Justice vs. Revenge: A Sikh Responds to the Terrorist Attacks
Revenge, a kind of 'wild justice,' shoots wildly; justice aims exactly and exactingly.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists toppled the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Days later we are still sifting through the debris, unsure of how many thousands were killed. In the face of such unprecedented destruction, probably committed in the name of God and a religion (Islam) that truly eschews such violence, the first questions that any religious man might ask are: Why would a compassionate and merciful God permit such injustice against innocent people? How should a man of God act? In our response to such a tragedy, what is revenge, and what is justice?
Investigators and the media quickly laid the responsibility at the door of Arab terrorists, primarily the followers of Osama bin Laden. In their anger many Americans, forgetting their own tradition of tolerance and the humanity common to us all, targeted Arabs and Muslims, Sikhs, and, in general, anyone who was brown-skinned or wore a turban.
In the week following the attacks, U.S. Sikhs saw their businesses and their places of worship (gurdwaras) vandalized, and ordinary Sikhs harassed on the streets. One Sikh was shot dead at his business; his assailant, at his arrest, shouted, "I am a patriot, a damn American all the way."
So what is this religion whose adherents have been mistaken for followers of Osama bin Laden's? Sikhism is a young religion that started in India only 500 years ago. From 1469, when its founder Guru Nanak was born, to 1708, ten gurus guided its development. Sikhism's core tenets include the belief that there is one God common to all creation, a God who can be discovered by service to humanity. Sikhism as a belief system seeks to be free of discrimination based on ethnicity, caste, race, or gender. The fifth largest religion in the world, it now has 22 million adherents; close to half a million Sikhs live in North America.
Sikhs have no connection to the belief or practice of Osama bin Laden. More importantly, to target any ethnic group or religion (Muslim or Sikh, Indian or Middle Eastern) for revenge is morally indefensible and reduces us to the level of the terrorist. Our common enemy is not a specific religion but intolerance, hatred and fanaticism.