Sikhs in America are being confused as Muslims and targeted for violence.

By Richard Cameron 

A man in a neighboring community to Seattle – Kent, WA was shot Saturday and wounded by an assailant that presumably was of the impression that he was a Muslim. The victim of the shooting was not in fact, a Muslim – he was a follower of the Sikh religion.

The man, Deep Rai, 39, was confronted by a masked man in Rai’s driveway, who in the course of his assault of Rai, told him, “go back to your own country” and then shot Rai in the arm. Kent, Washington police are looking for the shooter and the Kent Police Chief has asked the FBI to aid in the investigation.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke with Rai’s family and issued a message on Twitter, “I am sorry to know about the attack on Deep Rai a US national of Indian origin.”
Mr. Rai received treatment at a local hospital, but his injuries were not considered critical.

A few things should be pointed out regarding citizens of Sikh heritage in the U.S. The Sikh religion is in no way connected or related to Islam. A few people, primarily members of White supremacist groups think they see similarities in appearance to observant Muslims, but any similarity is at the most, superficial. Sikh men do typically wear Turbans and have beards. Turbans have never been associated with Islam.

It would be premature to assume that the assailant’s motives had specifically to do with the present anti-Islam climate in America or that the shooter was inspired by the most reprehensible rhetoric that emanated from last year’s presidential campaign, but it is interesting to note the “go back to your own country” epithet, which suggests that the suspect believed the victim was not a citizen or if so, didn’t belong here.

The attack on Rai, follows the murder of another Indian man, Srinivas Kuchibhotla in an Olathe, Kansas bar in late February – an incident in which another man, Alok Madasani also of Indian origin was seriously injured, and another patron, Ian Grillot was shot in the hand and chest apparently because he defended the two men that were verbally confronted by the assailant. A witness to the shooting reported that the shooter, Adam Purinton, 51, who has been charged with first degree murder and attempted murder, shouted, “Get out of my country” before firing.

Another witness in a restaurant where Purinton was attempting to hide from authorities, told 911 dispatch that Purinton believed he had shot two “Iranian” men.

There have been other incidents in the recent past targeting Sikh immigrants. Wade Michael Page, a man with connections to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups, killed 6 people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012.

No matter what one’s views on immigration or diversity might be, resorting to unprovoked violence is not a sane, rational act and shouldn’t be reflective of anything but criminal behavior. The rest of us can have a reasoned, respectful discussion on immigration policy while rejecting hate and extremism for what it is. I also hope that it is clear that in distinguishing that Sikhs are not Muslims, that I am not implying that Muslims are an acceptable target of violence.

Alok Madasani, spoke February 28, at a vigil in memory of his best friend and co-worker, Kuchibhotla.

“It was rage and malice in an individual’s heart that killed my friend, killed our friend. It’s an isolated incident that doesn’t reflect the true spirit of Kansas, Midwest and United States.”

One can only hope that it is an isolated incident, but Seattle’s Channel 5 and USA Today quoted Hira Singh, a Sikh community leader in the city of Kent, who said Sunday that there have been increasing complaints recently from Sikhs who say they have been the target of foul language or other comments. Some of it starts there and then escalates.

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