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Good Reads: What it means to be the "other" in America

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Between two worlds

The shooting at a Sikh Temple in the Wisconsin town of Oak Creek last Sunday revealed an ugly side to America’s pluralistic society. In a country of immigrants, there are still people who hate or fear those they see as “outsiders,” and when those people have access to semi-automatic weapons, they can put their fear and hatred into action.

The shooter, a former US Army soldier named Wade Michael Page, was a white supremacist, and before he was gunned down by a police officer, Page managed to kill six of the temple’s worshipers and to wound another police officer.

The incident is being treated as a domestic terror incident, with Page’s embrace of the “racial holy war” rhetoric of the far right making this more than just another case of American mass murder. But the shock of the event also hit many Americans at another level. Here, the terrorist was white, and a former US soldier. His victims were Asian. The terrorist’s ideology, white supremacy, was every bit as hateful and destructive as the religious holy war (jihad) of the men who hijacked the planes on Sept. 11.

Sept. 11, of course, is the day that changed America forever. Many Americans began to view the outside world (and particularly the Islamic world) as a threat. But what about those Americans who were themselves Asian or Muslim? Jaswinder Bolina addresses this question beautifully in an essay, “Empathy with the devil,” in The State, a print journal based in Dubai. As an American of Asian descent, Mr. Bolina finds himself torn between two worlds, and while he shares no actual sympathy for the goals of radical extremists, he understands implicitly what those goals are and where the motivations come from.

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