviser for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He joins us here in Studio 3A. As we talk about the shooting yesterday in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, let me ask you first, Navdeep, because I have said Sikh community, some people have said Sikh community, help us, what - this is still, I think, for many Americans a community that is a bit unfamiliar. First of all, how should we pronounce the word, Sikh (sik) or Sikh (seek)?

NAVDEEP SINGH: Well, good afternoon, Tom, and thank you for having me here today. We - the preferred term is Sikh (sik). Sikh (seek) just happens to be because a lot of the early scholars, Western scholars who wrote about the religion happened to be British, so they wrote it with their accent.

GJELTEN: Right. OK. So tell us how did you learn about this shooting yesterday. Where were you when you heard about it, and how did you hear about it?

SINGH: I was actually preparing at my home to head over to my local Northern Virginia temple, my local gurdwara. And I got a call from our executive director, saying I just got a call that there's been a shooting at the gurdwara. I was at a state of shock. The first thing I did was I called my father who was already at the gurdwara and said, Dad, there's been a shooting at the Wisconsin gurdwara. How is everything over there? Do people know yet? And...

GJELTEN: He was at the very place of worship where the shooting occurred.

SINGH: No. He was at the - he was at our local gurdwara outside of Washington, D.C.

GJELTEN: Maybe you should explain that term because that's another one that people, I think, aren't familiar with.

SINGH: I apologize. Gurdwara means - gurdwara is the word for Sikh temple. It's a Sikh house of worship. It means door to the guru, because when you go to the gurdwara, you're looking to open yourself up to spiritual meditation.

GJELTEN: Right. OK. And so you called your father.

SINGH: I called my father. And as I was speaking to him, one of the gentlemen he was with got a call from someone he knew in Wisconsin, saying, did you hear this, did you hear this? And from everyone I've spoken to, that's how the story spread across the country because our community is such that you know people everywhere. And so phone calls just spread across the network, and everybody across our community found out. Everyone was in a state of shock.

When my dad came home that evening, after I had been working on this issue for a while with SALDEF. I said, Dad, this is looking like it's going to have the same impact as another 9/11. This is another situation where, because of the incident, it appears on its surface with very little information, that we could be a situation where people that our family knows we're attacked because they look different. They attacked because they were exercising their fundamental right to practice their faith in this country.

GJELTEN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And we're with Navdeep Singh, who's policy adviser for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He joins us here in Studio 3A. Chuck Quirmbach has been on the line with us from Wisconsin Public Radio. Chuck, I'm going to let you go now because we know it's a busy day for you at Wisconsin Public Radio. Thanks for joining us. And he's probably already gone, which I don't blame him for.

So, Navdeep, your organization, of course, has people on the ground in Oak Creek. And what are they there to do? What are they finding as they navigate this tragedy?

SINGH: Our executive director is on the ground, as well as working with other members of the community. They are there to provide support to the community - first, to help liaise with federal law enforcement with whom we've a relationship, a longstanding relationship. The second, to help the community organize itself to help start the healing process. And third, to help them answer those questions that they get from the media, the questions that we, you and I, are talking about today - who are the Sikhs - how do you respond to those questions, how do you explain such a deeply personal thing as your faith to someone who sticks a microphone in your face.

GJELTEN: But this is not the first time your community has been targeted. How have you in the past explained or distinguished your faith from Islam, for example, which has been sort of the more traditional target of hate acts in this post-9/11 period?

SINGH: Well, I'll take an example of an incident that occurred just a few months ago. A gurdwara in neighboring Michigan was vandalized. There was a lot of hate messages shown on it. And what we said then, is explain what Sikhism is. We believe in one god, who is the god of all. We believe in meditation on that god and love for all of humanity. As an outgrowth of that love for humanity, we believe in community service. So you have an obligation to stand up for the rights of all others. Just as that caller earlier talked about how she was saved by those two Sikhs, they weren't just being good Samaritans there. They were doing their religious duty to help someone in need.

