Trends we can’t ignore: 2) Anti-Sikh hate crimes

In my last post, I discussed the problem of religious illiteracy in America. One sad result of this illiteracy is the wave of hate crimes against Sikh Americans in the wake of September 11.

Valerie Kaur, an activist and film-maker who has documented hate crimes against Sikhs in post 9/11-America, writes that “Sikh men with turbans have been most affected by post 9/11 hate crimes”:

Post September 11 backlash violence has been primarily directed at those perceived to resemble the enemy – a turbaned and bearded Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda leader. Nearly all people who wear turbans in the United States are Sikh, members of the world’s fifth largest religion who trace their heritage to the Punjab region of India. On September 15, 2001 in Mesa, Arizona, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh man, became the first person murdered in the hate epidemic. Out of the estimated nineteen people murdered in the immediate aftermath, four were turbaned Sikh men.

Other cases of violence against Sikhs include arson, harassment, beatings, forced haircutting, and vandalism. In many cases, the attackers made their ignorant, anti-Muslim intentions known. Before beating a Sikh man to death in Los Angeles in 2001, the attackers shouted, “We’ll kill bin Laden today.”

Despite the trauma that the Sikh American community has undergone because of these hate crimes, the federal government does not keep statistics on anti-Sikh hate crimes. The FBI simply includes them in anti-Muslims hate crime statistics.

In a Washington Post commentary, Kaur argues that not keeping separate statistics for Sikhs is “wrong and dangerous.” Hate crimes against Sikhs, she says, shouldn’t always be simply seen as a “case of mistaken identity.” Though in many cases it has been proved that crimes occurred under the premise that Sikhs were Muslim or Arab, Sikhs are attacked for simply being different, for not fitting into the (false) homogenous picture of America that some fearful whites cling to. Kaur:

I believe it would not have mattered much to Wade Michael Page [the Oak Creek terrorist] if he knew that the people he killed were Sikh rather than Muslim. From what we have gathered so far, Page is just like others who have targeted Sikhs in hate violence: they see people with dark skin, beards, and turbans as the enemy.

No matter if specific anti-Muslim sentiment or more general xenophobia drive hate crimes against them, “Sikhs deserve the dignity of being a statistic.” If we can’t even grant them something so simple and small—documenting hate crimes against them—how can we ever begin to take the next and most important step: acknowledging and honoring Sikh’s dignity as human beings.

Tomorrow’s post will discuss the recent rise in hate crimes against Muslims.

The Oslo Opportunity, Part 4: ‘He’s not a Christian!’

As the terrorist attacks unfolded in Norway but before their origins were fully known, many assumed that the perpetrator was a Muslim.  To everyone’s surprise, the terrorist wasn’t Muslim, but rather a blond, Christian, anti-Muslim extremist, Anders Behring Breivik.

Immediately after the attacks, American anti-Muslim activists (like those I mentioned in Wednesday’s post) frantically distanced themselves from Breivik.  Pamela Geller, who was referenced positively in Breivik’s manifesto, dismissed Breivik as a crazy man without an ideology—all this despite Breivik’s planned and methodical killing inspired by his 1,500 page manifesto.

Stephen Colbert did a great segment about the shock of Breivik’s identity. “The point is, this monster may not be Muslim, but his heinous acts are indisputably Musl-ish. And we must not let his Islam-esque atrocity divert our attention from the terrible people he reminds us of.”  See the video below.

Click to watch.

Breivik strongly identified himself as a Christian, and the right-wing news media in America was disturbed by this fact.  Jon Stewart did a great segment highlighting the hypocrisy of FOX News’ concerns.  Here’s a few that Jon brings up in his piece:

Laura Ingram: “The idea that [Breivik] represents any mainstream or even fringe sentiment in the Christian community is ridiculous.”

Bill O’Reilly: “Breivik is not a Christian. That’s impossible.  No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder. … They call him a Christian because he says he is?”

Stewart’s reaction: “Now obviously I would have a little more sympathy for the FOX rapid response team’s nuanced concerns if their plea to distinguish violence proclaimed in the name of a religion from the practitioners and tenets of said religion were applied to more than let’s say one religion.”

As Stewart points out, the FOX News Christians are trying to make the same argument about Breivik that Muslims have been trying to make about Muslim terrorist for the last ten years. Who knew that FOX would be so quick to cling to an argument they’ve been trying to break apart for a decade.  Watch the clip below, and enjoy.

