Update, August 8: As usual, a link to this post at The Daily Dish has unleashed the fury of the ALL-CAPS commenters, who seem to rove the Internet looking for points to misunderstand. So let me make my point here a bit more resistant to such treatment: of course, of course I do not wish that Page had simply targeted a community more suitable for Nazi hatred. Rather, I wanted to underline the particular way in which, in this case, as I put it, evil was abetted by ignorance. I presume that when one learns a little bit about how complex the world is, when one learns, for example, that the people to whom the term 'Aryan' has historically been applied are brown-skinned, it becomes much more difficult to make facile us-them distinctions, and one is effectively forced to reexamine one's prejudices. Of course, some people, such as Savitri Devi, are able to take what they learn and torture it into a confirmation of the prejudices they already had, but most people's prejudices are weakened by learning, and Page might have been one of these people, had he learned much of anything in his lifetime. I presume also that one must start out from precepts to which the learner is able to assent at the beginning of his or her course of learning. Thus, if Page were still alive, one might lead him to tolerance by steps such as the following: So, Page, you like Aryans, do you? Well, did you know that 'Aryan' is a term that originally designated a class of people in India? Did you know, further, that some people who identify, as you do, with Nazi ideology, admire these Indians? Did you know, also, that the brown-skinned Sikhs coming from the Punjab region have some historical claim to being the descendants of these 'Aryans'? Given this much, wouldn't you perhaps be willing, Page, to reconsider your understanding of pale-skinned people as 'us' and of brown-skinned people as 'them'? Might it rather be the case, Page, that groups of people are all mixed up with one another in all sorts of complex ways, which it would take a lifetime of study to figure out? And wouldn't it be better to keep learning, and make sure you've got it all right, before you go and shoot up a temple or a mosque or synagogue?
Page's action, in short, was depraved and misguided even by Nazi standards. Those are some pretty low standards to live up to, and most readers seem to think it's offensive even to mention them. But again, I presume that you need to latch onto the commitments a person already has in order to reason with them, and I prefer not to assume at the outset that a person, unless he is floridly psychotic, cannot be reasoned with. Most violent racists are not floridly psychotic; they use reason, but badly.
Now, a corollary point was about the way ethnic difference is treated in the United States. Mainstream Americans, like rank-and-file Nazis, are realists about race. They actually think that there is the brown race and the black race and the white race, in the same way that there are giraffes and rocks and helium (well, actually, even these are problematic, but we can leave that aside for now). This is 18th-century pseudoscience, and it perpetuates the pathologies of which outbursts like Page's are symptoms. If Page were still alive, I would attempt to convince him that there is no such thing as the white race or the brown race; that Indian Sikhs and, say, Iraqi Muslims, have no more in common, in spite of their perceived phenotypic similarities, than either of those groups have with, say, Americans of European descent. If I could have got this far with Page, I am convinced it would have stopped him in his tracks. Of course he might have re-oriented his hatred, along Savitri Devi's line, and come out a half-learned anti-Semite and Islamophobe. But he might also have simply said: holy shit, I don't know nearly as much as I thought I did. I better go learn some more.
The mistaken belief that there is a brown race (this is a recent invention by the way, and was not found in the classic racial typologies of, e.g., Linnaeus or Blumenbach) has facilitated greater crimes than Page's. It is what made it so easy for Americans to conflate Iraq and Afghanistan as simply different regions of 'Brownland', and so to go along with an invasion that cost huge numbers of lives. What these two countries have in common was usually spoken of in terms of religion; but does anyone really think that Bush and Cheney could have convinced the US public to go along with a massive invasion of, say, Mali or Indonesia in the wake of September 11?
Finally, I add that I am well aware that 'Aryan' is an antiquated and invalid term as applied in ethnographic description of the Indian subcontinent. But still, and again, it's a matter of speaking to someone like Page in terms he would already understand, and the point is that if you think there is a group of people called 'Aryans' worthy of esteem, then a better case can be made that those people come from a community that speaks an Indo-Aryan language such as Punjabi, than from an Anglophone community in Wisconsin.
The American reaction to my basic point --that there's something exceptionally misguided about defending Aryans by shooting up a bunch of, uh, Aryans (again, allowing for all the respects in which this is no longer an accepted ethnographic classification, it does still linger as a linguistic classification, and, again, if it applies anywhere then that would sooner be Punjab than Wisconsin)-- is that I am belaboring an obscure and irrelevant point. As the Daily Dish dismissively puts it, I'm "reading up on history" (while other people, presumably, care about the here-and-now, the eternal present of American political chatter). I maintain that this reaction reveals a wish to maintain a level of ignorance in the US that goes a long way toward explaining how that country produces monsters like Page.
And now, the original post:
This is a very minor point to make, almost offensively minor, in the wake of Wade M. Page's senseless massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin a few days ago, but still: strictly speaking there is no basis in traditional Nazi ideology for hatred of Sikhs. Quite the contrary. Of course this doesn't mean Nazis are nice, and Sikhs should not have to care one way or the other what Nazis think of them, but it does help to put into very clear relief how Page's singular evil was abetted by his total ignorance.
Consider the case, fairly typical for the 1930s, of the Nazi ideologue Savitri Devi (née Maximiani Portas). In her Warning to the Hindus (Calcutta, 1939), she bemoans the Islamification of the Indian subcontinent, and calls for the 'Aryan' Hindus to stand up and expel the Muslims (a policy that has been actively pursued in pogroms, in recent years, supported by the BJP, India's own fascist party). Of course there is a great deal of scholarly and sectarian discussion about the syncretistic nature of Sikhism since it branched from Hinduism in the 15th century. But Devi is clear that for her the Sikhs represent a bulwark against the Muslims and a safeguard of 'Hindudom'. Thus she writes of demographic trends in various Indian provinces: "But what about Punjab, the cradle of Aryan culture in India? And what about Bengal, the home of Indian culture in the present day, if we except its western districts? Punjab, at least, has got the Sikhs who, in case of trouble, will stand like one man and fight for Hindudom. Bengal has no equivalent of the Sikhs yet, and its condition is worse" (63-64).
Devi also thought Adolf Hitler was an avatar of Vishnu. She was a frivolous and ridiculous person, and her Indophilia was intellectually baseless. To the extent that it was rooted in crass anti-Semitism --she saw Hinduism as preserving the spiritual energy of European paganism, which was lost with the Christianization, for her the same thing as Judaization--, it was also morally reprehensible. And yet, it's hard not to regret that the murderer in Wisconsin had not studied up a bit on the intellectual tradition, such as it is, of the ideology he claimed to support. And it's no less regrettable that the American mass media tend in general to be no more sophisticated than the Hammerskins themselves in their understanding of who the natural enemies of Nazis are. Both camps seem to agree that it is a simple matter of skin color, and that there are no more fine-grained distinctions to be made at the level of perceived civilizational or historical affinities and oppositions.
Page seems not even to have understood that Sikhs are not Muslims. Of course he was no scholar, or even a pseudo-scholar like Savitri Devi, but if the general level of discourse about cultural difference were somewhat higher in our society, he might have had an opportunity to hear somewhere that, at least on a certain understanding, Sikhs are more 'Aryan' than the Aryan Nation. And if this had happened, six good people (and one rotten one) might still be alive.