GJELTEN: That's a really important and interesting point. We're talking about the Sikh community and the massacre in Oak Creek. If you're connected to the story, if you're Sikh yourself or if you live in the Milwaukee area, what conversations has this prompted at home, at work and at your place of worship? Give us a call, 800-989-8255, or send us an email, talk@npr.org. We'll have more with my guest, Navdeep Singh, after a short break. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


GJELTEN: For the rest of this hour, we're talking about the shooting at the Sikh gurdwara or place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, specifically we're talking about the Sikh community, who they are, what they believe and how the attacks on September 11th changed things for them. Navdeep Singh is my guest. He's a policy adviser with the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. You can join us by calling 1-800-989-8255. And before we go back to our guest, Navdeep Singh, let's go now to a call. This is Adam, who's calling us from Boston, Massachusetts. Adam, you're on the air. Thanks for calling TALK OF THE NATION.

ADAM: Hello. Thanks for taking my call. This is a horrible, horrible incident, of course. And, you know, it just, I think, relates to all of us no matter what religion or cultural background we are. I'm calling partly because I'm terrified of gun violence and the possibility of these kinds of things happening but also because my brother is married to - his wife is Sikh, and her family and extended family is all over New York and Maryland and Virginia and Pennsylvania and also California. And I - so I'm in somewhat a special kind of place in knowing the Sikh community, the Sikh religion, how it is.

It took me, you know, quite a few steps to learn and understand it. It was very new to me 15 years ago when he and his wife married, but the families came together to plan the wedding and understand each other's perspective. And I learned it's very much like Christianity in certain ways - a single god and people's leader sacrificing that formed the religion in similar ways and values that are similar, and yet there are certain cultural pieces that are very different, that are totally alien.

And all of that is very interesting and very, you know, part of the story, but all along that really, in some ways, doesn't matter, or what matters more to me in some ways is that this is relevant to all of us. And I think the conversation really needs to be addressed to all of us. I appreciate that you all are trying to focus on, you know, a particular sort of aspect. But, you know, for me, it just raises a fear of, you know, this is their problem. And anytime one of these things happens, we definitely compartmentalize it and say that's someone else's problem, thank God, and understandably.

But this inability of Americans to just see people as human beings and instead kind of divide up into cultural differences, making us just different beings, that just really kind of slows down things like we're all in threat - we're all in danger of kind of crazy stuff going on and...

GJELTEN: OK. Absolutely.

ADAM: ...my god, the resources lost...

GJELTEN: OK. Thank you so much, Adam. You're making really important points. Going back to Navdeep now, Adam made the point that in his view, after learning from - about Sikhism as a result of his brother being married to a Sikh woman, he says that in his view, it has a lot in common with Christianity. How did you feel about that characterization?

SINGH: I thought that was an apt comparison. Sikhism is a religion based on love of the divine and love of the creation of the divine. And all faith, at the end of the day, are talking about the same thing: how do we love God and how do we love what God created.

And so it's a reflection that I - that as Sikhs, we always say, Sikh means student. We're just learning how to love God through this particular way by our particular teacher. That doesn't mean that our teacher is the only acceptable teacher. God would not have created so many faiths, so many forms of love if his creation did not need it.

GJELTEN: You know, Navdeep, we've seen extremism over the years, over the centuries in Christianity. We've certainly seen extremism in Islam. And yet, it's hard to find examples of extremist thought in the Sikh religion. Am I not correct?

SINGH: Yes. The extremism - faith-based extremism is extremely rare. Sikhism is a religion based on compassion, humility, hard work, equality and community service.

GJELTEN: I want to go to a couple of emails now. First of all, from Emily(ph) in Milwaukee. She says: My family lives in Milwaukee, and we were preparing for my daughter's birthday party as we heard the news. As party guests arrived, many chatted about hearing the news. Our hearts ache for all those impacted, and we are deeply saddened that such hate exists not only in our world, but here in our backyard. That's from Emily in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

And Jim in Chico, California, writes this, he says: Please ask your Sikh guest what would be appropriate and respectful ways to express support and concern to Sikh neighbors? I am a Christian pastor who is heartbroken by the shooting. We have a Sikh community in a nearby town. How can I and my church be helpful to them? Navdeep?

