Skip to main content

President Obama, come to Oak Creek

By Valarie Kaur, Special to CNN
August 17, 2012 -- Updated 1929 GMT (0329 HKT)
Community members pay respects to the six shooting victims during the memorial at Oak Creek High School last week.
Community members pay respects to the six shooting victims during the memorial at Oak Creek High School last week.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Valarie Kaur: Politicians, others came to Oak Creek after Sikh shooting, not Obama
  • She invites Obama, says his presence will send message of support, affirmation
  • Kaur: Shootings in Aurora drew Obama; not coming to Wisconsin hurts Sikhs
  • Kaur: Sikhs' values reflect American values too; Obama must help demonstrate this

Editor's note: Valarie Kaur is the founding director of Groundswell, an initiative at Auburn Seminary that combines storytelling and advocacy to mobilize faith communities in social action. Her documentary "Divided We Fall" examines hate crimes against Sikh Americans after 9/11. Kaur studied religion and law at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School and Yale Law School, where she now directs the Yale Visual Law Project. Follow her on Twitter: @valariekaur.

(CNN) -- Last Saturday morning, when media crews outside the Sikh gurdwara (house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, packed up their trucks to chase the news of Mitt Romney's choice for vice president, Sikh Americans were left reflecting on six days of unprecedented national attention. After the shooting of six people in a Sikh gurdwara, a stream of national leaders, from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Gov. Scott Walker, came to offer condolences and support. But there was one person missing.

It was you, Mr. President.

Let me be clear: Your administration's response to the massacre has been strong and swift. Attorney General Eric Holder addressed mourners with compassion and resolve at the Friday memorial.: "In the recent past, too many Sikhs have been targeted and victimized simply because of who they are, how they look, and what they believe," he said.. "This is wrong. It is unacceptable. And it will not be tolerated." Joshua Dubois from the White House expressed his full commitment to helping us with sustained interfaith and education outreach.

Valarie Kaur
Valarie Kaur

The FBI and Department of Justice were at the top of their game, investigating the attacks as both an act of domestic terrorism and a hate crime.

But we need more than government cooperation. Our community needs the deeper spiritual and emotional assurance that we are welcome to live, work and worship as fellow Americans. The gunman, Wade Michael Page, was a member of a white supremacist group that wishes to destroy our very claim to call this country home. After the attack we endured, Sikh Americans, and all brown and black people in America for that matter, need our president to directly show the nation that we belong here.

Watch: Volunteers help temple mourners cope

President Obama, you flew to Aurora, Colorado, to mourn publicly with the families before the dead were buried. You hugged your daughters closer that night, imagining them in that theater. In response to the massacre of Sikhs in Oak Creek, you and Mitt Romney issued statements of support, but did not suspend campaigning in Wisconsin, as you did in Colorado.

Holder: Sikh temple shooting a hate crime
Volunteers help temple mourners cope
Sikhs leave one bullet hole as reminder
Gunshots heard in Sikh temple 911 calls

Of the major networks, only CNN sent an anchor to report live from Oak Creek, and none of the networks covered the murders as extensively as they did in Colorado. We worry that because the victims were brown-skinned people with "foreign" names, the tragedy hasn't elicited the same attention from public officials and the media.

I believe you can help the nation feel our pain. You can show this tragedy is an American tragedy, because none of us should have to fear gunfire in their own churches, synagogues and mosques. If Trayvon Martin could have been your son, and the kids in the Aurora theater your daughters, then the aunts and uncles shot while praying on that Sunday could have also been your own.

We wish you were there on Thursday morning when community members entered their gurdwara for the first time since the massacre. You would have witnessed the spirit of chardi kala in the Sikh faith -- even in darkness, a rising resilience -- and shared this spirit, which is also part of the American character. Sikh women and men walked into a crime scene: blood on the carpets, there were bullet holes in the walls, and shattered windows. They flew into action, ripping out carpets, painting over bullet holes, scrubbing floors, and within hours, they served the first langar (open meal), breaking bread beneath portraits of those who have died for our faith.

Opinion: Why American Sikhs will survive

We wish you were there later that night for the town hall meeting organized by your Justice Department. Nearly every Sikh American told officials that the attack on Sunday was not isolated or "senseless," but one in a long pattern of intentional acts of hate and discrimination in the last decade and long before.

Our children are bullied in schools, our men and women are profiled at airports and barred from military service unless they give up their turbans, and our people endure racial slurs and hate crimes that are not specifically tracked by the FBI. You would have heard the community's cry for help and publicly called upon all Americans to recommit to curbing the alarming rise of hate and fear in this country.

News: Holder calls Sikh temple shooting a hate crime

We wish you were there on Friday morning for the memorial for the dead. Three thousand people filled the Oak Creek High School gymnasium, a sea of people sitting in reverence and sorrow before six open caskets.

We are deeply moved that you ordered the flags lowered to half-mast, an expression of respect and honor. But for Sikhs, and for Muslims who watched eight mosques attacked in eleven days, the threat is not over.

"All politics aside, a personal visit, even with the victims' families, the temple, the people, for [the president] to take pictures with people who have turbans and beards does so much for our safety," said Amardeep Kaleka, whose father was killed bravely fighting the gunman.

I returned to New York this week. One cab driver pointed to his brown skin and said to me: "This is not just about Sikh people. This is an attack on me too."

Belief: Sikh iReports speak to long-held fears in their community

President Obama, I believe you can help our nation find lasting lessons in Oak Creek. Now that we've had time to grieve, people who care are turning to one another and asking: What do we do now?

"It is that fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, [and] I am my sister's keeper, that makes this country work," Attorney General Holder said, repeating your words at the memorial service. President Obama, I believe that your wisdom, compassion, and voice can help Sikhs and all Americans chart the way forward.

You may find the starting point when you visit the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek -- a single bullet hole remains and below it a sign: "We Are One."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Valarie Kaur.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT