First Lady To Visit Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting Victims

By Samantha Abernethy in News on Aug 23, 2012 6:20PM

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Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton

First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to visit privately today with victims of the Sikh temple shooting and their family members in Oak Creek, Wis., weeks after gunman Wade Page opened fire on the congregation, killing six people.

"It is important that these families hear firsthand how she and the president feel about this terrible tragedy," said Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education.

While it's not fair to compare one tragic shooting to another, the public reaction to the shooting at the gurdwara in Wisconsin has been notably different from that of the shooting at the theater in Colorado. In particular, Pres. Barack Obama flew to Colorado to visit with victims of the Aurora shooting days after gunman James Holmes killed 12 and injured 58 moviegoers. However, it's been nearly three weeks since the Oak Creek shooting on Aug. 5, and while the president issued a touching statement and ordered flags at half-mast, he has not visited and even now is sending his wife in lieu of himself. The media treated the shootings differently, too—CNN was the only network to send a news team to Wisconsin.

The president of the Sikh temple Satwant Singh Kaleka was killed in the attack while he tried to defend the congregation with a butter knife, allowing time for others to hide from the gunman. His son Amardeep Kaleka penned a column for CNN pointing out the tragedy in Oak Creek brings up questions of gun laws, free speech and the treatment of immigrants. He says that while the First Lady's visit is welcome, Kaleka says "she is not an elected official who is responsible for national policies that are at the core of this problem." He also writes, "Maybe politically, this is a powder keg."

A column in the New Yorker argues politicians and the media are not treating the Oak Creek shooting as "an American tragedy"

While both Presidential candidates at least made public comments, neither visited, nor did they suspend campaigning in the state even for one day, as they did in Colorado. In fact, both candidates were in the vicinity this weekend and failed to appear. Obama hugged his children a little tighter after Aurora, but his remarks after Oak Creek referred to Sikhs as members of the “broader American family,” like some distant relatives. Romney unsurprisingly gaffed, referring on Tuesday to “the people who lost their lives at that sheik temple.” Because the shooting happened in Paul Ryan’s district, the Romney campaign delayed announcement of its Vice-Presidential choice until after Ryan could attend the funerals for the victims, but he did not speak at the service and has said surprisingly little about the incident.

As a result, the massacre in Oak Creek is treated as a tragedy for Sikhs in America rather than a tragedy for all Americans. Unlike Aurora, which prompted nationwide mourning, Oak Creek has had such a limited impact that a number of people walking by the New York City vigil for the dead on Wednesday were confused, some never having heard of the killings in the first place.

"Today, if we don't ask why a small religious community in the Midwest was targeted by a 40-year-old white man," writes Huffington Post editor Riddhi Shah, "if we don't make this discussion as loud and robust as the one that followed the attack on Gabby Giffords or on those young people in Aurora, we're in danger of undermining what America stands for."

Last week, Valarie Kaur, director of the documentary Divided We Fall, called on the President to visit Oak Creek and detailed what it would mean for the community in a piece for CNN.

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.

...

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.

Amardeep Kaleka writes, "It seems many hard-earned lessons from this tragedy already have been forgotten. But they bear repeating and remembering. Injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. This attack was predicated on hate."