The Paschal Paradox

In a world full of suffering and violence, we are given this truth at Easter:

Al-Masihu qama min bain al-amwat,
Wa wati al-mouta bil-mout,
Wa wahab al-hayata lil-lethina fil qubour.

Christ has risen from the dead.
In dying, he trampled death,
And gifted life to those who were in the tomb.

We still do feel the sting of death, and we still experience the pain of suffering. But we know how much God loves us, that he is here with us, right in the midst of it.

For that reason we always, always, always have hope.

Trends we can’t ignore (Series introduction)

The shooting at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisc.—and the nationwide string of hate crimes against Muslims that went virtually unreported by the media—reveals a number of disturbing, yet ignored, trends about extremism and ignorance in America.

Sikh worshippers outside their gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisc. after the shooting on August 5, 2012.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting about issues that are not new, but that have been re-illuminated by these recent hate crimes. They include religious illiteracy in America, post-9/11 attacks against Sikhs, the recent rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes, and the (intentionally covered-up) threat of white supremacist domestic terrorism.

For those who heard little about the shooting at the Sikh place of worship a few weeks ago, here’s a brief recap:

Wade Page, a prominent member of a white supremacist organization, opened fire at a Sikh gurdwara (house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisc. during a Sunday worship service. He entered the temple and he killed three, and then murdered three others outside, where he was shot in the stomach by police.  He then shot himself in the head. Four others, including a police officer, were wounded.

The hate crime is rightly being treated as a case of domestic terrorism by the FBI, given that Page appeared to have political motives.  He was an active member of the racist skinhead group, Hammerskin Nation, and was a musician in white supremacist bands.

The FBI defines terrorism in the following way: “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

But according to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, “that designation seemed to baffle some media outlets. NBC News reported that ‘it was not immediately clear why local police were classifying the shooting with domestic terrorism.’ A Fox News analyst claimed the shooting was not terrorism because Page was a ‘nut job’ who mistook Sikhs for Muslims.”

Like NBC and FOX, most media outlets have been hesitant to refer to the attack as terrorism, however.  Is this surprising?  No, because since 9/11, the American media—and thus the American public—have only considered attacks committed by Muslims terrorism.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin posting about specific trends, starting with an essay about religious illiteracy in the U.S.  I’ll provide background on the string of attacks against Islamic places of worship in one of my later posts.

“What if Jared Loughner were a Muslim?”

The following commentary, written by Arab-American comedian Dean Obeidallah, asks us to think about how our reactions to the recent Tucson shootings might have been different if the perpetrator were Muslim.

What if Jared Loughner were a Muslim?

New York City (CNN) —“When the news first broke that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been shot at a political event, all Americans were united in our response of shock and outrage.

Shortly afterward, the media reported that a 22-year-old male had been arrested in the shooting. His name had not yet been released. I believe your reaction to that piece of news depended greatly on your status in American society — namely, whether you’re a Muslim.

If you are a typical white person, I would imagine your initial response was relief the suspect was caught, and an attempt to make sense of why he committed this horrible crime.

But if you are Muslim or of Arab heritage, your reaction to the news of the arrest was likely: “Please don’t let him be Arab … please don’t let him be Muslim.” Believe me, that was my reaction.

This reaction in not unique to American Arabs and Muslims — most minorities in America have a similar response when a horrific crime has been committed and the identity of the suspect is still unknown.

We desperately don’t want the person to be one of “us,” for fear that our entire minority group will suffer a backlash.

I doubt any white people hope a suspect isn’t one of them — it’s just not relevant. They don’t suffer as a group because of the actions of a few bad white people such as Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph.

Americans are trying to figure out why someone committed this heinous act. Was it because he was ostracized by society, or because his parents didn’t hug him enough?

But let’s be brutally honest. If the suspect’s name wasn’t Jared but was Jamil or Mahmud instead, America’s reaction might have been different. What if a Muslim-American had made anti-government statements and shot a U.S. congresswoman at a political event?

Jared Loughner

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this week called the suspect Jared Loughner an “extremist” — but not a terrorist. Would Clinton and others be so hesitant to apply the terrorist label to an American Muslim or Arab-American?

By the way, what is Loughner’s religion? It’s not part of the news coverage, but we certainly know he isn’t Muslim. If he were, the media, elected officials and law enforcement would be discussing that issue extensively. When a terrible crime in America is committed by a non-Muslim, the suspect’s religion is simply not relevant.

In contrast, after Nidal Hasan, a Muslim-American, committed the despicable Fort Hood shootings, many called for him to be labeled a terrorist, including Rep. Peter King, R-New York.

Indeed, in King’s op-ed in December 2010, he labeled Hasan a “home-grown terrorist” and a big part of the reason his Homeland Security Committee will investigate “the radicalization of Muslims in America.” It’s unknown whether King has any interest in investigating non-Muslim threats to America, such as the ones that led to the attack on Giffords.

Major Nidal Hasan

Yes, I know Nidal yelled “Allah Akbar” at the time of the shooting, but does that mean he had a political agenda or was he just a delusional, sick person no different from Jared? When you compare the psychological profiles the media has painted of both, they are very similar: “Outsiders,” “troubled,” “loner.” Even their photos share the same crazed look in their eyes, but because one American is Muslim and the other isn’t, the presumption of terrorism differs.

Why can’t a Muslim-American be considered a crazed lone gunman? I’m not a psychiatrist, but I doubt mental illness distinguishes between religions.

And why is that every time a white American commits a horrible act — be it flying a plane into an IRS building or attacking a Muslim cab driver in New York City because he is opposed the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero — the presumption is that he is not a terrorist, just a poor delusional guy who has lost his mind.

My point is not to divide us as a nation any further — we are polarized enough by angry politics, race and, sadly, religion. But as we look for ways to heal our nation, which desperately needs it, applying the same standards to all Americans would be a great step.

If a Muslim-American is a terrorist under U.S. law, I have no problem applying that label, if the same goes for a non-Muslim.

As our Declaration of Independence famously states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” and I believe they should be treated that way as well.”