By The Bakersfield Californian
If it's possible to take any useful lessons out of the latest baffling mass murder, this one in Wisconsin, let it be this: No religious group deserved the kind of violent attack the gunman, an Army vet and alleged white supremacist, inflicted Sunday, but least of all the Sikhs -- as gentle an immigrant people as has ever come to the United States.
That's a well-established fact in Bakersfield and Kern County, where some 20,000 Sikhs have taken up permanent residence. Sikhs, predominantly from the Punjab region of India, have managed to both honor the cultural traditions of their homeland and integrate into the economic and civic fabric of their adopted home. By all accounts, they are models of respectful civility.
Former Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels put it this way a few years ago: "There's virtually no crime in the Sikh community. Please bring us more Sikhs."
But Sikhs, practitioners of a monotheistic religion founded in India in the 15th century, are not well understood in the United States, where the more ignorant among us see the distinctive turbans and full beards and think they sense a threat. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, some Sikhs were accosted by people who supposed they were looking at radical Islamists or their cronies -- thereby slandering two religions in a single criminal act.
Who knows what suspected shooter Wade Michael Page, 40, thought he was doing or who he was assaulting when he went to the Sikh temple in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek and started shooting, killing six and wounding three others, including a police officer. Page, who was killed by a second officer, was probably capable of hurting anyone who didn't meet his racist criteria for acceptance.
Those in Bakersfield might be able to distinguish among the practitioners of various southwest Asian regions better than most: One of Bakersfield's sister cities is Amritsar, India, a city of about 2 million people that is home to the Golden Temple, the holiest site in the Sikh religion.
The rest of America should get to know the Sikhs as well. Perhaps there would be a little less hate in the world.