Broadening the Circle of Backlash

In the aftermath of the Fort Hood tragedy last week, several Sikh organizations (including the Coalition) sent out a joint email warning Sikhs to be alert of possible backlash against our community. The name of the shooter who killed 13 people on the military base – Nadal Hassan – put Sikhs around the country in immediate danger, given the high risk that we would be mistaken for terrorists and become the targets of hatred and violence because of the way we look.

But one of the first reports of a hate-fuelled beating as a supposed result of the For Hood attacks did not involve a Muslim or a Sikh or an Arab or South Asian. In fact, it was of Rev. Alexios Marakis, a Greek Orthodox priest, in Tampa. When he got lost on his way back from a blessing, the priest stopped a young man to ask for directions. That man turned out to be Lance Cpl. Jasen D. Bruce, a Marine Reservist, who proceeded to beat the priest over the head with a tire iron and chased him for three blocks. The Marine believed the Reverend was “an Arab terrorist” because of his limited English proficiency.

After the Sikh Coalition sent out that email last week, some community members asked why we are seeking to join alliances with
other faith groups to denounce the attacks and stand together against backlash. The reason is simply this. In the atmosphere of fear and hatred, all of us who look or think differently from the mainstream are in danger of becoming targets. We need to work together to stand up in the face of ignorance and hate. The Reverend’s story reminds me of a famous poem about political action that some of you may have heard:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

This is why we must stand together against hatred and backlash wherever we see it occurring in our society, whether it is aimed at a Sikh or a Muslim, a man or a woman, a black or a white.

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