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updated: 8/10/2012 7:19 AM

Editorial: It's not violence but common humanity that defines us

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Much argument can be made about guns and violence in America today in the wake of the murderous shooting spree near Milwaukee last weekend, and that debate is legitimate and important. But the telling observation about our nation, and the suburbs as its microcosm, shows in our reaction.

In the suburbs, that reaction was manifest in candlelight ceremonies Monday night in which hundreds of people from a range of religious faiths stood with Sikhs in Palatine and Wheaton to demonstrate fellowship and solidarity, the recognition, in the words of one speaker, that we are all members of "one human family."

Violence born of hate is often indiscriminate about its victims, and one of the wretched ironies in this particular act of rage is that it was visited upon a faith community so deeply rooted in concepts of peace and universal brotherhood. But the nation's outraged reaction and the ceremonies of solidarity like those in the suburbs unequivocally declare that all of us, not Sikhs alone, are stung and suffer from such violence.

In an essay for the Daily Herald on Thursday, Rajinder Singh Mago, a co-founder of the Palatine-based Punjabi Council of Chicago, acknowledged as "unbelievable" the "outpouring of profound love and support the community has received from our fellow Americans." He emphasized the universality of the Sikh faith and called for the one response that would likely attract no argument from thinking Americans -- that, in short, we all should get to know each other better.

Mago framed the concept less colloquially, emphasizing the need for us to "educate ourselves about people who live here." He, like many Sikhs, is particularly stung by

the tendency for Sikhs to be misidentified as Muslims because of their skin color and the clothing and turbans that they wear. Although motive is still unclear in the Wisconsin case, that misidentification has been firmly established in previous anti-Muslim acts against Sikhs over the years, so a greater awareness about the religion in the public at large might avert acts of terror, or at least spare the Sikh community.

But Mago and other Sikhs, emphasizing that Muslims should be as respected as other groups, are not calling for understanding of just the singular differences of culture, dress and religious practice that distinguish us. They urge, as do all sympathetic Americans, that we all get to know each other better on a personal level as fellow citizens, neighbors and human beings.

That's wise counsel, to be sure, and yet, an irony inherent in it as it applies to our reactions to demonstrations of naked hate is that we Americans still accept and support each other when someone or some group is wrongly attacked regardless of the particulars of the victim's race, class or creed. We do not need to know, in other words, the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh -- or a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Catholic or a Baptist or a Jew or a Scientologist or an atheist -- to know it is wrong to assault them.

We have written that theme into the lines of our most cherished documents. We protect it with our soldiers, our courts and -- as evidenced in the bravery of the Oak Creek cop who, although shot nine times himself, directed assisting officers to help other victims first -- our police on the street. It is practically imprinted on our DNA.

While we can't seem to eradicate every element of self-righteous hate that emerges to contradict it, those elements are not what define us. What defines us is our rejection of and reaction to them. We may argue about the root causes or specific solutions to hate violence among us, but about this, about our unity, our brotherhood and our common humanity, we are agreed and quick to celebrate.

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