First, there was the midnight movie massacre in Colorado. Now it's the mass murder of Sikhs in Wisconsin. What is happening to our country?

You can point the finger in a lot of different directions. At the NRA, for torpedoing all attempts to stem the glut of weapons that is drowning our society in violence. At the politicians, who lack the guts to stand up to the gun lobby. At the hatemongers, who keep preaching that some religions (namely, theirs) are better than others and that our fellow Americans are enemies to be feared. And most of all at ourselves, for allowing things to come to such a pass.

How many more deaths will it take before we come to our senses?

Sikhs have been targeted since 9/11 by self-styled patriots who pick on anyone who looks "foreign." As one distraught young Sikh said, "What have we done to deserve this?" Answer: Nothing. I can't think of a less threatening religion.

Sikhism was founded in India around 1500, at a time when the country was being torn apart by Hindu-Muslim violence. So a guru named Nanak decided to start a new faith that combined the best parts of both religions.

Preaching, "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim," he welcomed members of both faiths. He advocated equality for women -- a rarity in those times -- and denounced idol worship, empty ritual and religions that justify oppression.


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His message was simple: There is only one God, who is the essence of a beautiful universe. Our duty is to meditate on this oneness and be kind to one another other.

When Nanak died in 1539, a dispute broke out among his followers: The Hindus wanted to cremate him, while the Muslims wanted to bury him.

The next morning, they discovered a huge pile of beautiful flowers where his body had been. They decided to divide the posies and dispose of them, each side according to its own tradition.

Perhaps the most famous guru after Nanak was the Ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, who lived in the late 17th century. India was ruled by a bloodthirsty religious bigot named Aurangzeb, who ordered all the Pundits -- a caste of scholarly Hindus -- to convert to Islam or be killed.

The Pundits asked Tegh Bahadur for help. His response was to go to Aurangzeb and offer himself in their place. Aurangzeb didn't much care who he killed. So Tegh Bahadur and his followers were put to death, instead. It is the only instance in history of a religious leader sacrificing his life on behalf of another religion.

Tegh Bahadur was succeeded by his son, Gobind Singh, who decreed that there were to be no more gurus. From then on, the Sikh holy book, Granth, would be the guru. And Sikhs have tried to lead their lives according to its humane teachings ever since. It is hard to imagine a kinder, gentler religion. And for this they are being shot?

Sikh Americans are our brothers and sisters, and it's time we let them know it. If you spot any -- they're hard to miss in their distinctive turbans -- please take the trouble to go up to them and tell them you support them in their time of grief.

It's the American way.

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.