[Marxism] If the Sikh Temple Had Been a Mosque

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 11 08:20:46 MDT 2012

The New York Times
August 10, 2012
If the Sikh Temple Had Been a Mosque

During the 2008 presidential campaign, rumors proliferated that Barack 
Obama was a Muslim who had been indoctrinated into militant Islam during 
childhood studies in a madrassa. The fact that the Democratic candidate 
had been a prominent and visible member of a Protestant church in 
Chicago for years somehow mattered not at all. The Obama campaign even 
created a Web site wholly devoted to answering conspiracy theories and 

Ultimately, though, it took a Republican in the form of Colin L. Powell 
to speak truth to fantasy. “He is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s 
always been a Christian,” the retired general and former cabinet 
secretary said on “Meet the Press.” “But the really right answer is, 
What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this 
country? The answer is no, that’s not America.”

Mr. Powell’s words echo now in the aftermath of last weekend’s massacre 
of six worshipers at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee. The narrative that 
has emerged in both media coverage and public discourse since then has 
been one of religious mistaken identity. It presumes that the killer, 
identified as a white supremacist named Wade M. Page, may have shot the 
Sikhs because he ignorantly believed they were Muslim.

Such a story line is accurate as far as it goes. Hundreds of times since 
the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Sikhs have been the victims of 
bias crimes. The perpetrators have invariably assumed that because Sikh 
men wear turbans and have beards they are Muslims, even specifically 
Taliban. How terrible it is that it has taken the slayings in Wisconsin 
to serve as a national teachable moment about the theology and practices 
of the Sikh religion.

Yet the mistaken-identity narrative carries with it an unspoken, even 
unexamined premise. It implies that somehow the public would have — even 
should have — reacted differently had Mr. Page turned his gun on Muslims 
attending a mosque. It suggests that such a crime would be more 
explicable, more easily rationalized, less worthy of moral outrage.

“Islamophobia has become so mainstream in this country that Americans 
have been trained to expect violence against Muslims — not excuse it, 
but expect it,” said Reza Aslan, an Iranian-American writer and scholar 
on religion. “And that’s happened because you have an Islamophobia 
industry in this country devoted to making Americans think there’s an 
enemy within.”

As a Sikh, Vishavjit Singh has found himself wrestling with the subject 
these past few days. “If this had happened at a mosque, would our 
reaction be different?” asked Mr. Singh, a software engineer in suburban 
New York who also publishes political cartoons online at Sikhtoons.com. 
“I hope not, but the answer might be yes. You’d have the same amount of 
coverage, but you might have more voices saying, ‘Well, you know, it’s 
understandable, we’re at war, we’ve been at war.’ That’s an unfortunate 
commentary on our society today.”

The paradox is that bias crimes against Muslims are growing a decade 
after the Sept. 11 attacks. The number of such instances, as tallied by 
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had been falling steadily from 
nearly 500 in 2001 to 107 in 2009. Then, in 2010, the most recent year 
for which the F.B.I. has data, the number leapt by 50 percent, to 160.

That spike does not look like either a mathematical or historical 
accident. During 2010, controversy erupted about the proposed “ground 
zero mosque,” which was actually a community center several blocks away. 
Prompted by several actual or attempted acts of terrorism by American 
Muslims, Representative Peter T. King began preparing for hearings in 
the spring of 2011 on supposedly widespread subversion among millions of 
American Muslims — an exercise in suspicion, if not guilt, by association.

While those public pageants have largely subsided, there remain 
well-endowed groups like Jihad Watch, ACT for America and Stop 
Islamization of America. Several states have passed statutes outlawing 
the application of Shariah, and thus lending credence to the canard that 
American Muslims seek to impose their religious law. Representative 
Michele Bachmann, a former candidate for the Republican presidential 
nomination, recently accused a Muslim aide to Secretary of State Hillary 
Rodham Clinton of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Such talk adds up to what John Shuford, the director of the Institute 
for Hate Studies at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., calls 
“enmification” — the process of turning a particular group into an 
enemy. Now that American Muslims have been enmified, violence against 
them is understood in a mitigated, mediated way.

“Rationalization (or the capability of being rationalized) is a good way 
of putting it,” Professor Shuford wrote in an e-mail message. “Not in 
the sense of rational behavior or excusability, but in the sense of 
being understandable, in the way that sometimes leaps in logic, mistaken 
or misinformed beliefs, outright ignorance and prejudice, and 
influential social narratives can be quite intelligible even to those 
who do not view the world in the same way.”

Just one day after the shootings near Milwaukee, a mosque in Joplin, 
Mo., was burned down. Several weeks earlier, it had also been set afire. 
This latest episode was covered mostly by the local news media and The 
Associated Press, with a few larger organizations picking up the 
wire-service story.

Certainly, an apparent bias crime against property, heinous as that is, 
does not compare in journalism’s calculus to the bigoted murder of six 
people. But it is at least worth pondering whether the Joplin arson also 
set off a kind of internal well-you-must-understand response.

“If it were a church or a synagogue that had been burned down twice, 
we’d be shocked by it,” Mr. Aslan said. “The narrative about the mosque 
burning has a sense of expectation to it.”

The problem with enmification, though, is that it knows few bounds. What 
started with the hatred of Muslims has repeatedly swept up Sikhs (and 
also, in some cases, Latinos) in its vortex.

“For the Sikh community, it doesn’t matter that it was mistaken for 
being Muslim,” said Eric Ward, an expert in hate crimes who was formerly 
with an interfaith coalition called the Center for New Community. “What 
matters is that individuals should not be targeted for their faith.”

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