Click to watch.

*In this series, and on my blog more generally, I’ve criticized the right-wing media and the Republican party.  This is not because of my own partisan views.  I do consider myself a liberal, but because of many conservatives’ choice to embrace Islamophobia and further spread it. Except for New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who has been the lone conservative voice to call out the ridiculousness of anti-Muslim and anti-sharia rhetoric, no conservative has asked their fellow party members to embrace sanity in the midst of the fear mongering.  Democrats haven’t been much better and have generally distanced themselves from the discussion.  Though many have openly and strongly countered the Islamophobic rhetoric, they need to do a better job of making their opinions heard to the general public, not those who read op-eds in liberal websites and news outlets.  The more liberal cable news programs have done a great job responding to the hysteria, but they tend to preach to the choir, leaving the often-misinformed Americans who only get their news from FOX to maintain their mistaken beliefs.  Both parties must do better at fighting Islamophobia and encourage one another to stop making Muslims political pawns.

The Oslo Opportunity, Part 1: Talking about Terrorism

In the weeks since the terrorist attacks in Norway, I’ve read a lot of articles and op-eds attempting to flesh out their implications and identify the tensions that led to them.  Though the attacks were truly horrific, they present us with a much-needed opportunity to discuss a topic that is too often ignored in the post-9/11 world: the rise of right wing and anti-Muslim extremism.

The discussion resulting from the attacks has brought up some points that I’d like to further develop.  The discourse has also lacked in some respects, and I’d like to bring up some new thoughts for consideration as well.

In the next five posts, I’ll elaborate on the terminology of terrorism, Europe’s response to its increasing Muslim population, the role of American activists in shaping Islamophobia in Europe, FOX News’ hypocritical response to Breivik’s Christianty, and my optimism about the United States’ ability to avoid the widespread and entrenched prejudice—and now violence—we’ve seen in Europe.

Talking about terrorism

Anders Behring Breivik

In reports from the New York Times, NPR, and other well-respected news organizations, we’ve heard the suspected perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik, referred to as the ‘attacker’ or ‘killer’ and his actions as ‘violent extremism.’  These classifications are clearly true, but we must also acknowledge that Breivik is also a ‘terrorist’ and that his actions are ‘terrorism.’  Given the ease with which the media and political commentators today jump to label violent attacks as ‘terrorism,’ it might seem surprising that they were much more wary of using the same terminology for the Norway event.

Why not call this attack what it is?  I think it’s because the word ‘terrorism’ has lost its original and intended meaning, and instead come to be understood as ‘violent Islamic extremism.’  I’d like to make the case as to why the Norway attacks are indeed terrorism, and why we must call it terrorism.

Here is the definition of ‘terrorism’ under U.S. law:

1) “premeditated, 2) politically- motivated 3) violence (or intimidation) 4) perpetrated against non-combatant targets 5) by subnational groups or clandestine agents”

For terrorists, high body counts are not their main concern.  More concerned about symbolism, their highest priority is to instill fear and destroy values and ideas.  Terrorism’s victims aren’t only those who die or are injured.  As Georgetown scholar Bruce Hoffman says, “designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target.”

It’s easy to think about how the 9/11 attacks fit into this definition.  So let’s look at the double Norway attacks to see how they fit the definition:

1) Breivik’s well-coordinated attack had been planning his attack for a long time—he even had a 1,500 page manifesto to “justify” it.
2) Concerned with the increased immigration of Muslims into Europe and his government’s failure to address the problem and willingness to submit to multiculturalism (his sentiment, not mine), he attacked a government building and a party camp for future political leaders.
3) After blowing up the building in downtown Oslo, he masqueraded as a police officer on Utoya island, offering comfort and safety before stalking through the woods and shore shooting teenagers.  His attacks claimed over 70 lives.
4) His victims were ordinary citizens—government workers and politically active young people.
5) He carried this attack out on his own, secretly planning it without law enforcement’s knowledge.

This is a plea to the media (and ordinary citizens) for consistency—we must call these attacks ‘terrorism.’  Doing otherwise is dangerous because it makes us take these attacks less seriously than attacks committed by Muslim terrorists.  No matter the ideology motivating them, terrorists and their actions should be treated with equal concern.

In my next post, I’ll talk about why Europe’s problem with Islamophobia is much bigger than in the U.S.