SINGH: The easiest thing to do and the one thing we encourage everyone to do, go to the gurdwara, go to the Sikh temple, introduce yourself, pray with them. Sikh...

GJELTEN: Are non-Sikh worshippers welcome at your temples?

SINGH: The doors of a gurdwara are always open. And after this incident, the response of the Sikh community around the country has been, how do we open our doors even wider? They want you to come. They want you to come and pray with them because the prayer area is open for all persons of all faiths. And then we have the communal meal, langar, which was started as a sign of equality. All people sit together. It did not matter if you are king or you are a pauper. You - we're all equal in the eyes of the God. It did not matter if you are Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. All are equals in the eyes of God, so all should come and partake together as a common humanity.

GJELTEN: And one of the sad things about the incident yesterday is, in fact, women were preparing that very communal meal at the time when the gunman arrived on the scene.

SINGH: Absolutely.

GJELTEN: Let's go now to Zia(ph), who is on the line from St. Louis, Missouri. Zia, thanks for calling TALK OF THE NATION. You're on the air.

ZIA: Thank you, Tom. Thank you for taking my call. First of all, I want to offer my condolences to your guest, Mr. Navdeep Singh, and to the entire Sikh community on this great tragedy, you know, the senseless violence, the senseless lost of life. I think the couple of things in addition to that which brings to me as a member of a minority Islam - I'm an American Muslim - is looking as your guest, Mr. Navdeep Singh, said this act of violence could have been because of the fact that this is a community who prays differently, who looks differently, and that's the reason they were targeted.

If that's the case, not only the Sikhs in the U.S., but all the other minorities need to be concerned and are concerned because - whether they be Muslims, Hindus, Baha'is, Buddhists or even Jewish temples we've seen had been targeted. Anytime a place of worship is targeted like that, it's an awful shame for the entire American nation. All of us are ashamed by these acts.

When - as minorities, they are concerned even more because I think - because the next - the one that I find, which has been, as an American Muslim, of grave concern to me, which I think needs to be part of this discussion, is that we've heard in the past, even after 9/11, the first victim was actually a Sikh who was attacked because he was mistaken to be a Muslim. And then the recent attack on the gurdwara in Michigan because that they thought was a mosque.

And there is some suspicion, although not confirmed as of yet, that the Sikh temple could have been targeted because they thought it was a Muslim place of worship. If that is the case, I think the authority and the society needs to also provide some education and information and protection for the hundreds of Muslim mosques around the country because I think the intended target, it seems in the past - we're not sure of this one - but it seems was the Muslim community. And I think anytime any of us is attacked, whether it's any minority, it's a matter of great concern. And the one last thing I also wanted to say...

GJELTEN: Ok. Quickly, Zia.

ZIA: ...on the subject of gun violence. I think our politicians need to stand up - and the Second Amendment being there. Times has changed. It is for the leaders of this nation to take this up and stand up to the gun lobby, that anyone can take these semi-automatic weapons and create a massacre. I think we need to relook at this thing. We need to address it so these tragedies won't happen and senseless of life does not happen.


ZIA: Once again, my condolences to you, Mr. Singh, and to the whole Sikh community as well.

GJELTEN: Thank you so much, Zia. Thank you so much for calling. And Navdeep, we have, as you've noticed, many calls today from Muslims who are concerned and feel bad because they have this sense that the Sikh community of Milwaukee was - could very well have been targeted out of ignorance or mistaken identity, pointing out that Sikhs and Muslims, in some ways, look alike. I mean, Sikh men wear turbans and, of course, some Muslim men wear turbans as well. Is there anything that you can tell our audience about the way that you dress and why you dress the way you do and, you know, what we can learn from that?

SINGH: Yes. Well, there are over 700,000 Sikh Americans in this country. And almost 99 percent of the people you see in this country who wear turbans are actually Sikh Americans.

Now, I don't say that to condone violence against any community. Whenever any community is oppressed, we must all stand up, and we must all stand shoulder to shoulder with them. But in terms of articles of faith, these are deeply personal articles of faith, part of us, which are given to us by our gurus as signs of our independence, and the idea that as a Sikh you are a servant of God, therefore you must accept God. So you do not cut your hair.

