Father Bede, a man whose work in introducing Christian Americans to Vedic concepts was instrumental to a promotion of religious puralism, famously said that each religion is “a face of the one Truth, which manifests itself under different signs and symbols.” Signs and symbols: this overarching theme is vital to a discussion of faith-based violence; for the simple fact that it is these symbols that invoke animosity, fear, and, ultimately, violence. Two particular symbols – the Star of David of Judaism and the turban of Sikhism — have become crucial to inter-faith dialogue concerning violence prevention and the redirection of misguided information. These two symbols have incited hatred within Americans against their own neighbors. While they are visible manifestations of devotion to those who identify with them, due to the ignorance of many, these elements of sacrality are taken only as sign of otherness and the idea of otherness is the foundation of any provocation for violence when these acts are truly analyzed. When the self becomes differentiated from the other, an ethos of common humanity disintegrates, the hope for equality fades, and the seeds of hate are sowed.
One of the most widely-known examples of the categorization of an entire faith under a single symbol is the tacking of the Star of David onto the clothing of European Jews during their horrific subjugation under the Nazi regime. Thankfully, when the twenty-first century came upon the citizens of the world, those consequences were long in the past. We told ourselves that we must never forget what occurred in Europe, and our own neglect here at home, but all was officially well — or so we thought. The anti-Semitism that ruled Europe for more than 1,500 years had seemingly come to a close because we finally realized that the subjection of a group of people to such terror is an incredible injustice — then comes May 2018.
The people of Charlottesville, Virg. hear the phrase “Jews will not replace us” resound through the town — a hateful emanating vibration permanently leaving its scar on the small town. What symbol provoked such outrage? None other but the Star of David, that had come to stand for solidarity among the people of Israel. This symbol had become representative of the hope of Jews to regain the land they had inhabited thousands of years ago, but were forced out of and into one diasporic community after another. But what did the star represent to the hateful? David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, told his followers the day following the Charlottesville rally that “the truth is, the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause.” Whether it was the Roman, French, or American, empires throughout history have used the Jewish people as scapegoats for domestic issues that white supremacists could no longer control.
Professor of Religious Studies Anjeanette LeBoeuf said,“Because [Zionism] happens after World War II, there is still a lot of anti-Semitism that is running around in the world unchecked because it is not labeled as Nazi, it’s not under Hitler; it just takes on another form, and Zionism is used as a way in.” The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Eric Ward told the Washington Post following the Charlottesville rally, “The successes of the civil rights movement created a terrible problem for white supremacist ideology … a black-led social movement toppled the political regime that supported [Jim Crow]. How could a race of inferiors have unseated this power structure through organizing alone? … What is this arch-nemesis of the white race? … The Jews.”
Professor LaBoeuf said that, in America, we love to blame “the other” when it comes to “why someone doesn’t have a job, why we are not strong in the military, whatever it is.” The 11 dead Jewish bodies lying in the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27 stand as proof for the fact that anti-Semitism has completely infiltrated American society, and its power, and the recklessness of its adherents are growing stronger. “Jews will not replace us” has transformed into “all Jews must die,” showing each American that the ignorance concerning the Jewish religion has not waned.
Sept. 15, 2001, four days after the infamous attacks on the World Trade Center, animosity led Frank Silva Roque to take revenge into his own hands, telling his friends that he was “going to go out and shoot some towel-heads.” Fear of all people who wear a turban has become heightened, because all people who wear a turban have been categorized as Muslims threatening the United States, and this fear led to the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi on this fateful day; however, Sodhi was not Muslim; he was a member of the Sikh faith, like 99% of the people you see wearing a turban, according to the Singh Sabha gurdwara of Buena Park. So, not only was there a great upsurge in ignorance following 9/11, when all Muslims were classified as Jihadists despite the fact that jihad most commonly refers to an inner-struggle between the lower self and Higher Self, the ignorance swelled to an extreme due to the fact that the symbol chosen to represent an entire faith did not even belong to Muslim-Americans to begin with.
The Sikh Coalition, an advocacy organization for the Sikhs, documented more than 300 cases of violence and discrimination against Sikhs in America in the first month after 9/11 alone. Since the time of 9/11, the terrorist attack in Paris, and the anti-immigration rhetoric of recent years, this number has grown, ranging from beatings and the brutal chopping off of beards to a shooting rampage at a Sikh gurdwara in 2012 that left six dead. Despite Sikhism being the fifth largest religion in the world with 25 million followers, 60 percent of Americans know nothing about Sikhism, according to a survey conducted by the National Sikh Campaign. When I spoke to Guru Prem Singh Khalsa at the Guru Ram Das Ashram in Los Angeles, he told me that “the turban represents personal royalty,” referring to the concept that the turban would cut across boundaries of caste and gender — many women, too, don the turban — that was the law of the land in India before Guru Nanak founded the Sikh faith in the latter half of the fifteenth century. It is one of the five accessories worn by Khalsa, or fully initiated, orthodox Sikhs.
Although the turban and the Star of David are both just symbols from a given religious tradition, signifying only one aspect of said tradition to believers, just these symbols are used by the hateful to categorize an entire faith — and sometimes the wrong one, at that. Judaism, Islam, and Sikhism are each beautifully complex faces of the One Truth mentioned by Father Bede at the start of this article. Each must be respected in all of its complexity — rituals, beliefs, history, and all — but when we continually excavate to get to the foundation of faith, it may just be that the soil from which these religions have bloomed is, indeed, one.