On Aug. 5, Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi, randomly shot and killed six people in 10 minutes in a Sikh Gurdwara (temple) in Milwaukee, Wis.
The crime was probably based on mistaken identities in the mind of the killer because Sikhs (some of whom wear turbans like Osama bin Laden) are often confused with Muslims.
First, my condolences and prayers to the families who lost their loved ones in Milwaukee, to a senseless tragedy in the Sikh temple.
22-year-old Jasbeen Kaur, the niece of the temple priest, Prakash Singh, an innocent victim of this tragedy says when asked about a hate crime, "I don't know what it means."
What's this shooting all about?
Vijay Prashad, Chair of South Asian History at Trinity College dissects the complexities: "The attack on Sikhs is not a mistaken attack." Rather, "they are seen as part of a community of outsiders" who are as Patrick Buchanan puts it in "States of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America," "a fifth column inside the belly of the beast. ... Should America lose her ethnic-cultural core and become a nation of nations, America will not survive."
Though Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin graciously attended the temple services for the victims of this tragedy in Milwaukee, Prashad cautions: "Governor Scott Walker is not far from all this, being a fan of the Arizona anti-human legislation."
The temple tragedy is uniquely sad since Sikhs have pro-actively educated Americans about their faith and philosophy since 9/11. I was struck by their grit, spirit and dignity as Sikh temple leaders re-opened their doors in just five days to serve their community -- helping them grieve and heal -- even as they rise above the persecution.
"Divided We Fall" is a feature documentary on 9/11 racism which was made by Valarie Kaur, a third generation Sikh. A legal advocate who clerked for the Senate Judiciary Committee and led a high profile campaign against racial profiling, Kaur explains: "We were Americans; we wanted to claim our place as Americans." She educates the public about faith and values, expressing solidarity with her brethren among Muslim and Arab-Americans.
Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi who received the Bronze star for his service in Afghanistan says: "It is important for us to understand one another as people."
"The attack by Page was definitely a hate crime," says Eboo Patel, president and founder of the Chicago based Interfaith Youth Core. A member of the President's advisory Council on Inter-faith affairs, Patel offers a solution: "What you have to do is to spread the light of pluralism ... to ward off the darkness of prejudice." Patel is the author of "Sacred Ground," his recently released second book (and in full disclosure, he is my nephew).
"Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" Colin L. Powell wondered aloud in 2008.
In the 2008 election, rumors about Obama being a madrasa-educated Muslim initiated into militant Islam persisted. It was not until Colin Powell said "Obama is a Christian" on Meet the Press that he changed the frame. Powell continued: "But really, the right answer is What if he is (a Muslim)? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer was no, that's not America."
Today, the public thankfully denounces attacks against Sikhs but attacking Muslims is considerably more acceptable. Why?
Is it because "Islamophobia has become so mainstream in this country that Americans have been trained to expect violence against Muslims -- not excuse it, but expect it." says Reza Aslan, Iranian American scholar. "If a church or synagogue had been burned down twice, we'd be shocked by it ... but the narrative about a mosque burning has a sense of expectation to it," explains Aslan.
The Islamophobia engine in the United States further exacerbates the tensions. The Peter T. King hearings focusing on the suspicion and subversion of millions of American Muslims, and groups like Jihad Watch, ACT for America and Stop Islamization of American fuel the flames of the anti-Muslim fires.
This climaxed recently in Tampa, where the Republican Party adopted a party platform that, for the first time in my lifetime, attacked a particular religion, calling up the utterly bogus fear that sharia law is about to be imposed in the United States, and promising to prevent it! Hate groups immediately embraced their blessing by one of America's two major political parties.
John Shuford, Director of Hate Studies at Gonaga University in Spokane has coined the term "Emnification" -- "the process of turning a particular group into an enemy." Now that American Muslims have been "enmified," he argued "violence against them is understood in a mitigated, mediated way."
Does enmification, which clearly labels the problem, breed tolerance or just more intolerance? I vote for tolerance of differences, a necessary precursor to peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society.
Shahnaz Taplin's blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad's first wife. Khadijah is the quintessential role model for Muslim women -- the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist.
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