The second point is, you stand out. You have an obligation to stand out because if should anyone need help, it's the same as going to a police officer. You recognize them by their uniform, you recognize a Sikh by their uniform. You know that they are there to help you.

GJELTEN: Navdeep Singh is policy adviser for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He's with us here in Studio 3A. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And you can join us in what remains of this hour by calling 1-800-989-8255.

Now, Navdeep, you have a longstanding relationship with the FBI in terms of educational outreach, in terms of training. What is the focus of that effort? And what do you expect to see in that regard now going forward?

SINGH: We continue - we hope and expect to see continued training with the FBI. We have a law enforcement education program which we started actually in 1999, prior to 9/11, which goes out and trains federal and local law enforcement and teaches them, these are the articles of the faith of a Sikh American. If you see someone with a turban, this is why they wear it. The Sikh values are American values. We're a shared community and these are your neighbors.

Because what you find is, with police investigations, when the law enforcement - members of law enforcement are able to relate to and have a cultural understanding of the community member that they're dealing with, the investigation goes a lot more smoothly. And they get a lot more information to help that community member.

GJELTEN: Now, Navdeep, as we were talking earlier, the FBI still counts hate crimes against Sikhs in the same category as crimes against Muslims. And there was, of course, this initiative from members of Congress, a letter earlier this year, again, April, I believe, asking the FBI to distinguish Sikhs and Muslims. How did you feel about that initiative? First of all, why - how was it that Sikhs and Muslims got logged together in the first place? And what has been your community's involvement or response to that initiative from members of Congress to the FBI?

SINGH: Well, SALDEF has been one of the organizations that has been spearheading the efforts along with our partners to get this category added. Simply, it's put like this. The FBI defines a set of standard data that every law enforcement agency must collect. One of the things that they do not define is they do not have a category for anti-Sikh crimes. That means that crimes that are purposely gone against Sikhs or in which the victim is a Sikh. So what we're having is a question of, we don't have reliable data because the people who collect that data don't do it. They don't include anti-Sikhs, therefore, we cannot have a reliable count of how many hate crimes are actually reported to the FBI, reported to local law enforcement. And how law enforcement can better tailor its efforts to serve the community and conduct better policing strategies. This is all about improving the ability of law enforcement to do their job.

GJELTEN: OK. We have just a few minutes left in this program, but I want to go now to Paula(ph), who's on the phone from Florida. Good afternoon, Paula. Thanks for calling TALK OF THE NATION.

PAULA: Good afternoon. I join in with what Tom said, I grew up about five miles from Oak Creek, and it was an idyllic childhood. That's what always thought about it. When I went to college in the '60s, I had my first multicultural experiences. I didn't know until that, but one of my best friends was an Indian Sikh, and I just - I learned about the world in college. And this can't be Milwaukee. I lived only about one mile from where this shooter lived. I frequently, when I'm home visiting, ride my bicycle in that neighborhood. This isn't my Milwaukee. I'm very sad. And thank you.

GJELTEN: And did you - when you grew up near Oak Creek, where you familiar with the Sikh community?

PAULA: No. They weren't there at that time, in the sense of having a building. But I do remember my friend from college. She was a graduate student. At that time, I was an undergraduate, and we had great fun and great joy and she taught us cooking and these were all new things to me. And I was a south side of Milwaukee kid. I didn't know about the big world, but I began to learn in college. And I just - I can't understand this.

GJELTEN: Thank you so much for that call, Paula. And we've - I've just been impressed by how many callers we've had today expressing condolences for the Sikh community. And I think that is a very encouraging response. Navdeep Singh, our guest here in Studio 3A, is a policy adviser with the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Navdeep, thank you so much for coming in today. And again, as all of us have said, our condolences to your community on this sad occasion.

SINGH: Thank you, Tom. And thank you to all of you listeners for impressing upon us that we are part of America.

GJELTEN: Thank you. And tomorrow, cyber security. What the experts are worried about and what can be done about it. Join us for that. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Tom Gjelten in Washington.

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