The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate

The Gift of Our Wounds: A Sikh and a Former White Supremacist Find Forgiveness After Hate


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The powerful story of a friendship between two men—one Sikh and one skinhead—that resulted in an outpouring of love and a mission to fight against hate.

One Sikh. One former Skinhead. Together, an unusual friendship emerged out of a desire to make a difference.

When white supremacist Wade Michael Page murdered six people and wounded four in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in 2012, Pardeep Kaleka was devastated. The temple leader, now dead, was his father. His family, who had immigrated to the U.S. from India when Pardeep was young, had done everything right. Why was this happening to him? Meanwhile, Arno Michaelis, a former skinhead and founder of one of the largest racist skinhead organizations in the world, had spent years of his life committing terrible acts in the name of white power. When he heard about the attack, waves of guilt washing over him, he knew he had to take action and fight against the very crimes he used to commit.

After the Oak Creek tragedy, Arno and Pardeep worked together to start an organization called Serve 2 Unite, which works with students to create inclusive, compassionate and nonviolent climates in their schools and communities. Their story is one of triumph of love over hate, and of two men who breached a great divide to find compassion and forgiveness. With New York Times bestseller Robin Gaby Fisher telling Arno and Pardeep's story, The Gift of Our Wounds is a timely reminder of the strength of the human spirit, and the courage and compassion that reside within us all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250107541
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/10/2018
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 487,806
Product dimensions: 6.24(w) x 8.44(h) x 0.92(d)

About the Author

Arno Michaelis is author of My Life After Hate and works with Serve 2 Unite. He has appeared on major media outlets including the BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and most recently, The View.

Pardeep S. Kaleka is co-founder of Serve 2 Unite and has appeared on NBC, Fox, CNN, Democracy Now, NPR, and Voices on Antisemitism.

Robin Gaby Fisher is a New York Times bestselling author of seven non-fiction books and a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing.

Read an Excerpt



Freedom is not an achievement but an opportunity.

Bhagat Puran Singh

October 2012


The shaggy block on Milwaukee's east side was dark, save for a single flickering streetlight and the neon glow coming from a string of ethnic restaurants. I arrived a few minutes early and parked my car at the curb, on the opposite side of the street from the Thai place. Arno recommended we meet there. It was his hangout, he said. I'd know it by the red vinyl awning and flashing CARRY OUT sign.

I left the car running while I waited. The rhythmic sound of the wiper blades scraping freezing drizzle from the windshield was almost hypnotic, though not enough to slow my racing thoughts. I wondered if maybe it had been a mistake to get there early. It gave me too much time to think. Too much time to back out.

More than once I shifted into gear, and then didn't leave. Why did I stay? I've asked myself that a million times. I think it was that my need for answers outweighed the misgivings I had about being there. Still, sitting in my idling car, I wondered if I should have listened to my mother when she begged me not to go, lest I end up like my father, a victim of violence. She had asked why I was so blind to the dangers of the world, as he was, always seeking the good in everyone. Look where it had gotten him! Look where it had gotten us! We were a family without a husband or a father. Victims of the kind of senseless hate crime that most people only read about. A tragedy from which there would be no return to the good life we once knew.

* * *

A LITTLE OVER two months had passed since August 5, when my father and five other Sikhs were executed in our peaceful Wisconsin temple by a self-avowed white supremacist. Two of the victims were brothers, both with families and young children. The only woman killed left behind two teenage boys. Others had suffered grave injuries. Lt. Brian Murphy, the heroic police officer who was cornered by the killer and shot fifteen times at close range, survived by the grace of God. Baba Punjab Singh, a Sikh priest, a husband, and a father, was shot in the head and is still in a coma, likely never to regain consciousness.

