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.
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 terror attacks in Norway occurred on foreign soil, but they have a disturbing connection to our own country and those who perpetuate fear of Islam here.
To understand the link, we need to look no further than Anders Behring Breivik’s anti-Muslim 1,500 page manifesto, which cites a number of leaders active in the Islamophobia campaign in America and uses their ideology to shape his. The New York Times did a great piece about anti-Muslim thought in the U.S. and its role in the attacks.
I’ve written before only briefly about some of the self-defined freedom-fighters in Breivik’s manifesto, so I’d like to provide a bit more information about them here.
55 citations: Robert Spencer
“Well this is the politically correct falsehood that is taught every where that Islam is a religion of peace that’s been hijacked. Islam is actually unique among the religions of the world in having a developed doctrine, theology, and legal system that mandates
After it came out that Spencer was cited throughout Breivik’s manifesto, NBC Nightly News did this segment about American Islamophobes, particularly Spencer:
1 reference: Pamela Geller
“This mosque is offensive, humiliating, it’s demeaning to the 3,000 innocent victims that lost their lives. Without Islam, this attack would never have happened.”
In his manifesto, Breivik commented on Geller’s good character, in addition to referencing her blog 11 times. Geller made a name for herself last summer as she led the campaign against the Park 51 Islamic Center in Manhattan. Also a leader of Stop Islamization of America (there is also a European sister organization) and a frequent FOX contributor, she is planning an anti-Muslim protest on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. She constantly claims that she is not against Muslims, only against Islam, “the ideology that inspired these jihadist attacks.” See both quotes in this video.
Though I hate giving her site more hits, you should also check out her blog Atlas Shrugs.
15 citations: Walid Shoebat
“All Islamist organizations in America should be the number one enemy—all of them.”
The Department of Justice has hired Walid Shoebat, a self-proclaimed former Muslim terrorist and Christian convert, to educate law enforcement about Islam. He is also a
frequent speaker at churches, universities, and on cable news shows. Recently, CNN exposed Shoebat as a bigot and fraud—there is no record of the terrorist attack he claims to have committed.
Shoebat’s tactic—claiming to be a former Muslim—is a smart one. If people ask him how he knows Islam is evil, he can say, ‘Trust me! I know! I was Muslim’ and leave it at that.
“Believe what the radicals are saying because it’s the radicals that matter.”
“I come from the Middle East, I was born and raised there, I walk into a grocery store in Arlington, Virginia and speak Arabic and hear what they’re saying and understand it. … So when I speak about certain things about the Middle East or the religion itself… I hope
that you would give me enough credit to know that what I’m talking about in warning what’s coming to the United States will be at least considered as someone who comes from the Middle East and understands the culture and can read the Qur’an in Arabic … as much as Osama bin Laden can.” (The grammatical errors and run-ons are Gabriel’s quote.)
The leader of a group called ACT! For America, Gabriel claims to have grown up around hostile Muslims in Lebanon, giving her that “trust me” credential as well. Also considered an ‘expert’ by the cable shows that features her, she claims that Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government. Read a major New York Times article about her here, and watch the CNN interview in which she made the above comments.
Other American Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney, David Horowitz, and Daniel Pipes were also cited by Breivik. All these anti-Muslim activists (most of whom lack any credentials to be speaking authoritatively about Islam) are not simply fringe figures, leading fringe thought groups. Thanks to FOX News’ willingness to give these people a voice, their ideas have become more mainstream in the past year particularly.
It is frightening to think that the anti-Muslim ideology that drove Breivik to attack in Norway is growing up and being nurtured right here in America.
Only Breivik is responsible for his violent actions. But people like Spencer, Geller, Shoebat, and Gabriel—those with a loud and powerful voices—cannot disregard their influence, especially when they are spewing hate and targeting a particular group. These bloggers, writers, and talking-heads want influence, want to be heard. So they cannot be surprised when someone takes their message and acts on it. Though these anti-Muslim leaders don’t advocate violence and condemned it after the Norway attacks, they don’t provide an alternative method to combat the problem of Islamic fundamentalism they see. And while they don’t condone Breivik’s methods, they sympathize with his message and mission. (Doesn’t this posture sound a lot like the one they accuse Hamas-sympathizing Muslims of?)
As Dr. Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer and forensic psychiatrist said in the New York Times article I mentioned earlier, “rhetoric is not cost-free.” We should have learned this after Gabby Giffords was shot last year, during a time in which political partisanship was at its peak in America. Let’s hope these anti-Muslim leaders change their tone and rethink their words before we find ourselves cleaning up from a similar attack in the U.S.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at the conservative media’s hypocritical response to the attacks and Breivik’s claim that he’s Christian.