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The Suburbanite
  • Charita Goshay: Who’s an American? Who gets to decide?

  • In the frantic days following 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi of Mesa, Ariz., was murdered, not because he was cheering on the carnage or shouting terrorist slogans, because he wasn’t. His crime was his faith.

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  • In the frantic days following 9/11, Balbir Singh Sodhi of Mesa, Ariz., was murdered, not because he was cheering on the carnage or shouting terrorist slogans, because he wasn’t. He was doing what he’d done every day since he arrived from India in 1984: working hard and making his way in the country he had come to love.
    His crime was his faith.
    In the spirit of the millions of immigrants who came before him, Sodhi was a law-abiding taxpayer, business owner and an observant Sikh who, in keeping with custom, wore a thick beard, and a turban to cover his uncut hair. It was enough to get him killed by a crackpot who claimed to be defending America from such people as Sodhi.
    Since Sept. 11, 2001, because of someone else’s hateful and ignorant notion of how an American is supposed to look, the U.S. Department of Justice has reported more than 800 acts of violence against Sikhs, who frequently are mistaken for Muslims though their faith has nothing to do with Islam, or anti-Americanism.
    Last week, Wade Michael Page took it upon himself to define who gets to be an American. He murdered six Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wis., for the sin of being Sikhs and people of color. A police officer also was severely wounded.
    NOT PATRIOTISM
    Many of the estimated 500,000 Sikhs living in the United States are immigrants. But whose values are more American: people who chose to live here and contribute, whose faith requires that they be self-sufficient and care for the poor — or a native-born goon who subscribes to Nazism?
    Page was a card-carrying member of the neo-Nazi movement, whose pathology feeds on fear, failure, racism, scapegoating and abject hatred, all under the guise of patriotism.
    It’s hard to fathom how any American could embrace a doctrine that despises democracy and that was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of GIs during World War II.
    Given this, who’s more American? The blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Asians, immigrants and gays who have served gallantly in this nation’s defense — or those who hope fervently for a race war? Such people declare themselves defenders of American culture while ignoring the amalgamation of immigrant traditions in which the culture is rooted.
    Without a trace of irony, they claim their purpose is to preserve the American way. But the centerpiece of our way has always been to allow others to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as they see fit.
    FUELING THE FIRE
    Their fire is fueled by a demagoguery that seeps nonstop from talk radio and the Internet. When something goes wrong, the perpetrators feign innocence and outrage, even as they blame the victims for not being American enough.
    Page 2 of 2 - But who’s truly American? Is it the Sikhs, who don’t proselytize or recruit, who simply want to be left alone to worship as they please, or is it those who repeatedly torched an Islamic mosque in Joplin, Mo., finally destroying it last week?
    Being American has nothing to do with being white, or Protestant, or brandishing flag pins, cheap slogans and yellow-ribbon car magnets made in China. We like to boast that America is exceptional because it rests on an immutable truth that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. But apathy toward those who threaten the rights of fellow citizens to worship, dress, speak or think differently not only makes a mockery of this declaration, it also imperils us all.