From the start I'd been haunted by the question of "Why?" I wondered about it day and night. I couldn't ask the killer because he was dead. So who could tell me why he had chosen our place of worship? Why he'd gone after such peaceful people — men, women, and children whose religion was based on the practice of harmony and equality for all people? And yes, I'll admit it, I asked myself the question, "Why us?" Why had we been put through this hell? Because we had brown skin and wore turbans? Because we were mistaken for Muslims? The Taliban? ISIS? Because people were uninformed about who we were and where we came from? Although others ascribed to the theory that the shooter was targeting Islam, I thought it was as likely he chose our temple because it was open to everyone and secreted behind the crest of a hill. A soft target, if you will. But even if it were true that he mistook us for Muslims, how did that change the tragedy of innocent people murdered because they were different from the shooter's idea of what America should look like? Would such an act be somehow less horrifying, or more justifiable, if the victims read the Quran and worshipped Allah?

I remembered going to Dad's gas station after September 11 to support him in case of any misunderstandings. His English wasn't good enough to explain that we were not terrorists, or even Muslim. It felt strange having to differentiate ourselves back then, but ignorance about Islam and the backlash against Muslims after the terrorists identified as such made me feel as if I had to explain who we were. We were Sikhs who loved our adopted country and whose hearts were broken just like everyone else's by the attack. I discovered then that a little education went a long way to understanding. Our customers did ask questions about our faith and our homeland and we answered all of them with the same respect with which they were asked. Luckily, we didn't need to defend ourselves. Dad had taught by example during his time here. His customers knew his heart. If only the shooter had been able to know my father, to know our people, he and the others might still be with us.

Was I angry? Hell yes. My anger was eating me alive. The head of our family had been violently taken and we were all struggling to find our places in this new and terrible reality. Everything was different now. My mother didn't want to live and my brother seethed with rage and bitterness. Time hadn't healed my grief or frustration either. I didn't know how much longer I could control the feelings I had locked inside, but I couldn't continue to wallow in cynicism and gloom. That would be a stain on my father's legacy. It went against everything he stood for, all that he was.

I was always surprised at how little people knew about the Sikh faith. Sikh means "learner," and our religion teaches us that teaching and learning, and learning and teaching, are the basis for our lives. We worship in the Gurudwara, "the door leading to God." Our theology is based on love, equality, and service to God and all others. Many Sikh men wear turbans and have beards in honor of our cultural and religious heritage. In India, the turban is a sign of valor. But, especially since Osama bin Laden, the turban has become an object of enmity in America. People see it and think terrorist, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Maintaining uncut hair is an expression of accepting God's will, and the turban is a symbol of our commitment to our faith. A man in America who is wearing a turban is almost without exception an Indian Sikh, and those bearded, brown- skinned men are less likely to commit violence than just about anyone on earth. They're much more apt to take in stray dogs or deliver meals to homeless people living on the streets.

Ours is a gentle, benevolent faith. We believe that everyone is equal before one Creator and that a good life is lived truthfully and in service to others. Our scriptures don't dwell on what happens after death but focus on our earthly duties. From an early age, we are encouraged to live as sant-sipahi, those who strike a balance of cultivating spirituality while also contributing socially to our communities. We are bound by the Golden Rules of our religion, as taught by Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh Guru: Kirat Karo — work hard and honestly; Vand Chhako — share what you have with those who are less fortunate; Naam Jappo — always remember God throughout the day.

Perhaps most importantly, our scriptures tell us that forgiveness is the only way to heal. My father was a student of the Guru Granth Sahib, our Holy Book, which we interpret as the living word of God. Dad strived every day to follow Sikh principles. I know he forgave his killer before he took his dying breath, but I needed answers to be able to get to that place.

* * *

WAITING FOR ARNO to arrive, I pictured my mother's face as she pleaded with me not to go. She had aged considerably in the short time since my father's murder. Grief had cut deep lines in her skin, and her once lustrous brown eyes were dull above moons of dusky shadows. Her suffering was so potent that sometimes it seemed to seep from her pores. She had lost the only man she ever loved, her husband of nearly forty years, the father of her two children. With him went her faith in the sanctity of our adopted country — a place she and my father loved so much that, as new immigrants, they'd erected a flagpole in our front yard and flew the red, white, and blue every day until my father's death. The irony was inescapable. My father, an American patriot, a proud immigrant who moved his young wife and two small boys from their poor farming town in India and assimilated into Midwestern culture through hard work and community service, murdered because his skin was brown and he wore a turban.

