Harvard panel highlights Sikh message of healing following massacre

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/01/28/harvard-panel-highlights-sikh-message-of-healing-following-massacre/

CAMBRIDGE – Hate crimes in America have picked up steam since a massacre at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee shocked the world more than three years ago. But outreach groups are using lessons from the Sikh faith to help prevent further tragedies.

“We cannot address trauma by vilifying the ‘other,’” Pardeep Kaleka, who lost his father in the shootings, said during a panel discussion about the massacre and the response to it. His comments followed a Tuesday screening of a documentary called “Waking in Oak Creek.”

Kaleka’s father, then president of the temple, and five other Sikh worshipers died on an August Sunday in 2012 when Wade Michael Page, a U.S. Army veteran and an avowed white supremacist, shot them down. Page shot himself dead after being wounded by a police bullet.

The film shows how the incident unified residents of various religious and ethnic backgrounds in the small Wisconsin town on the outskirts of Milwaukee, inspired by the Sikh tradition of forgiveness and love. Oak Creek Police Lt. Brian Murphy, the first responder on the scene who was shot 15 times and recovered, and his colleagues on the force joined with young temple members in active education and anti-violence outreach efforts.

“What we want to be remembered for is our response,” one person says in the film.

Hub residents reacted after the 2012 shootings by crowding Trinity Church in a “sea of orange headscarfs,” said Diana Eck,the director of the Harvard University Pluralism Project and the moderator of the panel discussion that followed the free screening in the Brattle Theatre.

One way to respond is to “create a space” for people of all beliefs to share their personal biases without being vilified, said Kaleka, an educator and former police officer. With others from the temple and local civic leaders, he started a group called Serve 2 Unite, which aims to bridge ethnic, racial and religious divides in public schools. He added that legislation “does play a role in the healing process” for victims of discrimination.

Arno Michaelis has shown he isn’t afraid to share his former leanings. Michaelis, one of Tuesday’s panelists who works with Serve 2 Unite, was once a “skinhead” who says his “white power” rock band was well-known.

“I helped create that,” Michaelis said of Page’s actions. Page was also a musician and played in several white-power rock bands. Michaelis credits the love of the Sikh community, and becoming a single parent to his daughter, that turned his life around.

“It’s crucial that you never lose sight of their humanity,” Michaelis said, responding to a question from the audience about understanding violent groups like Islamic State.

“When we lose sight of that humanity, we all lose,” Michaelis said.

If you hate and fear the perpetrators of such crimes without viewing them as people, he added, “you are literally playing their game, and they’re setting the rules of engagement, not you.”

In the years following the temple shooting, Serve 2 Unite has held vigils to honor the victims and has worked to educate and unite residents in the area, which nearly became the site of a second hate crime. This week, a Muslim man in Milwaukee was charged with planning a mass shooting at a local Masonic temple. The Masons are a fraternal order, not a religious group.

Following the movie screening, executive producer Patrice O’Neill, Kaleka, Michaelis and Karin Firoza, a Muslim youth leader, discussed the subjects it raises on the panel moderated by Eck, with about 100 people in attendance. It was the final event in a series of film screenings and conversations about contemporary American religious identity, sponsored by the Pluralism Project, that began last fall.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.