When I heard about the horrific shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., yesterday, I immediately assumed it was a hate crime, but I hoped it was a domestic violence incident such as the one in Lakeland, Fla., last year in which a man burst through the doors of a Christian church and shot two people. Earlier he had shot his own wife to death in their home. I had hoped the shooting at the Sikh temple was like that—the actions of a disturbed person with a personal vendetta.
I say personal because although domestic violence is a serious issue that harms the entire community, a man angry about the failure of his marriage or one spouse's attempt to subdue a mate is an isolated matter: "Sounds like a personal problem," we used to say of such incidents, meaning that it is a problem from which we may distance ourselves and declare, "Nobody in my family would come after me with a gun. Nobody wants to kill me."
A hate crime, however, meaning a crime directed at someone because that person belongs to a specific ethnic, religious, ideological, or, perhaps, biological group, feels different. No matter what group you belong to, you may be assured that somewhere there is another group (or individual) that hates your group and that person may have access to guns. If you are a member of a religious community or a person of color, the likelihood some other group hates you is even higher. So, while I had hoped the Wisconsin shooting was not a hate crime, I could not shake the feeling that hate crime was most likely the case.
The video above is a September 2011 report from Democracy Now: "Ten Years After 9/11, Little-Known Sikh Community Still Target of Violence and Harassment."
In the case of this past weekend's shooting, I was even more convinced that it was a hate crime because I remembered the beginning of a rise in hate crimes against Sikhs after 9/11. I recalled the reports of the Sikh man shot to death in Arizona in mid-September 2001 because someone in a pick-up truck thought he was Muslim.
When I heard about that crime more than 10 years ago, I mumbled something about idiocy, hatred, and blindness, I think. Today I contemplate those general thoughts again, in particular how hatred, which by nature couples with rage, distorts reality and blurs vision.
Although I question the rigor of scholarship behind a study that finds a correlation between lower I.Q., bigotry, and racism, I can't help but think there may be some validity to its conclusions in light of white supremacists and self-appointed 9/11 avengers consistently misidentifying Sikhs as Muslims. Or could it be that hatred infects the human eye and brain in ways that make haters incapable of differentiating between groups that are in some ways similar?
Perhaps the hatred lowers its practitioners to the point of indulging animalistic behaviors; perhaps they become like Pavlov's dog but dumber, so not only do they react to bells but anything that resembles a bell. Maybe it's not surprising then that ultimately they need a pack as well to reinforce their hatred and fears; hence, the Wisconsin shooter's membership in a white supremacist band and his need to hang with people as insecure and fearful of the other as he is may be somewhat typical.
However, people in general do seek out those with whom they share the same goals and mentality. They do this because it gives them the power to act as one and effect material changes or sustain the status quo in their cultures. A hatred group, then, especially with a mind to act on that hate, is a terrible thing.
But even if these hateful people were to accurately identify their targets, would that make them any less repulsive, any more evolved? Either way they wallow in a pool of baser instincts and hold humanity back. If the Wisconsin shooter had attacked a Muslim temple he would have been equally wrong, equally deserving of punishment, equally evil.
And this is all the time I have today to contemplate such evil because who can withstand looking into the abyss so long? Indeed, that may be the source of the hater's disease, too much time looking into the darkness for communion with those of the same ugly mindset, too little time looking for the light.