The Washington Post reports: Mitt Romney mistakenly confused the words “Sikh” and “sheik” at a fundraiser here Tuesday night when he offered his condolences to the victims of last weekend’s shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee correctly spoke of the Sikh religion earlier in the day when he observed a moment of silence at a campaign event in Illinois. But at the Iowa fundraiser, he instead talked about the “sheik temple” and the “sheik people.” Sheik is an Arabic honorific, whereas Sikh is a religion with roots in South Asia.
Referencing his earlier event in the Chicago area, Romney said: “We had a moment of silence in honor of the people who lost their lives at that sheik temple. I noted that it was a tragedy for many, many reasons. Among them are the fact that people, the sheik people, are among the most peaceable and loving individuals you can imagine, as is their faith. And of course, the person who carried out this heinous act was a person motivated by racial hatred and religious intolerance.”
While referring to Sikhs as peace-loving people can be an appropriate way of saying that no one deserves to get slaughtered by a gun-wielding American bigot, there is without doubt an Islamophobic undercurrent in the ‘peace-loving’ meme that has permeated public discourse since the Wisconsin shootings. There’s a constant sub-audible whisper: they were Sikhs, not Muslims.
Whether among Sikhs or any other community of faith, there is no religious code observed so perfectly that peaceful religious tenets will always prevent individual acts of violence. India’s former prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. Multiple hijackings in India have been conducted by sword-wielding Sikhs.
Sikhs have always distinguished themselves as warriors. Among the officers and ranks of the Indian National Army that fought for independence against the British, 60% were Sikhs.
As a religious commandment, Sikhs are required to carry a sword or dagger called a kirpan which can be used to defend the defenseless. In just such an act of courage, Sadwant Singh Kaleka, the 65-year old head of the Sikh temple used his sword to confront Wade Michael Page before being gunned down himself.
Attempting to characterize the degree of innocence of Page’s targets is simply another way of turning attention away from looking at a much more challenging issue: why violence is so deeply woven into the American way of life.