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Where Is Islamophobia Heading in the U.S.?

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Army veteran Wade Michael Page killed six people and then himself one Sunday morning at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, Wis., as number of people gathered there for services last August.

The attack is being treated as a hate crime and is considered by the FBI to be domestic terrorism. Teresa Carlson, the FBI agent in charge of the investigation into the attack, told reporters that "the agency is looking into [Page's] ties to the white supremacist movement."

So, after the shameful, bloody shooting, we have been discussing hate crime and religious discrimination.

Because they have been victim to hundreds of reported hate crimes since 9/11, the attack has sparked concern among the Sikhs who live across America. Some members of the Sikh community felt compelled to tell the nation they are peaceful people, not militant Muslims. Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Washington-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education, told the Associated Press he believes the attack was a result of ignorance: "This is something we have been fearing since 9/11, that this kind of incident will take place. It was a matter of time because there's so much ignorance and people confuse us [as] being members of Taliban or belonging to [Osama] bin Laden."

Also, it has been suggested since the attack that as Page had a 9/11 tattoo on his arm, he maybe wrongly believed his victims to be Muslims. Thus, some have attributed the attack to Islamophobia despite no concreting evidence of this having yet been found.

Daryl Johnson, a former analyst for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told the Huffington Post that Homeland Security has neglected to form a domestic terrorism unit to eliminate this type of attack. "Hindsight is always 20-20, but if DHS had a domestic terrorism unit today, we would definitely have sent out a warning, a threat assessment [to] Muslim-Americans being attacked. I know this was a Sikh temple, but he mistook them for Muslims," Johnson indicated. Despite constant reports of increasing violence against mosques, "not a single intelligence report has warned these communities. ... Someone's not connecting the dots," Johnson added.

So far, no one knows why Page chose the Oak Creek Sikh temple. Some people have suggested he may have targeted the worshipers at the temple because of their different style of clothing: turbans. Others say that perhaps because the people who attend the temple have dark skin the gunman may have simply thought Sikhs are Muslims.

On CNN News, Carol Costello connected the shooting with Islamophobia and pointed out that this is a national problem that needs to be discussed seriously. She also said that "many observers say Sikhs have been unfairly targeted ever since 9/11, but that implies Muslims can be fairly targeted. Well, they are targeted."

Yes, since 9/11, Muslims have been targeted. As you may remember, a mosque was destroyed by a fire in Missouri. The residents of Murfreesboro, Tenn., have been fighting to keep a mosque from opening. In Washington, D.C., U.S. Representative Peter King, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, has held a series of congressional hearings on Muslim radicalization -- including inside the military -- and has claimed extremist Muslims influence the US government.

I have to mention that an assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State University, Lori Peek, said in her book Behind the Backlash that after the events of 9/11, Muslim Americans became subject to alarming amounts of backlash violence. In her book, 140 Muslim Americans describe their encounters with prejudice, discrimination, exclusion and harassment -- both before and after 9/11. The book seeks to explain why blame is so prevalent after catastrophes, using Muslim Americans as the prime example.

On the other hand, I wonder why we haven't had anything about the white supremacist threat. According to the non-partisan think tank New America Foundation, since 9/11 there have been twice as many domestic terrorist attacks by right-wing extremists (eight) as by jihadists (four). Somehow, since 9/11, the word "terrorism" in the U.S. will usually call to mind links with al-Qaeda, while white supremacists and other right-wing militants are often ignored by the public. I think right-wing extremists in the U.S. have been more likely to use violence when expressing their political or social ideas than those motivated by al-Qaeda's ideology since then.

In conclusion, I am not sure if we can really relate the Wisconsin attack to Islamophobia, but I am quite sure that Islamophobia is a serious, rising problem in the U.S. and something has to be done soon to prevent more violence in the future. Religious freedom in the U.S. has been overshadowed by Islamophobia, so I was not able to write about it this week, but hopefully the days in which we will be able to write and read many articles about absolute religious freedom in the US are not so far away.

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This article was previously published in Today's Zaman