How could I not seek answers for that?

As my mother begged me to reconsider my meeting, my wife, Jaspreet, looked on, her brow creased with concern. "You have our children to think about, Pardeep," she said softly. Yes, two kids and a third on the way. Jaspreet was just weeks shy of her due date. I knew what she and Mom were thinking. I had never met this man with the violent racist past. How could I be sure he really had rehabilitated himself? Once a white supremacist, always a white supremacist, right? Yes, that was their fear, and maybe mine, too.

So what was I doing here? Jaspreet and Mom had been right to question my judgment. My introduction to Arno was through email. Anything I knew about him I'd learned second- and thirdhand and from searching his name on the internet. How did I know I wasn't walking into an ambush? Arno was one of the founders of the same racist skinhead group that my father's killer belonged to. He had disavowed the group years earlier, but what was the point of taking the risk? What was I going to ask him? Mom had wondered, tears welling up in her eyes. What could he say that would matter? Dad was dead and nothing was going to bring him back.

What remained of my resolve was melting away with each swish of the wipers. How could I subject my family to more fear and uncertainty than they were already feeling? To what end? Mom and Jaspreet were right. This had been a crazy idea.

I threw the car into drive. Just as I did — as if on cue — a tall, lanky man dressed in dark clothing and a hoodie covering his head walked out of the mist. Holding my foot on the brake, I watched as he crossed the street. I didn't think he could see me, not in the dark and the rain. I figured it had to be Arno, and when he ducked into the Thai restaurant I was certain it was. Was it by chance that he appeared at the exact moment I was preparing to leave? My Sikh religion taught that all things happen according to the will of God. I remembered reading an analogy comparing the Sikh philosophy of fate to the orbiting of the earth. Although the earth revolves around and is influenced by the sun, it also has its own motion. So whatever it was that brought me here, I thought, the next move was mine.

I shifted back into park, turned off the engine, and stepped out into the street.


For once in my life, I was actually on time. I took my usual table by the window and ordered a pot of tea. I was nervous as shit. I could barely guide the tea from the pot into the cup without spilling it on the table. I didn't know exactly why Pardeep wanted to talk, except that it had to do with the Sikh temple shooting. What was I going to say? That I was sorry about his father and the others who were massacred by someone who, more than likely, had been influenced by me? I was drowning in sorrow, but what could that possibly mean to him? How would I explain the twisted ideology that led a member of my former racist skinhead crew to that sacred place in the quiet Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek with the intention of such violence? Or the misplaced rage that drove him to fire at the innocent people inside? If that was what this grieving son was looking for, giving him answers was the least I could do.

I had been atoning for my history of hatred for almost two decades, and it never got easier to acknowledge the dreadful things I did in the name of saving my race. Speaking the truth about white supremacy and the people who adopted the hateful philosophy was part of my self- imposed penance for having drunk the Kool-Aid myself as a younger man. I didn't practice hate anymore. My heart was pure and my only intention was to promote the basic goodness of humanity and try to prevent other young people from making the same terrible mistakes I had.

I was certain Pardeep would question the genuineness of my transformation from violent racist to peace activist, an inevitability whenever I talked about my past. I always answered the same: "I've given the world a reason to mistrust me. I don't blame you for questioning my motives or my sincerity. By all means, scrutinize what I do." Answering for my past sins had become my mission, my full-time job, my whole life. I'd traveled around the country and the world talking about my life after hate in an effort to encourage harmony among all people.

But this was different. I was about to meet a man whose life had been tragically altered by someone with the belief system I once held. I was still plagued by nightmares about steel-toed boots and smashed skulls, and besieged by shame and guilt for the damage I did. Damage, I was sorry to say, that wouldn't die with me but would endure for as long as there were people willing to embrace the hateful rhetoric I once preached at rallies and bellowed in white power songs I wrote and performed. People like Wade Michael Page, the man who murdered Pardeep's father.

Waiting for Pardeep, I wondered if I should tell him that I'd doubled up on my sleeping pills after the temple attack because nighttime unleashed a lurking sense that I had a hand in causing it. Or that I lived in dread of the start of Racial Holy War because I was certain that was Wade Page's goal and his martyrdom would encourage others to follow in his footsteps?

As the moments ticked by, I wondered if Pardeep would show. I worried that he wouldn't, but I couldn't blame him if he didn't. I'm not sure that I would have the courage if I were in his shoes. Fucking hell, the guts it took for him just to reach out to me was awe-inspiring.

Keng, my favorite waitress, stopped by the table, breaking my train of thought. Was I waiting for someone? she asked, filling my cup with tea.

The bells on the restaurant door jangled. I looked up and saw a good-looking guy with brown skin, buzzed-off black hair, and tape over his left eye.

"Yeah," I said. "I think that's him now."


When I walked through the door I saw Arno in a friendly conversation with an Asian waitress and sighed with relief. I couldn't imagine the guy who killed my dad chatting with a "foreigner." I walked over to the table and extended my hand. "Arno? I'm Pardeep." Arno stood to greet me. He was much taller than he'd looked as I walked into the restaurant. His eyes twinkled with warmth, which surprised me. Somehow I expected empty or maybe even angry eyes. My mind raced with the things I wanted to ask him. What do you know about the assault on the temple? Do you know the shooter? What would motivate Page to do what he did?

I stood across from Arno, anxious to get the formalities out of the way and pursue what I was there for, but he spoke first. "Dude!" he cried. "What happened to your eye? Did you get into a brawl?" His voice sounded as if he chewed on gravel and his question caught me off guard. In my anxiety over our meeting, I'd completely forgotten about the tape over my left eye. Instinctively, I reached up and touched it. "Oh, this," I said, taking a moment to explain.

I had injured my eye while I was bathing my little girl. A hook on the end of a loofah brush somehow ended up in the white of my eyeball and through my eyelid. "Just like a hooked fish," I said. Arno cringed. "Fucking hell, man!" he said. "That's awful! I thought I was the only fool clumsy enough for that kind of shit to happen!"

I said the emergency room doctor told me I was lucky to have sight in that eye. Arno's concern seemed genuine. We sat down across from each other. He picked up the steaming pot from the table and poured me a cup of tea. I couldn't help but notice the sleeves of tattoos covering his arms. The image of this inked-up tough guy with the rasping voice looking sympathetic and pouring Thai tea into delicate little cups struck me as paradoxical and almost funny. It would have seemed more normal if he'd grunted and cracked open a bottle of Bud. But I was about to learn that many things about Arno weren't what they seemed.

Arno had this way about him that made me feel like I'd known him forever. We eased into a conversation about our backgrounds and our kids. We discovered that his teenage daughter, Autumn, and my eight- year-old girl, Amaris, were both a bit OCD and shared the quirky habit of having to have the toes of their socks line up perfectly straight. Arno was a little rough around the edges. He used the F bomb the way teenagers abuse the word "like," yet he oozed kindness and compassion. When he talked about Autumn, he turned to mush. It seemed inconceivable to me that this warm, personable guy — someone who seemed hurt that I was hurt, who teared up talking about his child — was once the image of the monster that murdered my father.

As one cup of tea turned into two and three, I told Arno about my experience as a poor kid coming from India to live in America and how I'd thrown myself into school and sports as a way to integrate into my new culture. He shared that, unlike me, he was given all the opportunities of growing up in a white, middle-class American family but, at an early age, had chosen to shun them in favor of wreaking havoc on the streets.


Excerpted from "The Gift Of Our Wounds"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Arno Michaelis and Pardeep Singh Kaleka.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Prologue xv

1 A Meeting 1

2 Early Lives 17

3 Transitions 40

4 Forks in the Road 104

5 A Calling 132

6 The Shooting 140

7 Hate Crime 156

8 The Investigation 168

9 Brothers 182

10 Janesville 189

11 Forgiveness 207

12 Serve 2 Unite 210

13 The Gift of Our Wounds 217

About the Authors 221

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